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Updated: 1 hour 13 min ago

Taxpayer-Subsidized Corruption in Europe

Sun, 11/03/2019 - 12:25pm

The Department of Agriculture should be abolished. Yesterday, if possible.

It’s basically a welfare scam for politically connected farmers and it undermines the efficiency of America’s agriculture sector.

Some of the specific handouts – such as those for milkcornsugar, and even cranberries – are unbelievably wasteful.

But the European Union’s system of subsidies may be even worse. As reported by the New York Times, it is a toxic brew of waste, fraud, sleaze, and corruption.

…children toil for new overlords, a group of oligarchs and political patrons…a feudal system…financed and emboldened by the European Union. Every year, the 28-country bloc pays out $65 billion in farm subsidies… But across…much of Central and Eastern Europe, the bulk goes to a connected and powerful few. The prime minister of the Czech Republic collected tens of millions of dollars in subsidies just last year. Subsidies have underwritten Mafia-style land grabs in Slovakia and Bulgaria. …a subsidy system that is deliberately opaque, grossly undermines the European Union’s environmental goals and is warped by corruption and self-dealing. …The program is the biggest item in the European Union’s central budget, accounting for 40 percent of expenditures. It’s one of the largest subsidy programs in the world. …The European Union spends three times as much as the United States on farm subsidies each year, but as the system has expanded, accountability has not kept up. …Even as the European Union champions the subsidy program as an essential safety net for hardworking farmers, studies have repeatedly shown that 80 percent of the money goes to the biggest 20 percent of recipients. …It is a type of modern feudalism, where small farmers live in the shadows of huge, politically powerful interests — and European Union subsidies help finance it.

Is anyone surprised that big government leads to big corruption?

By the way, the article focused on the sleaze in Eastern Europe.

The problem, however, is not regional. Here’s a nice visual showing how there’s also plenty of graft lining pockets in Western Europe.

P.S. I imagine British politicians will concoct their own system of foolish subsidies, but the CAP handouts are another reason why voters were smart to vote for Brexit.

P.P.S. The CAP subsidies are one of many reasons why the European Union has been a net negative for national economies.

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Image credit: Håkan Dahlström | CC BY 2.0.

Senator Warren’s Looney Medicare-for-All Scheme

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 12:04pm

I’ve always considered Senator Bernie Sanders to be the most clueless and misguided of all presidential candidates.

But I also think “Crazy Bernie” is actually sincere. He really believes in socialism.

Elizabeth Warren, by contrast, seems more calculating. Her positions (on issues such as Social Securitycorporate governancefederal spendingtaxationWall Street, etc).) are radical, but it’s an open question whether she’s a true believer in statism. It’s possible that she simply sees a left-wing agenda as the best route to winning the Democratic nomination.

Regardless of motive, though, her proposals are economic lunacy. So maybe it’s time to give her “Looney Liz” as a nickname.

Consider, for instance, her new Medicare-for-All scheme. She got hammered for promising trillions of dollars of new goodies without specifying how it would be financed, so she’s put forward a plan that ostensibly fits the square peg in a round hole.

But as Chuck Blahous of the Mercatus Center explains, her plan is a farce.

…presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren released her proposal to ostensibly pay for the costs of Medicare for All (M4A) without raising taxes on the middle class. As published, the plan would not actually finance the costs of M4A. …the Warren proposal understates M4A’s costs, as quantified by multiple credible studies, by about 34.2%. Another 11.2% of the cost would be met by cutting payments to health providers such as physicians and hospitals. Approximately 20% of the financing is sought by tapping sources that are unavailable for various reasons, for example because she has already committed that funding to other priorities, or because the savings from them was already assumed in the top-line cost estimate. The remaining 34.6% would be met by an array of new and previous tax proposals, most of it consisting of new taxes affecting everyone now carrying employer-provided health insurance, including the middle class.

Here’s a pie chart showing that Warren is relying on smoke and mirrors for more than 50 percent of the financing.

By the way, the supposedly real parts of her plan, such as the new taxes, are a very bad idea.

Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute unleashed a flurry of tweets exposing flaws in her proposal.

Since I’m a tax wonk, here’s the one that grabbed my attention.

Combination of 35% corporate rate (worldwide, no deferral), “Real corporate profits tax,” curtail depreciation, huge capital gains taxes, financial transactions tax, bank tax, and 6% wealth tax is economic fantasyland. Taxes on capital would be through the roof. 9/

— Brian Riedl (@Brian_Riedl) November 1, 2019

Wow. Higher taxes on domestic business income, higher taxes on foreign-source business income, higher taxes on business investment, more double taxation of capital gains, a tax on financial transactions, and a very punitive wealth tax (which would be a huge indirect tax on all saving and investment).

If ever enacted, the United States presumably would drop to last place in the Tax Foundation’s competitiveness ranking.

And let’s not forget that Medicare-for-All would dramatically increase the burden of government spending. In one fell swoop, we’d become Greece.

Actually, that probably overstates the damage. Based on my Lassez-Faire Index, I’m guessing we’d be more akin to Spain or Belgium (in other words, falling from #6 in the rankings to the #35-#40 range according to Economic Freedom of the World).

P.S. Don’t forget that Medicare has a massive shortfall already.

P.P.S. Looney Liz’s plan is terrible fiscal policy, but keep in mind it’s also terrible health policy since it would exacerbate the third-party payer problem.

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Image credit: Gage Skidmore | CC BY-SA 2.0.

Full Socialism vs. Full Stomachs

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 12:52pm

Lord Acton famously noted that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I need to develop something similar about socialism. Based on the statism spectrum, it could be something like “socialism deprives and absolute socialism deprives absolutely.”

In other words, the bigger the government, the worse the results.

And when the government controls everything, the consequences can be catastrophic. Horrifyingly catastrophic, as Marian Tupy explains.

America’s college-educated youth…are too young to remember the Cold War and few study history. It is, therefore, timely to remind the millennials of what socialism wrought – especially in some of the world’s poorest countries. Those of us who remember the early 1980s will always remember the images of starving Ethiopian children. …these were the innocent victims of the Derg – a group of Marxist militants who took over the Ethiopian government… Between 1983 and 1985, some 400,000 people starved to death. …in 1999, Robert Mugabe, the 92-year-old Marxist dictator who came to power in 1980, embarked on a catastrophic “land reform” program. The program saw the nationalization of privately-held farmland and the expulsion of non-African farmers and businessmen. The result was a collapse of agricultural output, the second highest hyperinflation in recorded history that peaked at 89.7 sextillion or 89,700,000,000,000,000,000,000 percent per year and an unemployment rate of 94 percent. Thousands of Zimbabweans died of hunger and disease despite massive international help.

It turns out that governments have played big roles in some of the worst famines in recent memory.

Benjamin Zycher’s table of the greatest famines of the 20th century. …six out of the 10 worst famines happened in socialist countries. Other famines, including those in Nigeria, Somalia and Bangladesh, were partly a result of war and partly a result of a government’s economic mismanagement.

Here’s a table with some of the grim totals. Unsurprisingly, Pol Pot’s Cambodia is at the top of the list.

In some cases, such as Cambodia and Ukraine, starvation was a policy choice by evil communist governments (are there any other kinds?).

In other cases, the total state control of economic life produced famine as a byproduct.

In either case, Marian has a suggestion for some of today’s vapid millennials.

