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Updated: 1 hour 17 min ago

Taxes Will Be a Royal Pain for Meghan and Harry

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 12:45pm

I’m part of the small minority that thinks the big news from the United Kingdom is that “Brexit” will finally happen, thanks to Boris Johnson’s landslide victory last month.

Most everyone else seems more focused on the latest development with the royal family. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, better known as Harry and Meghan, have decided to partially extricate themselves from the cloistered world of the monarchy – in part so they can take advantage of “the freedom to make a professional income.”

More power to them, I guess, if they can monetize their celebrity status.

The U.K.-based Economist expects that they’ll rake in lots of money.

In stepping down as “senior royals” while pronouncing that they “value the freedom to make a professional income” the Duke and Duchess threaten to unleash the spirit of capitalism on the very core of the monarchy. …The Sussexes are determined to turn themselves into a global brand. Their first move after they announced that they were stepping down from many of their royal duties was to unveil the name of their brand, Sussex Royal… Various branding experts have pronounced that Harry and Meghan have “a ready-made brand” that could earn them as much as £500m in their first year. InfluencerMarketingHub, a website, points out that, with 10m Instagram followers, they could expect $34,000 for a sponsored post. …They will need more than Prince Harry’s inheritance, which is estimated at £20m-30m, to keep up with the global super-rich.

I don’t have a rooting interest in their financial success. Indeed, I suspect they’ll wind up being annoying hypocrites like Harry’s dim-bulb father, lecturing us peasants about our carbon footprints while they fly around the world in private jets.

That being said, I am interested in the intricacies of international taxation.

And that will be a big issue for the couple according to Town and Country.

Now that Meghan and Harry intend to retreat from their royal roles, attain “financial independence,” and live part-time in North America, Meghan and Archie’s tax and citizenship plans are a little up in the air. …Meghan is still a US citizen, and therefore required to pay US taxes on her worldwide income. Prince Harry could technically elect to be treated as a US tax payer and file jointly with Meghan, but “he would never do that,” explains Dianne Mehany, a lawyer specializing in international tax planning. …When Meghan and Harry announced their engagement back in 2017, Harry’s communications team confirmed to the BBC that Meghan “intends to become a UK citizen and will go through the process of that.” …Once gaining UK citizenship, Meghan could elect to relinquish her US citizenship, and save herself the trouble and expense of filing US tax returns. “The only problem there is, she would have to pay the exit tax,” Mehany notes…regardless of what type of employment or contract work Meghan pursues, it will be taxable in the US. …”The real tricky thing,” Mehany notes, “is to make sure they don’t spend too much time in the United States, so that Harry becomes a resident of the United States, at which point his entire worldwide wealth would become subject to US taxation, which I know they want to avoid.”

For all intents and purposes, Meghan and Harry will face the same challenges as a multinational company.

  • Multinational companies have to figure out where to be “domiciled” just as Meghan and Harry have to figure out the best place to reside.
  • Multinational companies have to figure out where to conduct business, just as Meghan and Harry have to figure out where they will work.
  • Multinational companies have to figure out how to protect their income from taxes, just as Meghan and Harry will try to protect their income.

For what it’s worth, the Royal couple already is being smart.

As reported by the U.K.-based Telegraph, they’re minimizing their exposure to the rapacious California tax system.

The Duchess of Sussex has moved her business to a US state used by the super-rich to protect their interests from scrutiny. The Duchess’s company Frim Fram Inc was moved out of California in December and incorporated in Delaware, which tax experts suggest could be done to avoid being hit with tax liabilities in California. …the move was made on New Year’s Eve…”You would want to do it on New Year’s Eve simply because if you go one minute into the next year you would owe some taxes to California for the year of 2020,” said Alan Stachura, from financial services firm Wolters Kluwer. …Mr Stachura, who helps companies incorporate in Delaware, added that the state offers “a tax benefit for items like trademarks and royalties”. …Experts say there are several benefits in moving a corporation to Delaware, including the state’s flexible business laws and its low personal income tax rates. …A source said that as the Duchess is no longer resident in California it was appropriate for the registration to be moved.

I can’t resist commenting on the last line of the excerpt. The fact that Meghan is no longer a resident of California is irrelevant.

After all, she’s not becoming a resident of Delaware.

Instead, she and her husband are being rational by seeking to minimize the amount of their money that will be diverted to politicians (the same is true of everyone with any sense in the United Kingdom, whether they are on the right or on the left).

It’s a shame Meghan and Harry feel too insecure to acknowledge that reality.

P.S. The Town and Country article noted that Prince Harry “would never” allow himself to become a tax resident of the United States because he wants “to avoid” America’s worldwide tax system. That’s completely understandable. He probably learned about the nightmare of FATCA after marrying Meghan and wants to make sure he’s never ensnared by America’s awful internal revenue code.

The Impossibly Expensive Promises of Bernie Sanders

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 12:27pm

I’ve written about some of Elizabeth Warren’s statist proposals, but watching last night’s Democratic debate convinced me that I need to pay more attention to Bernie Sanders’ agenda.

When he ran for president last time, I warned that his platform of $18 trillion of new spending over 10 years would be “very expensive to your wallet.”

This time, “Crazy Bernie” has decided that his 2016 agenda was just a down payment. He now wants nearly $100 trillion of new spending!

Even CNN acknowledges that his platform has a staggering price tag.

…the new spending programs Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed in his presidential campaign would at least double federal spending over the next decade… The Vermont independent’s agenda represents an expansion of government’s cost and size unprecedented since World War II… Sanders’ plan, though all of its costs cannot be precisely quantified, would increase government spending as a share of the economy far more than the New Deal under President Franklin Roosevelt, the Great Society under Lyndon Johnson or the agenda proposed by any recent Democratic presidential nominee, including liberal George McGovern in 1972, according to a historical analysis shared with CNN by Larry Summers, the former chief White House economic adviser for Barack Obama… Summers said in an interview. “The Sanders spending increase is roughly 2.5 times the size of the New Deal and the estimated fiscal impact of George McGovern’s campaign proposals.

My former colleague Brian Riedl has the most detailed estimates of the new fiscal burdens that Sanders is proposing.

Here’s some of what he wrote last year for City Journal.

All told, Sanders’s current plans would cost as much as $97.5 trillion over the next decade, and total government spending at all levels would surge to as high as 70 percent of gross domestic product. Approximately half of the American workforce would be employed by the government. …his Medicare For All plan would increase federal spending by “somewhere between $30 and $40 trillion over a 10-year period.” He pledges to spend $16.3 trillion on his climate plan. And his proposal to guarantee all Americans a full-time government job paying $15 an hour, with full benefits, is estimated to cost $30.1 trillion. …$3 trillion to forgive all student loans and guarantee free public-college tuition—plus $1.8 trillion to expand Social Security, $2.5 trillion on housing, $1.6 trillion on paid family leave, $1 trillion on infrastructure, $800 billion on general K-12 education spending, and an additional $400 billion on higher public school teacher salaries. …Such spending would far exceed even that of European social democracies. …Sanders’s tax proposals would raise at most $23 trillion over the decade. …Tax rates would soar. Sanders would raise the current 15.3 percent payroll tax to 27.2 percent… Sanders proposes a top federal income-tax rate of 52 percent…plus a 10 percent net investment-income surtax for the wealthy.

By the way, class-warfare taxes won’t pay for all these promises.

Not even close, as you can see from this chart Brian put together.

By the way, the above chart is a static snapshot. In the real world, there’s no way to collect 4.7 percent of GDP (red bar on the left) with confiscatory taxes on the rich.

if Sanders ever had a chance to impose all his class-warfare tax ideas, the economy would tank, so revenues as a share of GDP would decline.

And here’s another one of his visuals, looking at the spending proposals that Democratic candidates are supporting.

Senator Sanders, needless to say, favors all of these proposals.

As Brian noted in his article, the Sanders fiscal agenda is so radical that America would have a bigger burden of government spending than decrepit European welfare states such as GreeceFrance, and Italy.

To his credit, Bernie acknowledges that all his new spending can’t be financed by class-warfare levies (unlike the serially dishonest Elizabeth Warren).

But the new taxes he proposes would finance only a tiny fraction of his spending agenda. If Washington ever tried to adopt even part of his platform, it inevitably would mean a European-style value-added tax.

P.S. Even if tens of trillions of dollars of revenue magically floated down from Heaven, bigger government would still be bad for the economy since politicians and bureaucrats would be in charge of (mis)allocating a much greater share of labor and capital.

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

Connecticut’s Continuing Decline

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 12:20pm

wrote last week about the ongoing shift of successful people from high-tax states to low-tax states.

And I’ve periodically confirmed this trend by doing comparisons of high-profile states, such as Texas vs. California and Florida vs. New York.

Today, I’m going to focus on Connecticut.

I actually grew up in the Nutmeg State and I wish there was some good news to share. But Connecticut has been drifting in the wrong direction ever since an income tax was imposed about 30 years ago.

And the downward trend may be accelerating.

A former state lawmaker has warned that the golden geese are escaping the state.

A former state representative says wealthy Connecticut residents are leaving the state at “an alarming pace.” Attorney John Shaban says when he returned to private practice in Greenwich in 2016, one of his most popular services became helping some of the state’s top earners relocate to places like Florida… “Connecticut started to thrive 20, 30 years ago because people came here. We were a tax haven, we were a relatively stable regulatory and tax environment, and we were a great place to live,” says Shaban. …Shaban says many small businesses now require little more than a laptop to operate, and that’s making it easier for small business owners to relocate out of state.

The exodus of rich people has even caught the attention of the U.K.-based Economist.

