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Posts Tagged ‘United States’

My view of the U.S. economic policy often depends on whether I’m writing about absolute levels of laissez-faire or relative levels of laissez-faire.

If my column is about the former, I generally complain about excessive spending, punitive taxation, senseless red tape, easy-money monetary policy, and trade protectionism.

But if I’m writing about relative levels of economic liberty, I often turn into a jingoistic, pro-American flag-waver.

That because – with a few exceptions such as Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Switzerland – the United States enjoys more economic freedom than other nations.

And because of the relationship between policy and prosperity, this means that Americans tend to have much higher living standards than their counterparts in other nations. Even when compared to people in other developed countries.

(Which is why it’s so disappointing that many American politicians want to make the U.S. more like Europe.)

Let’s examine some data. In a column for National Review, Joseph Sullivan compares recent increases in living standards for major nations.

If you want to answer questions about how economic wellbeing for individuals in a country has evolved, the actual change in the value of real GDP per capita may tell you more than the rate of its change. Why? Individuals buy goods and services with dollars and cents — not the rates of change that economists, politicians, and pundits tend to focus on when it comes to growth. …By this metric, between 2016 and 2019, economic growth in the U.S. was the best in its class. …The U.S. surpasses…its peers…by no small margin. It bests the silver medalist in this category, Finland, by $1,100. That is almost as big as the $1,160 that separates the runner-up from the peer country that comes in dead last, Sweden.

Here’s the chat from his article.

The key takeaway is that Americans started the period with more per-capita GDP and the U.S. lead expanded.

That’s one way of looking at the data.

A 2017 report from the Pew Research Center also has some fascinating numbers about the relative well-being of the middle class in different nations.

…the middle class in a country consists of adults living in households with disposable incomes ranging from two-thirds to double the country’s own median disposable household income (adjusted for household size). This definition allows middle-class incomes to vary across countries, because national incomes vary across countries. …That raises a question: What shares of adults in Western European countries have the same standard of living as the American middle class? …When the Western European countries the Center analyzed are viewed through the lens of middle-class incomes in the U.S., the share of adults who are middle class decreases in most of them. …In most Western European countries studied, applying the U.S. standard shrinks the middle-class share by about 10 percentage points… Applying U.S. incomes as the middle-class standard also boosts the estimated shares of adults who are in the lower-income tier in most Western European countries… Overall, regardless of how middle class fortunes are analyzed, the material standard of living in the U.S. is estimated to be better than in most Western European countries examined.

The main thing to understand is that there’s a big difference between being middle class in a rich country and being middle class in a not-so-rich country.

And if you peruse the chart from the Pew Report, you’ll notice that a lot of middle-class Europeans would be lower-income if they lived in the United States.

And if you looked at the issue from the other perspective, as I did last year, many poor Americans would be middle class if they lived in Europe.

Let’s augment that analysis by looking at a graphic the Economist put together several years ago. It’s based on the OECD’s Better-Life Index, which is a bit dodgy since it includes measures such as the Paris-based bureaucracy’s utterly dishonest definition of poverty.

That being said, notice that the bottom 10 percent of Americans would be middle class (or above!) if they lived in other nations.

I’ll close with the data on Actual Individual Consumption from the OECD, which are the numbers that (I believe) most accurately measure relative living standards between nations (indeed, I shared data from this source in 2010, 2014, and 2017).

As you can see, the United States easily surpasses other industrialized nations, with a score of 145.9 in 2017 (compared to the average of 100).

My final observation is that all this data is contrary to traditional convergence theory, which assumes that poor nations should grow faster than rich nations.

In other words, Europe should be catching up to the United States.

Indeed, that actually happened for a couple of decades after World War II, but then many European nations expanded welfare states in the 1960s and 1970s, while the U.S. for more economic freedom under both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in the 1980s and 1990s.

And since policies diverged, convergence stalled.

The bottom line is that rich nations can consistently out-perform poor nations if they have allow more economic freedom.

P.S. Not only do ordinary Americans have a big edge over their European counterparts, they also enjoy much lower taxes.

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When writing yesterday’s column about new competitiveness rankings from the IMD business school in Switzerland, I noticed that I have not yet written about this year’s edition of the Index of Economic Freedom.

Time to rectify that oversight.

We’ll start with a look at the nations with the most economic freedom. Interestingly, Singapore has now displaced Hong Kong as the world’s most market-friendly jurisdiction (because Hong Kong’s score declined, not because Singapore’s score increased), with New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland rounding out the top 5.

The United States, meanwhile, isn’t even in the top 10. Instead, America dropped from #12 last year to #17 this year.

The decline is partly due to a lower score (with Trump’s protectionist policies deserving the biggest share of the blame), but mostly caused by better scores from nations such as Chile, Georgia, Estonia, and Lithuania.

What may shock people, though, is that even supposedly socialist Denmark (score of 78.3) ranks above the United States (score of 76.6). Here’s a look at U.S. and Danish scores from 1995-present.

Regular readers already know that Denmark is not a socialist nation. Indeed, it’s never been socialist. By world standards, there’s basically no history of government ownershipcentral planning, or price controls.

The most accurate way of describing Denmark is that it combines laissez-faire economics with tax-and-spend redistributionism.

Since this is a common approach among nations in that part of the world, some people even refer to this set of economic policies as the Nordic model.

So how does this approach compare to policy in the United States? The short answer, as illustrated by this table, is that America generally does better on fiscal policy, but gets lower scores when looking at almost every other type of policy.

The great irony of all this is that Bernie Sanders wants the U.S. to be more like Denmark, but he only says that because he doesn’t realize it would mean reducing the negative impact of government.

P.S. While Denmark has some awful fiscal policies (the tax burden is terrible), there are some bright spots. It has done a good job in recent years of restraining the growth of government, and it also has a partially private retirement system.

P.P.S. Not that any of these will be a surprise, but the three lowest-ranked nations in the Index of Economic Freedom are Cuba (26.9), Venezuela (25.2), and North Korea (4.2).

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Last week, I participated in a webinar with IES Europe. The program covered a wide range of issues, including tax competition, Social Security reform, and the recipe for national prosperity.

Here’s what I said on the topic of federalism.

To add some hard data to the discussion, let’s compare the degree of fiscal decentralization in the United States in both 1902 and 2019, based on numbers from the Census Bureau (click on Govt_Finances) and the Office of Management and Budget (click on Table 14.3).

As you can see from the chart, Washington now accounts for a much bigger share of overall government spending.

By the way, these numbers should not be misinterpreted.

There’s been no reduction in the burden of state and local government outlays. Indeed, there’s been a steady increase in such spending, even after adjusting for inflation.

But the federal government has grown far more rapidly.

Indeed, the fiscal history of the United States is a sad story about the loss of almost all constraints and limits that America’s Founders put in the Constitution in hopes of controlling the size and scope of Washington.

The bottom line is we now have much bigger government and it’s more remote because of centralization.

I mentioned Switzerland in the latter part of my answer.

Here’s the data comparing Switzerland and the United States. As you can see, Switzerland has been more successful in retaining genuine federalism.

Indeed, the two countries are mirror images, with nearly 2/3rds of government spending in the U.S. coming from Washington and nearly 2/3rds of government in Switzerland taking place a the level of cantons and municipalities.

P.S. Here’s what scholars from the Austrian School have said about federalism.

P.P.S. Here’s my two cents on federalism in the context of issues such as welfare, natural disasters, transportation, coronavirus, infrastructure, and Medicaid,

P.P.P.S. Because there’s strong evidence that decentralization produces better outcomes, I’m even willing to accept bad examples of federalism.

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As part of my collection of honest leftists, I have a bunch of columns highlighting how some advocates of big government (including, to their credit, Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang) don’t hide from reality.

I’m unalterably opposed to their policies, but at least they openly admit that huge tax increases on ordinary people are needed in order to finance a European-style welfare state.

Now we have two more honest statists to add to our list.

In a column for the Washington Post, Eric Harris Bernstein and Ben Spielberg openly embrace huge tax increases on Americans with modest incomes.

They start by complaining that the tax burden is lower in the United States compared to other western nations.

A no-new-middle-class-taxes pledge…is seriously misguided. Middle-class taxes are a necessary and desirable part of a comprehensive, progressive policy framework… Democratic presidential candidates should make the case for middle-class taxes, not run from them. Here is a basic fact: The United States is a low-tax country. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, the United States ranked fourth-lowest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (a consortium of 36 economically developed countries) in terms of tax revenue collected as a percentage of the economy — behind nations like Germany, Israel, Latvia and Canada. The gap between U.S. and average OECD revenue has widened over time, from 1.3 percentage points of gross domestic product in 1965 to 10 percentage points more recently. That’s nearly $2 trillion per year in forgone revenue from lower tax rates.

Interestingly (though not surprisingly), they don’t acknowledge that Americans are far richer than people in other advanced nations.

So maybe, just maybe, there’s a relationship between tax policy and economic outcomes.

The authors then complain that Reagan triggered an era of lower taxes for the non-rich. Oh, the horror!

In 1979, the year before Ronald Reagan was elected president, the average household in the middle quintile of the income distribution paid 19.1 percent of its income in federal taxes, according to data from the Congressional Budget Office. By 2016, that rate had dropped 5.2 percentage points, more than a quarter, to 13.9 percent. The story is similar for the second and fourth quintiles, which saw their rates decline by 5.6 and 3.8 percentage points respectively over the same period.

Here’s a graphic that accompanied the column.

As you can see, readers are supposed to conclude that the United States is “below average” compared to other developed nations.

What would it mean if politicians reversed all the tax cuts that started under Reagan?

The most revealing factoid from the column is their calculation that middle-income families should be paying $3800 more to the IRS every year.

In 2016, middle-quintile families paid $3,800 less in taxes than they would have at 1979 rates… Low middle-class taxes in the United States stand in stark contrast to the approach in other developed countries, which raise more revenue from the middle class through some combination of taxes on goods and services, payroll taxes, and income taxes.

And don’t forget that the authors don’t just want to go back to 1979 tax rates.

They want America to become another France.

Somehow, I suspect America’s middle-class does not want to be pillaged like their European counterparts.

Amazingly, it gets even worse. The authors want more debt-financed spending and they even endorse the perpetual motion machine of “modern monetary theory.”

Of course, middle-class tax increases are not the only means of providing these public goods. Trillions of dollars can be raised through various taxes on the rich… And funding public investments with government debt, which modern monetary theory’s adherents recommend, is a far better approach than requiring every program to have a designated “payfor.” The government is uniquely positioned to borrow money, and we shouldn’t let unsubstantiated, theoretical concerns about debt levels prevent us from addressing the concrete and urgent needs of today.

I could end the column at this point and simply observe that it’s good to find honest folks on the left, even if they’re wildly wrong.

But the authors of the column unintentionally have given me an excuse to make a key point about taxes, growth, the economy, and the Laffer Curve.

Their graphic inserted above reveals that the overall tax burden in France consumes 46.1 percent of GDP in France, nearly twice as high as the United States.

But high tax rates don’t necessarily produce high tax revenues.

Indeed, I crunched data from the International Monetary Fund and found that per-capita revenues in France are only about 10 percent higher than they are in the United States.

I’m sure Art Laffer won’t be surprised by these results. Neither would Ibn Khaldun.

The bottom line is that most people in Europe are subject to much higher tax rates, which leads to lower living standards and weaker economies, which means there’s not even a lot of tax revenue to spend.

Would your family be willing to give up $10,000, $15,000, or $20,000 of income just so politicians could spend an extra $2,000 per household?

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My favorite publication from the Canada-based Fraser Institute is Economic Freedom of the World, which ranks nations based on economic liberty.

I religiously write about each year’s report (starting back in 2011), and I also cite the data dozens of time each year when analyzing policy in various nations.

The second-best report from the Fraser Institute is Economic Freedom of North America, which ranks economic liberty in all American states, Canadian provinces, and Mexican states. Here’s the headline data from the most-recent edition, with Canadian provinces highlighted in brown and Mexican states highlighted in green.

I’m not surprised to see New Hampshire in first place, and I’m not surprised to see Florida in second place.

Both states rank near the top in various measures of economic liberty in the United States.

I’m also not surprised to see Mexican states clustered at the bottom.

What’s particularly interesting is to see how rankings have changed for the United States and Canada.

…economic freedom had been declining in all three countries until recently. From 2004 to 2013, the average score for all 92 jurisdictions fell from 7.64 to 7.09. Canadian provinces saw the smallest decline, only 0.08, whereas the decline in the United States was 0.59 and in Mexico, 0.63. However, economic freedom has increased in the United States and Mexico since 2013. In contrast, in Canada, after an increase in 2014, it has fallen back below its 2013 level. …on the all-government index the highest ranked jurisdiction is New Hampshire with a score of 8.13. After six straight years in first, Alberta fell to a tie for 6th last year, and fell further to a tie for 24th place at 7.94 in this year’s report. Florida is in 2nd with 8.07… The highest-rated Mexican state is Guanajuato at 61st with 6.49, behind all 50 US states and 10 Canadian provinces, and below 60th place by more than one full point.

Here’s a look at the biennial numbers for the three nations.

I’ve highlighted in green the two recent times Canada ranked about the United States (gee, thanks Obama) and highlighted in red the two recent times Canada ranked below the United States (gee, thanks Trudeau).