Wherever it has been tried, from the Soviet Union in 1917 to Venezuela in 2015, socialism has failed. Socialists have promised a utopia marked by equality and abundance. Instead, they have delivered tyranny and starvation. Young Americans should keep that in mind.

And if they forget, here’s an excellent cartoon from Pat Cross that may be easier to remember (h/t: Mark Perry).

P.S. The table looks at starvation in the 20th century. Let’s not forget that people currently are dying of malnutrition in the socialist hellhole of Venezuela (the lucky ones raid zoos and eat household pets for food).

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Image credit: ZiaLater | CC BY-SA 3.0.

Halloween Humor

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 12:41pm

My all-time favorite bit of Halloween humor is this video, which I periodically recycle.

Courtesy of the satirists at Babylon Bee, we now have some more Halloween-themed humor.

haunted house for our left-leaning friends!

It’s that time of year where houses, churches, and businesses around the neighborhood begin opening up their haunted houses for those seeking a good fright. One haunted house in Portland is promising progressives the scariest experience of all: a tour of a regular conservative guy’s home. The home contains a sizable collection of guns, several Bibles, a few American flags, some pictures of Ronald Reagan, and of course, a copy of the Constitution. “I can’t look!” screamed one progressive as he opened one door and saw a hunting rifle. “Ahhhhh!!!” He ran from the house screaming, taking shelter in a nearby yoga studio. …No progressive has currently made it through more than a few rooms in the house, as they usually run screaming or dive out a window in their hurry to get away.

By the way, we can’t have a holiday without considering how it is hindered by the visible foot of government (as opposed to the prosperity-creating invisible hand of the market).

Janelle Cammenga of the Tax Foundation has some analysis of how state politicians have turned the taxation of candy into a complicated mess.

If you’re like many Americans, you’ve been stockpiling bags of chocolate and nougat-based treats to share with trick-or-treaters… In other words, there’s no better time for a map looking at how different state sales taxes treat consumable goods like candy… Forty-five states and the District of Columbia levy a state sales tax. Of those, thirty-two states and the District of Columbia exempt groceries from the sales tax base. Twenty-three states and D.C. treat either candy or soda differently than groceries. Eleven of the states that exempt groceries from their sales tax base include both candy and soda in their definition of groceries: Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, Vermont, and Wyoming. …This picking and choosing creates arbitrary and counterintuitive discrepancies that go beyond the bowl of Halloween candy. If you live in New Jersey, it also affects the jack-o-lantern on your front porch. A recent tweet by the New Jersey Division of Taxation reminded consumers that decorative pumpkins are subject to sales tax, but pumpkins intended to be eaten are exempt. …Twenty-four states align with the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA), which determines that candy is different from other sweet foods because it comes in the form of bars, drops, or pieces, and does not contain flour. …this particular definition leads to some interesting distinctions: If you bought a Hershey’s® bar, it would be subject to sales tax. If you bought a Twix® bar, it would be tax-free.

If that wasn’t sufficiently confusing, here’s a map showing the strange mix of different tax regimes.

At the risk of being wonky, the best sales tax is zero. Just like the best income tax is zero.

But if politicians are going to grab that source of revenue, they should have the lowest-possible rate and impose it evenly on all consumption. As the Tax Foundation observed, “…states and consumers alike would benefit from a low, flat-rate sales tax that captures all final consumer products. Such a tax would be easy to administer, providing a stable source of revenue through a neutral and transparent structure.”

At the risk of understatement, it’s not good tax policy to have zero-tax rules for groceries combined with a hodge-podge of special taxes on candy.

But politicians benefit from a complicated approach because they can swap special favors for campaign cash. Just like the crowd in Washington uses the internal revenue code as a means of extorting money.

P.S. Thanks to corrupt sugar subsidies, our Halloween candy is needlessly expensive.

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Image credit: WxMom | CC BY-SA 2.0.

What Nation Most Punishes Success?

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 12:59pm

In some cases, politicians actually understand the economics of tax policy.

It’s quite common, for instance, to hear them urging higher taxes on tobacco because they want to discourage smoking.

I don’t think it’s their job to tell people how to live their lives, but I agree with their economic analysis. The more you tax something, the less you get of it.

One of my many frustrations is that those politicians then conveniently forget that lesson when it comes to taxing things that are good, such as work, saving, production, and investment.

And some countries are more punitive than others. There’s some new research from the European Policy Information Center, Timbro, and the Tax Foundation, that estimates the “effective marginal tax rate” for successful taxpayers for 41 major countries.

And they don’t simply look at the top income tax rates. They quite properly include other taxes that contribute to “deadweight loss” by driving a wedge between pre-tax income and post-tax consumption.

The political discussion around taxing high-earners usually revolves around the income tax, but in order to get a complete picture of the tax burden high-income earners face, it is important to consider effective marginal tax rates. The effective marginal tax rate answers the question, “If a worker gets a raise such that the total cost to the employer increases by one dollar, how much of that is appropriated by the government in the form of income tax, social security contributions, and consumption taxes?” …all taxes that affect the return to work should be taken into account. …Combining data mainly from international accounting firms, the OECD, and the European Commission, we are able to calculate marginal tax rates in the 41 members of the OECD and/or EU.

The main message of this research is that you don’t want to live in Sweden, where you only keep 24 percent of any additional income you produce.

And you should also avoid SloveniaBelgium, Portugal, Finland, France, etc.

Congratulations to Bulgaria for being the anti-class warfare nation. That’s a smart strategy for a nation trying to recover from decades of communist deprivation.

American readers will be happy to see that the United States looks reasonably good, though New Zealand is the best of the rich nations, followed by Switzerland.

Speaking of which, we need a caveat for nations with federalist systems, such as the U.S., Switzerland, and Canada. In these cases, the top income tax rate is calculated by adding the central government’s top rate with the average top rate for sub-national governments.

So successful entrepreneurs in those countries actually have the ability to reduce their tax burdens if they make wise decisions on where to live (such as Texas or Florida in the case of the United States).

Let’s now shift to some economic analysis. The report makes (what should be) an obvious point that high tax rates have negative economic effects.

Countries should be cautious about placing excessive tax burdens on high-income earners, for several reasons. In the short run, high marginal tax rates induce tax avoidance and tax evasion, and can cause high-income earners to reduce their work effort or hours.

I would add another adverse consequence. Successful taxpayers can move.

That’s especially true in Europe, where cross-border tax migration is much easier than it is in the United States.

But even though there are odious exit taxes for people leaving the United States, we’ll see an exodus if we wind up with some of the crazy tax policies being advocated by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

P.S. Today’s column looks at how nations rank based on the taxation of labor income. For taxation of capital income, the rankings look quite different. For instance, because of pervasive double taxation, the United States gets poor scores for over-taxing dividendscapital gains, and businesses.

P.P.S. If you want to see tax rates on middle-income workers (though it omits value-added taxes), here is some OECD data.

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Image credit: geralt | Pixabay License.

Capitalism and Workers: Counter-Tweet of the Year

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 12:59pm

In early September, I wrote about how capital and labor are both necessary to create prosperity.

Economists sometimes explain this with lots of jargon, referring to capital and labor as “factors of production” and pointing out how they are “complementary.”

In ordinary English, this simply means that workers earn more income when they are equipped with better machinery, equipment, and technology. Similarly, investors can only generate earnings if they have people to utilize capital.

This doesn’t mean that there’s a happy relationship between labor and capital. Indeed, there’s a constant tug or war over who gets what slice of the economic pie.

That being said, the relationship tends to be reasonably cordial so long as the pie is growing.