Greenwich, Connecticut, with a population of 60,000, has long been home to titans of finance and industry. …It has one of America’s greatest concentrations of wealth. …You might think a decade in which rich Americans became richer would have been kind to Greenwich. Not so. …the state…raised taxes, triggering an exodus that has lessons for the rest of America…  Connecticut increased income taxes three times. It then discovered the truth of the adage “easy come, easy go”. …Others moved to Florida, which still has no income tax—and no estate tax. …Between 2015 and 2016 Connecticut lost more than 20,000 residents—including 2,050 earning more than $200,000 per year. The state’s taxable-income base shrank by 1.6% as a result… Its higher income taxes have bitten harder since 2018, when President Donald Trump limited state and local tax deductions from income taxable at the federal level to $10,000 a year.

For what it’s worth, the current Democratic governor seems to realize that there are limits to class-warfare policy.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said he opposes higher state income tax rates and he linked anemic growth with high income taxes. …when a caller to WNPR radio on Tuesday, January 7 asked Lamont why he doesn’t support raising the marginal tax rate on the richest 1 percent of Connecticut residents, Lamont responded: “In part because I don’t think it’s gonna raise any more money. Right now, our income tax is 40 percent more than it is in neighboring Massachusetts. Massachusetts is growing, and Connecticut is not growing. We no longer have the same competitive advantage we had compared to even Rhode Island and New York, not to mention, you know, Florida and other places. So I am very conscious of how much you can keep raising that incremental rate. As you know, we’ve raised it four times in the last 15 years.” …Connecticut has seven income tax rate tiers, the highest of which for tax year 2019 is 6.99 percent on individuals earning $500,000 or more and married couples earning $1 million or more. That’s 38.4 percent higher than Massachusetts’s single flat-tax rate for calendar year 2019, which is 5.05 percent.

I suppose it’s progress that Gov. Lamont understands you can’t endlessly pillage a group of people when they can easily leave the state.

In other words, he recognizes that “stationary bandits” should be cognizant of the Laffer Curve (i.e., high tax rates don’t lead to high tax revenues if taxable income falls due to out-migration).

But recognizing a problem and curing a problem are not the same. Lamont opposes additional class-warfare tax hikes, but I see no evidence that he wants to undo any of the economy-sapping tax increases imposed in prior years.

So don’t be surprised if Connecticut stays near the bottom in rankings of state economic policy.

P.S. The last Republican governor contributed to the mess, so I’m not being partisan.

P.P.S. Though even I’m shocked by the campaign tactics of some Connecticut Democrats.

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Image credit: Pixnio | Public Domain.

A Practical Reason to a Support a Spending Cap Instead of a Balanced-Budget Requirement

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 12:15pm

I gave a speech this past weekend about the economy and fiscal policy, and I made my usual points about government being too big and warned that the problem would get much worse in the future because of demographic change and poorly designed entitlement programs.

Which is probably what the audience expected me to say.

But then I told the crowd that a balanced budget requirement is neither necessary nor sufficient for good fiscal policy.

Which may have been a surprise.

To bolster my argument, I pointed to states such as IllinoisCalifornia, and New Jersey. They all have provisions to limit red ink, yet there is more spending (and more debt) every year. I also explained that there are also anti-deficit rules in nations such as GreeceFrance, and Italy, yet those countries are not exactly paragons of fiscal discipline.

To help explain why balanced budget requirements are not effective, I shared this chart showing annual changes in revenue over the past two decades for the federal government (Table 1.1 of OMB’s Historical Tables).

It shows that receipts are very volatile, primarily because they grow rapidly when the economy is expanding and they contract – sometimes sharply – when there’s an economic downturn.

I pointed out that volatile revenue flows make it very difficult to enforce a balanced budget requirement.

Most important, it’s extremely difficult to convince politicians to reduce spending during a recession since that’s when they feel extra pressure to spend more money (whether for Keynesian reasons of public-choice reasons).

Moreover, a balanced budget requirement doesn’t impose any discipline when the economy is growing. If revenues are growing by 8%, 10%, or 12% per year, politicians use that as an excuse for big increases in the spending burden.

Needless to say, those new spending commitments then create an even bigger fiscal problem when there’s a future downturn (as I’ve noted when writing about budgetary problems in jurisdictions such as CyprusAlaskaIrelandAlbertaGreecePuerto RicoCalifornia, etc).

So what, then, is the right way of encouraging or enforcing prudent fiscal policy?

I told the audience we need a federal spending cap, akin to what exists in SwitzerlandHong Kong, and Colorado. Allow politicians to increase spending each year, preferably at a modest rate so that there’s a gradual reduction in the fiscal burden relative to economic output.

I’ve modified the above chart to show how a 2% spending cap would work. Politicians could increase spending when revenues are falling, but they wouldn’t be allowed to embark on a spending spree when revenues are rising.

Spending caps create a predictable fiscal environment. And limiting spending growth produces good outcomes.

If you’re still not convinced, this CF&P video hopefully will make a difference.

P.S. Spending caps work so well that even left-leaning international bureaucracies such as the OECD and IMF have acknowledged that they are the only effective fiscal rule.

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Image credit: Shaw Girl | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Some Folks on the Left Are Honest…but Very Wrong

Sun, 01/12/2020 - 12:58pm

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?

New York vs. Florida, Round #3

Sat, 01/11/2020 - 12:13pm

looked last year at how Florida was out-competing New York in the battle to attract successful taxpayers, and then followed up with another column analyzing how the Sunshine State’s low-tax policies are attracting jobs, investment, and people from the Empire State.

Time for Round #3.

new article in the Wall Street Journal explains how successful investors, entrepreneurs, and business owners can save a massive amount of money by escaping states such as New York and moving to zero-income-tax states such as Florida.

This table has the bottom-line numbers.

As explained in the article, taxpayers are discovering that the putative benefits of living in a high-tax state such as New York simply aren’t worth the loss of so much money to state politicians (especially now that the 2017 tax reform sharply reduced the tax code’s implicit subsidy for high-tax states).

There’s a way for rich homeowners to potentially shave tens of thousands of dollars from their tax bills. They can get that same savings the next year and the following years as well. They can cut their taxes even further after they die. What’s the secret? Moving to Florida, a state with no income tax or estate tax. Plenty of millionaires and billionaires have been happy to ditch high-tax states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California. …A New York couple filing jointly with $5 million in taxable income would save $394,931 in state income taxes by moving to Florida… If they had moved from Boston, they’d save $252,500; from Greenwich, Conn., they’d knock $342,700 off their tax bill. …Multimillionaires aren’t just moving their families south, they are taking their businesses with them, says Kelly Smallridge, president and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. “We’ve brought in well over 70 financial-services firms” in the past few years, she says. “The higher the taxes, the more our phone rings.”

An article in the Wall Street Journal late last year explained how states such as Florida are big beneficiaries of tax migration.

David Tepper, Paul Tudor Jones and Barry Sternlicht are among the prominent transplants who have pulled up roots in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut in recent years for Florida. New Yorker Carl Icahn has said he is moving his company to Miami next year. …The loss of the super-wealthy isn’t just a matter of reputation. The exodus of billionaires can crimp state budgets. …The SALT cap has widened the gap between Florida and other states with no income tax, such as Wyoming, and New York City, where residents can owe income taxes at rates that approach 13%.

In a column for National Review, Kevin Williamson analyzes the trade-offs for successful people…and the implications for state budgets.

…one of the aspects of modern political economy least appreciated by the class-war Left: Rich people have options. …living in Manhattan or the nice parts of Brooklyn comes with some financial burdens, but for the cool-rich-guy set, the tradeoff is worth it. …metaphorically less-cool guys are in Florida. They have up and left the expensive, high-tax greater New York City metropolitan coagulation entirely. …Florida has a lot going for it…: Lower taxes, better governance, superior infrastructure… The question is not only the cost, but what you get for your money. Tampa is not as culturally interesting as New York City. …the governments of New York City and New York State both are unusually vulnerable to the private decisions of very wealthy households, because a relatively small number of taxpayers pays an enormous share of New York’s city and state taxes: 1 percent of New Yorkers pay almost half the taxes in the state, and they know where Florida is. New York City has seen some population loss in recent years, and even Andrew Cuomo, one of the least insightful men in American politics, understands that his state cannot afford to lose very many millionaires and billionaires. “God forbid if the rich leave,” he has said. New York lost $8.4 billion in income to other states in 2016 because of relocating residents.

Earlier in 2019, the WSJ opined on the impact of migration on state budgets.

Democrats claim they can fund their profligate spending by taxing the rich, but affluent New Yorkers are now fleeing to other states. The state’s income-tax revenue came in $2.3 billion below forecast for December and January. Mr. Cuomo blamed the shortfall on the 2017 federal tax reform’s $10,000 limit on state-and-local tax deductions. But the rest of the country shouldn’t have to subsidize New York’s spending, and Mr. Cuomo won’t cut taxes.

To conclude, this cartoon cleverly captures the mentality of politicians in high-tax states.

Needless to say, grousing politicians in high-tax states have no legitimate argument. If they don’t provide good value to taxpayers, they should change policies rather than whining about out-migration.

By the way, this analysis also applies to analysis between nations. Why, for instance, should successful people in France pay so much money to their government when they can move to Switzerland and get equivalent services at a much-lower cost.

Heck, why move to Switzerland when you can move to places where government provides similar services at even lower cost (assuming, of course, that anti-tax competition bureaucracies such as the OECD don’t succeed in their odious campaign to thwart the migration of people, jobs, and money between high-tax nations and low-tax nations).

P.S. If you want to see how states rank for tax policy, click hereherehere, and here.

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Image credit: DonkeyHotey | CC BY 2.0.

The Federal Government’s Harassment of Oracle

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 12:41pm

Regulatory policy has been one of the bright spots of the Trump Administration (along with tax policy).

But it’s not a perfect record.

In a column for Townhall, Steve Sherman describes how the Labor Department launched a regulatory attack against Oracle in the final days of the Obama Administration.

