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Law-Abiding Texans, Gun Ownership, and Saving Lives

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 12:58pm

It’s impossible to imagine the evil and/or the sickness that would lead a person to massacre strangers in a church.

But it’s very easy to predict the political aftermath of such a tragedy. Folks on the left (some well-meaning, some not) immediately urge more gun control.

I have constitutional objections to their approach, but I realize that line of reasoning doesn’t matter to the anti-Second Amendment crowd, so I generally focus the conversation on the practical shortcomings of such initiatives.

  • Why, for instance, will it make a difference to ban scary-looking rifles when other weapons have the exact same functionality?
  • Or if they want a total ban, I ask them if they have a feasible plan to confiscate the hundreds of millions of guns in the country?
  • Do they actually think signs declaring so-called gun-free zones will discourage or deter murderers from butchering innocent people?
  • Is it likely that criminals will obey gun control laws when they already disregard laws against murder, rape, robbery, and assault?
  • If they argue guns cause crime, what is their response to the link between expanded gun ownership or decreases in violent crime?

Let’s focus on that last point, which is especially relevant since the death toll in Texas presumably would have been much higher if a good person with a gun didn’t put a stop to the mayhem.

Here are some excerpts from the Washington Post‘s report on what happened.

Johnnie Langendorff stumbled into the crossfire in a total accident. …As he passed the church…he saw…A man clad all in black was…trading shots with another man holding a rifle. …The man in black hauled off in his SUV. The second man with the rifle — a neighbor identified Monday by Arkansas-based 40/29 News as Stephen Willeford — approached Langendorff. The two men were strangers. Willeford said his daughter heard gunshots at the nearby First Baptist Church and told him she’d seen a man in all-black attire… A former NRA instructor…, Willeford immediately sprung into action. …Willeford raced across the street to the church and confronted Kelley… Langendorff said Willeford “briefed me quickly on what had just happened and said he had to get him.” “So that’s what I did.” …the two men shot off in pursuit in Langendorff’s truck… Langendorff wove his truck at high speed through traffic while trying to catch the fleeing SUV. The speedometer crossed 95 mph while the driver narrated everything to law enforcement. …Kelley’s vehicle…veered off the roadway and into a ditch… Langendorff pulled his own truck within 25 yards. …Police were on the scene within five to seven minutes… An autopsy of Kelley showed that he was shot twice — once in the leg and again in the torso — before shooting himself in the head… On Sunday night, Langendorff explained that his reaction — jumping into a car chase — was a simple calculation. “He just hurt so many people, he affected so many people’s lives, why wouldn’t you want to take him down?”

The Wall Street Journal editorializes on some of the implications.

…forgive us if we focus on Stephen Willeford, the local plumber who saved lives by grabbing his rifle and firing at Kelley. …The two locals are being hailed as heroes since their quick action was the only deterrent to more murders until police arrived. Kelley, who was discharged from the Air Force for bad conduct, should not have been able to obtain a gun legally, but the Journal reports that the military failed to send his conviction record to the FBI. The harsh reality of mass murders is that often only the presence of someone with a legal weapon to shoot back can stop the rampage. …No one wants crowds of vigilantes looking for someone to shoot, but we’re sure glad Stephen Willeford had a rifle and knew how to use it.

Rich Lowry of National Review applauds the heroism of the two Texans who acted to save lives.

Before the Texas church shooter encountered any police officers, he was run off a highway and dead. He had been shot and chased by two private citizens who took it upon themselves to respond to a heinous crime when no one with a badge was anywhere to be found. …The response by the two bystanders who refused to stand by…was a characteristically small-town American act of self-reliance that shows, no matter how tattered our civil society may be, it still produces people who will risk life and limb for others without hesitation, unbidden by anything other than their own sense of obligation. When Stephen Willeford, 55, heard of the shooting, he left his house barefoot with his AR-15 and started exchanging fire with Kelley outside the church. An expert shot, Willeford hit Kelley and reportedly aimed for the gaps on his body armor. When Kelley got in an SUV and sped off, Willeford jumped in Johnnie Langendorff’s truck and told him to give chase. …Willeford and Langendorff would have been justified in considering their work done when the shooter left the scene of his massacre. They would have been justified in considering it done when he crashed his vehicle. They instead were prepared for another gunfight in the cause of incapacitating him themselves.

And he warns about the real-world implications of gun control.