In my humble opinion, a key takeaway in the report is what happened to Alberta.

Here are some relevant excerpts.

Alberta, for seven years in a row up to 2015, was the top jurisdiction among the 92 jurisdictions in the index in the all-government index, as it was among Canadian prov-inces in the subnational index. However, in 2015, Alberta elected new political leaders who made changes in taxation, spending, and regulation that have had a significant negative effect on economic freedom. …Since 2015, Alberta has fallen from 1st to a tie for 24th place in the 2017 all-government index. It scored 8.31 in 2014 in this index, falling by 0.37 points in the 2017 index, the largest fall over that period of the 92 jurisdictions in the all-government index. Alberta’s decline in the subnational index, where of course provincial leader-ship has its greatest impact, was much larger, 1.42 points, between 2014 and 2017.

And here’s a table that shows what has happened over the past few years.

I actually warned about Alberta’s fiscal deterioration back in 2015, so I’ll be interested to see if the province can restore some budgetary sanity.

To be sure, Alberta is still the top-ranked province, but that’s more a reflection of bad policy elsewhere in Canada.

P.S. In general, Canada is a sensible, market-oriented nation. Indeed, the United States should copy its northern neighbor on issues such as spending restraintwelfare reformcorporate tax reform, bank bailoutsregulatory budgeting, the tax treatment of savingschool choice, and privatization of air traffic control.

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The Tax Foundation churns out lots of good information, but I especially look forward to their International Tax Competitiveness Index.

It shows how nations rank based on key tax variables such as corporate taxation, personal income tax, and international tax rules.

The latest edition shows good news and bad news for the United States. The good news, as you see in this chart, is that the 2017 tax reform improved America’s ranking from 28 to 21.

The bad news is that the United States is still in the bottom half of industrialized nations.

We should copy Estonia, which has been in first place for six consecutive years.

For the sixth year in a row, Estonia has the best tax code in the OECD. Its top score is driven by four positive features of its tax code. First, it has a 20 percent tax rate on corporate income that is only applied to distributed profits. Second, it has a flat 20 percent tax on individual income that does not apply to personal dividend income. Third, its property tax applies only to the value of land, rather than to the value of real property or capital. Finally, it has a territorial tax system that exempts 100 percent of foreign profits earned by domestic corporations from domestic taxation, with few restrictions. …For the sixth year in a row, France has the least competitive tax system in the OECD. It has one of the highest corporate income tax rates in the OECD (34.4 percent), high property taxes, a net tax on real estate wealth, a financial transaction tax, and an estate tax. France also has high, progressive, individual income taxes that apply to both dividend and capital gains income.

Here are some other important observations from the report, including mostly positive news on wealth taxation as well as more information on France’s fiscal decay.

…some countries like the United States and Belgium have reduced their corporate income tax rates by several percentage points, others, like Korea and Portugal, have increased them. Corporate tax base improvements have been put in place in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, while tax bases were made less competitive in Chile and Korea. Several EU countries have recently adopted international tax regulations like Controlled Foreign Corporation rules that can have negative economic impacts. Additionally, while many countries have removed their net wealth taxes in recent decades, Belgium recently adopted a new tax on net wealth. …Over the last few decades, France has introduced several reforms that have significantly increased marginal tax rates on work, saving, and investment.

For those who like data, here are the complete rankings, which also show how countries score in the various component variables.

Notice that the United States (highlighted in red) gets very bad scores for property taxation and international tax rules. But that bad news is somewhat offset by getting a very good score on consumption taxation (let’s hope politicians never achieve their dream of imposing a value-added tax!).

And it’s no big surprise to see countries like New Zealand and Switzerland get high scores.

P.S. My only complaint about the International Tax Competitiveness Index is that I would like it to include even more information. There presumably would be challenges in finding apples-to-apples comparative data, but I’d be curious to find out whether Hong Kong and Singapore would beat out Estonia. And would zero-tax jurisdictions such as Monaco and the Cayman Islands get the highest scores of all? Also, what would happen if a variable on the aggregate tax burden was added to the equation? I’m guessing some nations such as Sweden and the Netherlands might fall, while other countries such as Chile and Poland (and probably the U.S.) would climb.

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My primary job is dealing with misguided public policy in the United States.

I spend much of my time either trying to undo bad policies with good reform (flat tax, spending restraint, regulatory easing, trade liberalization) or fighting off additional bad interventions (Green New Deal, protectionism, Medicare for All, class warfare taxes).

Seems like there is a lot to criticize, right?

Yes, but sometimes the key to success is being “less worse” than your competitors. So while I’m critical of many bad policies in the United States, it’s worth noting that America nonetheless ranks #6 for overall economic liberty according to the Fraser Institute.

As such, it’s not surprising that America has higher living standards than most other developed nations according to the “actual individual consumption” data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

And America’s advantage isn’t trivial. Our consumption levels are more than 46 percent higher than the average for OECD member nations.

The gap is so large that I’ve wondered how lower-income people in the United States would rank compared to average people in other countries.

Well, the folks at Just Facts have investigated precisely this issue using World Bank data and found some remarkable results.

…after accounting for all income, charity, and non-cash welfare benefits like subsidized housing and Food Stamps—the poorest 20% of Americans consume more goods and services than the national averages for all people in most affluent countries. …In other words, if the U.S. “poor” were a nation, it would be one of the world’s richest. …The World Bank publishes a comprehensive dataset on consumption that isn’t dependent on the accuracy of household surveys and includes all goods and services, but it only provides the average consumption per person in each nation—not the poorest people in each nation. However, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis published a study that provides exactly that for 2010. Combined with World Bank data for the same year, these datasets show that the poorest 20% of U.S. households have higher average consumption per person than the averages for all people in most nations of the OECD and Europe… The high consumption of America’s “poor” doesn’t mean they live better than average people in the nations they outpace, like Spain, Denmark, Japan, Greece, and New Zealand. …Nonetheless, the fact remains that the privilege of living in the U.S. affords poor people with more material resources than the averages for most of the world’s richest nations.

There are some challenges in putting together this type of comparison, so the folks at Just Facts are very clear in showing their methodology.

They’ve certainly come up with results that make sense, particularly when comparing their results with OECD AIC numbers.

Here’s one of the charts from the report.

You can see that the bottom 20 percent of Americans do quite well compared to the average persons in other developed nations.

By the way, the report from Just Facts also criticizes the New York Times for dishonest analysis of poverty. Since I’ve felt compelled to do the same thing, I can definitely sympathize.

The bottom line is that free markets and limited government are the best way to help lower-income people enjoy more prosperity.

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Since I’ve been writing a column every day since 2010, you can imagine that there are some days where that’s a challenge.

But not today. The Fraser Institute has released a new edition of Economic Freedom of the World, which is like a bible for policy wonks. So just like last year, and the year before, and the year before, and so on (you may sense a pattern), I want to share the findings.

First, here’s what EFW measures.

The cornerstones of economic freedom are personal choice, voluntary exchange, open markets, and clearly defined and enforced property rights. …The EFW measure might be thought of as a measure of the degree to which scarce resources are allocated by personal choices coordinated by markets rather than centralized planning directed by the political process. It might also be thought of as an effort to identify how closely the institutions and policies of a country correspond with the ideal of a limited government, where the government protects property rights and arranges for the provision of a limited set of “public goods” such as national defense and access to money of sound value, but little beyond these core functions.

Now let’s get to the good stuff.

Unsurprisingly, Hong Kong is at the top of the rankings, followed closely by Singapore. Those jurisdictions have been #1 and #2 in the rankings every year this century.

The rest of the top 5 is the same as last year, featuring New Zealand, Switzerland, and Ireland.

The good news for Americans is that we’re back in the top 10, ranking #6.

Here’s what the report says about the United States.

…the United States returned to the top 10 in 2016 after an absence of several years. During the 2009–2016 term of President Obama, the US score initially continued to decline as it had under President Bush. From 2013 to 2016, however, the US rating increased from 7.74 to 8.03. This is still well below the high-water mark of 8.62 in 2000 at the end of the Clinton presidency.

It’s important to understand that the improvement in the U.S. score has nothing to do with Trump. The EFW ranking is based on America’s economic policies as of 2016 (there’s always a lag in getting hard data).

President Trump’s policies may increase America’s score (think taxes and regulation) or they may decrease America’s score (think trade and spending). But we won’t know for sure until we see future editions.

Here’s what’s happened to economic liberty in America between 1970 and 2016.

As you can see from the historical data, the U.S. enjoyed progress through the Reagan and Clinton years, followed by decline during the Bush years and early Obama years. But we’ve trending in the right direction since 2013.

Let’s look at other nations that get decent scores.

Here are the other nations that are in the top quartile.

Canada and Australia were tied for #10, so the rest of the rankings start with the under-appreciated success story of Taiwan at #12.

All the Baltic nations do well, especially Estonia and Lithuania. Chile also remains highly ranked, as is the supposedly socialist nation of Denmark.

Luxembourg, which was ranked #1 as recently as 1985, is now #25.

I also noticed that Rwanda (#40) has eased past Botswana (#44) to become the highest-ranked nation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

By the way, I’m not going to bother showing the bottom nations, but nobody should be surprised to learn that Venezuela is in last place.

Though that may simply be because there’s isn’t adequate data to include North Korea and Cuba.

Let’s close by including a chart that hopefully will show why economic liberty is important.

Simply stated, people enjoy much higher living standards in nations with free markets and small government. Conversely, people living under statist regimes suffer from poverty and deprivation.

The bottom line is that Economic Freedom of the World shows the recipe for growth and prosperity.

Sadly, very few nations follow the instructions because economic liberty is not in the interests of politicians.

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Over the years, I’ve shared some rankings that are utterly preposterous.

Needless to say, none of these ranking pass the laugh test. You know the people involved are either deluded or dishonest.

Well, we have a new addition to this disreputable collection, as reported by CBS.

The United States has been ranked for the first time among the 10 nations deemed to be the most dangerous for women by experts in the field. A survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation of about 550 experts in women’s issues around the globe labeled the U.S. the 10th most dangerous nation in terms of the risk of sexual violence, harassment and being coerced into sex. …According to the survey, which was last carried out in 2011 and did not then rank the U.S. among the top 10 most dangerous nations, India is the most perilous country for women… Most of the other countries in the top-10 determined by the foundation’s survey are countries with ongoing military conflicts or insurgencies, or where long-held religious and political views have kept women on an unequal footing in terms of law enforcement and treatment in society generally. …The foundation asked the experts which five of the 193 United Nations member states they felt were “most dangerous for women and which country was worst in terms of health care, economic resources, cultural or traditional practices, sexual violence and harassment, non-sexual violence and human trafficking,” according to the foundation.

And here’s their list of the supposed 10-worst countries for women.

I’m assuming that the top-9 countries are not good places for women, but think about what sort of person would put the United States at #10.

  • Do they really think the United States is worse for women than Egypt, where about 90 percent of females are subject to the horrifying practice of female genital mutilation?
  • Do they really think the United States is worse for women than South Africa, where the rape rate is five times higher?
  • Do they really think the United States is worse for women than Nepal, where per-capita income is just 1.3 percent of American levels?
  • Do they really think the United States is worse for women than Angola, where the average woman dies nearly three decades sooner?
  • Do they really think the United States is worse for women than China, where girl children are much more likely to be aborted or subject to infanticide?

In other words, the list is a joke. And the 550 supposed “experts” in women’s issues beclowned themselves.

By the way, my criticisms have nothing to do with ideology. There are many lists from left-wing groups that are intellectually rigorous. I strongly disagree with the folks at the Tax Justice Network, for instance, but their Financial Secrecy Index is methodologically honest and sound.

I also should point out that my objections have nothing to do with the USA looking bad. I don’t like it when the United States doesn’t crack the top-10 in measures of rule of law, tax competitiveness, or economic liberty, yet I share such data with no hesitation.

Shame on the Thomson Reuters Foundation is a joke for publishing such a list.

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When writing about the statist agenda of international bureaucracies, I generally focus my attention on the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Today, let’s give some attention to the United Nations.

Based on this story from the Washington Post, the bureaucrats at the UN have concluded that America is a miserable and awful nation.

…a new United Nations report that examines entrenched poverty in the United States…calls the number of children living in poverty “shockingly high.” …the report, written by U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston, says the United States tops the developed world with the highest rates of youth poverty… The results of the report are not out of line with a number of others…in recent years by different organizations in which the United States has turned up at or near the top on issues such as poverty rates.

But I’ve learned from personal experience (see here and here) that the United Nations is guided by statist ideology and I should be extremely skeptical of any of its findings.

For instance, when it intervenes in policy (global warming and gun control, for instance, as well as the Internet, the War on Drugs, monetary policy, and taxpayer-financed birth control), the UN inevitably urges more power and control for government.

So let’s take a jaundiced look at some of the assertions in this new report, starting with that dramatic claim of record child poverty in America.

The United States…has the highest youth poverty rate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)… The consequences of neglecting poverty… The United States has one of the highest poverty…levels among the OECD countries… the shockingly high number of children living in poverty in the United States demands urgent attention. …About 20 per cent of children live in relative income poverty, compared to the OECD average of 13 per cent.

So is it true that poverty is very high in the USA and is it also true that America has the highest rate of child poverty of all OECD countries? Even higher than Mexico, Greece, and Turkey? And what is the source of this remarkable assertion?