President Obama was not a good president, but he was really good at issuing midnight regulations… Obama’s army of left-wing lawyers were also busy writing up last minute lawsuits… President Obama’s administration went after the tech companies Palantir, Google, then Oracle by alleging discrimination using statistics gathered as part of routine audits of these government contractors. In all of these suits, no actual evidence of discrimination was presented, merely statistics gathered that claimed to prove discrimination. This type of evidence would be tossed out in a real court, but with these suits, they were handled administratively and internally at the Department of Labor. …Oracle was so outraged by continued harassment that they fought back and sued the federal government for violating the Constitution’s separation of powers arguing that the lawsuits statutory authority.

So why am I criticizing the Trump Administration for regulatory harassment that was launched under Obama?

For the simple reason that some of Trump’s appointees have allowed the assault to continue, as former Congressman Bob Barr explained for the Daily Caller.

The Trump administration has performed admirably in reducing the regulatory red tape that has strangled American businesses… But for reasons not entirely clear, the Department of Labor has lagged behind other agencies in this regard. One clear example is the way the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has continued unnecessary and counterproductive Obama-era litigation against tech companies… In a 2017 study, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce…set forth in extensive detail that the OFCCP in recent years had become enamored of faulty, statistics-based challenges to companies engaged in federal contracts… A number of lawsuits reflecting this abusive approach to regulatory enforcement were filed against large tech companies in the waning months of the Obama administration. …the Department of Labor sued…, just two days before President Trump was sworn in, Oracle. …the Labor Department instead has become…a regulatory bully searching for ways to punish companies. …Hopefully, …Donald Trump and Eugene Scalia…will step in and make sure that the small but powerful agency…gets on board the administration’s drive to actually reduce federal regulatory burdens

The Washington Post has some details on the dispute between Oracle and the federal government.

…the Labor Department…alleges Oracle, the database management company founded by billionaire Larry Ellison, paid some women as much as 20 percent less than their male peers, or $37,000, in 2016. The lawsuit was filed by the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which audits companies with government contracts worth more than $100 million a year. …The hearing in San Francisco has broad significance for the tech industry because the allegations against Oracle are similar to the department’s claims that other tech giants, including Google and Palantir, exercised systemic bias against minority and female employees in hiring, pay or promotion. …Oracle’s lawyer argued that the Labor Department’s expert witness compared employees based on broad job titles and failed to take into account that a software developer who worked on Oracle’s product PeopleSoft is valued differently in the market than developers who work on the artificial intelligence of machine learning. …The department claims Oracle’s college recruiting program hired 500 graduates between 2013 and 2016 for product development roles at its Redwood Shores, Calif., headquarters, 90 percent of whom were Asian. During the same period, Oracle only hired six black people through the recruitment program. …The agency argues that pay disparities stem from Oracle’s practice of…relying on prior salaries to set their pay at Oracle.

The key thing to understand is that the federal government is unable to find any victims of actual discrimination.

As the Wall street Journal opines, bureaucrats are relying on statistical differences.

Protecting the constitutional separation of powers is back in political fashion as more businesses challenge abuses of administrative agencies. One case worth watching is Oracle’s lawsuit arguing that the Labor Department has usurped the federal judiciary and other executive agencies. Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) filed a discrimination complaint against Oracle in the waning days of the Obama Administration. During a routine audit, the OFCCP in 2014 conducted a statistical analysis of Oracle’s workforce. And what do you know? The agency says it discovered disparities based on race and sex that it claimed were prima facie evidence of discrimination. …In sum, the agency said Oracle discriminated against every class of worker in one way or another. It demanded that Oracle lose current and forgo future federal contracts plus pay up to $400 million in restitution to its alleged victims. Yet its case all but collapsed at an administrative trial this month. The Labor office presented no evidence of intentional discrimination or even witnesses who claimed as much. …Oracle is suing the OFCCP for violating the Administrative Procedure Act and separation of powers. …the agency investigates, prosecutes, tries and punishes businesses even though it has no legislative authority to do so.

I’ll close by citing Thomas Sowell’s column for Jewish World Review on how “disparate impact” is basically a scam.

“Disparate impact” statistics have for decades been used, in many different contexts, to claim that discrimination was the reason why different groups are not equally represented as employees or in desirable positions… The implicit assumption is that such statistics about particular outcomes would normally reflect the percentage of people in the population. But, no matter how plausible this might seem on the surface, it is seldom found in real life… Blacks are far more statistically “over-represented” among basketball stars in the NBA… Hispanics are similarly far more “over-represented” among baseball stars than in the general population. Asian Americans are likewise far more “over-represented” among students at leading engineering schools like M.I.T. and Cal Tech than in the population as a whole. None of this is peculiar to the United States. You can find innumerable examples of such group disparities in countries around the world and throughout recorded history.

Sowell isn’t just theorizing.

He wrote a thoroughly researched book on exactly this issue.

The bottom line is that groups – on average – sometimes have different interests and aptitudes.

Walter Williams observed about ten years ago that, “Not every choice based on race represents racism and if you think so, you risk misidentifying and confusing human behavior.”

And there’s no evidence that Oracle even made decisions based on race to begin with.

So the bureaucrats at the Department of Labor are using bad methodology to harass and extort a company.

Left-leaning administrations have a track record of pushing bad policies on their way out of office, so I’m not surprised the Obama Administration launched the attack on Oracle. But I am surprised that the Trump Administration has allowed the legal assault against the company to continue.

P.S. While I normally don’t think the federal government should have any power to interfere with regards to market outcomes for hiring, pay, promotion, and association, it’s legitimate for Uncle Sam to put conditions on companies that bid on federal contracts. I just wish they would fight actual examples of bias, not mere statistical differences.

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Image credit: wp paarz | CC BY-SA 2.0.

Tax Policy and Migratory Patterns of the Golden Geese

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 12:32pm

People underestimate the importance of modest long-run trends.

  • A small boost in economic growth, if sustained, can have a major effect on long-run living standards.
  • A small shift in the growth of government spending, over time, can determine a nation’s fiscal viability.
  • A small change in birthrates, in the long run, has a huge impact on a country’s population and finances.

Another example is state-level migration.

This is occurring for many reasons, including demographics and weather.

But it’s also happening because many people are moving so they can benefit from the better opportunities that exist in lower-tax states.

The Tax Foundation has an article on interstate migration based on data from United van Lines.

States compete with each other in a variety of ways, including attracting (and retaining) residents. Sustained periods of inbound migration lead to greater economic output and growth. Prolonged periods of net outbound migration, however, can strain state coffers… While it is difficult to measure the extent to which tax considerations factor into individuals’ moving decisions, there is no doubt that taxes are important in many individuals’ personal financial deliberations. Our State Business Tax Climate Index uses over 100 variables to evaluate states on the competitiveness of their tax rates and structures. Four of the 10 worst-performing states on this year’s Index are also among the 10 states with the most outbound migration in this year’s National Movers Study (New Jersey,  New York, Connecticut, and California).

Here’s the map showing states ranked by migration status.

Similar data also is collected by U-Haul.

Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute put together this visual on the states with the most in-migration and out-migration.

He looked at the data based on voting patterns. I’m more interested in the fact that states without income taxes do very well.

By the way, we don’t have to rely on moving companies.

And here are some excerpts from an editorial by the Wall Street Journal on the topic, based on data from the IRS and Census Bureau.

Slowing population growth will have significant economic and social implications for the country, but especially for high-tax states. The Census Bureau and IRS last week also released state population growth and income migration data for 2018 that show the exodus from high-tax to low-tax states is accelerating. …New York was the biggest loser as a net 180,000 people left for better climes. Over the last decade New York has lost more of its population to other states (7.2%) than any other save Alaska (8%), followed by Illinois (6.8%), Connecticut (5.6%) and New Jersey (5.5%). Hmmm, what do these states have in common? Large tax burdens… Where are high-tax state exiles going? Zero income tax Florida drew $16.5 billion in adjusted gross income last year. Many have also fled to Arizona ($3.5 billion), Texas ($3.5 billion), North Carolina ($3 billion), Nevada ($2.3 billion), Colorado ($2.1 billion), Washington ($1.7 billion) and Idaho ($1.1 billion). Texas, Nevada and Washington don’t have income taxes.

Here’s an accompanying visual.

Once again, we see a pattern.

Tax policy obviously isn’t the only factor that drives migration between states, but it’s clear that lower-tax states tend to attract more migration, while higher-tax states tend to drive people away.

And keep in mind that when people move, their taxable income moves with them.

Which brings me back to my opening analysis about trends. Over time, the uncompetitive states are digging themselves into a hole. Migration (at least by people – the Golden Geese – who earn money and pay taxes) in any given year may not make a big difference, but the cumulative impact will wind up being very important.

P.S. Speaking of which, feel free to cast your vote for the state most likely to suffer fiscal collapse.

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Image credit: Masai Mara | CC BY 2.0.

The Bernie Sanders-Style Agenda of Spain’s New Government

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 12:02pm

Last month’s election in the United Kingdom attracted considerable attention, not only because it would decide Brexit, but also because of the potential risk of a hard-left Labour government in the world’s 5th-largest economy.

The British dodged that bullet but the people of Spain are not so fortunate. A new government with a very statist platform has just been formed.

Writing for CapX, Luis Pablo de la Horra explains that Spain now faces a grim future.

The agreement between socialists and populists includes an economic agenda which, if carried out, would have a disastrous impact on the Spanish economy. …the new coalition government intends to repeal the labor-market reform passed by Rajoy’s conservative government in 2012. This reform, which was aimed at introducing flexibility in Spain’s dysfunctional labor market, has crucially contributed to reducing the unemployment rate from 26% in late 2012 to 14% today. In fact, a 2016 report by BBVA Research shows that the labor-market reform prevented the destruction of almost one million jobs between 2012 and 2015. ..Sánchez’s government plans to increase taxes on large corporations… The agreement between Sánchez and Podemos also includes the imposition of rent controls in large cities. …Given that the problem of housing in Spain is related to an insufficient supply of apartments in urban areas, rent controls would only aggravate the situation, reducing the number of dwellings available and pushing up prices in non-rent-controlled areas. …An increase in public spending is also among the plans of the soon-to-be new government of Spain. …Juan Ramón Rallo, professor of Economics at IE Business School, estimates that the increase in public spending planned by Sánchez’s government for this year amounts, in net terms, to 3 percentage points of GDP.

column by Leonid Bershidsky for Bloomberg also notes the new government’s hard-left agenda.