According to some folks on the left, though, that’s not the case. From their perspective, workers get screwed and capitalists grab ever-larger slices. Consider, for example, this tweet from @existentialcoms.

This tweet made a big splash, with nearly 30,000 likes and more than 12,500 re-tweets.

But there was a slight problem. Actually, a big problem.

There was a counter-tweet from @ne0liberal featuring three graphs that demolish the core premise of the tweet from @existentialcoms.

Here are the three graphs that @ne0liberal shared.

The first one confirms that workers enjoy far more leisure time than in the past.

The second one uses current data to show that more productive workers have much more leisure time.

And the third one reveals that worker compensation has increased significantly.

The unambiguous conclusion is that capitalism produces very good outcomes for workers. If @existentialcoms and @ne0liberal were in a boxing match, this would be a first-round knockout.

My modest contribution to this discussion is to point out that there are no real-world examples of good results produced by socialism. Or Marxism. Or fascism. Or by any form of statism.

Yes, there are some rich nations with big welfare states, but they only imposed those policies after they became rich.

Which is why I’m still waiting for any of my friends on the left to successfully respond to this challenge.

P.S. Since I’ve decided that @ne0liberal produced the counter-tweet of the year, I may as well also call attention to the best-ever tweet about capitalism and socialism, the world’s most-depressing tweet, and Trump’s worst-ever tweet.

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Image credit: LaurMG | CC BY-SA 3.0.

Which Nations Have the Least Red Tape?

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 12:52pm

The World Bank has released its annual report on the Ease of Doing Business.

Unsurprisingly, the top spots are dominated by market-oriented jurisdictions, with New ZealandSingapore, and Hong Kong (at least for now!) winning the gold, silver, and bronze. The United States does reasonably well, finishing in sixth place.

It’s also worth noting that Nordic nations do quite well. Denmark even beats the United States, and Norway and Sweden are both in the top 10.

Georgia gets a very good score, as does Taiwan. And I’m sure Pope Francis will be irked to see that Mauritius ranks highly.

I’m surprised, though, to see Russia at #28 and China at #31. That’s better than France!

And I’m even more surprised that normally laissez-faire Switzerland is down at #36.

What economic lessons can we learn from the report? First, the authors remind us that less red tape means more prosperity.

Research demonstrates a causal relationship between economic freedom and gross domestic product (GDP) growth, where freedom regarding wages and prices, property rights, and licensing requirements leads to economic development. … The ease of doing business score serves as the basis for ranking economies on their business environment: the ranking is obtained by sorting the economies by their scores. The ease of doing business score shows an economy’s absolute position relative to the best regulatory performance, whereas the ease of doing business ranking is an indication of an economy’s position relative to that of other economies.

By the way, here’s a simple depiction of the World Bank’s methodology.

It’s also worth noting that less intervention means less corruption.

There are ample opportunities for corruption in economies where excessive red tape and extensive interactions between private sector actors and regulatory agencies are necessary to get things done. The 20 worst-scoring economies on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index average 8 procedures to start a business and 15 to obtain a building permit. Conversely, the 20 best-performing economies complete the same formalities with 4 and 11 steps, respectively. Moreover, economies that have adopted electronic means of compliance with regulatory requirements—such as obtaining licenses and paying taxes—experience a lower incidence of bribery.

Poor countries, not surprisingly, have more red tape.

An entrepreneur in a low-income economy typically spends around 50 percent of the country’s per-capita income to launch a company, compared with just 4.2 percent for an entrepreneur in a high-income economy. It takes nearly six times as long on average to start a business in the economies ranked in the bottom 50 as in the top 20. There’s ample room for developing economies to catch up with developed countries on most of the Doing Business indicators. Performance in the area of legal rights, for example, remains weakest among low- and middle-income economies.

Africa and Latin America are especially bad.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the weak-performing regions on the ease of doing business with an average score of 51.8, well below the OECD high-income economy average of 78.4 and the global average of 63.0. …Latin America and the Caribbean also lags in terms of reform implementation and impact. …not a single economy in Latin America and the Caribbean ranks among the top 50 on the ease of doing business.

I’m disappointed, by the way, that Chile is only ranked #59.

Now let’s shift to some very important graphs about the relationship between economic freedom and national prosperity.

We’ll start with a look at the relationship between employment regulation and per-capita income. Not surprisingly, countries that make it hard to hire workers and fire workers have lower levels of prosperity.

Here’s a chart showing the relationship between employment regulation and the underground economy.

The moral of the story is that lots of red tape drives employers and employees to the black market.

Perhaps most important, there’s a very clear link between good regulatory policy and overall entrepreneurship.

Here’s a bit of good news.

Developing nations have reduced the burden of red tape in some areas, in part because Ease of Doing Business puts pressure on governments.

We can see the results in this chart.

I’ll close with a look at the regulatory burden in the United States, which also can be considered good news.

Here’s the annual score for the past five years (a higher number is better).

I’m frequently critical of this White House, but I also believe in giving credit when it’s deserved. The bottom line is that Trump’s policies have been a net plus for businesses.

In other words, lower tax rates and less red tape have more than offset the pain of protectionism.

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Image credit: Lilly_M | CC BY-SA 3.0.

In One Picture, Why Connecticut Is Going Downhill

Sun, 10/27/2019 - 12:39pm

In a column last week, I noted that Connecticut ranked near the bottom for state tax policy.

And if there was a contest for which state has gone downhill at the fastest pace, the Nutmeg State would likely prevail.

Less than 30 years ago, the state was reasonably competitive, largely because there was no state income tax. But ever since politicians in Hartford got access to that new source of revenue, the state’s finances have spiraled downward.

There are lots of interesting numbers (unfunded pensionsstate spending growth, etc) I could share to illustrate the state’s grim outlook.

But sometimes a picture can say 1,000 words.

Some Connecticut communities are having local elections this November. Apparently, based on this horrifying yard sign, Democrats in South Windsor are bragging about “only” imposing a small tax increase.

By the way, they’re not just bragging about a small tax increase rather than a large tax increase. If I read the sign correctly, there have been tax increases every single year for the past decade.

So local Democrats are basically telling voters, “hey, we’re confiscating ever-increasing amounts of your money every year, but you should be grateful since this year’s increase was comparatively small.”

And, given Connecticut’s awful political climate, that’s apparently a winning message!

By the way, I’m not naive. Or at least not hopelessly naive. When I first saw this sign, I thought it was fake. Sort of like this protest sign from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

And since I have been burned before (this doctored Justin Trudeau quote about Brexit), I did some additional research.

I found the Facebook page for the South Windsor Democrats. Lo and behold, there was a campaign video bragging about all the smaller-than-usual tax hike.

They also shared a letter-to-the-editor bragging about how taxes “only” increased 1.9 percent this year.

It’s possible, of course, that someone went through all the trouble of creating fake signs, fake Facebook pages, and fake letters-to-the-editor. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

This is real. Connecticut is such a mess that candidates try to get votes by bragging about confiscating more money, but at a slower rate of increase.

The only possible advice I have for state residents is to move. Florida would be a good choice.

P.S. South Windsor Democrats might actually have a semi-compelling message if Republicans had been in charge for the previous nine years and had been increasing taxes every year by more than 1.9 percent (and there certainly are plenty of terrible Republicans). But if that was the case, I assume they would have mentioned that in their campaign literature.