If you look at footnote #51, you’ll see reference to an OECD publication that contains this supposedly damning chart.

But if you look at the fine print at the bottom, you’ll discover that the chart on child poverty doesn’t actually measure child poverty. Instead, the bureaucrats at the OECD have put together a measure of income distribution and decided that “relative poverty” exists for anyone who has less than 50 percent of the median level of disposable income.

In other words, the United States looks bad only because median income is very high compared to other nations.

Which is the same dishonest data manipulation that the OECD uses when exaggerating America’s overall poverty rate (other groups that have used this deliberately dishonest methodology include the Equal Welfare Association, Germany’s Institute of Labor Economics, and the Obama Administration).

The bottom line is that the key finding of the UN report is based on a bald-faced lie.

By the way, I’m not surprised to see that the UN report also cites the IMF to justify statist policies.

In a 2017 report, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) captured the situation…, stating that the United States economy “is delivering better living standards for only the few”, and that “household incomes are stagnating for a large share of the population, job opportunities are deteriorating, prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy” …A much-cited IMF paper concluded that redistribution could be good for growth, stating: “The combined direct and indirect effects of redistribution — including the growth effects of the resulting lower inequality — are on average pro-growth.”

For what it’s worth, the IMF’s research on growth and inequality is embarrassingly bad.

Here’s another big takeaway from the UN report.

The United States…has the highest…infant mortality rates among comparable OECD States. …The infant mortality rate, at 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, is almost 50 per cent higher than the OECD average of 3.9.

I’m not an expert on infant mortality. Indeed, I’ve never looked at infant mortality data. But given the UN’s reliance on dodgy and dishonest numbers in other areas, I’m skeptical whether these numbers are true.

And, according to Johan Norberg, the numbers about high levels of infant mortality in the United States are false.

The UN report contains many other ideologically motivated attacks on the United States.

For instance, America is a bad country because taxes supposedly are too low.

The United States has the highest rate of income inequality among Western countries. The $1.5 trillion in tax cuts in December 2017 overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality. …The tax cuts will fuel a global race to the bottom, thus further reducing the revenues needed by Governments to ensure basic social protection and meet their human rights obligations. …There is a real need for the realization to sink in among the majority of the American population that taxes are not only in their interest, but also perfectly reconcilable with a growth agenda.

While the above passage is remarkable for the level of economic illiteracy, I confess that I chortled with glee when I read the part about how the recent tax reform “will fuel a global race to the bottom.”

As I wrote last year and this year, the fact that other governments will face pressure to reduce tax rates is something to celebrate.

Here’s one final excerpt. The UN report also bashes the United States because we don’t view dependency as a human right.

Successive administrations, including the current one, have determinedly rejected the idea that economic and social rights are full-fledged human rights, despite their clear recognition not only in key treaties that the United States has ratified… But denial does not eliminate responsibility, nor does it negate obligations. International human rights law recognizes a right to education, a right to health care, a right to social protection for those in need and a right to an adequate standard of living.

Needless to say, a problem with this vision of “positive rights” is that it assumes there will always be a supply of chumps willing to work hard so the government can tax away their money to finance all the goodies. But Greece shows us that it’s just a matter of time before that games ends with disaster.

In other words, Thomas Sowell is right and Franklin Roosevelt was wrong.

Let’s close with some good news. As the Washington Post just reported, the UN’s dishonest anti-American screed apparently will prove costly to that bloated bureaucracy.

Alston arrived in Washington last fall on a mission from the U.N. Human Rights Council to document poverty in America. …he was told by a senior State Department official that his findings may influence the United States’ membership in the human rights body. …“I think I was being sent a message.” Two other people at the meeting, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed Alston’s account. …Nikki Haley announced this week that the United States would withdraw from the Human Rights Council.

Good for Ambassador Haley.

Her actions stand in stark contrast to some of her predecessors, who apparently believed in taxpayer-financed self-flagellation.

Alston said he was initially invited by the U.S. government under President Barack Obama to study poverty in America. The invitation was extended again by U.S. officials under then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in 2017, he said. “We look forward to welcoming Mr. Alston to the United States for a country visit this December,” Flacelia Celsula, part of the U.S. delegation at the United Nations, said in a meeting of the Human Rights Council on June 8, 2017.

It goes without saying that Mr. Alston should have the freedom write leftist reports. He also should have the freedom to spread lies in those reports. But I don’t want American tax dollars to finance his ideological bilge.

Which brings us to the obvious takeaway. As seems to be the case with all international bureaucracies, the United Nations wastes money at a prodigious pace. With any luck, Alston’s nonsense will convince American policymakers that deep budget cuts for the UN are long overdue.

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I don’t think I’m a glass-half-empty kind of person, but I realized that I have a habit of sharing “depressing” charts.

Well, as the Monty Python folks advised, it’s time to look on the bright side of life.

So here’s the most enjoyable chart of 2018, courtesy of the Washington Post.

By the way, it’s not “enjoyable” because it shows more gun ownership.

Yes, I believe in private gun ownership, because I respect the Constitution, because I want to discourage crime, because I support liberty, and because I believe in the right of self-defense in case society goes off the rails. But those reasons don’t bring a smile to my face.

The reason the chart is so enjoyable is that it nicely captures Obama’s total failure to impose gun control. Heck, he didn’t just fail to change policy, he actually wound up being the best thing that ever happened to gun manufacturers. And I confess that makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

But let’s set that aside and actually take a closer look at gun ownership numbers. The data in the chart come from a global survey. Here’s some of the coverage of those numbers from the Associated Press.

The Small Arms Survey says 393 million of the civilian-held firearms, 46 percent, are in the United States, which is “more than those held by civilians in the other top 25 countries combined.” …the report’s author, Aaron Karp, said at a news conference. “American civilians buy an average of 14 million new firearms every year, and that means the United States is an overwhelming presence on civilian markets.” …The estimate of over 1 billion firearms worldwide at the end of 2017 also includes 133 million such weapons held by government military forces and 22.7 million by law enforcement agencies, it said. …The Small Arms Survey released its study to coincide with the third U.N. conference to assess progress on implementing a 2001 program known as Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms… According to the report, the countries with the largest estimated number of civilian-held legal and illegal firearms at the end of 2017 were the United States with 393.3 million, India with 71.1 million, China with 49.7 million, Pakistan with 43.9 million and Russia with 17.6 million. …Americans, who own 121 firearms for every 100 residents. They are followed by Yemenis at 53, Montenegro and Serbia with 39, Canada and Uruguay about 35, and Finland, Lebanon and Iceland around 32.

Given America’s status, I’m tempted to start chanting “USA, USA, USA,” but there are some very important factoids buried in the AP report.

Anna Alvazzi del Frate, the institute’s program director, said that “the countries with the highest level of firearm violence — they don’t rank high in terms of ownership per person.” “So what we see is that there is no direct correlation at the global level between firearm ownership and violence,” she said.

Wow, that’s a remarkable admission. It turns out that more guns don’t lead to more crime. But we already knew that.

Now let’s look at some excerpts from the aforementioned story about the same report from the Washington Post.

There are more than 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the United States, or enough for every man, woman and child to own one and still have 67 million guns left over. Those numbers come from the latest edition of the global Small Arms Survey… The report, which draws on official data, survey data and other measures for 230 countries, finds that global firearm ownership is heavily concentrated in the United States. In 2017, for instance, Americans made up 4 percent of the world’s population but owned about 46 percent of the entire global stock of 857 million civilian firearms. …the United States stands out among the world’s wealthiest nations, with an ownership rate more than three times higher than the rate in the next-highest country, Canada. …Measured in rates or in raw terms, the United States is the civilian gun capital of the world.

Since I already shared the chart about the U.S. having more guns than people, here’s another chart from the story showing how Americans are far better armed than their counterparts in other advanced countries.

I’m surprised Switzerland isn’t in second place, but I’m glad to see good numbers from the Nordic nations (Bernie Sanders may have to reconsider his affection for those countries).

P.S. Thinking about whether to create a collection of “enjoyable charts,” the obvious choice would be the one from 2014 that showed how effectively the Tea Party-influenced GOP stymied Obama’s spending plans (that was back when Republicans were in favor of smaller government, unlike 2018).

P.P.S. The AP story mentioned that the United Nations has a pact to restrict private gun ownership. I explained in 2013 why that’s an awful scheme. The good news is that Trump’s new National Security Adviser is very solid on that issue.

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According to bureaucrats at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, so-called tax havens are terrible and should be shut down. Their position is grossly hypocritical since they get tax-free salaries while pushing for higher taxes on everyone else, but not very surprising since the OECD’s membership is dominated by increasingly uncompetitive European welfare states.

Many economists, by contrast, view tax havens favorably since they discourage politicians from over-taxing and over-spending (thus protecting nations from “goldfish government“).

I agree with this economic argument for tax havens, but I also think there’s a very strong moral argument for these jurisdictions since there are so many evil and incompetent governments in the world.

But I don’t want to rehash the argument about the desirability of tax havens in this column. Instead, we’re going to focus on a nation that is becoming the world’s premier “offshore” center.

But it’s not a Caribbean island or a micro-state in Europe.

Instead, as noted in a recent Bloomberg editorial, the United States is now the magnet for global investment.

…the U.S. is becoming one of the world’s best places to hide money from the tax collector. …Congress rejected the Obama administration’s repeated requests to make the necessary changes to the tax code. As a result, the Treasury cannot compel U.S. banks to reveal information such as account balances and names of beneficial owners. The U.S. has also failed to adopt the so-called Common Reporting Standard, a global agreement under which more than 100 countries will automatically provide each other with even more data than FATCA requires. …the U.S. is rapidly becoming the new Switzerland. Financial institutions catering to the global elite, such as Rothschild & Co. and Trident Trust Co., have moved accounts from offshore havens to Nevada, Wyoming and South Dakota. New York lawyers are actively marketing the country as a place to park assets. …From a certain perspective, all this might look pretty smart: Shut down foreign tax havens and then steal their business.

The Economist also identified the U.S. as a haven.

America seems not to feel bound by the global rules being crafted as a result of its own war on tax-dodging. It is also failing to tackle the anonymous shell companies often used to hide money. …All this adds up to “another example of how the US has elevated exceptionalism to a constitutional principle,” says Richard Hay of Stikeman Elliott, a law firm. …America sees no need to join the CRS. …reciprocation is patchy. It passes on names and interest earned, but not account balances; it does not look through the corporate structures that own many bank accounts to reveal the true “beneficial” owner; and data are only shared with countries that meet a host of privacy and technical standards. That excludes many non-European countries. …The Treasury wants more data-swapping and corporate transparency, and has made several proposals to bring America up to the level of the CRS. But most need congressional approval, and politicians are in no rush to enact them. …Meanwhile business lobbyists and states with lots of registered firms, led by Delaware, have long stymied proposed federal legislation that would require more openness in corporate ownership. (Incorporation is a state matter, not a federal one.) …America is much safer for legally earned wealth that is evading taxes… It has shown little appetite for helping enforce foreign tax laws.

And here are some passages from a recent column in Forbes.

…foreign financial institutions are required to report the identities and assets of United States taxpayers to the IRS. Meanwhile, U.S. financial institutions cannot be compelled to reveal the same information to foreign countries. Additionally, the United States has not adopted the Common Reporting Standard. …So, the United States government obtains tax and wealth information from other countries, but fails to share information about what occurs in the U.S. with those other counties. …the U.S. is among the top five best countries for setting up anonymous shell companies. Tax havens deliver a set of benefits including secrecy, potential tax minimization, and the ability of the wealthy to access their monies from anywhere in the world. For a substantial percentage of the global super-rich, the United States is regularly unmatched.

Here’s some of what was reported by the U.K.-based Financial Times.

South Dakota is best known for its vast stretches of flat land and the Mount Rushmore monument… Yet despite its small town feel, Sioux Falls has become a magnet for the ultra-wealthy who set up trusts to protect their fortunes from taxes… Assets held in South Dakotan trusts have grown from $32.8bn in 2006 to more than $226bn in 2014, according to the state’s division of banking. The number of trust companies has jumped from 20 in 2006 to 86 this year. The state’s role as a prairie tax haven has gained unwanted attention… The Boston Consulting Group estimates that there is $800bn of offshore wealth in the US, nearly half of which comes from Latin America. …Bruce Zagaris, a Washington-based lawyer at Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, says the US offshore industry is even bigger than people realise. “I think the US is already the world’s largest offshore centre. It has done a real good job disabling competition from Swiss banks.”

If this sounds like the United States is hypocritical, that’s a very fair accusation.

Indeed, it was the topic of an entire panel at an Offshore Alert conference. If you have a lot of interest in this topic, here’s the video.

This is an odd issue where I agree with statists (though only with regard to which jurisdictions are “havens”). For instance, the hard-left Tax Justice Network has calculated that the United States is not the biggest offshore jurisdiction. But America is close to the top.

In the TJN’s most-recent Financial Secrecy Index, the United States ranks #2. They think that’s a bad thing (indeed, one of their top people actually asserted that all income belongs to the government), but I’m happy we’ve risen in the rankings.

TJN also has specific details about U.S. law and I think they’ve put together a reasonably accurate summary.