The formation of the government headed by Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez and including the far-left Podemos group…commits him to a more resolutely leftist agenda than the Socialists would have advanced alone. Among other things, it calls for the repeal of the 2012 labor market reform, which succeeded in driving down unemployment from its peak of 26.3% in February, 2013 to about 14% today. …The coalition also plans to hike income taxes for corporations and high earners, starting with those individuals who make 130,000 euros ($146,000) a year and capital gain taxes. A minimum wage hike to 1,200 euros a month from the current 1,050 euros is planned. The leftist parties also have committed to unlink pensions from life expectancy…an ambitious tax-and-spend program.

By the way, I can’t resist sharing these excerpts from a BBC report on the hypocrisy-drenched leader of hard-left Podemos.

Pablo Iglesias and Irene Montero, the party’s spokeswoman, were accused of hypocrisy for spending €600,000 (£527,000; $700,000) on a house with a swimming pool and guest quarters. Mr Iglesias has previously criticised politicians who live “in villas”. …Some rank-and-file members said it undermined the party’s grassroots credibility. …Mr Iglesias formed Podemos in January 2014 with a group of fellow left-wing university lecturers. …He has previously made much of the fact that he lived in modest accommodation in the working class Madrid neighbourhood of Vallecas and that he bought his clothes in supermarkets.

The moral of the story is that people never get rich from leftist economic policy, but leftist politicians inevitably wind up fat and happy.

But I’m digressing.

What makes the new Socialist-Podemos government so disturbing is that Spain desperately needs to move in exactly the other direction.

Writing for Cayman Financial Review, Miguel Sanchez de Pedro warned about his country’s unpalatable fiscal position.

Spain is a welfare state… Public expenditures represent 43.9 percent ($498 billion, 2017) of GDP. …pensions, healthcare and education made up 68.2 percent ($418 billion) of total public expenses for the year 2017. …The quasi-federal regime has proven highly expensive and inefficient, particularly during troubled economic cycles that leave the central government largely without any capacity to influence expenditure and rebalance regional finances. …The untenable compulsory public pension system is threatened under current and foreseeable scenarios of an ageing population…the social security accounts show a technical bankrupt institution with a negative financial net worth…due to the growing mismatch between the number of contributing workers needed to pay per pensioner – actually 1.9 workers per pensioner.

And here’s a portion of an infographic he put together about his nation’s unstable pension system.

A big problem for Spain is that too many people are riding in the wagon and too few workers are generating prosperity in the economy’s productive sector.

In a column for E21, Daniel Di Martino highlighted this concern.

Sánchez’s plan is to increase spending and finance it by raising taxes on businesses and high-income individuals. …These measures would discourage work and solidify the culture of dependency on the state. …hiring more public workers would make more people want to switch to the public sector… there are more people who receive government pensions, are unemployed, or work for the government than there are workers in the private sector. …Prime Minister Sánchez’s measures would sentence Spaniards to joblessness and state dependency, while emptying the state coffers when millionaires and soccer players leave.

And here’s a pie chart from his column.

In a study for the Bank of Spain, five economists crunched numbers for the country’s economy and concluded that higher taxes don’t yield good results.

In this paper we adopt the narrative approach to estimate the output effects of tax shocks in Spain. To this end, we have constructed a detailed record of all the relevant legislated tax changes implemented during the period 1986-2015. …Next, we estimate the GDP effects of an exogenous tax change by constructing impulse-response functions derived from simple VARs. …We find that a 1% of GDP increase in taxes depresses output by around 1.3% after one year, this effect fading away at more distant horizons. …All things considered, our set of estimates provides a coherent picture of negative short-term output effects triggered by tax increases (and vice versa).

Here’s one of the graphs from the study.

This echoes earlier academic research showing that class-warfare tax increases are especially destructive.

And let’s not forget how higher corporate tax burdens in Spain also have backfired.

P.S. Supposedly right-of-center governments in Spain also have adopted bad policy, so maybe voters figured they should opt for the real thing.

P.P.S. Spain has a peculiar problem involving its navy.

P.P.P.S. Politicians always claim they want to tax the rich, but the Spanish experience shows that people with modest incomes are the big victims, to it’s understandable that they do everything possible to protect their money from greedy government.

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Image credit: Efraimstochter | Pixabay License.

Ranking Economic Liberty in America States, Canadian Provinces, and Mexican States

Tue, 01/07/2020 - 12:40pm

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 reformbank bailoutsregulatory budgeting, the tax treatment of savingschool choice, and privatization of air traffic control.

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Image credit: Pixy.org | CC0 Public Domain.

How Government Intervention Makes Housing More Expensive

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 12:00pm

Just as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, there are some consistent patterns with government.

Politicians, for instance, will enact a policy that distorts the economy and causes damage (with regards to tradebailoutsgunshealth, whatever). And they’ll then point to the damage and assert that even more intervention is needed.

I call this Mitchell’s Law, though I certainly don’t claim to be the first to observe this distressing tendency.

Today, we’re going to examine a classic example of this phenomenon by looking at how politicians are distorting the housing market with supply restrictions that produce higher costs, and then compounding their mistake with subsidies and price controls.

Edward Pinto of the American Enterprise Institute offers some economic analysis.

Recently there has been a flurry of legislative proposals to add yet more housing subsidies to the housing sector, already one of the most heavily subsidized. …These are the most recent in a long history of ill-conceived policies that increase housing demand but do nothing about supply. The result: higher home prices and rents, particularly for low-income and minority households, the very ones these initiatives profess to help. …layers of subsidies combined with federal, state, and local regulations act to drive up costs while simultaneously constraining supply. …For example, Los Angeles has a median home price that is 8.8 times median income, up from 4.2 times in 1979. And median rent in LA is 49% of the median income, up from 32% in 1979. These results are largely driven by (i) easy access to credit which drive demand and prices ever higher, (ii) local land use restrictions and regulations that constrain new supply and drive building costs higher, and (iii) housing subsidies that make it even more difficult for market rate housing to compete. …Market-based solutions are the only way to bring home prices and rents back in line with median incomes and improve accessibility.

While there are plenty of bad housing policies in Washington (Fannie Mae and Freddie MacDepartment of Housing and Urban Developmentmortgage-interest deduction, etc), much of the problem is caused by state and local governments.

Kevin Williamson of National Review cites a regulation in Dallas to show that government intervention causes problems.

…smaller secondary residences built on the lots of other houses..have long been a go-to source of cheap housing in college towns and other places with substantial itinerant populations of temporarily penniless young people. …Dallas…prohibited the building and rental of these residences in the 1970s on the theory that this would help to improve the living conditions on the south side of town… To the great surprise of nobody except politicians and their creatures, prohibiting the construction and rental of affordable housing did not do much to help poor people in Dallas connect with affordable housing. …The politicians have decided that there is an affordable-housing crisis in America. They should know: They created it. …Why? Because people who own homes have more political power than people who might want to buy one at some point in the future.

The Wall Street Journal opined today about the inane anti-housing policies in the Beaver State.

Politicians bemoan the lack of affordable housing, but their policies often create the problem. Look no further than Oregon… Oregon’s population grew by nearly 400,000 between 2010 and 2019. But the state added a mere 37 housing permits for every 100 new residents… Oregon’s land-use rules have been dysfunctional for decades. …strict limits on urban expansion…urban growth boundaries… Rising housing prices are the inevitable result of this government-imposed scarcity. …Portland has enforced an “inclusionary zoning” requirement on new residential buildings with 20 or more units. The city now compels many landlords to rent up to a fifth of new units at below-market rates. …Permits for 20-plus-unit residential buildings plummeted 64% in 25 months after inclusionary zoning took effect, while applications to build smaller multi-family structures spiked… The rest of Oregon is following Portland’s bad example with more price controls. Last year it became the first state to impose universal rent control.

To show the impact of regulatory restrictions, the invaluable Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute has a must-read comparison of Los Angeles with two Texas cities.

Adjusting for population, there are about 600 homeless people per 1 million population in Houston and Dallas, but nearly five times as many in LA at 2,707. The comparisons…highlight the simple economic logic that if you restrict the supply of new housing units (especially multifamily homes, duplexes, and large apartment buildings) in states like California with onerous building, land use, and zoning regulations, those restrictions are guaranteed to result in higher housing costs, higher apartment rents, and ultimately a greater homeless population. …The increasing rents, escalating home prices, and growing homelessness problem in California cities like LA are a direct result of local and state restrictions that artificially constrict the supply of new housing units. The solution is therefore simple, but politically unpopular and probably not politically feasible: California should increase its supply of housing by reducing its onerous restrictions on building new housing units.

Here’s his accompanying table. Notice how Dallas and Houston are much more affordable than Los Angeles.

And there’s less homelessness as well, in large part because housing is cheaper.

Kevin Williamson wrote in National Review about the anti-housing policies of New York’s governor.

Some of the inflated expenses associated with life in New York can be avoided… But you have to live somewhere. As in the Bay Area, Washington, and other Democrat-dominated cities, housing is the real killer in New York City and environs. …Like most U.S. cities advertising themselves as “progressive,” New York has a lot of political leaders who talk about affordable housing and a lot of political policies that keep affordable housing — and many other kinds of housing — from being built. This is not accidental: People who already own property typically have a lot more political influence than people in the first-time home-buyer market. …At the behest of moneyed environmental interests, Cuomo has stood athwart the building of practically any new conventional energy infrastructure, including pipelines for clean-burning natural gas. …Much of New York’s gas comes from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but there isn’t enough carrying capacity to get it to New York. And New York has plenty of gas of its own, too, but New Yorkers can’t use it — thanks again to Cuomo, who has banned modern gas-extraction techniques in the state, again at the behest of the anti-energy ideologues who enjoy an outsized financial footprint in the Democratic party.