P.P.S. Since I’m not partisan, here’s some advice for South Windsor Democrats. Adopt D.C.-type budgeting and build in a “baseline” showing 5 percent annual tax increases. Then, when you “only” raise taxes by 1.9 percent, you can tell voters you actually gave them a 3.1 percent tax cut. You may be thinking that’s ridiculously dishonest and beyond the pale (and it is), but that’s how they do budgeting in Washington.

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Image credit: mjr293 | Pixabay License.

In One Chart, Everything You Need to Know About New Budget Numbers from D.C.

Sat, 10/26/2019 - 12:26pm

This week featured lots of angst-ridden headlines about the annual budget deficit for the 2019 fiscal year (which ended on September 30) jumping to $984 billion, an increase of more than $200 billion.

For reasons I’ve previously outlined, I don’t lose too much sleep about the level of government borrowing. What’s far more important is the burden of government spending.

Whether the budget is financed by taxes or borrowing, the level of spending is what really matters. Simply stated, that number measures the amount of money that politicians divert from the economy’s productive sector.

That being said, it’s sometimes very illuminating to look at why red ink goes up and down.

So I went to the Treasury Department’s most-recent Monthly Treasury Statement and looked at the raw numbers. What did I find?

Lo and behold, the deficit jumped to $984 billion because outlays are increasing twice as fast as revenue.

Perhaps even more discouraging, the burden of spending is rising more than four times faster than needed to keep pace with inflation.

These are very discouraging numbers, especially when you keep in mind that this is the calm before the storm. Because of poorly designed entitlement programs and an ageing population, our fiscal situation will deteriorate even faster in the future.

Unless there’s much-needed reform.

But I’m not holding out much hope. Trump is a big spender and Congress is filled with big spenders.

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Image credit: Andy Withers | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Elizabeth Warren: Fiscal Fraud

Fri, 10/25/2019 - 12:39pm

In a recent interview, I was asked whether all the new spending schemes proposed by Democratic candidates would lead (as has been the case in Europe) to enormous tax increases on the middle class.

The answer is yes, of course.

But most of the candidates are not honest on this issues (with the partial exception of Crazy Bernie). They’re promising – literally – trillions of dollars in added handouts, but their proposed tax increases only cover a tiny fraction of the cost.

Elizabeth Warren may be the most extreme example of this phenomenon.

She’s embraced every possible tax on higher-income taxpayers, including a sure-to-backfire wealth tax. But all of those tax increases wouldn’t come close to financing her spending agenda – even if one makes the heroic assumption that there’s no adverse economic impact and negative revenue feedback.

The Wall Street Journal opined on her absurd approach.

Tuesday’s Democratic debate…most important news was Senator Elizabeth Warren’s determined refusal to say if her plans would require taxes to increase on the middle class. …South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg…added, accurately, that “no plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion-dollar hole in this Medicare for All plan that Senator Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in.” …Senator Klobuchar…said “at least Bernie’s being honest here and saying how he’s going to pay for this and that taxes are going to go up. And I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but you have not said that, and I think we owe it to the American people to tell them where we’re going to send the invoice.” …this illuminates a problem with Ms. Warren’s agenda and her political character. On Medicare for All, everyone agrees that the cost will be at least $32 trillion over 10 years. Ms. Warren could impose her wealth tax, her higher taxes on capital gains, her higher income taxes on the affluent, and she still wouldn’t come close to paying for Medicare for All. And that’s before her plans for new spending entitlements on child care, pre-K education, free college and so much more. The only way to pay for this is to raise taxes on the middle class, which is where the real money is. That’s how government health care is financed in Europe.

But it’s not just the pro-market crowd at the Wall Street Journal that is raising the issue.

Even writers at Vox find it difficult to rationalize Sen. Warren’s evasive math.

Bernie Sanders…acknowledged that…middle-class taxes would have to go up… It was a rare moment when someone running for the Democratic presidential nomination admitted that their spending ambitions would have to be paid for by taxes that touch not just the wealthiest Americans but taxpayers further down the bracket. …Trying to sell a big progessive agenda on the backs of the rich may be popular. But the admission that middle-class taxes may have to go up is an admission that there may not be enough rich people in America to pay for it all. …Warren…indicated last week that she supports…Medicare-for-All… Such a plan would overhaul the entirety of the US health care system with a single-payer system funded through general revenue and debt. Here the promise of a vast welfare state solely funded by new taxes on the rich runs aground.

It’s gotten to the point that some left-leaning economists are scrambling to help square Warren’s circle.

Here are some excerpts from a report in today’s Washington Post, including some of the horrifying tax increases that her advisers are contemplating.

Internal and external economic policy advisers are trying to help Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) design a way to finance a single-payer Medicare-for-all health-care system…her team faces a challenge in crafting a plan that would bring in large amounts of revenue while not scaring off voters with big middle-class tax increases. The proposal could cost more than $30 trillion over 10 years. Complicating matters, she has already committed all of the money she would raise from a new wealth tax, close to $3 trillion over 10 years, to several other ideas… Robert Pollin, a left-leaning economist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who has worked with the Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) teams, …suggests…a $600 billion annual “gross receipts” tax on businesses, …a 3.75 percent sales tax on “nonnecessities” that exempts low-income households, to raise an additional $200 billion; and a 0.38 percent tax on wealth above $1 million, which he says would raise the remaining $200 billion. Robert C. Hockett, a Cornell University professor who has also advised Warren and Sanders, said he has urged Warren’s team to propose financing Medicare-for-all in part with a “public premium” that would function similarly to a tax. …Warren’s team has also received recommendations to adopt a “progressive consumption tax”… This plan would raise trillions of dollars.

Wow, a smorgasbord of French-style tax ideas.

Let’s close with a chart from Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute.

As you can see, even if you combine all of the class-warfare taxes, they don’t come close to paying the $30 trillion price tag of Medicare for All.

The only good news, so to speak, is that Sen. Warren is a politician. She’s first and foremost interested in winning office and probably isn’t totally serious about actually creating all sorts of new entitlement schemes (just like I don’t particularly believe Republicans who put forth election-year plans for tax reform).

But that’s hardly a comforting observation since there would be “public choice” pressures to adopt at least some bad policy if she got to the White House.

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Image credit: DonkeyHotey | CC BY 2.0.

The New York Times vs. Chilean Prosperity

Thu, 10/24/2019 - 12:14pm

By every possible measure, Chile is the most successful country in Latin America.

Income has soared and poverty has plummeted thanks to market-based reforms.

It’s not perfect, of course. The nation’s economic freedom score – 7.89 on a 0-10 scale – is good enough for a #13 ranking, but there’s still room for improvement.

But there’s also plenty of room for economic decline, and that might be the unfortunate outcome if politicians respond in a misguided way to recent protests.

Especially if they take advice from the wrong sources. For instance, the New York Times opined yesterday about the supposed shortcomings of the Chilean model.

Chile is often praised as a capitalist oasis, a prospering and stable nation on a continent where both prosperity and stability have been in short supply. But that prosperity has accumulated mostly in the hands of a lucky few. As a result, Chile has one of the highest levels of economic inequality in the developed world. …Chileans live in a society of extraordinary economic disparities. …What makes Chile an outlier among those 36 nations is that the government does less than nearly any other developed nation to reduce economic inequality through taxes and transfers. As a result, Chile has the highest level of post-tax income inequality among O.E.C.D. members. …Even after increases in recent years, the Chilean government still spends a smaller share of total economic output than every other nation in the O.E.C.D. The obvious path for Chile is for the government to spend more money.