The bottom line is that America is a haven, though it’s probably worth noting that we’ve risen in the rankings mostly because other nations have been coerced into weakening their human rights laws on financial privacy, not because the United States has improved.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, TJN and I part ways on whether it’s good for the United States to be a tax haven.

I already explained at the start of this column why I like tax havens and tax competition. Simply stated, it’s good for taxpayers and the global economy when governments are forced to compete.

But there’s also a good-for-America argument. Here’s the data from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis on indirect investment in the U.S. economy. As you can see, cross-border flows of passive investment have skyrocketed. It’s unknown how much of this increase is due to overall globalization and how much is the result of America’s favorable tax and privacy rules for foreigners.

But there’s no question the U.S. economy benefits enormously from foreigners choosing to invest in America.

All of which helps to explain why it would be a big mistake for the United States to ratify the OECD’s Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters.

Unless, of course, one thinks it would be good to undermine American competitiveness by creating a global tax cartel to enable bigger government.

P.S. The OECD doesn’t like me, but I don’t like them either.

P.P.S. The TJN folks and OECD bureaucrats claim that their goal is to reduce tax evasion. My response is that a global tax cartel is a destructive way of achieving that goal. There’s a much better option available.

P.P.P.S. Rand Paul is one of the few heroes on this issue.

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The United Nations has proposed a set of “sustainable development goals.” Most of them seem unobjectionable. After all, presumably everyone wants things such as less poverty, a cleaner environment, better education, and more growth, right?

That being said, I’m instinctively skeptical about the goal of “climate action” because of the U.N.’s past support for statist policies in that area.

And I also wonder why the bureaucrats picked “reduced inequalities” when “upward mobility for the poor” is a much better goal.

While I am tempted to nit-pick about some of the other goals as well, I’m actually more worried about how the U.N. thinks the goals should be achieved.

I participated in a U.N. conference in early April and almost every bureaucrat and government representative asserted that higher tax burdens were necessary to achieve the goals. It truly was a triumph of ideology over evidence.

And some of the cheerleaders for this initiative have a very extreme view on these issues. Consider a new report, issued by Germany’s Bertelsmann Stiftung and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, that ranks nations based on how successful they are at achieving the sustainable development goals. Jeffrey Sachs was the lead author, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised to discover that there are some very odd results.

Bernie Sanders will be naively happy since the Nordic nations dominate the top of the rankings. The United States is #42, by contrast, sandwiched between Argentina and Armenia. Moreover, the United States is behind countries such as Hungary, Belarus, Portugal, Moldova, Greece, and Ukraine, which seems strange because Americans enjoy significantly higher levels of consumption – even when compared to other rich jurisdictions.

But the most absurd feature – at least for anyone with the slightest familiarity with international economic data – is that Cuba (circled in green) is ranked considerably above the United States (circled in red).

This is a jaw-droppingly stupid assertion. Cuba is a staggeringly impoverished nation thanks to an oppressive communist dictatorship.

So how can Sachs and his colleagues produce a report putting that country well above a rich nation like the United States?

Let’s look at some of the data. Here’s the summary of Cuba from the report. Pay particular attention to the circle on the right. If the blue bars extend to the outer edge, that means the country supposedly is doing a very good job achieving a goal, whereas a small blue bar indicates poor performance.

And here is the same information for the United States.

It appears that Cuba does much better for poverty (#1), responsible consumption (#12), climate action (#13), life on land (#15), and partnership (#17), while the United States while the United State does much better for industry, innovation, and infrastructure (#9).

But here’s an easier and more precise way of comparing the two nations. All you need to know is that green is the best, yellow is second best, followed by burnt orange, and red is the worst.

Cuba wins in nine categories and the United States is ranked higher in three categories.

Now here’s why most of these rankings are total nonsense. If you go to page 51 of the report, you’ll see the actual variables that are used to produce the scores for the 17 U.N. goals.

And what do you find? Well, here are some things that caught my eye.

  • For the first goal of “no poverty,” the report includes a measure of income distribution rather than poverty. This is same dodgy approach that’s been used by the Obama Administration and the OECD, and because almost everyone is Cuba is equally poor, that means it scores much higher than the United States, where everyone is richer, but with varying degrees of wealth. I’m not joking.
  • For the second goal of “zero hunger,” I can’t figure out how they concocted a higher score for Cuba. After all, there’s pervasive food rationing in that hellhole of an island. My best guess is that the United States gets downgraded because the category includes an obesity variable. Having a lot of overweight people may not be a good feature of America, but is it rude for me to point out that a large number of heavy people is the opposite of hunger?
  • Jumping ahead to the fifth goal of “gender equality,” I assume the United States gets a bad score because of the variable for the gender wage gap, even though women in America earn far higher incomes than their unfortunate and impoverished counterparts in Cuba.
  • Regarding the eighth goal of “decent work and economic growth,” it’s not clear how Sachs and his colleagues gave Cuba the best possible score. But I know the final result is preposterous given that the Cuban people are suffering from crippling material deprivation.
  • For the twelfth (“responsible consumption and production”) and thirteenth (“climate action”) goals, it appears that the United States gets a lower score because rich nations consume more energy than poor nations. If this is why Cuba beats the USA (just as they “scored higher” in the so-called Happy Planet Index), then I’m glad America loses that contest.
  • Last but not least, I can’t resist commenting on Cuba getting the best score and the U.S. getting worst score for “partnerships,” which is the seventeenth goal. If you read the fine print, it turns out that nations get better grades if their tax burdens are higher. And countries like the United States get downgraded because they are tax havens and/or they respect financial privacy.

The main takeaway is that Sachs and his colleagues produced a shoddy report based on statist ideology and – in many cases – on dodgy methodology.

Anyone who ranks Cuba above the United States when trying to measure quality of life should be treated like a laughingstock.

The report also ranks the ultra-rich and very successful nation of Singapore at #61, below poor countries such as Uzbekistan and Mexico. Are these people smoking crack? That’s even more absurd than the OECD’s report on Asian taxes, which basically pretended Singapore didn’t exist.

Heck the report also has dysfunctional Venezuela ahead of Panama, even though tens of thousands of Venezuelans have fled to Panama to escape their poorly governed nation. But I guess real-world evidence doesn’t matter to people trying to promote statism.

P.S. I got to tangle with Jeffrey Sachs at a United Nations conference on the state of the world economy back in 2012. Nothing has changed.

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One of the more surreal aspects of the 2016 campaign was watching Bernie Sanders argue that the United States should become more like a European welfare state.

Was he not aware that Europe had major problems such as high unemployment and a fiscal crisis?

Didn’t he know that America’s economy was growing faster (which is a damning indictment since growth in the U.S. was relatively anemic during the Obama years)?

Perhaps more important, didn’t he know that Americans enjoy much higher living standards than their European counterparts? Was he not aware that European nations, if they were part of America, would be considered poor states?

If you don’t believe me, here’s a chart I prepared using the “average individual consumption” data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. These are the numbers that measure the material well-being of households. As you can see, the United States is far ahead of other nations. Indeed, the only three countries that are even close are two admirable tax havens and oil-rich Norway.

What about Denmark and Sweden, the two nations that Bernie Sanders said were role models? Well, the United States could copy them, but only if we wanted our living standards to drop by more than 30 percent.

By the way, since the OECD is a left-leaning bureaucracy that is guilty of periodically rigging numbers against the United States, you can be confident that this AIC data isn’t structured to favor America.

So why does the United States have such a big advantage?

In a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, Professor Martin Feldstein addresses why Europe is lagging the United States.

Although the official statistics imply that the rate of growth of real GDP in the United States has declined in recent years, it has still been substantially higher than the real growth rates in Europe and the other industrial countries. The sustained higher rate of real GDP growth in the United States over a longer period of time has resulted in a substantially higher level of real GDP per capita in the United States than in other major industrial countries.

He lists 10 reasons for the growth gap. Here are the ones that are related to public policy, followed by my brief observations.

(4) Labor markets that generally link workers and jobs unimpeded by large trade unions, state-owned enterprises, or excessively restrictive labor regulations. In the private sector, less than seven percent of the labor force is unionized. There are virtually no state-owned enterprises. While labor laws and regulations affect working conditions and hiring rules, they are much less onerous than in Europe.

Given America’s high ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business, this makes sense.

(6) A culture and a tax-transfer system that encourages hard work and long hours. The average employee in the United States works 1800 hours per year, substantially longer than the 1500 hours worked in France and the 1400 hours worked in Germany.

The U.S. subsidizes leisure, but not nearly as bad as Europe (think of Lazy Robert).

(7) A supply of energy that makes North America energy independent. The private ownership of land and mineral rights has facilitated a rapid development of fracking to expand the supply of oil and gas.

Apparently the United States is one of the few nations where you own minerals under your land. Good for us.

(8) A favorable regulatory environment. Although the system of government regulations needs improvement, it is less burdensome on businesses than the regulations imposed by European countries and the European Union.

Given the data from Economic Freedom of the World, I’m not sure I believe this.

(9) A smaller size of government than in other industrial countries. According to the OECD, outlays of the U.S. government at the federal, state and local levels totaled 38 percent of GDP while the corresponding figure was 44 percent in Germany, 51 percent in Italy and 57 percent in France. The higher level of government spending in other countries implies that not only is a higher share of income taken in taxes but also that there are higher transfer payments that reduce incentives to work. In the United States, …There is no value added tax. State income taxes vary but are generally about five percent… So Americans have a higher pre-tax reward to working and can keep a larger share of their earnings.

A smaller burden of government spending may be America’s biggest advantage. And that’s connected with our other big advantage, which is not being burdened by a government-fueling value-added tax.

(10) The U.S. has a decentralized political system in which states compete. The competition among states encourages entrepreneurship and work effort and the legal systems protect the rights of property owners and entrepreneurs. The United States political system assigns many legal rules and taxing power to the fifty individual states. The states then compete for businesses and for individual residents by their legal rules and tax regimes. Some states have no income taxes and have labor laws that limit unionization.

We still have some federalism, and that helps.

Overall, Feldstein’s list is impressive, though it fails to note that there are areas where Europe has better policy, such as lower corporate tax rates, lower death taxes, private postal services, and private infrastructure. There are even European nations with school choice and private retirement accounts.

Notwithstanding these attractive features, Feldstein is right about more economic liberty in the United States. And that helps to explain higher living standards in America.

What makes this especially noteworthy is that convergence theory says that poorer nations should automatically catch up to richer nations. Yet Europe’s catch-up period came to halt in the 1980s and the continent has since been losing ground.

And for fans of apples-to-apples comparisons, it’s very illuminating that Americans of Scandinavian descent earn about 40 percent more than those who didn’t emigrate and still live in Scandinavia.

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Back in 2009, I shared the results of a very helpful study by Pierre Bessard of Switzerland’s Liberal Institute (by the way, “liberal” in Europe means pro-market or “classical liberal“).

Pierre ranked the then-30 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development based on their tax burdens, their quality of governance, and their protection of financial privacy.

Switzerland was the top-ranked nation, followed by Luxembourg, Austria, and Canada.

Italy and Turkey were tied for last place, followed by Poland, Mexico, and Germany.

The United States, I’m ashamed to say, was in the bottom half. Our tax burden was (and still is) generally lower than Europe, but there’s nothing special about our quality of governance compared to other developed nations, and we definitely don’t allow privacy for our citizens (though we’re a good haven for foreigners).

Pierre’s publication was so helpful that I’ve asked him several times to release an updated version.

I don’t know if it’s because of my nagging, but the good news is that he’s in the final stages of putting together a new Tax Oppression Index. He just presented his findings at a conference in Panama.

But before divulging the new rankings, I want to share this slide from Pierre’s presentation. He correctly observes that the OECD’s statist agenda against tax competition is contrary to academic research in general, and also contrary to the Paris-based bureaucracy’s own research!

Yet the political hacks who run the OECD are pushing bad policies because Europe’s uncompetitive governments want to prop up their decrepit welfare states. And what’s especially irksome is that the bureaucrats at the OECD get tax-free salaries while pushing for higher fiscal burdens elsewhere in the world.

But I’m digressing. Let’s look at Pierre’s new rankings.

As you can see, Switzerland is still at the top, though now it’s tied with Canada. Estonia (which wasn’t part of the OECD back in 2009) is in third place, and New Zealand and Sweden also get very high scores.

At the very bottom, with the most oppressive tax systems, are Greece and Mexico (gee, what a surprise), followed by Israel and Turkey.

The good news, relatively speaking, is that the United States is tied with several other nations for 11th place with a score of 3.5.

So instead of being in the bottom half, as was the case with the 2009 Tax Oppression Index, the U.S. is now in the top half.

But that’s not because we’ve improved policy. It’s more because the OECD advocates of statism have been successful in destroying financial privacy in other nations. Even Switzerland’s human rights laws on privacy no longer protect foreign investors.

As such, Pierre’s new index basically removes financial privacy as a variable and augments the quality of governance variable with additional data about property rights and the rule of law.

P.S. When measuring the tax burden, the reason that America ranks above most European nations is not because they impose heavier taxes on rich people and businesses (indeed, the U.S. has a much higher corporate tax rate). Instead, we rank above Europe because they impose very heavy taxes on poor and middle-income taxpayers (mostly because of the value-added tax, which helps to explain why I am so unalterably opposed to that destructive levy).

P.P.S. Also in 2009, Pierre Bessard authored a great defense of tax havens for the New York Times.