In addition to zoning laws and other land-use restrictions, the government also makes construction more expensive, as explained in a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The average cost for home builders to comply with regulations for new home construction has increased by nearly 30% over the last five years, according to new research from the National Association of Home Builders. Regulatory costs such as local impact fees, storm-water discharge permits and new construction codes, which have risen at roughly the same rate as the average price for new homes, make it increasingly difficult for builders to pursue affordable single-family construction projects… The cost of regulation imposed during the land development and construction process on average represented $84,671 of the cost of the average new single-family home in March. That is up from $65,224 in 2011, the last time the home-building industry group conducted a similar survey on regulatory costs. …A study this week from housing research firm Zelman & Associates found that local infrastructure “impact fees” have increased by 45% on average since 2005 in 37 key home building markets across the country, to about $21,000 per home.

Here’s a sobering graphic from the article.

All this regulation is bad for macroeconomic performance.

recent study by two economists finds that land-use restrictions result in substantial misallocation of labor, causing a non-trivial reduction in economic output and family income.

The increase in spatial wage dispersion is driven at least in part by cities like New York, San Francisco, and San Jose, which…adopted land use restrictions that significantly constrained the amount of new housing that can be built. As described by Glaeser (2014), since the 1960s coastal US cities have gone through a property rights revolution that has significantly reduced the elasticity of housing supply… Instead of increasing local employment, productivity growth in housing-constrained cities primarily pushes up housing prices and nominal wages. The resulting misallocation of workers lowers aggregate output and welfare of workers in all US cities. This paper measures the aggregate productivity costs of local housing constraints… We use data from 220 metropolitan areas in the United States from 1964 to 2009… we calculate that increasing housing supply in New York, San Jose, and San Francisco by relaxing land use restrictions to the level of the median US city would increase the growth rate of aggregate output by 36.3 percent. In this scenario, US GDP in 2009 would be 3.7 percent higher, which translates into an additional $3,685 in average annual earnings. …We conclude that local land use regulations that restrict housing supply in dynamic labor markets have important externalities on the rest of the country. Incumbent homeowners in high productivity cities have a private incentive to restrict housing supply. …this lowers income and welfare of all US workers.

So how can this problem be fixed?

In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Cathy Reisenwitz explains that state and local politicians need to remove barriers.

America is in the middle of a housing crisis. The cause is simple: we’re not building housing fast enough to keep up with jobs. While the number of U.S. households grew by 11.2 million between 2005 and 2015, we only added about 9.9 million new housing units. …this isn’t a problem Washington can fix. That’s because this problem, and its solution, lies in cities and towns across the country. …Cities across the country make it impossible to build enough housing to meet demand by blocking, restricting, and delaying housing developments. …Even in areas where you can technically build multi-unit homes, other land-use restrictions make it all-but-impossible. These exclusionary land use practices include height restrictions, setback requirements, parking minimums, community review, aesthetic considerations, and minimum lot sizes. …A recent statistical analysis…showed that in 44 out of 50 states, the more land-use regulations on the books, the more homes cost. Reducing land use regulations is the right move for getting Americans out of poverty and into work.

Let’s close with some good news.

Salim Furth has a new article for City Journal, and he argues that all the evidence is actually changing minds and leading to some deregulation.

Last year, Democratic- and Republican-led states and municipalities passed legislation addressing housing affordability, a hopeful sign that housing deregulation is beginning to attract bipartisan support… Encouragingly, Arkansas and Texas have squelched such requirements through bipartisan state legislation. Arkansas has restored autonomy to homeowners on virtually all building-design choices, from color to roof pitch, while Texas has purged local restrictions on building materials. …North Carolina and Texas…passed legislation requires cities and counties to issue project approvals within a few weeks. In Texas, a developer can now move forward with construction if a municipality takes more than 30 days to review a completed application. North Carolina now imposes a 15-business-day limit for building permits involving one- and two-family dwellings. …State legislators will likely continue to address housing-supply restrictions in the years ahead. …The battle over rent control and inclusionary zoning could intensify as well, as it already has in California and Oregon. …policymakers in blue and red states alike should consider how current regulations restrict housing supply and drive up prices.

The bottom line is that housing across the nation will be much more affordable if state and local governments let markets operate.

Here’s a map showing estimates of land-use restrictions in major metropolitan areas. The goal for the nation should be more green and less red.

Incidentally, Fairfax, VA, is part of the D.C. area, so that red spot indicates that my home’s value is being subsidized (as are the homes of Washington’s parasite class).

But since I believe in a just society, I hope my part of the map becomes green, even if it means my home becomes less valuable (folks on the left are willing to hurt the poor so long as they also hurt the rich, whereas I’m willing to sacrifice myself so long as unjust favoritism for others also vanishes).

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Image credit: BrendelSignature | CC BY-SA 3.0.

Vaping Restrictions Are a Deadly Policy…Literally

Sun, 01/05/2020 - 12:55pm

When I want to explain that excessive government shortens lifespans, I’m going to have a new and powerful argument thanks to the Trump Administration’s misguided efforts to restrict vaping.

The issue is very simple.

Some people want nicotine. If vaping products are not available, they will opt for cigarettes, which are vastly more dangerous.

The Wall Street Journal recently opined on the issue, echoing the point I made about how the Trump policy will open the door for higher-risk black-market products.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday announced a ban on flavored e-cigarettes…don’t think this will…make teens stop vaping. …it’s not clear how much good the FDA ban will do. It is already illegal for teens under age 18 to buy e-cigarettes, but that hasn’t stopped them. …One risk of the FDA’s flavor ban is more teens might buy e-cigarettes on the black market that are less safe. Illegal products are the main culprits in the recent cases of vaping-related lung illness.

Here’s some of what Jacob Sullum wrote on this topic.

In a wake-up call for people who claim to be concerned about smoking-related disease and death, five prominent public health scholars warn that the “tremendous” harm-reducing potential of e-cigarettes could be nullified by panicky political responses to underage consumption and vaping-related lung injuries. …”There is solid scientific evidence that vaping nicotine is much safer than smoking,” the authors note, while “evidence from multiple strong observational studies and randomized trials suggests that vaping nicotine is more appealing and more effective than [nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches and gum,] at displacing smoking.” …that displacement is not limited to adults. Fairchild and her co-authors point out that “population youth smoking rates dropped much faster in the years vaping surged the most (2013–2019) than in prior years, reaching record lows during that same period, which suggests that nicotine vape use may be replacing smoking more than promoting it.” E-cigarette prohibitionists may think they are acting “out of an abundance of caution,” but the policies they advocate look downright reckless when you consider the ongoing death toll from cigarette smoking.

In the interview, I mentioned that the United Kingdom has a far more sensible approach.

Matt Ridley wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal about his country’s policy.

Nicotine itself is far less harmful to smokers than the other chemicals created during combustion. Heavyweight studies confirm that there are much lower levels of dangerous chemicals in e-cigarette vapor than in smoke and fewer biomarkers of harm in the bodies of vapers than smokers. …In both the U.K. and the U.S. the rapid growth in vaping has coincided with rapid reductions in smoking rates, especially among young people. Yet there is a stark contrast between the two countries in how vaping has been treated by public health authorities… Many British smokers have switched entirely to vaping, encouraged by the government, whose official position is that vaping is 95% safer than smoking, an assertion now backed by early studies of disease incidence. The organizations that have signed a statement saying that vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking include Public Health England, the Association of Directors of Public Health, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Society for Public Health. …The argument for harm reduction is not one that comes easily to some public-health advocates, because it means promoting behaviors that may still be harmful, just less so than the alternative. Vaping doesn’t have to prove entirely safe for it to save lives, given that it mostly replaces smoking.

Brad Polumbo adds some details in a column for the Washington Examiner.

America’s war on vaping is in full swing. But when you consider the positive approach taken in the United Kingdom, the foolishness of this new conflict is laid bare. …Vaping is much healthier than smoking traditional cigarettes. E-cigarettes do contain nicotine, but nicotine was never really the problem with traditional cigarettes in the first place — it’s essentially similar to caffeine. Rather, the enormous public health problem posed by cigarettes is due to the cancer-causing chemicals they contain, such as tar, for example. Vaping products do not contain similar chemicals, making them much, much less likely to cause cancer. …If the government is to do anything to address vaping, it should be to promote it as an alternative to smoking. This is what the U.K.’s government has done, to massive success. …A sober analysis reveals that we are doing exactly the opposite of everything we should be doing. We are putting up more barriers and restrictions on vaping, and instead, we should embrace the U.K.’s approach.

Let’s shift from international policy to state policy.

In another column for Reason, Jacob Sullum explains that awful politicians in Massachusetts want to combine two bad policies – vape bans and asset forfeiture.

Massachusetts has “the worst civil forfeiture laws in the country.” It looks like state legislators are about to outdo themselves. The Massachusetts House of Representatives…approved a bill that would ban flavored e-cigarettes, impose a 75 percent excise tax on “electronic nicotine delivery systems” (including e-liquids as well as devices), and authorize forfeiture of cars driven by vapers caught with “untaxed” products. …The bill also says a police officer who “discovers an untaxed electronic nicotine delivery system in the possession of a person who is not a licensed or commissioner-authorized electronic nicotine delivery system distributor” may seize both the product and the “receptacle” in which it is found, “including, but not limited to, a motor vehicle, boat or airplane in which the electronic nicotine delivery systems are contained or transported.” …Massachusetts is poised to deprive vapers of the harm-reducing products they used to quit smoking, then steal their cars if they dare to defy that unjust and irrational edict.

Needless to say, two negatives don’t make a positive.

Let’s close with this chart, which (in a logical world) should put an end to the debate.

Yes, it would be nice if nobody used any sort of dangerous product. But in the real world, where we face trade-offs, I’d much prefer that people get nicotine from vaping.