Any gun-control measure that is sweeping enough to make a dent in the country’s gun stock and render gun ownership difficult enough to, at the margins, keep firearms out of the hands of psychopaths will inevitably affect law-abiding people as well. In places like rural Texas that would rightly be considered a serious imposition. Without a gun, if something goes wrong, the only option is sitting and waiting for the authorities to show up.

Amen. Cops play an important role, but usually after a crime is committed. As this image illustrates, when seconds count, the police are minutes away.

So let’s make life harder for bad people by letting good people defend themselves.

By the way, some people are blaming the Air Force for failing to place the murderer into the system since that would have barred him from legally buying a gun. I’m sure that was an oversight rather than a deliberate decision, so I’m reluctant to make that a big issue. I’m actually more concerned that this dirtbag abused his family and fractured the skull of a one-year old child, yet was jailed for only one year.

Call me crazy, but that seems ludicrously lax. Heck, we put old people in jail for five times longer for trivial offenses such as failing to file a form. Shouldn’t grievous bodily harm to an infant have harsher implications? This is almost as crazy as fining a gun owner $1,000 after he saved a child’s life.

Let’s conclude by returning to the main issue of today’s column. In the past, I’ve joked about gun-loving Texans (the difference between conservatives, liberals, and Texans, the Texas v. Europe approach to fighting terrorism, and Texas, California, and the coyote), but today let’s be glad one of those guys used his “assault rifle” to save lives.

The Importance of Eliminating State and Local Tax Deductions

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 3:44pm

On Monday the Heritage Foundation hosted a panel discussion on the importance of eliminating the state and local tax deduction as part of tax reform.

If you don’t want to watch the entire event, here are the basic highlights.

  • Ending the SALT deduction will finance rate reductions and other pro-growth reforms
  • SALT deduction benefits are concentrated, benefiting only itemizers (currently about 30% of filers, but will go down under the new plan), with a majority going to only 7 states
  • It creates perverse incentives for state governments to overtax and overspend. As much as 5percentage points of California’s top-in-the-nation 13.3% income tax is financed by the rest of federal taxpayers thanks to the SALT deduction.
  • The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would mostly eliminate the state and local deduction, keeping an allowance for property taxes up to $10,000 in order to secure votes from Republicans in high-tax states. Doing so leaves roughly $400-$500 billion less can be used to lower marginally tax rates, which are more important for driving growth.
  • Keeping the property tax deduction could also harm some middle-class homeowners if it encourages states to shift taxes on income or sales to property taxes.

Jonathan Williams of the American Legislative Exchange Council relayed an interesting anecdote illustrating the deduction’s impact on state behavior. The Governor of Alaska, which is the only state to ever eliminate its personal income tax as it did 40 years ago, is seeking to enact an income tax to close a budget hole. A part of his selling point is that state taxpayers will be able to write-off part of the cost of the federal taxes.

This fits with a key CF&P objection to the SALT deduction. Namely, that it interferes with tax competition between the states and its role in keeping taxes lower than they otherwise would be. Not only does it encourage states to raise taxes, but it directs them toward particular taxes and thereby reduces experimentation and the opportunity to compare how different systems fare in the 50 laboratories of democracy.

 

100 Years of Communism, 100 Million Deaths, but a Silver Lining of Clever Jokes and Satire

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 12:47pm

There’s no way to sugarcoat the monstrous evil of communism. The death toll is simply too large.

But the silver lining to the dark cloud of Marxist socialism is that we have some clever jokes and satire.

We’ll start with the Gipper. Here are some of his anti-communism jokes that I should have included in my collection of Reagan videos.

Makes me miss Reagan even more. The only great president of my lifetime, and either the best or second-best president of the 20th century.

But let’s stay on topic. Here’s a cartoon that sums up the “success” of communist systems.

The folks at Redpanels, by the way, also have produced great cartoons on Keynesian economics, the minimum wagebasic income, and infrastructure.

Perhaps because of the rise of Antifa, even the Onion is mocking communism. Here are some excerpts, but the entire article is worth reading.