As is sometimes the case with the New York Times, parts of the editorial are downright false. Income in Chile has jumped significantly for all quintiles, not just a “lucky few.”

And even the parts that are technically accurate are very misleading.

Notice, for instance, what the NYT is doing with inequality numbers. It is comparing Chile with rich nations, mostly from Europe.

But what happens if Chile is compared to other countries from Latin America.

That tells an entirely different story, as you can see from this poverty map (dark red is bad, light yellow is good) produced by the Center for Distributive, Labor, and Social Studies in Argentina.

All of a sudden, Chile looks very good.

Even if you use U.N. numbers that rely on the left’s misleading definition of poverty (i.e., based on relative income), Chile is a success story compared to other nations in the region.

It’s especially important to understand that Chile is getting good results for the right reason.

Poverty is falling because of the private economy rather than coercive redistribution. Here are some excerpts from a recent U.N. release.

In an analysis of the countries with the greatest reductions in poverty in the 2012-2017 period, in Chile, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, the increase in income from wages in lower-income households was the source that contributed the most to that reduction, while in Costa Rica, Panama and Uruguay, the main factor was pensions and transfers received by lower-income households.

Sadly, some people in Chile don’t have the fortitude to build on the market reforms that have boosted national prosperity.

Indeed, it appears there will be backsliding according to the aforementioned New York Times editorial

Sebastián Piñera, the billionaire elected president in 2017, …proposed a slate of reforms, including an increase in the top income tax rate, an increase in retirement benefits, and a guaranteed minimum monthly income. …Andrónico Luksic Craig, chairman of Quiñenco, a financial and industrial conglomerate, wrote on Saturday on Twitter that he was ready to pay higher taxes.

I’m disappointed but never surprised when politicians unravel progress.

But it’s always discouraging when guilt-ridden rich people embrace statist policies (sounds familiar, huh?).

For the sake of the Chilean people, let’s hope this is empty rhetoric.

P.S. Since we’re on the topic of Chile, here are some excerpts from the abstract of a study in the Journal of Development Economics that estimated the heavy economic cost of the nation’s detour to socialism in the 1970s.

…we look at share prices in the Santiago exchange during the tumultuous political events that characterized Chile in the early 1970s. …deploying previously unused daily data and exploiting two largely unexpected shocks which involved substantial variation in policies and institutions, providing a rare natural experiment. Allende’s election and subsequent socialist experiment decreased share values, while the military coup and dictatorship that replaced him boosted them, in both cases by magnitudes unprecedented in the literature. The most parsimonious interpretation of these share price changes is that they reflected, respectively, the perceived threat to private ownership of the means of production under a socialist government, and its subsequent reversal.

By the way, this in no way should be interpreted as support for the Pinochet dictatorship.

But what it does say is that dictatorships that allow economic freedom produce much better results than dictatorships impose totalitarian economic policies in addition to totalitarian political policies.

Which is basically the point Milton Friedman made when asked about his connection to Chile.

For what it’s worth, Pinochet eventually allowed a transition to democracy, which somewhat atones for his sins.

P.S. To be fair, the NYT editorial was merely misguided, which is better than the wild inaccuracy that has characterized some analyses.

P.P.S. If you want to learn about Chile’s reforms, here are columns about the private social security system and the national school choice system. And this World Bank comparison of Chile and Venezuela is very instructive as well.

America’s Best and Worst States for Taxes

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 12:08pm

Following their recent assessment of the best and worst countries, the Tax Foundation has published its annual State Business Tax Climate Index, which is an excellent gauge of which states welcome investment and job creation and which states are unfriendly to growth and prosperity.

Here’s the list of the best and worst states. Unsurprisingly, states with no income tax rank very high, as do states with flat taxes.

It’s also no surprise to see New Jersey in last place. The state has fallen dramatically, especially considering that it was like New Hampshire as recently as the 1960s, with no state income tax and no state sales tax.

And the bad scores for New YorkCalifornia, and Connecticut also are to be expected. The Nutmeg State is an especially sad story. There was no state income tax 30 years ago. Once politicians got that additional source of revenue, however, Connecticut suffered a big economic decline.

Here’s a description of the methodology, along with the table showing how different factors are weighted.

…the Index is designed to show how well states structure their tax systems and provides a road map for improvement.The absence of a major tax is a common factor among many of the top 10 states. Property taxes and unemployment insurance taxes are levied in every state, but there are several states that do without one or more of the major taxes: the corporate income tax, the individual income tax, or the sales tax. …This does not mean, however, that a state cannot rank in the top 10 while still levying all the major taxes. Indiana and Utah, for example, levy all of the major tax types, but do so with low rates on broad bases.The states in the bottom 10 tend to have a number of afflictions in common: complex, nonneutral taxes with comparatively high rates. New Jersey, for example, is hampered by some of the highest property tax burdens in the country, has the second highest-rate corporate income tax in the country and a particularly aggressive treatment of international income, levies an inheritance tax, and maintains some of the nation’s worst-structured individual income taxes.

For those who want to delve into the details, here are all the states, along with their rankings for the five major variables.

If you want to know which states are making big moves, Georgia enjoyed the biggest one-year jump (from #36 to #32) and Kansas suffered the biggest one-year decline (from #27 to #34). Keep in mind that it’s easier to climb if you’re near the bottom and easier to fall if you’re near the top.

Looking over a longer period of time, the states with the biggest increases since 2014 are North Carolina (+19, from #34 to #15), Wisconsin (+12, from #38 to #26), Kentucky (+9, from #35 to #24), Nebraska (+8, from #36 to #28), Delaware (+7, from #18 to #11), and Rhode Island (+6, from #45 to #39).

The states with the biggest declines are Kansas (-9, from #25 to #34), Hawaii (-8, from #29 to #37), Massachusetts (-8, from #28 to #36), and Idaho (-6, from #15 to #21).

We’ll close with the report’s map, showing the rankings of all the states.

P.S. My one quibble with the Index is that there’s no variable to measure the burden of government spending, which would give a better picture of overall economic liberty. This means that states that finance large public sectors with energy severance taxes (which also aren’t included in the Index) wind up scoring higher than they deserve. As such, I would drop Wyoming and Alaska in the rankings and instead put South Dakota at #1 and Florida at #2.

Andrew Yang’s Dependency Dividend

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 12:54pm

While he’s not as outwardly radical as Elizabeth WarrenBernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris, Andrew Yang has joined together two very bad ideas – universal handouts and a value-added tax.

Needless to say, I was not overflowing with praise when asked to comment.

At the risk of understatement, giving every adult a $12,000-per-year entitlement would be a recipe for bigger government and more dependency.

Even Joe Biden understands that this would erode societal capital.

And the ever-sensible Swiss, in a 2016 referendum, overwhelmingly rejected universal handouts.

Needless to say, it also would be a catastrophic mistake to give Washington several new sources of revenue to finance this scheme. A big value-added tax would be especially misguided.

Let’s take a closer look at Yang’s plan. As I noted in the interview, the Tax Foundation crunched the numbers.

Andrew Yang said he wants to provide each American adult $1,000 per month in a universal basic income (UBI) he calls a “Freedom Dividend.” He argued that this proposal could be paid for with…a combination of new revenue from a VAT, other taxes, spending cuts, and economic growth. …We estimate that his plan, as described, could only fund a little less than half the Freedom Dividend at $1,000 a month. A more realistic plan would require reducing the Freedom Dividend to $750 per month and raising the VAT to 22 percent.