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The Index of Economic Freedom is my favorite annual publication from the Heritage Foundation. It’s a rich source of information, using dozens of data sources, about economic liberty around the world.

I first wrote about the Index back in 2010 and shared the bad news that the U.S. score dropped dramatically in Obama’s first year.

Well, the new Index lets us see the net effect of Obama’s entire tenure. The worse news is that the U.S. score has dropped to 75.1 on a 0-100 scale. And the worst news is that this represents America’s lowest score in the twenty-plus years that the Index has been published.

The United States is ranked #17 in the latest Index. We’re only in the “Mostly Free” category, behind Luxembourg and the Netherlands and tied with Denmark.

The top-ranked jurisdiction, once again, is Hong Kong. And what’s really amazing is that Hong Kong actually increased it score. Indeed, all five nations in the “Free” category managed to increase overall economic freedom.

So congratulations also to Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Australia.

Here’s a map showing the entire world. The worst nations are in red, with North Korea at the very bottom, followed by Venezuela and Cuba.

By the way, Cuba jumped 4.1 points last year, so maybe Fidel’s death is the beginning of some much-needed liberalization.

For more information on the United States, here’s the breakdown of America’s score. As you can see, our worst category is “government size.” In other words, we tax too much and spend too much.

America’s best score is for “regulatory efficiency,” which helps to explain why the U.S. gets a top-10 score from the World Bank’s Doing Business.

Let’s close by comparing the United States with Hong Kong. This charts shows how our scores have changes over time, and also shows the average score for the entire world.

The biggest takeaway is that the U.S. basically is halfway between Hong Kong and the world average.

The great unknown, of course, is whether America’s score will go up or down under Trump.

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Most folks in Washington are still digesting last night’s debate between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. If that’s what you care about, you can see my Twitter commentary, though I was so busy addressing specific issues that I failed to mention the most disturbing part of that event, which was the total absence of any discussion about the importance of liberty, freedom, and the Constitution.

But let’s set aside the distasteful world of politics and contemplate U.S. competitiveness. Specifically, let’s examine America’s position in the latest edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. This Report is partly a measure of policy (sort of like Economic Freedom of the World) and partly a measure of business efficiency and acumen.

The bad news is that we used to be ranked #1 and now we’re #3.

The good news is that being #3 is still pretty good, and it’s hard to beat Switzerland and Singapore because they have such good free-market policies. And that’s where America falls short.

Indeed, if you look at the top-10 nations and the three major measurements, you’ll notice that the United States ranks extremely high in “efficiency enhancers” and “innovation and sophistication factors,” both of which have a lot to do with the private sector’s competitiveness. But we have a mediocre (at least for developed nations) score for “basic requirements,” the area where government policy plays a big role.

Moreover, if you look at the the biggest obstacles to economic activity in the United States, the top 4 deal with bad government policy.

The tax treatment of companies is easily the main problem, as you might expect since we rank #94 out of 100 nations in a study of business tax policy.

Let’s now look at the indices where the United States scored especially low out of the 138 nations that were ranked.

America’s lowest scores were for exports (#130) and imports (#134), though I take issue with the Report‘s methodology, which is based on trade flows as a share of GDP. The problem with that approach is that the United States has a huge internal market, equal to about 22 percent of the world’s economic output. That’s why our trade flows aren’t very large relative to GDP. Being surrounded by two major oceans also probably has some dampening effect on cross-border trade flows. Yes, America is guilty of some protectionism, but I think our ranking for trade tariffs (#33) is the more appropriate and accurate measure of the degree to which there is a problem.

America also got a very bad score (#128) for government debt, though at least we beat Italy (#135), Greece (#137), and Japan (#138). In case you’re wondering, Hong Kong was #1, as you might expect from a well-run jurisdiction with small government and a flat tax.  Though I must say that it is rather disappointing that the Report doesn’t include rankings for the overall burden of government spending. After all, government debt is basically a symptom of an underlying problem of a bloated public sector.

And there also was a very low score for the business cost of terrorism (#104), which is probably an unavoidable consequence of being the world’s leading superpower (and therefore a target for crazies). That being said, I imagine America’s score could be improved if we weren’t engaging in needless intervention – and thus generating needless animosity – in places such as Syria and Libya.

Here are two indices that deserve special attention. As you can see the United States gets a poor score for wasteful spending and a terrible score for the punitive taxation of profits.

With this information in mind, let’s now remind ourselves about last night’s debate. Did either candidate propose to control spending and reduce pork-barrel programs? Nope.

Did either candidate put forth a realistic plan to lower the corporate tax rate? Hillary’s plan certainly doesn’t qualify since she wants a bunch of class-warfare tax hikes. And while Trump’s plan includes a lower corporate rate, it’s not a serious proposal since he is too timid to put forth a plan to restrain government outlays.

And since neither candidate intends to address America’s looming fiscal crisis, it will probably be just a matter of time before America drops in the rankings.

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Exactly five years, I created a Declaration of Dependence for my statist readers.

It was supposed to be satire, but after looking at some new estimates of dependency, I now wonder whether I accidentally foretold America’s future.

Anyhow, here’s how my attempt to be funny began.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people should be made equal, that they are endowed by their government with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are jobs, healthcare and housing.–That to secure these rights, Governments must rule over the people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the elite.

While I like to think I came up with a few clever lines, it’s hard to laugh when you think about what’s happened ever since America’s real Declaration of Independence.

Here’s what the Tax Foundation tells us about the evolution of taxation.

Since our country’s founding, we have witnessed…federal revenues taking up less than 5 percent of our economy to more than 20 percent. …Taxation in the United States in 1776 was incredibly different than what it is today. There were no income taxes, no corporate taxes, and no payroll taxes.

Instead, the government relied on a relatively modest set of tariffs and excise taxes.

…taxes primarily existed on imports of goods and services to the colonies, as well as on the sale of particular products. What sort of items were these tariffs imposed on? Primarily, they were levied on ships on a per-tonnage basis, slaves, tobacco, and alcoholic beverages. In all, the average tariff worked out to about 10 percent of the value of imports.

Amazingly, this very modest form of taxation lasted for more than 100 years. It wasn’t until that wretched day when the 16th Amendment was approved that the stage was set for the oppressive tax system that now exists.

By the way, when there was no income tax, there also was very little government spending.

For much of our nation’s history, federal outlays consumed less than 3 percent of economic output. The burden of Washington spending today, by contrast, amounts to more than 20 percent of GDP. And I hate to even think about the long-run projections since I become suicidal.

Oh, and let’s not forget the regulatory burden. We’ve gone from a system that had virtually no red tape to a nation that is now suffocating from a blizzard of bureaucratic edicts.

All of which makes today more costly, as the Washington Examiner reports.

Hundreds of federal regulations on beer, fireworks, hamburgers and even corn-on-the-cob cost families an additional $40, according to a new report on the July 4th tax. American Action Forum regulatory policy director Sam Batkins researched the regulations on the holiday treats to determine the costs. And they are huge.

Here’s the infographic he created.

Red tape adding $40 to our costs today? That will leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Let’s close on an upbeat and inspirational note by reading Professor Randy Barnett on the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

The Committee of Five consisted of the senior Pennsylvanian Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, New York’s Robert Livingston, the Massachusetts stalwart champion of independence John Adams, and a rather quiet thirty-three year old Virginian named Thomas Jefferson. After a series of meetings to decide on the outline of the declaration, the committee assigned Jefferson to write the first draft. …Jefferson did not have three leisurely weeks to write. He had merely a few days. Needing to work fast, Jefferson had to borrow, and he had two sources in front of him from which to crib. The first was his draft preamble for the Virginia constitution that contained a list of grievances, which was strikingly similar to the first group of charges against the King that ended up on the Declaration. The second was a preliminary version of the Virginia Declaration of Rights that had been drafted by George Mason in his room at the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg where the provincial convention was being held. …Mason’s May 27th draft proved handy indeed in composing the Declaration’s famous preamble. Its first two articles present two fundamental ideas that lie at the core of a Republican Constitution. The first idea is that first come rights, and then comes government.

To be sure, the Founders’ view of rights was grossly imperfect. Blacks and Indians were grossly mistreated and women were not full citizens.

But by the standards that existed then, the America’s Founders did a remarkable job of curtailing the power of the state and enhancing the rights of individuals.

The good news is that there have been some significant expansions of liberty ever since the Declaration of Independence. A bloody war was fought in part to end the scourge of slavery. The toxic combination of racism and statism embodied by the Jim Crow laws has been abolished. And women now have full political and economic rights.

The bad news is that there also have been significant contractions of liberty in the economic sphere. It started with the so-called Progressive Era, particularly the disastrous tenure of Woodrow Wilson. It then accelerated during FDR’s economy-stifling New Deal. Government’s size and power further expanded during the grim LBJ-Nixon years. And, more recently, we witnessed the debacle of a Supreme Court ruling that the very limited enumerated powers in the Constitution somehow give the federal government the right to coerce individuals to buy products from private companies.

Notwithstanding all this bad news, I’m not quite ready to pack my bags for Australia.

The United States was the only nation founded on a set of philosophical principles and I’m very patriotic – in the proper sense of the word – about being an American.

I hope all American readers enjoy Independence Day. And in the spirit of the Founding Fathers, break a few rules. Dodge a tax, set off some illegal fireworks, and drive over the speed limit!

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Two days ago, I contrasted the views of Pope Francis and Walter Williams about capitalism and morality.

I explained that Walter had the upper hand because free markets are a positive-sum game based on voluntary exchange while redistribution (at best) is a zero-sum game based on coercion.

That’s the theoretical argument. Now let’s look at the empirical data, specifically focusing on which approach is best for the less fortunate.

Thomas Sowell, the great economist at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, is not impressed by the Pope’s analysis. Here some of what Prof. Sowell wrote for Investor’s Business Daily.

Pope Francis has created political controversy…by blaming capitalism for many of the problems of the poor. …putting aside religious or philosophical questions, we have more than two centuries of historical evidence… Any serious look at the history of human beings over the millennia shows that the species began in poverty. It is not poverty, but prosperity, that needs explaining. …which has a better track record of helping the less fortunate — fighting for a bigger slice of the economic pie, or producing a bigger pie? …the official poverty level in the U.S. is the upper middle class in Mexico. The much criticized market economy of the U.S. has done far more for the poor than the ideology of the left. Pope Francis’ own native Argentina was once among the leading economies of the world, before it was ruined by the kind of ideological notions he is now promoting around the world.

I briefly discussed the failure of the Peronist Argentinian model last month, but let’s take a closer look at Professor Sowell’s assertions about the U.S. and Argentina.

My colleague at the Cato Institute, Marian Tupy, has put together a great fact-filled website called Human Progress, and it allows users to access all sorts of databases to produce their own charts and tables.

And here’s what the data shows about per-capita economic output in Argentina and the United States.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the supposedly more compassionate system in Argentina.

As you can see from this table, Argentina actually was slightly richer than the U.S. back in 1896. But that nation’s shift to statism, particularly after World War II, hindered Argentina’s growth rates.

And seemingly modest differences in growth, compounded over decades, have a huge impact on living standards for ordinary people (i.e., inflation-adjusted GDP per person climbing nearly $27,000 in the U.S. vs an increase of less than $6,700 in Argentina).

By the way, this is not an endorsement of America’s economic policy. We have far too much statism in the United States.

But compared to Argentina, which generally has ranked in the bottom quartile for economic freedom, the United States has a more market-friendly track record.

To help make the bigger point about the importance of economic liberty, let’s now compare the United States with a jurisdiction that consistently has been ranked as the world’s freest economy.

Look at changes in economic output in America and Hong Kong from 1950 to the present. As you can see, Hong Kong started the period as a very poor jurisdiction, with per-capita output only about one-fourth of American levels.

But thanks to better policy, which led to faster growth compounding over several decades, Hong Kong has now caught up to the United States.

What’s most remarkable, if you look at the table, is that per-capita output over the past 65 years has soared by more than 1,275 percent in Hong Kong.

Needless to say, if the U.S. is out-performing Argentina and Hong Kong is out-performing the U.S., then a comparison of Hong Kong and Argentina would yield ever starker results.

I actually did something like that back in 2011 and the results further underscore that there’s a very powerful relationship between economic policy and economic performance.

Which brings us back to the fundamental issue of what system is best for the less fortunate in society?

I suppose that’s a judgement call, but poor people obviously have higher incomes and more opportunity when there’s strong economic growth.

But as Margaret Thatcher famously explained, some people are so consumed by disdain for success that they’re willing to accept more suffering for poor people if they can simultaneously lower the incomes of rich people.

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Last month, I cited data from Economic Freedom of the World to explain that the United States was becoming less competitive because of creeping protectionism and reductions in the rule of law and property rights.

Now I have more bad news to share.

Last year, the United States ranked #12 for economic liberty.

But according to the new rankings released yesterday, the United States now has dropped to #16. Here are the new rankings (based on a 0-10 scale), with Hong Kong and Singapore once again leading the pack.

Why did the United States drop? In part, because our score fell from 7.81 to 7.73, but also because of what happened to the scores of other nations.

The bottom line is that Georgia, Taiwan, Qatar, Ireland, and the United Kingdom jumped ahead of the United States, while Finland fell behind America.

Now let’s get more depressed.