P.S. And people should have the freedom to make choices that involve risk. Libertarianism is about treating people like adults.

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Image credit: Vaping360 | CC BY 2.0.

The Minimum Wage Should Be Abolished, not Increased

Sat, 01/04/2020 - 12:31pm

As I discuss in this recent interview, a higher minimum wage is a terrible idea if we care about facts and evidence (and also want to help poor people).

In the interview, I mentioned that minimum wage mandates aren’t good news for workers who lose their jobs.

One of them, Simone Barron, wrote in the Wall Street Journal about her unfortunate experience after the minimum wage was increased in Seattle.

This city’s minimum wage is rising to $16.39 an hour on Jan. 1. Instead of receiving a bigger paycheck, I’m left without any pay at all… That’s because the restaurant where I’ve worked for six years is closing as a consequence of the city’s harmful minimum-wage experiment. …When rent is too high, labor costs too much, and customers don’t want to pay $40 for a roast-chicken entree, the only way for many operators to ease the pain is to close. So now, after six years working at Mr. Douglas’s restaurant Tanakasan, I need to find a new work home. My first thought was to go back to Sitka & Spruce, a restaurant where I had once worked. …As it turns out, I can’t return to Sitka & Spruce. Its James Beard Award-winning owner, Matt Dillon, is closing Sitka after 14 years, defeated by the one-two punch of rising rents and labor costs. …I often hear people in Seattle lament that it’s becoming “more corporate.” The truth is that the city has made it nearly impossible for many small businesses to survive. …I’ve started applying for other open positions around town. I landed an interview at a restaurant called Super Bueno, owned by another established chef, Ethan Stowell. Before I could even confirm the interview, Mr. Stowell announced that he will close down Super Bueno at the end of the year.

Just in case you’re tempted to dismiss Ms. Barron’s story as a mere anecdote, let’s now look at some broader evidence.

There’s a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research that measures the impact of minimum wage mandates. The results are not encouraging.

Using intertemporal variation in whether a state’s minimum wage is bound by the federal rate and credit-score data for approximately 15.2 million establishments for the period 1989–2013, we find that increases in the federal minimum wage worsen the financial health of small businesses in the affected states. Small, young, labor-intensive, minimum-wage sensitive establishments located in the states bound to the federal minimum wage and those located in competitive and low-income areas experience higher financial stress. Increases in the minimum wage also lead to lower bank credit, higher loan defaults, lower employment, a lower entry and a higher exit rate for small businesses. …Our results document some potential costs of a one-size-fits-all nationwide minimum wage, and we highlight how it can have an adverse effect on the financial health of some small businesses.

But not everybody cares about evidence.

The New York Times just opined in favor of the Bernie Sanders approach on the topic.

Over the past five years, a wave of increases in state and local minimum-wage standards has pushed the average effective minimum wage in the United States to the highest level on record. The average worker must be paid at least $11.80 an hour… Millions of workers are being left behind because 21 states still use the federal standard, $7.25 an hour… House Democrats passed legislation in July that would gradually increase the federal standard, to $15 an hour in 2025…the legislation also would require automatic adjustments in the minimum wage to keep pace with wage growth in the broader economy. …For most companies, the bill is relatively small, and it can be defrayed by giving less money to shareholders, or by raising prices. …The American economy is generating plenty of jobs; the problem is in the paychecks. The solution is a $15 federal minimum wage.

Interestingly, the editorial actually acknowledged that a one-size-fits-all $15 mandate would backfire.

It is possible that a national $15 standard would produce the kinds of damage critics have long predicted; the Congressional Budget Office puts the potential increase in unemployment…3.7 million people… Workers may be most vulnerable in areas where prevailing wages are relatively low. In California, for example, the minimum wage for large employers (more than 25 workers) will rise to $13 an hour on Wednesday. That is unlikely to cause problems in San Francisco — but the new minimum is quite close to the median hourly wage of $15.23 in the Visalia metropolitan area in the Central Valley. The federal minimum would apply to metropolitan areas like Daphne, Ala., and Sumter, S.C., where the median worker earned less than $15 an hour in 2018. One simple corrective, proposed by Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, would be to include exemptions from the $15 standard for low-wage metropolitan areas and rural areas.

In other words, the NYT endorsed a $15 federal minimum wage, and then concluded by admitting it would be very bad if there actually was a $15 federal minimum wage.

This is why I prefer this editorial from the New York Times.

…there’s a virtual consensus among economists that the minimum wage is an idea whose time has passed. Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working poor people out of the job market. …An increase in the minimum wage…would increase employers’ incentives to evade the law, expanding the underground economy. More important, it would increase unemployment: Raise the legal minimum price of labor above the productivity of the least skilled workers and fewer will be hired. …Those at greatest risk from a higher minimum would be young, poor workers, who already face formidable barriers to getting and keeping jobs. …The idea of using a minimum wage to overcome poverty is old, honorable – and fundamentally flawed. It’s time to put this hoary debate behind us, and find a better way to improve the lives of people who work very hard for very little.

Sadly, that editorial was from 1987, back when the newspaper had a more rational perspective.

In those days, the New York Times also favored the flat tax.

Today, the publication is almost a parody of “woke” emotion since many reporters and editors push a statist agenda, presumably because (their perceptions of) good intentions matter more than good results.

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Image credit: Byung Kyu Park | CC BY-SA 2.0.

Here’s How Guilt-Ridden Rich People Can Pay More Tax without Hurting the Rest of Us

Fri, 01/03/2020 - 12:12pm

I want more people to become rich. That’s why I support free markets.

But a few already-rich people say such silly things that I wonder whether a big bank account somehow can lead to a loss of common sense.

For background information on this issue, there’s a Politico article on some of the recent statements by Bill Gates.

It appears he’s embracing the horribly unworkable notion of taxing unrealized capital gains, and he definitely wants more double taxation of capital gains, a more punitive death tax, and a higher tax rate on capital gains that are part of “carried interest” (even though that becomes irrelevant if the regular capital gains rate is being increased).

And he’s getting closer to endorsing a wealth tax, which – to be fair – would address one of my criticisms in the interview.

Bill Gates…is echoing Democrats’ calls for higher taxes on the rich. …the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist cites a litany of ways the rich ought to be paying more. …he favors “taxing large fortunes that have been held for a long time (say, ten years or more).” …Capital gains taxes should go up too, “probably to the same level as” ordinary income, he said. The estate tax should be hiked, and loopholes used to duck it ought to be shut down. People should also pay more on “carried interest,” Gates said. He also called for higher state taxes, including the creation of an income tax in his home state of Washington.

An income tax in the state of Washington would be particularly misguided. At least if the state hopes to be competitive and not drive away wealth and entrepreneurship.

A few months ago, Gates was in the news for the same reason.

At the time, I suggested that he should simply write a check to the federal government. After all, there’s nothing to stop him – and other guilt-ridden rich people – from paying extra tax.

But he conveniently says this wouldn’t suffice. To make matters worse, Gates apparently thinks government should be bigger, that there’s more it “needs to do.”

Gates rejected the notion that the wealthy could simply volunteer to pay more. …”Additional voluntary giving will never raise enough money for everything the government needs to do.”

I guess he’s not familiar with the Rahn Curve.

In any event, Bill Gates isn’t the only rich person who feels guilty about their wealth (or strategically pretends to feel guilty in order to either virtue signal or appease the class-warfare crowd).

The New Yorker has an article on the so-called Patriotic Millionaires, a group of masochists who want more of their money confiscated by Washington.

Abigail Disney…is the granddaughter of Roy O. Disney, who founded the Disney company with his younger brother, Walt, in 1923, and her father was a longtime senior executive there. …In 2011, she joined an organization called the Patriotic Millionaires… She began to make public appearances and videos in which she promoted higher taxes on the wealthy. She told me that she realized that the luxuries she and her family enjoyed were really a way of walling themselves off from the world, which made it easier to ignore certain economic realities. …Patriotic Millionaires…now has more than two hundred members in thirty-four states…the group’s mission was initially a simple idea endorsed by a half-dozen rich people: “Please raise our taxes.”

The good news is that only a tiny fraction of the nation’s millionaires have signed up for this self-loathing organization.

To qualify for the group, members must have an annual income of at least a million dollars, or assets worth more than five million dollars. That could include many families who would describe themselves as upper middle class—who, for instance, own homes in cities with hot real-estate markets. When I asked Payne how hard it was to persuade rich people to join, she said, “I think the last time I checked there were about three hundred and seventy-five thousand taxpayers in the country who make a million dollars a year in income”—there are now almost half a million—“and we have a couple hundred members.” She laughed. “If you ever needed a back-of-the-envelope calculation of how many of America’s élite are concerned about the basic well-being of their fellow-citizens, that should give you a rough estimate.”

I’m also happy to see that the article acknowledges a very obvious criticism of Ms. Disney and her fellow travelers.

At a time when political activists are expected to live according to their values, Disney’s role as an ultra-wealthy spokesperson for the underclass makes her a target of vitriol. In late September, someone tweeted at her, “Boy do I despise virtue signaling rich liberal hypocrites living off the money earned by their far better ancestors. Bet you live in a luxury apt in NYC! Why don’t you renounce your corporate grandad’s money and give it ALL away! You never will . . . HYPOCRITE!”

And she is a hypocrite.

Just like the other guilt-ridden rich people I’ve had to debate over the years.

If you want to see hypocrisy in action, there’s a very amusing video showing rich leftists being offered the opportunity to fill out this form and pay extra tax – and therefore atone for their guilt without hurting the rest of us. Needless to say, just like Abigail Disney and Bill Gates, they’re all talk and no action.

P.S. I wasn’t fully responsive in the interview since I was also asked how higher taxes on the rich would affect the economy. I should have pointed out that class-warfare taxes are the most destructive, on a per-dollar-collected basis, because they impose heavy penalties on saving, investment, and entrepreneurship. And that’s very bad news for workers since less innovation translates into lower wages.