If you’re interested, here are more details about his plan.

…individuals would need to choose between their current government benefits and the Freedom Dividend. As such, some individuals may decline the Freedom Dividend if they determine that their current government benefits are more valuable. The benefits that individuals would need to give up are Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needed Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and SNAP for Women, Infants, and Child Program (WIC). To cover the additional cost of the Freedom Dividend, Yang would raise revenue in five ways: A 10 percent VAT…A tax on financial transactions…Taxing capital gains and carried interest at ordinary income rates…Remove the wage cap on the Social Security payroll tax…A $40 per metric ton carbon tax.

By the way, Yang has already waffled on some of his spending offsets, recently stating that the so-called Freedom Dividend wouldn’t replace existing programs.

In any event, the economic and budgetary effects would be bad news.

…his overall plan would reduce the long-run size of the economy and the tax base. The three major taxes in his plan (VAT, carbon tax, and payroll tax increase), while efficient sources of revenue, would tend to reduce labor force participation by reducing the after-tax returns to working. Using the Tax Foundation Model, we estimate that the weighted average marginal tax rate on labor income would increase by about 8.6 percentage points. The resulting reduction in hours worked would ultimately reduce output by 3 percent. We estimate that Yang would lose about $124 billion each year in revenue due to the lower output.

Here’s how the Tax Foundation scores the plan.

As you can see, the VAT, the financial transactions tax, the higher capital gains tax, and the increase in the payroll tax burden don’t even cover half the cost of the universal handout.

P.S. When the Tax Foundation say a tax is an “efficient source of revenue,” that means that it would result in a modest level of economic damage on a per-dollar-collected basis. This is why they show a rather modest amount of negative revenue feedback (-$124 billion).

I think they’re being too kind. Extending the Social Security payroll tax to all income would result in a huge increase in marginal tax rates on investors, entrepreneurs, and other high-income taxpayers. As explained a few days ago, those are the people who are very responsive to changes in tax rates.

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Image credit: DonkeyHotey | .

Coalition Opposes Granting Government Control Over Aluminum Reference Prices

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 4:20am

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
202-285-0244
www.freedomandprosperity.org

Coalition Opposes Government Control Over Aluminum Reference Prices

(Washington, D.C., Tuesday, October 22, 2019) Led by the Center for Freedom and Prosperity (CF&P), representatives from 17 free market organizations today released a coalition letter urging Congress to oppose The Aluminum Pricing Examination (APEX) Act. The APEX Act would grant the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission expansive authority over the setting of references prices in the aluminum market, allowing political pressure potentially to distort the market by manipulating price signals.

The coalition letter reads, in part:

“By granting the government authority to arbitrarily alter market signals, supporters of the APEX Act—such as certain beer manufacturers with a history of working with politicians to distort the free market—are openly seeking to artificially deflate the price of aluminum. Such an outrageously crony abuse of government is unethical, and history shows that it will only worsen matters by further distorting the market and creating or exacerbating shortages. Domestic producers, faced with extensive government regulations and thinner profit margins, would find it increasingly difficult to survive and further erode domestic supply, a boon for foreign producers.”

CF&P President Andrew F. Quinlan said, “This effort is a clear cut case of shooting the messenger based on debunked claims of bias. Privately conducted independent assessments help commodity markets function efficiently. They are held accountable by their customers, who expect accurate, unbiased analysis of the prices agreed to by real buyers and sellers. Inserting the special-interest driven preferences of politicians into the reporting of reference prices would be a funny way of freeing the market from alleged manipulation.”

Representatives from the following 17 organizations joined the letter: Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, Less Government, American Consumer Institute, Tea Party Nation, Campaign for Liberty, Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, National Black Chamber of Commerce, American Encore, Market Institute, Citizen Outreach, Institute for Liberty, Institute for Policy Innovation, Frontiers of Freedom, National Tax Limitation Committee, and 60 Plus Association.

The full letter is available here.

For additional comments:
Andrew Quinlan can be reached at 202-285-0244, [email protected]

###

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Image credit: Library of Congress | Public Domain.

Coalition to Congress: Reject Aluminum Price Controls

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 2:47am

[PDF Version]

Representative Austin Scott
Rayburn House Office Building, 2417
Washington, D.C. 20500

Senator Mike Crapo
239 Dirksen Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Representative Scott and Senator Crapo:

The undersigned, dedicated to promoting free markets, limited government, and constitutional principles, write to express serious concerns about a piece of legislation known as the APEX Act. The Aluminum Pricing Examination (APEX) Act has been proposed for the express purpose of empowering the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to impose government controls on the pricing for aluminum. Such price controls represent an abuse of government that would threaten domestic aluminum production, strengthen foreign manufacturers and dangerously disrupt the aluminum commodities market.

This unnecessary bill is premised upon inaccurate information about the aluminum marketplace. Proponents of the APEX Act allege that the Midwest Premium, an independent assessment of aluminum prices in the Midwest, is being “artificially inflated” and therefore must be regulated via price controls. This claim has been thoroughly debunked by the CFTC itself, which testified before Congress that despite close monitoring they “have not found manipulation” in aluminum pricing.

The bill would give the CFTC sole jurisdiction over setting the price of aluminum. In doing so, the bill would dismantle the current system in which multiple companies with no financial interest in the pricing compete to transparently provide the most accurate assessments of the aluminum marketplace and replace it with an opaque government process vulnerable to political pressures from the same powerful industries that are currently pressing for passage of the APEX Act.

By granting the government authority to arbitrarily alter market signals, supporters of the APEX Act—such as certain beer manufacturers with a history of working with politicians to distort the free market—are openly seeking to artificially deflate the price of aluminum. Such an outrageously crony abuse of government is unethical, and history shows that it will only worsen matters by further distorting the market and creating or exacerbating shortages. Domestic producers, faced with extensive government regulations and thinner profit margins, would find it increasingly difficult to survive and further erode domestic supply, a boon for foreign producers.

Republicans and Democrats alike have voiced concerns regarding America’s competitiveness within the aluminum industry. There is wide agreement that the market for American metals must remain a vibrant aspect of the U.S. economy. The APEX Act is a dangerous piece of legislation, reflecting both a misunderstanding of industry pricing as well as a misapplication of government authority. We respectfully urge you to work with the House of Representatives and the Senate to ensure that this potentially devastating bill is never enacted.

Sincerely,

Andrew F. Quinlan ~ President, Center for Freedom and Prosperity
Iain Murray ~ Vice President, Competitive Enterprise Institute
David Williams ~ President, Taxpayers Protection Alliance
Seton Motley ~ President, Less Government
Steve Pociask ~ President/CEO, The American Consumer Institute
Judson Phillips ~ Founder, Tea Party Nation
Norm Singleton ~ Senior Vice President, Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty
Matthew Kandrach ~ President, Consumer Action for a Strong Economy
Harry C. Alford ~ President/CEO, National Black Chamber of Commerce
Sean Noble ~ President, American Encore
Charles Sauer ~ President, Market Institute
Chuck Muth ~ President, Citizen Outreach
Andrew Langer ~ President, Institute for Liberty
Tom Giovanetti ~ President, Institute for Policy Innovation
Peter Ferrara ~ Senior Adviser, National Tax-Limitation Committee
George Landrith ~ President, Frontiers of Freedom
James L. Martin ~ Founder/Chairman, 60 Plus Association

Note: Organizations are for identification purposes only.