If you dig through the archives and get the rankings for 2000, you can see that the latest fall from #12 to #16 is part of a very disturbing pattern. The United States used to be #3 in the world, with a score of 8.5.

Wow, falling from 8.5 to 7.73. That’s definitely an indictment of statist policy during the Bush and Obama years.

But I’m going to share even more depressing data.

The folks at the Fraser Institute who put together Economic Freedom of the World retroactively alter scores and rankings as they get more data (sort of the way the U.S. government periodically revises GDP and employment data).

So if you look at their big excel spreadsheet, you’ll see that the United States actually wound up ranked #2 in 2000 with a score of 8.65, marginally ahead of Singapore, which had a score of 8.61.

So we’ve actually dropped from #2 to #16 in the rankings, and our score has plunged from 8.65 to 7.73.

I’ve saved the worst for last. I crunched the numbers to see which nations suffered the biggest declines since 2000. As you can see, the United States has the unfortunate distinction of being on a list with basket case economies such as Venezuela and Argentina.

To make matters worse, at least the U.K. has been moving in the right direction in recent years, with a slight increase from 7.80 to 7.87 between 2010 and 2013. And Iceland also has been trying to improve. Its score has jumped from 6.43 to 6.87 over the past three years.

The United States, by contrast, has downward momentum.

P.S. The nation with the biggest improvement since 2000 is Romania. Thanks to reforms such as the flat tax, its score has skyrocketed from 5.31 to 7.69, an increase of 2.38 points. At this rate, they’ll easily pass the United States in next year’s rankings.

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This century has not been good news for economic liberty in the United States.

According to Economic Freedom of the World, America has dropped from being the 3rd-freest economy of the world in 2001 to the 12th-freest economy in the most recent rankings.

Perhaps more important, our aggregate score has fallen from 8.20 to 7.81 over the same period.

So why has the U.S. score dropped? Was it Bush’s spending binge? Obama’s stimulus boondoggle? All the spending and taxes in Obamacare? The fiscal cliff tax hike?

I certainly think all those policies were mistaken, but if you dig into the annual data, America’s score on “size of government” only fell from 7.1 to 7.0 between 2001 and 2012.

Which means economic freedom in the United States mostly declined for reasons other than fiscal policy. In other words, our score dropped because of what happened to our scores for trade policy, monetary policy, regulatory policy, and property rights and rule of law.

That triggered my curiosity. If America is #12 in the overall rankings, how would we rank if fiscal policy was removed from the equation?

Here are the results, showing the top 25 jurisdictions based on the four non-fiscal policy factors. As you can see, the United States drops from #12 to #24, which means we trail 14 European nations in these important measures of economic freedom.

If you look in the second column, you’ll notice how many of those European nations have double-digit increases when you look at their non-fiscal rankings compared to their overall rankings.

This is for two reasons.

First, their fiscal scores are terrible because of high tax rates and a stifling burden of government spending.

Second, these same nations are hyper-free market on issues such as trade, regulation, money, rule of law and property rights.

In other words, the data back up points I’ve made about policy in nations such as Denmark and Sweden.

In an ideal world, countries should have free markets and small government. In Northern Europe, they manage to get the first part right. Which is important since non-fiscal factors account for 80 percent of a nation’s overall grade.

Now let’s return to the issue of America’s decline.

Here are the non-fiscal rankings from 2001. As you can see, the United States was #5 at the time, scoring higher than even Singapore and Hong Kong. And the U.S. was behind only three European nations back in 2001.

For what it’s worth, America’s score has fallen primarily because of a significant drop in the trade category (from 8.7 to 7.7) and a huge drop for rule of law and property rights (from 8.7 to 7.0).

In other words, it’s not good for prosperity when a nation begins to have problems such as protectionism and politicized courts.

P.S. The erosion of America’s score for non-fiscal factors is particularly disappointing since improvements in those factors have played a big role in protecting the world from the negative economic consequences of more spending and taxes.

P.P.S. I think this is an example of correlation rather than causation, but the above rankings for non-fiscal economic liberty seem somewhat similar to the rankings I shared last week looking at overall societal freedom.

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Back in 2013, I shared a snarky post comparing murder rates in Chicago and Houston. What made the data amusing is that any sensible person would look at Chicago’s high murder rate and strict gun control and conclude that perhaps, just maybe, such policies don’t work.

But the post speculated that a left-wing social scientist would instead conclude that “cold weather causes murder.”

Today, let’s take a more serious look at the issue.

Here’s a great video, narrated by Bill Whittle, that looks at gun ownership rates and murder rates. As you can see, America is the number one nation for gun ownership, but we’re nowhere near the top in murder rates.

Having had many arguments with leftists, I can tell you that their response to this video will be to point out that America has one of the highest murder rates if you look solely at developed nations.

That’s true, but this is why the most persuasive data in the video comes near the end when Bill looks at murder rates by major metropolitan areas.

He shows that pro-gun control cities have very high murder rates, whereas heavily armed, pro-gun places such as Plano, TX, have murder rates lower than some of the most tranquil places on the planet.

And although Bill doesn’t make the connection, it’s very much worth noting that Switzerland is one of the world’s most heavily armed nations, yet the murder rate is extremely low.

Moreover, there were no murders in the most recent years for which data are available in Monaco and Liechtenstein, yet I’ve been told during visits to both principalities that there is widespread private gun ownership.

Gee, maybe John Lott is right about more guns leading to less crime.

P.S. Since we’re sharing good news on guns, here’s a heartwarming story about civil disobedience. But this isn’t about civil disobedience solely by gun owners, as we’ve seen in Connecticut.

This is a story about civil disobedience sanctioned by a law enforcement officer!

J.D. Tuccille of Reason reports on the principled behavior of a sheriff in New York.

Fulton County Sheriff Thomas J. Lorey is already known as a supporter of the Second Amendment… Despite the Empire State’s fame as a jurisdiction unfriendly to private gun ownership—or, really, any activity beyond the reach of government officials—Lorey isn’t alone in his views. The New York State Sheriffs Association and individual sheriffs are already on record opposing tightened gun laws and suing the governor to block their enforcement. But Lorey goes a step further, and urges his constituents to defy the state’s handgun permit law. …”I’m asking everyone that gets those invitations to throw them in the garbage because that is where they belong,” says Lorey in the video below. “They go in the garbage because, for 100 years or more, ever since the inception of pistol permits, nobody has ever been required to renew them.”

Makes me proud to be an American when I read things like this.

Though I guess we shouldn’t be surprised to see law enforcement officers express skepticism about gun control. A poll of cops found that they overwhelmingly reject the left’s anti-gun ideology.

And let’s not forget about the poll showing an overwhelming majority of regular citizens would engage in civil disobedience if the government tried to confiscate guns.

P.P.S. Since it’s Super Bowl weekend, here’s a depressing reminder of the NFL’s anti-gun bias.

P.P.P.S. If you like pro-Second Amendment videos, here’s a great collection.

And if you want gun control videos that are both funny and on the right side, here’s my collection.

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I’m tempted to feel a certain degree of sympathy for Paul Krugman.

As a leading proponent of the notion that bigger government stimulates growth (a.k.a., Keynesian economics), he’s in the rather difficult position of rationalizing why the economy was stagnant when Obama first took office and the burden of government spending was rising.

And he also has to somehow explain why the economy is now doing better at a time when the fiscal burden of government is declining.

But you have to give him credit for creativity. Writing in the New York Times, he attempts to square the circle.

Let’s start with his explanation for results in the United States.

…in America we haven’t had an official, declared policy of fiscal austerity — but we’ve nonetheless had plenty of austerity in practice, thanks to the federal sequester and sharp cuts by state and local governments.

If you define “austerity” as spending restraint, Krugman is right. Overall government spending has barely increased in recent years.

But then Krugman wants us to believe that there’s been a meaningful change in fiscal policy in the past year or so. Supposedly there’s been less so-called austerity and this explains why the economy is doing better.

The good news is that we…seem to have stopped tightening the screws: Public spending isn’t surging, but at least it has stopped falling. And the economy is doing much better as a result. We are finally starting to see the kind of growth, in employment and G.D.P., that we should have been seeing all along… What held us back was unprecedented public-sector austerity…now that this de facto austerity is easing, the economy is perking up.

But where’s his evidence? Whether you look at OMB data, IMF data, or OECD data, all those sources show that overall government spending has been steadily shrinking as a share of GDP ever since 2009.

And deficits also are shrinking as a share of economic output according to all these measures, so there’s still “austerity” regardless of whether we’re looking at the underlying disease of government spending or the symptom of red ink.

I sliced and diced the data to see if there was some way of justifying Krugman’s hypothesis and the only numbers that are (vaguely) supportive are the ones from the IMF that show total government spending (federal, state, and local) has increased by an average of 2.3 percent annually over the past two years, after increasing by 1.3 percent per year over the prior three years.

On that basis, one could sort of argue that Krugman is right and “austerity is easing.”

But if that’s his definition of victory, then I’m more than willing to let him be the winner. If we can constrain the public sector so that it grows at 2.3 percent annually, we’ll be complying with my Golden Rule and the burden of government spending will continue to slowly but surely shrink as a share of GDP.

And we’ll definitely have much better fiscal policy than we had between 2002-2009, when overall government spending rose by an average of 7.1 percent annually.

So does this mean Krugman and I are on the same page? During the Los Angeles riots in 1992, Rodney King famously asked, “Can we all get along?” Assuming Krugman is being serious, the answer in late 2014 is yes. It’s time to join hands and sing Kumbaya!

But you may sense a slight tone of sarcasm in my remarks, and that’s because Krugman surely doesn’t want government to “only” grow by 2.3 percent annually. He simply wants to justify his hypothesis that the economy’s improving performance is somehow due to less austerity. Even if that means he’s implicitly endorsing genuine spending restraint.

In other words, Krugman actually is being slippery and misleading in his analysis of American austerity.

But that’s nothing compared to his analysis of so-called austerity on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Here’s some of what he wrote about fiscal policy in the United Kingdom.

…in 2010 Britain’s newly installed Conservative government declared that a sharp reduction in budget deficits was needed to keep Britain from turning into Greece. Over the next two years growth in the British economy, which had been recovering fairly well from the financial crisis, more or less stalled. In 2013, however, growth picked up again — and the British government claimed vindication for its policies. Was this claim justified? No, not at all.

Krugman then claims that there was better economic performance because U.K. politicians decided against “further cuts.”

What actually happened was that the Tories stopped tightening the screws — they didn’t reverse the austerity that had already occurred, but they effectively put a hold on further cuts. …And sure enough, the nation started feeling better.

So is he right?

Well, the IMF numbers show that overall government spending has been growing, on average, by 2 percent annually since 2009. By today’s standards, that’s a decent record of spending restraint.

But what if we dissect the numbers? Did spending grow very slowly between 2010-2012, followed by a relaxation of restraint beginning in 2013? In other words, is Krugman’s argument legitimate, even if it requires him to implicitly endorse (as in the American example) decent fiscal discipline over the past two years?

Nope. Instead, the numbers show just the opposite. Between 2010-2012, the burden of government spending expanded by an average of 2.3 percent per year.

But over the past two years, the “austerity” has become tighter and the budget has grown by 1.5 percent annually.

In other words, it seems that Krugman is either sloppy or mendacious.

Though I’m going to give him an escape hatch, a way of justifying his assertions. When the Tories took over in the United Kingdom, they quickly imposed a series of tax hikes (in addition to the tax hikes imposed by the outgoing Labor government). But since that time, the government has implemented some tax cuts, most notably reductions in corporate tax rates and lower tax rates on personal income.

So if Krugman wants to argue that tax increases retarded the British economy for a few years and that tax cuts are now helping to boost growth, I’m willing to give him a probationary membership in the supply-side club.

But I don’t expect him at the next meeting.

P.S. This isn’t the first time Krugman has mangled numbers when analyzing U.K. fiscal policy.

P.P.S. He’s also butchered data when writing about fiscal policy in nations such as France, Estonia, and Germany,

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The United States is burdened with some very bad policies that hinder growth and undermine competitiveness. But sometimes you can win a race if your rivals have policies that are even more self-destructive.

And that’s a good description of why the U.S. economy is out-performing Europe and why people in the United States enjoy higher living standards than their European counterparts.

In 2010, I shared data showing that Americans had far higher levels of consumption than Europeans.

In 2012, I updated the numbers and showed once again that people in America far ahead of folks in Europe.

And here are the most recent numbers from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, showing “average individual consumption” for various member nations of that international bureaucracy.

The average for all OECD nations is 100, and the average for eurozone nations is 96, so the U.S. score of 147 illustrates how much better off Americans are than citizens of other countries.

The only nations that are even close to the United States have oil (like Norway) or are low-tax international financial centers (such as Luxembourg and Switzerland).

So why is the United States doing better than Europe?

There are two responses.

First, notwithstanding what I’ve just written, it’s a bit misleading to compare the U.S. to Europe. Simply stated, there are vast differences among European nations in terms of policies and living standards, much more than you find between and among American states.

There are nations such as Switzerland and Finland, for instance, that rank above the United States in Economic Freedom of the World. But there are also highly statist and moribund countries such as France, Italy, and Greece, as well as transition economies in Eastern Europe that are still trying to catch up after decades of communist oppression.

So overall America-vs-Europe comparisons should be accompanied by a grain of salt.