P.P.S. Guilt-ridden rich people also exist in Germany.

P.P.P.S. I’m especially nauseated by rich politicians who advocate for higher taxes, yet refuse to put their money where their mouths are. A partial list includes Senator Elizabeth WarrenSenator John KerryBill and Hillary ClintonCongressman Alan GraysonGovernor J.B. Pritzker, and Tom Steyer.

P.P.P.P.S. If you’re a rich leftist, you can even be a super-hypocrite and utilize tax havens to protect your money.

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Image credit: Kuhlmann /MSC | CC BY 3.0 DE.

Trump’s Protectionism Has Backfired on America’s Workers

Thu, 01/02/2020 - 12:51pm

At the beginning of the Trump era, many of us (including me) warned that his statements on trade were nonsensical.

And when Trump shifted from bad rhetoric to bad policy, Johan Norberg pointed out why trade wars are very misguided.

As you might expect, Johan is correct. More government intervention in global commerce has led to bad consequences.

Trump’s tax increases on trade have produced bad results for the American economy. Consumers have been hurt, businesses have been hurt, exporters have been hurt, and specific sectors such as farming and manufacturing have been hurt.

All of this was very predictable.

Indeed, the Trump Administration’s own economists warned back in 2018 that a trade war would backfire. Here are some excerpts from a report in the New York Times.

A White House economic analysis of President Trump’s trade agenda has concluded that Mr. Trump’s tariffs will hurt economic growth in the United States… The findings from the White House Council of Economic Advisers have been circulated only internally and not publicly released… The administration has hit Canada, Mexico, Japan and the European Union with steel and aluminum tariffs and…tariffs on a range of Chinese goods. In return, many of those countries have either imposed or threatened reciprocal tariffs on everything from steel to pork to orange juice, a move that economists say will depress economic growth. …many economists have been warning that the administration’s trade approach will undercut economic growth and partially offset any boost from the $1.5 trillion tax cut that Congress passed and Mr. Trump signed… Wall Street research firms have warned that those tariffs, and the retaliatory tariffs that trading partners have threatened in response, will slow growth in the United States. …In a…survey of an expert panel of academic economists assembled by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, no economist agreed with the statement, “Imposing new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum will improve Americans’ welfare.”

Needless to say, Trump ignored the good advice from his economists and imposed a bunch of tax increases on trade.

We now have some hard evidence about the wisdom of this approach. Economists at the Federal Reserve crunched the numbers as part of a new study.

While there are already vast theoretical and empirical literatures documenting the effects of changes in trade policy, …there are virtually no modern episodes of a large, advanced economy raising tariffs in a way comparable to the U.S. in 2018-2019. …these tariffs…were imposed, in part, to boost the U.S. manufacturing sector by protecting against what were deemed to be the unfair trade practices of trading partners, principally China. …This paper provides the first comprehensive estimates of the effect of recent tariffs on the U.S. manufacturing sector. …We measure the import protection channel as the share of domestic absorption affected by newly imposed tariffs. We account for declines in competitiveness associated with increased input costs as the share of industry costs subject to new tariffs.Finally, we measure an industry’s potential exposure to retaliatory tariffs by U.S. trading partners as the share of industry-level exports subject to new retaliatory tariffs. …We then relate the measures for these three channels of tariff exposure to monthly data on manufacturing employment, output, and producer prices.

And what did the experts find?

We find that tariff increases enacted in 2018 are associated with relative reductions in manufacturing employment and relative increases in producer prices. In terms of manufacturing employment, rising input costs and retaliatory tariffs each contribute to the negative relationship, and the contribution from these channels more than offsets a small positive effect from import protection. For producer prices, the relative increases associated with tariffs are due solely to the rising input cost channel. …we find that shifting an industry from the 25th percentile to the 75th percentile in terms of exposure to each of these channels of tariffs is associated with a reduction in manufacturing employment of 1.4 percent, with the positive contribution from the import protection effects of tariffs (0.3 percent) more than offset by the negative effects associated with rising input costs (-1.1 percent) and retaliatory tariffs(-0.7 percent).

In other words, the small benefits that go to the industries that are sheltered from competition are very much outweighed by the damage to other sectors of the economy (a lesson that Trump could have learned if he studied real-world evidences, such as the Great Depression).

The Wall Street Journal opined about the Fed’s study.

One mystery of the Trump -era economy has been why U.S. manufacturing slumped sharply in late 2018 and 2019 after surging the year before. The Occam’s razor culprit is the onset of trade war… Federal Reserve economists Aaron Flaaen and Justin Pierce examine the impact of the tariff outbursts of 2018 on U.S. manufacturing employment, output and prices. This is important work because 2018 marked the start in earnest of President Trump’s campaign to change the world trading order, using tariffs as his preferred bludgeon. …Mr. Trump justified his campaign in part as a way to revive American manufacturing while protecting against unfair trade practices. So how has that worked out? …the economists have bad news for tariff lovers. …the higher costs from tariffs swamped benefits to specific firms from import protection. The tariffs cost more jobs than they created. …As the Fed economists conclude, “We find the impact” from protection “is completely offset in the short-run by reduced competitiveness from retaliation and higher costs in downstream industries.” ….A previous Fed study looked at uncertainty and found it has cut U.S. GDP growth by about a percentage point, which explains the deceleration to 2% from 3% in the last year.

At the risk of sounding like a dogmatic libertarian, we now have additional confirmation that it’s not a good idea to expand the footprint of government.

That’s true about taxes. That’s true about spending. That’s true about regulation. And it’s true about trade.

P.S. Wonky readers may be interested in this chart from the Fed study, which shows the impact of Trump’s trade war on employment, production, and producer prices.

P.P.S. Trump is right when he asserts that other nations have bad protectionist policies. Unfortunately, he wrongly thinks that reducing trade deficits somehow will address those bad policies. Instead, he should have targeted the specific bad policies (such as Chinese cronyism), ideally by utilizing the World Trade Organization.

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Image credit: Steve Jurvetson | CC BY 2.0.

Hopes and Fears for 2020

Wed, 01/01/2020 - 12:42pm

Yesterday’s column was my annual end-of-year round-up of the best and worst developments of the concluding year.

Today I’ll be forward looking and give you my hopes and fears for the new year, which is a newer tradition that began in 2017 (and continued in 2018 and 2019).

With my glass-half-full outlook, we’ll start with the things I hope will happen.

Supreme Court strikes down civil asset forfeiture – It is nauseating that bureaucrats can steal property from citizens who have never been convicted of a crime. Or even charged with a crime. Fortunately, this disgusting practice already has attracted attention from Clarence Thomas and other sound-thinking Justices on the Supreme Court. Hopefully, this will produce a decision that ends this example of Venezuela-style government thuggery.

Good free-trade agreements for the United Kingdom – This is a two-pronged hope. First, I want a great agreement between the U.S. and the U.K., based on the principle of mutual recognition. Second, I want the best-possible agreement between the U.K. and the E.U., which will be a challenge since the political elite in Brussels has a spiteful desire to “punish” the British people for supporting Brexit.

Maduro’s ouster in Venezuela – I already wished for this development in 2018 and 2019, so this is my “Groundhog Day” addition to the list. But if I keep wishing for it, sooner or later it will happen and I’ll look prescient. But I actually don’t care about whether my predictions are correct, I just want an end to the horrible suffering for the people of Venezuela.

Here are the things I fear will happen in 2020.

A bubble bursts – I hope I’m wrong (and that may be the case since I’ve been fretting about it for a long time), but I fear that financial markets are being goosed by an easy-money policy from the Federal Reserve. Bubbles feel good when they’re expanding, but last decade should have taught us that they can be very painful when they pop.

A loss of economic liberty in Chile and/or Hong Kong – As shown by Economic Freedom of the World, there are not that many success stories in the world. But we can celebrate what’s happened in Hong Kong since WWII and what’s happened in Chile since the late 1970s. Economic liberty has dramatically boosted prosperity. Unfortunately, Hong Kong’s liberty is now being threatened from without and Chile’s liberty is now being threatened from within.

Repeal of the Illinois flat tax – The best approach for a state is to have no income tax, and a state flat tax is the second-best approach. Illinois is in that second category thanks to a long-standing provision of the state’s constitution. Needless to say, this irks the big spenders who control the Illinois government and they are asking voters this upcoming November to vote on whether to bust the flat tax and open the floodgates for an ever-growing fiscal burden. By the way, it’s quite likely that I’ll be including the Massachusetts flat tax on this list next year.

I’ll also add a special category for something that would be both good and bad.

Trump gets reelected – Because Trump is producing better tax policy and better regulatory policy, and because of my hopes for judges who believe in the Constitution’s protections of economic liberty, it would be good if he won a second term.

Trump gets reelected – Because Trump is producing worse spending policy and worse trade policy, and because of my concerns never-ending Keynesian monetary policy from the Federal Reserve, it would be bad if he won a second term.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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Image credit: kai Stachowiak | CC0 Public Domain.

Best and Worst of 2019

Tue, 12/31/2019 - 12:20pm

Time for my annual column highlighting the “Best” and “Worst” policy developments of the year, a tradition I sort of started in 2012 and definitely did in 20132014201520162017, and 2018.

I’m trying to be a glass-half-full kind of guy, so we’ll start with the best policy developments for 2019.

Boris Johnson’s landslide victory – I was in London for the recent U.K. election and was pleasantly surprised when Boris Johnson won a surprising landslide. That’s not a policy development, of course, but it’s first on my list because it presumably will lead to a genuine Brexit. And when the United Kingdom escapes the sinking ship of the dirigiste European Union, I have some hopes for pro-market policies.

TABOR wins in Colorado – Without question, the best fiscal system for a jurisdiction is a spending cap that fulfills my Golden Rule. Colorado’s constitution has such a policy, known as TABOR (the Taxpayer Bill of Rights). Pro-spending lobbies put an initiative on the ballot to eviscerate the provision, but voters wisely rejected the measure this past November by a nearly 10-point margin.