Cc: Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader
Cc: Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader

Adverse Consequences of California’s Class-Warfare Tax Policy

Mon, 10/21/2019 - 12:35pm

California is suffering a slow but steady decline.

Bad economic policy has made the Golden State less attractive for entrepreneurs, investors, and business owners.

Punitive tax laws deserve much of the blame, particularly the 2012 decision to impose a top tax rate of 13.3 percent.

I’ve already shared some anecdotal evidence that this tax increase backfired.

But now we have some scholarly evidence from two Stanford Professors. Here’s what they investigated.

In this paper we study the question of the elasticity of the tax base with respect to taxation using microdata from the California Franchise Tax Board on the universe of California taxpayers around the implementation of Proposition 30 in 2012. This ballot initiative increased marginal income tax rates… These increases came on top of the 9.3% rate that applied to income over $48,942 for singles and $97,884 for married couples, and also in addition to the 1% mental health tax that since 2004 had applied to incomes of over $1 million. The reform therefore brought the top marginal tax rate in California to 13.3% for incomes of over $1 million.

For those not familiar with economic jargon, “elasticity” is simply a term to describe how sensitive taxpayers are when there are changes in tax policy.

A high measure of elasticity means a large “deadweight loss” since taxpayers are choosing to earn and/or report less income.

And that’s what the two scholars discovered.

Some high-income taxpayers responded to the big tax increase by moving.

We first study the extensive margin response to taxation, and document a substantial one-time outflow of high-earning taxpayers from California in response to Proposition 30. Defining a departure as a taxpayer who went from resident to non-resident filing status, the rate of departures in 2013 over 2012 spiked from 1.5% after the 2011 tax year to 2.125% for those primary taxpayers earning over $5 million in 2012, with a similar effect among taxpayers earning $2-5 million in 2012.

By the way, you won’t be surprised to learn that California taxpayers increasingly opted to move to states with no income tax, such as Florida, Nevada, and Texas.

Other taxpayers stayed in California but they chose to earn and/or report less income.

We combine these results on the extensive margin behavioral response with conclusions of analysis of the intensive margin response to Proposition 30. …we use a differences-in-differences design in which we compare upper-income California resident taxpayers to a matched sample of non-resident California filers, for which there is relatively rich data… Our estimates show a substantial intensive margin response to Proposition 30, which appears in 2012 and persists… We find that California top-earners on average report $522,000 less in taxable income than their counterfactuals in 2012, $357,000 less in 2013, and $599,000 less in 2014; this is relative to a baseline mean income of $4.15 million amongst our defined group of California top-earners in 2011. …the estimates imply an elasticity of taxable income with respect to the marginal net of tax rate of 2.5-3.3.

In the world of public finance, that’s a very high measure of elasticity.

Wonky readers may be interested in these charts showing changes in income.

By the way, guess what happens when taxpayers move, or when they decide to earn less income?

The obvious answer is that politicians don’t collect as much revenue. Which is exactly what the study discovered.

A back of the envelope calculation based on our econometric estimates finds that the intensive and extensive margin responses to taxation combined to undo 45.2% of the revenue gains from taxation that otherwise would have accrued to California in the absence of behavioral responses. The intensive margin accounts for the majority of this effect, but the extensive margin comprises a non-trivial 9.5% of this total response.

We can call this the revenge of the Laffer Curve.

By the way, it’s quite likely that there has been a resurgence of both the “extensive” and “intensive” responses to California’s punitive tax regime because the 2017 tax reform restricted the deductibility of state and local taxes. This means that the federal government – for all intents and purposes – is no longer subsidizing California’s backwards fiscal system.

P.S. Makes me wonder if California politicians will turn Walter Williams’ joke into reality.

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Image credit: Tumisu | Pixabay License.

The Libertarian Paradise of…Germany?

Sun, 10/20/2019 - 12:14pm

Every so often, I share quirky examples of libertarian policy in places that generally are not associated with a laissez-faire approach to governance.

Today, we’re going to add Germany to our list.

According to a report by Car and Driver, the German Parliament voted – by an overwhelming margin – against a proposal by the Green Party to impose speed limits on the autobahn.

Auto enthusiasts in Germany scored a major victory yesterday as the country’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, overwhelmingly voted to to defy a motion by the Green Party that would have asked the government to install a speed limit on the famous autobahn. The 80-mph limit suggested by the Greens would have effectively closed down one of the last roads where drivers can freely select their preferred speed. The autobahn is a defining factor in the perception of Germany abroad, but the topic is highly contested and politically charged at home. …The vote was 126 for a speed limit, 498 against, with seven abstentions.

The vote basically reflected a right-left split, though the Social Democrats tried to have their cake and eat it too.

…Green Party big shot Cem Özdemir claimed that roads would be safer with a speed limit, and he asked for German’s “special way” to be ended. …The post-communist Left Party volunteered that “electric mobility” should mean more “trains and trams,” while the Social Democrats, who are in a ruling coalition with the Christian Democrats, argued that they would support a speed limit were it not for their obligations to the coalition. The centrist CDU, the center-liberal FDP, and the conservative AfD all argued against a speed limit.

For what it’s worth, the autobahn is actually quite safe.

The autobahn road system, situated in one of the most traveled places on earth, is extremely safe. Accident rates have fallen dramatically over the past few decades, and many of the remaining deaths can be attributed to factors other than speed. Today, the fatality rate is one of the lowest in the world. Those opposed to a speed limit argue that this could be due to the fact that due to the differences in velocity, drivers are alert, generally stay to the right when not passing, and tend to stay aware of their surroundings.

Having driven many times in Europe, I can state with confidence that they are better (and more polite) drivers.

Slow cars don’t loiter in the left lane on highways, and that’s true in France and Italy as well as Germany.

I’ll close with some good news.

…speed limits have gradually eased all over the globe. Austria’s limit has been provisionally raised to 87 mph on select stretches; Abu Dhabi allows 100 mph on sections of the road system, and many U.S. states are raising limits as well.

I’m old enough to remember the horror of a nationwide 55-mph speed limit (one of the many awful policies adopted during the Nixon years).

The limit was increased in 1987 and then – in a rare moment of federalism – the nationwide speed limit was repealed in the mid-1990s (among the many good policies of the Reagan and Clinton years).

Let’s hope Germany holds firm so they don’t ever have to worry about repealing bad policy.

P.S. The article also noted that, “It has been reported that in the summer of 1995, Germany chancellor Angela Merkel, then minister for environmental affairs, broke out in tears over Helmut Kohl’s refusal to mandate a speed limit on the autobahn.” Given Merkel’s statism, I’m not surprised.

P.P.S. Enviro-zealots want onerous speed limits because of their quasi-religious opposition to energy consumption. Politicians, by contrast, view speed limits as a tool for generating tax revenue (which is why I’ve applauded civil disobedience in Washington, DC, and Arizona).

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Image credit: Tarboosh | CC0 1.0.

Mises vs. Marx

Sat, 10/19/2019 - 12:35pm

John Papola has done it again. His video showing a Keynes v. Hayek rap contest was superb, and was followed by an equally enjoyable sequel featuring a boxing match between Keynes and Hayek.

Now he has a rap contest about capitalism and socialism featuring Ludwig von Mises and Karl Marx.

The video touches on three economic topics.

The obvious focus is the track record of capitalism vs. socialism. Given the wealth of evidence, that’s a slam-dunk victory for free markets.

But there are also two wonky issues referenced in the video.