Second, now that we’ve ingested some salt, let’s draw some general conclusions about the role of public policy. Most important, nations with bigger governments and more intervention (as is the case for many European countries) generally don’t grow as fast or have the same living standards as nations with smaller governments and more reliance on competitive markets.

The comparisons can get complicated because there are a wide range of policies that impact economic performance (many people focus on fiscal policy, but trade, regulation, monetary policy, and the rule of law are equally important). Comparisons also can get confusing because there are some relatively rich nations with bad policy and some relatively poor nations with good policy, which is why it is important to look at how rich or poor nations are (or were) when there were significant changes in policy.

For instance, many nations in Western Europe became relatively rich in the 1800s and early 1900s when the overall burden of government was very small. Now they’ve adopted welfare states and growth is much slower (or, in some cases, nonexistent), but they’re oftentimes still in better shape than nations (such as Estonia and Chile) that only recently have liberalized their economies.

Now that we’ve gone through all this background, let’s look at a couple of stories that make me pessimistic about Europe’s future because they capture the mentality that seems dominant among continental policy makers.

First, one of the bright spots for the continent is that there’s been vigorous corporate tax competition. In other words, politicians have been under pressure to lower tax burdens on the business community because of concerns that jobs and investment will migrate to nations with better policy.

As you can imagine, this irks the political class (even though lower rates haven’t resulted in less revenue!).

So you won’t be surprised to learn that there’s a new push for tax harmonization in Europe. Here are some of the details from a news report.

France, Germany and Italy have joined forces to outlaw tax competition between EU countries in a letter to the European Commission. …the language and tone in the joint letter to the new Economic and Taxation Commissioner, Pierre Moscovici, is much more aggressive than in the past. …the letter from the finance ministers of the eurozone’s three largest economies says that “the lack of tax harmonisation in the European Union is one of the main causes allowing aggressive tax planning, base erosion and profit-shifting to develop”. …Vanessa Mock, commission spokeswoman said Mr Moscovici “welcomes these significant contributions to the work being carried out by the commission”.

Hmmm…., the Frenchmen who is the Economic and Taxation Commissioner “welcomes” a call from the governments of France, Germany, and Italy to outlaw tax competition. I’m shocked, shocked, by this development.

But as one British politician explained, this approach of higher business taxes will further undermine European economic vitality.

Now let’s shift to our second story, which illustrates the self-serving greed of the political elite at the European Commission.

Here are some passages from a story on the spectacular golden parachutes offered to outgoing senior Eurocrats. And we’ll focus on the former President of the European Council since he’s such a deserving target of ridicule.

Herman Van Rompuy will be entitled to more than £500,000 for doing nothing at the taxpayer’s expense over the next three years, after finishing his term as president of Europe. After standing down on Monday, the former president of the European Council will be paid £133,723 a year, 55 per cent of his basic salary, until December 2017 – to ease him back into life outside the world of Brussels officialdom.

Gee, how kind of European taxpayers to “ease him back” into the real world.

Except, of course, Van Rompuy’s never been in the real world. He’s had his snout in the public trough his entire life.

And he also gets to pay far less tax on this money compared to the poor slobs in the private sector who are footing the bill for this official largesse.

…The “transitional allowance” does not require Mr Van Rompuy to do any work at all and the cash will be paid under reduced rates of EU “community” tax, which are far lower than taxation in his native country of Belgium. …Mr Van Rompuy has not been a stranger to controversy over the perks of EU officialdom since he took the post in December 2009. He was widely criticised four years ago for using his official motorcade of five limousines as a taxi service to take his family on 325-mile round trip to Paris airport en route to a private holiday in the Caribbean. …The cost of Mr Van Rompuy’s retirement is part of a much larger bill for the handover of the administration in EU as former European Commissioners serving in the last Brussels executive pocket “transitional allowances” worth around £30million.

This scam has been in operation for several years, and keep in mind that excessive pay and lavish perks for commissioners are matched by excessive pay and lavish perks for member of the European Parliament (including taxpayer-financed penile implants).

And lavish pay and perks for European Union bureaucrats.

And don’t forget these are the folks who are pushing for bigger government and higher taxes on a pan-European basis. Like many of our politicians in Washington, they think the private sector is some sort of piñata that is capable of producing endless amounts of revenue to finance ever-expanding government.

Even though the evidence from Greece, Italy, Spain, etc, confirms that Margaret Thatcher was right when she warned that the problem with big government is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.

P.S. European bureaucrats have decided taxpayer-financed tourism is a human right. And they also use taxpayer money to produce self-aggrandizing comic books.

P.P.S. The European political elite are so bad that even President Obama has felt compelled to oppose some of their tax initiatives.

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It’s time for an updated version of the U.S. vs U.K. government stupidity contest.

This ongoing series has featured amazing feats of inane government, including the world’s most pointless road markings, photo-ID requirements for drain cleaner purchases, and a government so incompetent that it couldn’t give money away.

Today’s contest, though, is going to focus on examples of wimpiness from both sides of the Atlantic.

Here’s an excerpt from a story out of the United Kingdom. Apparently, one neurotic mother thinks her son is some sort of incompetent misfit.

OMG, he’s going to become a serial killer!!

A mother was left horrified after her 10-year-old son returned form Tesco’s supermarket with a pumpkin carving kit which included a sharp serrated blade. Natalie Greaves from Sheffield in South Yorkshire described her reaction to Shay returning home with the one pound kit: ‘I went berserk when he came home with it. ‘I couldn’t believe that he could pick that sort of thing up as a child – there should have been an age restriction on it.’

“Horrified”? “Beserk”? You must be kidding. If there’s someone in that family who shouldn’t be allowed around sharp objects, it’s the mother.

It’s almost enough to make me think the kid would be better off in foster care, notwithstanding my libertarian instincts that even bad homes are oftentimes better than state control.

But I also wonder what this says about the entire nation. Back in 2012, I shared some laughably pathetic examples of anti-gun political correctness from the United Kingdom and wondered how such inane behavior could exist in a country that “once ruled half the world.”

Needless to say, this story doesn’t reflect well on our cousins across the ocean.

But Americans are in no position to make fun of others since there are plenty of examples of brain-dead political correctness in the United States.

After all, you don’t want to throw stones if you live in a glass house. And when it comes to absurd anti-gun hysteria, government schools make Americans look like infantile idiots.

Here are parts of a story from a local news outlet in Alabama.

A Mobile mother is not happy about a controversial Mobile County School contract her daughter signed without her consent. The contract promises that her daughter will not kill or injure herself and others. …She said E R Dickson school officials crossed the line when they had her daughter sign a Mobile County Public Safety Contract without her being present.

This sounds serious. Are we talking about a 16-yr old gang member? A 17-yr old with psychiatric issues? A 15-yr old with a history of violence.

Ummm…not exactly.

The student, a 5-yr old girl named Elizabeth, was playing like a normal kid. Here are some of the details.

School officials told Rebecca they had to send Elizabeth home after an incident in class.  “They told me she drew something that resembled a gun,” said Rebecca. “According to them she pointed a crayon at another student and said, ‘pew pew,” said Rebecca. She said her child was given a questionnaire to evaluate her for suicidal thoughts. “[They] Asked her if she was depressed now,” said Rebecca. Without her permission, Rebecca said her child was given the Mobile County Public School Safety Contract to sign stating she wouldn’t kill herself or others. “While I was in the lobby waiting they had my 5-year-old sign a contract about suicide and homicide,” said Rebecca. …Rebecca is pushing to have the incident removed from her child’s record. She said school officials have requested Elizabeth see a psychiatrist.

As I’ve argued before, in cases like this it’s the school bureaucrats who need counseling.

So which nation wins the prize for the worst example of P.C. wimpiness?

I’m ashamed to say that the United States probably deserves that dubious honor. After all, the story from the U.K. involves one weird parent while the U.S. story involves a deliberate decision by an arm of government.

Though I will point out that it’s not just one screwy parent in the United Kingdom. Wimpiness appears to be pervasive.

The mum-of-three checked online and found similar carving kits with restrictions allowing only people over-18 to buy it. A Tesco spokesperson responded to this mother’s anger… ‘We were concerned by this incident and acted immediately to ensure all pumpkin carving knives will trigger an age restriction till prompt.’

So maybe the U.K. story belongs in the U.K. vs. U.S. private sector political correctness contest.

P.S. Let’s shift to a different topic. I recently wrote that the jihad against tobacco at the U.N.’s World Health Organization was a classic (and tragic) case of resources being diverted from something that genuinely matters, such as fighting deadly infectious disease.

A column in the Wall Street Journal makes the same point, only it identifies the silly crusade against sugar as the main example of mission creep.

The WHO’s record of handling epidemics over 30 years reveals a health system that is getting worse, not better. On at least four occasions the U.N. organization has failed to deal with major outbreaks of communicable disease. …The list of internal problems that cause the WHO to fumble when faced with an epidemic is no secret. …an array of disparate programs within the WHO—such as the current crusade against processed sugar and sugar beverages—have diverted time, attention and money from higher priorities, such as tracking and responding to epidemic diseases.

And the Washington Examiner has opined on the same issue.

Years of dramatically overstaffed city agencies, over-generous retirement promises to public employee unions, and white-elephant development projects had left the city unable to police its streets, keep street lamps on, maintain parks, or provide other basic government services, no matter how much the city government raised taxes. The lesson of Detroit is one that governments everywhere can learn: In a world with finite resources, governments that try to do too much end up neglecting even the essential. Detroit’s case is a microcosm of what Americans are now experiencing nationwide in several different areas — the evident inability of public health officials to manage the Ebola scare competently is just one of them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency that instructed a mildly symptomatic patient with known exposure to Ebola to board a commercial flight this week, spends millions annually on bonuses for top employees, bicycle paths, farmers markets, and other luxuries. …Even if they enjoy using the money the nation has for disease control and vaccine research to fund instead research on origami condoms and to appease politically active bicyclists, public health bureaucrats might do better in the future putting their massive budgets toward basic preparedness for precisely the kind of emergency the CDC was created to address.

The link between small government and effective government is something Calvin Coolidge understood. Needless to say, that’s not the attitude of the current occupant of the White House, which is why this bit of humor is worth sharing.

I think the unintentional video on Obama’s new Ebola Czar is even funnier, but whoever put this together gets high marks for cleverness.

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Divided government is good for America’s economy.

Or, to be more specific, divided government is a net plus if the alternative is to have statists fully in charge of economic policy.

I made this point back in 2012 when I pointed out that the unemployment rate started falling after Republicans captured the House of Representatives, and we got further good results when gridlock led to an end to extended unemployment benefits, first in North Carolina and then the entire country.

We also see positive evidence in the new rankings from the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World, which was published this week.

As you can see from this chart, the United States fell in 2010 to #18 in this global ranking of economic liberty, but now America has improved to #12.

That’s still far below our #3 ranking when Bill Clinton left office, so we’re still paying a high price for the statist policies of both Bush and Obama, but at least we’re finally moving back in the right direction.

If you look at the underlying data, you can see why America’s score has increased since 2010.

There was a slight improvement in the scores for trade and regulation, but that was offset by declines in the scores for monetary policy and property rights.

Fiscal policy is the area where there was a significant improvement for the United States, which matches with my data showing that sequestration and the Tea Party made a big difference by significantly slowing the growth of government spending.

But the improvement over the past two years, as noted above, is small compared to the decline in the previous 10 years.

Here’s how Economic Freedom of the World describes America’s fall.

The 7.81 chain-linked rating of the United States in 2012 is more than 8/10 of a point lower than the 2000 rating. What accounts for the US decline? While US ratings and rankings have fallen in all five areas of the EFW index, the reductions have been largest in the Legal System and Protection of Property Rights (Area 2)… The plunge in Area 2 has been huge. In 2000, the 9.23 rating of the United States was the 9th highest in the world. But by 2012, the area rating had plummeted to 6.99, placing it 36th worldwide. …the increased use of eminent domain to transfer property to powerful political interests, the ramifications of the wars on terrorism and drugs, and the violation of the property rights of bondholders in the auto-bailout case have weakened the tradition of strong adherence to the rule of law in United States. …To a large degree, the United States has experienced a significant move away from rule of law and toward a highly regulated, politicized, and heavily policed state.

Geesh, we’re becoming another Argentina.

Looking at the big picture, a falling score is not a trivial issue.

The decline in the summary rating between 2000 and 2012 on the 10-point scale of the index may not sound like much, but scholarly work on this topic indicates that a one-point decline in the EFW rating is associated with a reduction in the long-term growth of GDP of between 1.0 and 1.5 percentage points annually (Gwartney, Holcombe, and Lawson, 2006). This implies that, unless policies undermining economic freedom are reversed, the future annual growth of the US economy will be only about half its historic average of 3%.

Amen. This is why I worry so much about the corrosive impact of big government.

Now let’s look at the overall ratings for all nations. The chart is too large to show all nations, so here are the nations with the most economic freedom.

You shouldn’t be surprised to see that Hong Kong and Singapore own the top two spots.

Other nations with very high scores include New Zealand, Switzerland, Mauritius, UAE, Canada, Australia, Jordon and Chile.

Getting a good score today, however, is no guarantee of getting a good score in the future.

I’ve already expressed concern about Australia moving in the wrong direction, but I’m even more worried about Chile. That nation’s socialist President is making very bad moves on fiscal policy, and also is trying to undermine her country’s very successful system of school choice.