Macroeconomic strength – A strong economy also isn’t a policy, but it’s partially the result of good tax reforms and much-needed regulatory easing. This has pushed up the value of stocks (though I worry we may be experiencing a bubble), but I’m much happier that it’s led to a tight labor market and increased wages for lower-skilled workers.

Now let’s look at the worst developments of 2019.

An ever-increasing burden of government spending – The federal government is far too big, and it keeps growing in sizeEntitlements are the main problem, but Trump added to the mess by capitulating to another budget deal that increases the burden of discretionary spending.

Missed opportunity on China trade – Because he foolishly focused on the bilateral trade deficit, Trump missed a great opportunity to pressure China to eliminate (or at least reduce) various cronyist policies that actually do distort and undermine trade.

Repeal of the Cadillac tax – I never imagined I would be in a position of stating that it was a mistake to repeal a tax increase, but the recent repeal of the tax on high-end health plans is such bad policy in terms of health care (contributing to third-party payer) that it more than offsets my long-standing desire to deprive Washington of revenue.

I’ll close by noting my most-read and least-read columns of the year.

We’ll start with the popular items.

  1. My most-read column from 2019 discussed a very impressive (and very understandable) example of tax avoidance from France.
  2. In second place was my piece that lauded a columnist for the New York Times who admitted gun control is foolish policy.
  3. Winning the bronze medal was my column from last week celebrating the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

By the way, my most-read article in 2019 was actually a quiz about political philosophy I shared back in 2015. Those must be popular items, because other quizzes (from 2014 and 2013) were actually the third-most and fourth-most popular columns for the year.

And here are the biggest duds.

  1. The column with the least clicks (perhaps because it was only posted a couple of days ago) revolved around the technical issues of economic sanctions, extraterritoriality, and the strength of the dollar.
  2. The second-worst-performing column was from late November and discussed the International Monetary Fund’s cheerleading for higher taxes in Japan.
  3. Next on the list is my discussion from a few days ago about how Washington imposes policies that encourage households to make short-sighted financial choices.

P.S. About 80 percent of readers are from the United States, and that’s been relatively constant over the years. But it’s been interesting (at least to me) to observe where other readers reside. In the very beginning, Canada provided the second-biggest group of readers, but then the United Kingdom took over for several years, only to be dethroned by Australia in 2017 and 2018. For 2019, though, the United Kingdom reclaimed second place, presumably because I kept writing about Brexit. If we go by readers as a share of the population, I’m actually most popular in small tax havens.

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Image credit: darkmoon1968 | Pixabay License.

Protecting the Innocent: Gun-Free Zones vs. Armed Citizens

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 12:10pm

When I wrote yesterday’s column, which augmented my collection of satire about gun control, I had no idea I would feel compelled 24 hours later to address the issue from a serious perspective.

But two tragic events over the weekend underscore why the individual right of gun ownership is such an important part of the Constitution.

First, an anti-Semitic nutjob attacked Jews Saturday night.

At least five people have been stabbed in an attack at a synagogue in New York’s Rockland County. That attacker is now reportedly in custody after fleeing the scene. …The suspect has been identified as 37-year-old Grafton Thomas, of Greenwood Lake, New York, in Orange County. Thomas, covering his face with a scarf, reportedly entered the building and pulled out a machete to attack the victims during a Chanukah celebration. Thomas reportedly chased after and stabbed victims as they fled the synagogue before running off and escaping in a gray Nissan Sentra. …This incident happened amid a rash of anti-Semitic attacks this week. …“We will NOT allow this to become the new normal. We’ll use every tool we have to stop these attacks once and for all. The NYPD has deployed a visible and growing presence around Jewish houses of worship on the streets in communities like Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Boro Park,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio added in a tweet.

Needless to say, Mayor de Blasio is being dishonest when he claims he will “use every tool…to stop these attacks.”

Like politicians in Europe, he’s a dogmatic opponent of private gun ownership and believes Jews shouldn’t be allowed to defend themselves.

Fortunately, Jews who live outside New York City still enjoy some civil liberties and are now prepared to thwart attackers.

PHOTOS: Orthodox Jews seen open carrying rifles in Rockland County, NY following a string of anti-semitic attacks in NYC, including last night’s stabbing attack inside a synagogue in Monsey, NY that left 5 stabbed – 1 in critical condition. pic.twitter.com/l3ywnpplrB

— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) December 29, 2019

More power to these people, who are the Orthodox Jewish versions of these good ol’ boys from Texas.

For what it’s worth, I suspect dirtbags will be less likely to target the Jews in Rockland Country.

There was another attack at a house of worship over the weekend.

Though this report from Texas has a happy ending.

Police said they received a call shortly before 10 a.m. local time about gunshots at the West Freeway Church of Christ, in a suburb a less than an hour from downtown Fort Worth. After the suspect entered the church and fired a weapon, “a couple of members of the church returned fire,” killing the alleged shooter, state officials said at a news conference. …Gov. Greg Abbott (R) condemned the “evil act of violence” in a statement, adding: “Places of worship are meant to be sacred, and I am grateful for the church members who acted quickly to take down the shooter and help prevent further loss of life.” …New laws that took effect in 2019 allow Texans with concealed-carry permits to bring guns to places of worship unless a sign is posted prohibiting it.

The happy ending is that the bad guy was killed by armed members of the congregation, presumably minimizing the death toll.

I’ve joked before about Texans and guns, but we have a real-world case of how lives are saved. And what happened over the weekend wasn’t the first time.

Let’s now shift from anecdotes to data.

A few years ago, John Lott looked at the evidence about gun-free zones, armed citizens, and mass shootings.

…not one of the mass shootings since at least 2000…would’ve been stopped by these laws. Nor would renewing the federal “assault weapons” ban solve the problem; even research paid for by Bill Clinton’s administration found no evidence the ban reduced any type of crime. …a young ISIS sympathizer planned a shooting at one of the largest churches in Detroit. An FBI wire recorded him explaining why he had picked the church as a target: “It’s easy, and a lot of people go there. Plus people are not allowed to carry guns in church.” …PoliceOne, a private organization with 450,000 members (380,000 full-time active law enforcement and 70,000 retired), polled its members in 2013 shortly after the Newtown, Conn., massacre. Eighty percent of respondents said allowing legally armed citizens to carry guns in places such as Newtown and Aurora would have reduced the number of casualties. …According to police and prosecutors, there have been dozens of cases of permit holders clearly stopping what would have been mass public shootings. It’s understandable these killers avoid places where they can’t kill a large number of people. Research I have conducted with economist Bill Landes looked at 13 different types of gun-control laws. Right-to-carry laws were the only type that made a difference in the rate and severity of these mass public shootings. …even the most ardent gun-control advocate would never put “Gun-Free Zone” signs on their homes. Let’s finally stop putting them elsewhere.

Amen.

John Lott is an invaluable resource on these issues, as is Jacob Sullum.

Though it’s really an issue of common sense.

Mass shooters are evil, but they’re calculatingly evil. Even if they’re willing to die, they want a high body count. Armed citizens make that less likely.

The bottom lines is that we can save lives by making sure law-abiding people have the right to keep and bear arms.

What happened this past weekend simply provides us with more evidence.

Gun Control Humor

Sun, 12/29/2019 - 12:03pm

I haven’t added to the collection of gun control humor since way back in August.

So let’s rectify that oversight, starting with this sarcastic tweet about the logic of gun control.

To stop drunk drivers from killing sober drivers, just prevent sober drivers from driving.

That’s how gun control works!

— Julio Gonzalez (@TaxReformExpert) September 7, 2019

Quite similar to this cartoon about stupid and illogical ways of fighting rape.

This cartoon strip zings both sides. While the left is sadly right that evil people won’t be stopped by “thoughts and prayers,” it’s also true that they are wildly wrong in thinking that gun control will succeed.

Indeed, advocates of gun control will make society less safe if they succeed in disarming law-abiding people.

Here’s some satire on both gun buy-backs and so-called red flag laws.

I’m skeptical about red flag laws, but I haven’t studied the issue enough to offer any commentary.

Though it’s definitely true that governments historically have the worst track record of violence.

But since this is a humor column, I’ll steer clear of serious analysis and instead note that the government of Baltimore was at least kind enough to provide some unintentional humor on the issue of buy-backs.

Since my left-leaning friends need plenty of tutoring on guns, here’s a helpful guide.

And we’ll close with some much-needed wisdom on being armed.

If you think this is an empty slogan, I very much recommend this article by someone who leans left but had an epiphany on the importance of self defense.

P.S. I have a collection of columns dealing with honest leftists on the issue of gun control. For other examples, click hereherehere, and here.

If You’re Worried about High Household Debt and Low Levels of Saving, Get Angry at Washington

Sat, 12/28/2019 - 12:10pm

In this interview on Fox Business, I repeated my oft-stated concern that the Federal Reserve’s easy-money policy of artificially low interest rates (avidly supported by Trump) may have created the conditions for a boom-bust cycle.

For today’s column, though, I want to focus on the part of the interview where I fret about structural rather than cyclical factors.

More specifically, whenever there is angst and concern about household debt, I get rather frustrated because some folks want to blame the American people for not saving enough.

That may be true, but I point out that the real problem is that the federal government lures people into being short-sighted.

Given all these policies, I’m actually surprised that the national savings rate isn’t much lower.

By the way, I should emphasize that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with debt. It’s perfectly sensible for many households to borrow to buy a house, a car, or to finance education.

As I noted in the interview, what matters is keeping a sound ratio of debt to assets, and a sound ratio of interest expense to income.

It’s not easy for people to be sensible, however, when there are so many anti-savings policies from Washington.

I’ll close with a bit of good news.

Because the United States is a quasi-tax haven for foreigners, we do attract an immense amount of money from overseas. So even though the federal government discourages us from saving, we have access to capital from all over the world.

———
Image credit: 401(K) 2012 | CC BY-SA 2.0.

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