  • The socialist calculation debate – As I’ve repeatedly noted, genuine socialism involves government ownershipcentral planning, and price controls. Economists from the Austrian school, such as Mises, were the ones who explained that governments were incapable of having either the information or knowledge to make such a system work.
  • The labor theory of value – Marxism is based on the strange notion that the value of a product is a function of the hours it took to produce. This overlooks the role of capital and entrepreneurship. Moreover, as explained in the video, value is subjective, determined by the preferences of consumers.

Let’s close with a nice compare-and-contrast image a reader sent to me.

Economics and Election Predictions

Fri, 10/18/2019 - 12:52pm

There’s an entire field of economics called “public choice” that analyzes the (largely perverse) incentive structures of politicians and bureaucrats.

But is economic analysis also helpful to understand voting and elections?

In the past, I’ve suggested that political betting markets are a useful place to start since “you are seeing estimates based on people defending their views with cold, hard cash.”

In his Bloomberg column, Professor Tyler Cowen takes a more rigorous look at the potential insights of political betting markets.

Prediction markets…are a quick way to get an overview of the state of the campaign. President Donald Trump is currently at about 0.40 to be re-elected… Under normal assumptions about the uncertainty of future economic growth, the markets rate Trump’s chances of winning at 40%. …it is a useful corrective to the argument that Trump is toast — or, alternatively, that he is a shoo-in.  The market incorporates the relevant uncertainties in both directions. (Interestingly, Trump’s re-election odds have stayed pretty steady over the last week or so of negative news.) In many cases, prediction markets…“see through” the day-to-day volatility that may buffet the polls but not affect the final outcome. …Prediction markets…also made me think that a possible Hillary Clinton candidacy…is perhaps an undercovered story. …It is not a valid criticism of prediction markets to say that they didn’t predict Trump, say, or Brexit. The purpose of prediction markets is not to foresee particular upsets. They can, however, tell you in advance what would be an upset — much like probability theory can tell you that getting three heads in a row is unlikely but is of no help in predicting exactly when it will happen.

There are also people who build models that predict elections based largely on economic factors.

The Washington Post just published a very interesting review of how three of these models show Trump comfortably winning.

President Trump is on a fast track to an easy reelection. That’s the conclusion reached by economic forecasters… Moody’s Analytics projects the president will win handily next year if the economy doesn’t badly stumble — and in fact, rack up a greater margin in the electoral college than the 304-to-227 victory he secured against Hillary Clinton in 2016. …The finding jibes with those of other forecasting models that rely on measures of the economy’s strength to predict which major party’s candidate will win the White House next. Oxford Economics sees Trump winning 55 percent of the popular vote next year barring a “significant downturn” in the economy. …by the reckoning of the firm’s model, three key economic indicators — unemployment, inflation and real disposable income growth — all favor Trump’s reelection. They outweigh a “negative exhaustion factor” with Trump that dents his support in the projection. …Another model, assembled by Trend Macrolytics, accurately predicts every presidential victor back to 1952 by focusing on the effects of the economy and incumbency on the electoral college, according to Donald Luskin, the firm’s chief investment officer. It projects Trump will win reelection next year with 354 electoral votes — a margin that seems staggering on its face.

Here’s the Moody’s electoral map, which doubtlessly will cause sleepless nights for the anti-Trump crowd.

Wow, not only do they show Trump winning every state he won in 2016, but they show him picking up New Hampshire, Virginia, and Minnesota.

So which approach is more accurate, betting markets of election models?

Given my inaccurate 2016 predictions, I’m probably not the right person to ask.

I’ll simply observe that both approaches have erred in the past.

And if you believe in guilt by association, some of the people who put together political prediction models also put together deeply flawed Keynesian economic models.

———
Image credit: Kārlis Dambrāns | CC BY 2.0.

Ex-Im Bank Puts American Taxpayers in China’s Corner

Fri, 10/18/2019 - 9:39am

Originally published by Inside Sources on October 17, 2019.

A decision on whether to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank was delayed with the recent passage of a continuing resolution to provide funding for the government through November 21. Lobbyists for manufacturers and direct beneficiaries are pushing hard to renew Ex-Im, but taxpayers and the overall economy would be better served if Congress were to finally let the relic of the New Deal era expire.

The Ex-Im Bank provides taxpayer-backed loans to foreign buyers to facilitate U.S. exports, primarily of expensive goods such as capital equipment and airplanes. Exporters understandably love the agency, but just because certain industries like a policy doesn’t make it worthwhile.

The fundamental problem with the Ex-Im Bank is the same as with any instance of central planning: it injects political considerations into what — the allocation of capital — ought to be strictly market-based. The result is that a handful of large businesses receive the most benefits while taxpayers shoulder all the risk.

Another name for this arrangement is corporate welfare.

In 2015, sanity briefly prevailed when Ex-Im’s authorization was allowed to lapse. Unfortunately, a bipartisan coalition brought it back from the dead, only for Senate Republicans to refuse to confirm new nominees to the bank’s board and thereby deny it a quorum, which by rule meant that no new transactions above $10 million could be approved.

The board was filled earlier this year, but the four-year period from 2015-2018 where it operated in only a limited capacity provides reason to be skeptical about supporters’ claims regarding the bank’s critical economic role. George Will notes that the share of American exports subsidized by Ex-Im fell from less than 2 percent to 0.3 percent while Ex-Im was working at diminished capacity, but overall exports increased during that time.

The largest beneficiaries of Ex-Im similarly thrived during those years.

“Companies purchasing products from Boeing received 70 percent of all loan guarantees and 35 percent of all aid provided by the Ex-Im Bank” from FY 2007 through FY 2014, according to Veronique de Rugy and Justin Leventhal of the Mercatus Center. Without a quorum, the numbers changed dramatically, but it didn’t hurt Boeing’s bottom line. “Boeing’s profits and stock prices increased even though the company had to shop for export financing in the marketplace,” de Rugy and Leventhal reported in a study comparing Ex-Im’s financing before and after it lost its quorum.

Contrary to a common claim, there is apparently ample alternative financing available in the private market where taxpayers are not on the hook for potential losses. This is significant not only because private lending is preferable because it’s better for economic efficiency and not vulnerable to political corruption, but also because Ex-Im’s charter specifically requires that it not compete with the private sector. It supposedly provides financing only for transactions that would not otherwise occur were commercial lending the only option.

But Ex-Im doesn’t seem much concerned about its charter these days. The group Americans for Prosperity was recently forced to file a lawsuit against Ex-Im because it refused to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests regarding the seemingly ignored requirement in its charter that Ex-Im work “to reach international agreements to reduce government-subsidized export financing.”

In 2014, before the loss of its quorum and the cap on its lending, China was the top destination of Ex-Im deals, to the tune of $2.3 billion. A return to normal under a full board thus means more taxpayer-subsidized loans for Communist China.

Manufacturers are engaged in a lobbying blitz to reauthorize Ex-Im for an extended period. It’s thus easy to understand why cronyism is such a difficult habit to kick. However, there’s a growing consumer backlash against companies — the NBA, Apple, Activision Blizzard and ESPN, just in recent weeks — that are bending knee to China by censoring speech that is favorable toward Hong Kong’s protests or disparaging of Chinese authoritarianism.

Several members of Congress, such as senators Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, criticized these U.S. companies for selling out American values to placate Chinese authorities. They would do well to remember that stance when it comes time to consider whether American taxpayers should be subsidizing the purchases of China’s state-owned enterprises.

 

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