But it would take a lot of bad policy for Chile to drop down to the level of Venezuela, which has the dubious honor of being in last place.

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To put it mildly, I’m not a fan of the so-called Tax Justice Network. In a moment of typical understatement, I referred to the U.K.-based group as “…a bunch of crazy Euro-socialists.”

And to give you an idea of why I don’t like them, here’s some of what I wrote about them two years ago.

…the Tax Justice Network [is] closely allied with governments in left-wing nations such as France, and they share the same goals as statist international bureaucracies such as the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. If they succeed in crippling tax competition and setting up some sort of global network of tax police, more politicians will raise tax rates, causing more misery, and bringing more nations one step closer to Greek-style fiscal collapse.

With this bit of background, it goes without saying that I very rarely agree with TJN.

But just as a stopped clock is right twice daily, the Tax Justice Network on rare occasions will produce some worthwhile research. For example, here are some passages from my article in the latest issue of the Cayman Financial Review (where I’m a member of the Editorial Board).

…would anybody, if asked to list the world’s 10 biggest tax havens, put together a list that includes Germany, Japan and the United States? Sounds absurd, but that’s precisely what the ideologues at the Tax Justice Network (TJN) asserted in the Financial Secrecy Index (FSI) released last November. …To be fair, though, the methodological approach used in the FSI report is not wholly objectionable. The TJN is seeking to come up with a measure that combines both the degree to which a jurisdiction has “secrecy” laws and the extent to which that jurisdiction attracts global capital. In other words, the TJN’s philosophical leanings are extreme and the organization obviously is motivated by a desire to hinder tax competition and fiscal sovereignty, but the FSI report provides an interesting way of seeing which so-called tax havens play the biggest role in the world economy.

And one of the biggest tax havens – number 6 according to TJN – is the United States.

TJN FSI 2013I have no objection to their choice.

It makes sense to include the United States because there are several attractive policies for global investors, including the non-taxation and non-reporting of certain types of capital income. Moreover, several states have very friendly incorporation laws.

When I’m talking about “friendly incorporation laws,” I’m referring to the fact that states such as Delaware, Nevada, Wyoming, and others make it easy for everyone – particularly foreigners – to set up companies. This is a good thing for business and investment, but it irks statists because many American states don’t require the collection and sharing of information that foreign governments want for purposes of enforcing bad tax law.

So the United States is a de facto tax haven.

But that’s just part of the story. When I discuss the “non-taxation and non-reporting of certain types of capital income,” I’m referring to the fact that the internal revenue code generally does not impose tax on interest and capital gains paid to  foreigners (specifically nonresident aliens). And because we don’t tax those payments, there’s no requirement to report that information to any government. As you can imagine, this irks the left because it means there’s no information to share with foreign governments that want to track – and tax – flight capital.

To reiterate, this makes the United States is a de facto tax haven.

These laws are extremely beneficial to the American economy. To get an idea of why the United States is a big winner from being a “tax haven,” look at this chart showing historical data on the amount of money foreigners have invested in stocks, bonds, and other forms of indirect (sometimes called passive) investment in America.

By any standard, $13 trillion is a lot of money. Those funds boost our financial markets, enable job creation, and increase economic performance. We don’t know how much of that money is invested in the United States because we have a friendly and confidential tax system for nonresident aliens, but it surely helps to explain why there’s so much foreign investment in America.

Let’s be thankful that the United States is a so-called tax haven. Those pro-growth policies help to offset Obama’s bad policies. Indeed, two Canadian economists found that tax havens actually are economically beneficial for high-tax nations.

But that’s not the moral of the story. Yes, I like that America is a tax haven for foreigners, but the real moral of the story is that we should apply the same good policies to Americans.

Let’s get rid of the corrupt internal revenue code and adopt a simple and fair flat tax. That means a low tax rate, of course, but it also means no double taxation of income that is saved and invested.

Which means Americans would get the same pro-growth treatment now reserved for foreigners.

For more information, here’s my video on the economic argument for tax havens.

P.S. You won’t be surprised to learn that hypocritical leftists love using tax havens to protect their money even though they want to deny that freedom to the rest of us.

P.P.S. I’m such an avid defender of tax havens that I almost wound up in a Mexican jail. That’s dedication!

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There’s an old joke about two guys camping in the woods, when suddenly they see a hungry bear charging over a hill in their direction. One of the guys starts lacing up his sneakers and his friend says, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear.” The other guys says, I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just need to outrun you.”

That’s reasonably amusing, but it also provides some insight into national competitiveness. In the battle for jobs and investments, nations can change policy to impact their attractiveness, but they also can gain ground or lose ground because of what happens in other nations.

The corporate tax rate in the United States hasn’t been changed in decades, for instance, but the United States has fallen further and further behind the rest of the world because other nations have lowered their rates.

Courtesy of a report in the UK-based Telegraph, here’s another example of how relative policy changes can impact growth and competitiveness.

The paper looks at changes in the burden of welfare spending over the past 14 years. The story understandably focuses on how the United Kingdom is faring compared to other European nations.

Welfare spending in Britain has increased faster than almost any other country in Europe since 2000, new figures show.  The cost of unemployment benefits, housing support and pensions as share of the economy has increased by more than a quarter over the past thirteen years – growing at a faster rate than in most of the developed world. Spending has gone up from 18.6 per cent of GDP to 23.7 per cent of GDP – an increase of 27 per cent, according to figures from the OECD, the club of most developed nations. By contrast, the average increase in welfare spending in the OECD was 16 per cent.

This map from the story shows how welfare spending has changed in various nations, with darker colors indicating a bigger expansion in the welfare state.

Welfare Spending - Europe

American readers, however, may be more interested in this excerpt.

In the developed world, only the United States and the stricken eurozone states of Ireland, Portugal and Spain – which are blighted by high unemployment – have increased spending quicker than Britain.

Yes, you read correctly. The United States expanded the welfare state faster than almost every European nation.

Here’s another map, but I’ve included North America and pulled out the figures for the countries that suffered the biggest increases in welfare spending. As you can see, only Ireland and Portugal were more profligate than the United States.

Welfare Spending - NA + WE

Needless to say, this is not a good sign for the United States.

But the situation is not hopeless. The aforementioned numbers simply tell us the rate of change in welfare spending. But that doesn’t tell us whether countries have big welfare states or small welfare states.

That’s why I also pulled out the numbers showing the current burden of welfare spending – measured as a share of economic output – for countries in North America and Western Europe.

This data is more favorable to the United States. As you can see, America still has one of the lowest overall levels of welfare spending among developed nations.

Welfare Spending - NA + WE -Share GDP

Ireland also is in a decent position, so the real lesson of the data is that the United States and Ireland must have been in relatively strong shape back in 2000, but the trend over the past 14 years has been very bad.

It’s also no surprise that France is the most profligate of all developed countries.

Let’s close by seeing if any nations have been good performers. The Telegraph does note that Germany has done a good job of restraining spending. The story even gives a version of Mitchell’s Golden Rule by noting that good policy happens when spending grows slower than private output.

Over the thirteen years from 2000, Germany has cut welfare spending as a share of GDP by 1.5 per cent… Such reductions are possible by increasing welfare bills at a lower rate than growth in the economy.

But the more important question is whether there are nations that get good scores in both categories. In other words, have they controlled spending since 2000 while also having a comparatively low burden of welfare outlays?

Welfare Spending - The Frugal FiveHere are the five nations with the smallest increases in welfare spending since 2000. You can see that Germany had the best relative performance, but you’ll notice from the previous table that Germany is not on the list of five nations with the smallest overall welfare burdens. Indeed, German welfare spending consumes 26.2 percent of GDP, so Germany still has a long way to go.

The nation that does show up on both lists for frugality is Switzerland. Spending has grown relatively slowly since 2000 and the Swiss also have the third-lowest overall burdens of welfare spending.

Hmmm…makes you wonder if this is another sign that Switzerland’s “debt brake” spending cap is a policy to emulate.

By the way, Canada deserves honorable mention. It has the second-lowest overall burden of welfare spending, and it had the sixth-best performance in controlling spending since 2000. Welfare outlays in our northern neighbor grew by 10 percent since 2000, barely one-fourth as fast as the American increase during the reckless Bush-Obama years.

No wonder Canada is now much higher than the United States in measures of economic freedom.

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When I’m in Europe giving speeches and participating in conferences, it’s quite common that folks on the left will attempt to discredit my views by asserting that Americans are selfish and greedy.

Since I’m generally sympathetic to Ayn Rand’s writings, I don’t see anything wrong with people striving to make themselves better off. Moreover, Adam Smith noted back in 1776 that the desire to earn more money leads other people to make our lives better. One of his most famous observations is that, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

But, for the sake of argument, let’s accept the premise of my statist friends in Europe and simply look at whether their assertion is correct. Are Americans more selfish and greedy that their counterparts across the ocean?

The most obvious way of testing this proposition is to compare rates and levels of voluntary charity. Selfish and greedy people presumably will cling to their money while compassionate and socially conscious people will share their blessings with others.

So how does the United State compare to other nations? Well, I’m not a big fan of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but the bureaucrats in Paris are quite good at collecting statistics from member nations and producing apples-to-apples comparisons.

And if you look at rates of “voluntary private social expenditure” among nations, it turns out that Americans are easily the most generous people in the developed world.

Voluntary Social Expenditure in OECD Nations

Wow, people in the United States are so generous that their voluntary giving amounts to 10.2 percent of gross domestic product. The only other nations that even crack 5 percent of GDP are the Netherlands, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Most of the supposedly compassionate welfare states have dismal levels of charitable giving. Voluntary social expenditure in major European nations such as France, Germany, Italy, and Spain averages less than 2 percent of GDP.

It’s also worth noting that these numbers actually understate the charity gap between Americans and folks from other nations. Economic output in the United States is about 30 percent higher than it is in the rest of the developed world, so charitable giving by Americans actually represents a much bigger slice of a much bigger pie.

Statists might respond by asserting that Europeans express their generosity through the public sector. I reject that comparison since – as I explained when criticizing a Michael Gerson column – it’s wrong to equate government coercion with private charity.

But even if you have the European mindset that government should be a vehicle for redistribution, the OECD numbers show that there’s not much difference between the United States and other developed nations. According to the OECD data, government redistributes 20 percent of GDP in America compared to an average of 21.9 percent of GDP for all OECD nations. And since there’s strong evidence that government redistribution undermines progress in the fight against poverty, I actually wish there was a big gap between America and other nations!

And don’t forget, by the way, that 20 percent of U.S. GDP is a lot more money than 21.9 percent of GDP in other nations, so government in the United States spends more on redistribution, on average, than other OECD governments. Indeed, I’ve already shared healthcare numbers making that same point.

P.S. It’s also worth sharing the data showing that proponents of small government in the United States are far more generous than those who favor a big welfare state.

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A reader from New York has a follow-up question for me.

Referencing a “Question of the Week” from last month, in which I expressed guarded optimism that America could be saved, she wants to know what I would do if things go the wrong way.

In other words, what if things go really wrong and America suffers a Greek-style fiscal collapse? And imagine how bad that might be since there wouldn’t be an IMF or European Central Bank capable of providing bailouts to the United States.

Perhaps because of an irrational form of patriotism, I’m fairly certain that I will always live in the United States and I will be fighting to preserve (or restore) liberty until my last breath.

But I probably would want my children someplace safe and stable, so I’ll answer the question from that perspective.

The obvious first choice is a zero-income tax jurisdiction like the Cayman Islands that is prosperous and reasonably well governed.

But I’m not sure about the long-run outlook for the Cayman Islands, in part because the politicians there have flirted with an income tax and in part because the jurisdiction inevitably would suffer if the United States was falling apart.

So what’s a place that is stable and not overly tied to the American economy.

Then the obvious choice is Switzerland. That nation’s long-run fiscal outlook is relatively favorable because of  modest-sized government and a very good spending control mechanism.

But while Switzerland is not dependent on the U.S. economy, it is surrounded by European welfare states. And I’m fairly certain that nations such as France, Italy, and (perhaps) Germany will collapse before America.

And even though most Swiss households have machine guns and the nation presumably can defend itself from barbarian hordes in search of a new welfare check, Switzerland’s probably not the ideal location.

Estonia is one of my favorite countries, and they’ve implemented some good reforms such as the flat tax. But I worry about demographic decline. Plus, I’m a weather wimp and it’s too chilly most of the year.

Another option is a stable nation in Latin America, perhaps Chile, Panama, or Costa Rica. I haven’t been to Chile, but I’m very impressed by the nation’s incredible progress in recent decades. I have been to Panama many times and it is one of my favorite nations. I’ve only been to Costa Rica two times, but it also seems like a nice country.

The bad news is that I don’t speak Spanish (and my kids don’t speak the language, either). The good news is that Hispanics appear to be the world’s happiest people, so that should count for something.

“G’day mate, we’ve privatized our social security system!”

This brings me to Australia, the country that probably would be at the top of my list. The burden of government spending in Australia is less than it is in the United States.

But the gap isn’t that large. The reason I like Australia is that the nation has a privatized Social Security system (called Superannuation) and the long-run fiscal outlook is much, much better than the United States.

Plus the Aussies are genuinely friendly and they speak an entertaining form of English.

So if America goes under, I recommend going Down Under.

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