The filthy, disorganized apartment shared by three members of the Amherst College Marxist Society is a microcosm of why the social and economic utopia described in the writings of Karl Marx will never come to fruition, sources reported Monday. …Upon moving in together at the beginning of the fall 2001 semester, Dorff, Josh Foyle, and Tom Eaves sat down and devised an egalitarian system for harmonious living. Each individual roommate would be assigned a task, which he would be required to carry out on a predetermined day of the week. A bulletin board in the kitchen was chosen as the spot for household announcements, and to track reimbursements for common goods like toothpaste and toilet paper. “We were creating an exciting new model for living,” said Dorff, stubbing his cigarette into an ashtray that had not been emptied in six days. …Despite the roommates’ optimism, the system began to break down soon after its establishment. To settle disputes, the roommates held weekly meetings of the “Committee of Three.” …After weeks of complaining that he was the only one who knew how to clean “halfway decent,” Foyle began scaling back his efforts, mirroring the sort of production problems experienced in the USSR and other Soviet bloc nations. …The roommates have also tried to implement a food-sharing system, with similarly poor results. The dream of equal distribution of shared goods quickly gave way to pilferage, misallocation, and hoarding. “I bought the peanut butter the first four times, and this Organic Farms shit isn’t cheap,” Eaves said. “So ever since, I’ve been keeping it in my dresser drawer. If Kirk wants to make himself a sandwich, he can run to the corner store and buy some Jif.” …The lack of funds and the resulting scarcity breeds not only discontent but also corruption. Although collectivism only works when all parties contribute to the fullest extent, Foyle hid the existence of a $245 paycheck from roommates so he would not have to pay his back rent, in essence refusing to participate in the forced voluntary taxation that is key to socialism. Even worse, Dorff, who is entrusted with bill collection and payment, recently pocketed $30, a theft he claimed was “for the heating bill” but was put toward buying drinks later that night.

If you don’t want to read the entire story from the Onionthis cartoon basically has the same message.

Here’s a cartoon mocking the common excuse that Marxist socialism only fails because the right people haven’t been in charge.

There’s nothing subtle about this next bit of satire.

Though I wonder if the Occupy Wall Street crowd would even recognize that it’s a joke rather than serious.

Reminds me of this socialism poster.

Here’s a video from Reason‘s John Stossel. It makes very serious points, but has a mocking tone that I appreciate, so I decided to include it in today’s column.

Last but not least, let’s make fun of the guy who gave Marxism its name.

I have no idea if the various factoids in this image are true, but since Marx unleashed so much evil on the world, I’m more than willing to share unfair attacks on his “good name.”

At the risk of repeating myself, communism is an utterly evil system.

If you have some good anti-communist humor, please share in the comments section.

I’ll close by wondering whether the people who mocked communism when the Soviet Union still existed played a role in winning the Cold War. Yes, I realize that sounds like a bit of stretch, but I think mockery is an under-appreciated weapon. Anti-communism humor attacked the moral foundations of the Marxist system, something that was important since there were plenty of dupes and apologists who gave aid and comfort to tyranny.

A Humorous Lesson about Socialism

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 12:14pm

I should probably be writing about the tax bill, or augmenting my series on the 100th anniversary (deathiversary?) of communism, but I can’t resist sharing some humor about socialism that appeared in my inbox this morning.

Earlier this year, I posted a column entitled, “Everything you need to know about socialism in three pictures.”

Today, we’ll look at three more images to learn about socialism.

And the first one, which I received today, is my favorite since it might actually help educate Crazy Bernie about the inherent unfairness of socialism (sort of like this yard sign).

I wonder, by the way, if the Democratic National Committee and the rest of the Democrat establishment now regrets rigging the rules in favor of Hillary? And why did they even bother when DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz couldn’t even explain the difference between a Democrat and a socialist?

But let’s stick to the topic of socialism. I shared an amusing image back in January making the point that nobody ever has to crawl under barbed wire to escape free markets. Though, as illustrated below, I sometimes wish advocates of socialism in America would stop trying to impose that awful ideology on the rest of us and just move someplace that already practices that poisonous system.

I do wonder whether a year in some hellhole such as VenezuelaNorth Korea, or Cuba would change their opinions.

Last but not least, I like this third image because it cleverly makes two points.

First, it reveals how some on the left would actually prefer equal levels of poverty rather than unequal levels of prosperity (if you think I’m exaggerating, the IMF inadvertently confirmed Thatcher’s warning by trying to justify a 30 percent reduction in national income if it meant a society would have more equal levels of misery).

Second, it wryly observes that there’s always a rich elite in socialist nations.

The moral of the story is that socialism should be mocked, both in theory and practice.

P.S. I recommend my two-part series (here and here) on the bizarre allure of socialism, though here’s all you really need if you want to understand the economics of that awful ideology.

P.P.S. I shared some pro-socialist humor last year, both because I thought it was somewhat clever but also because it gave me the opportunity to point out that voluntary sharing isn’t socialism.

100 Years of Communism, 100 Million Deaths, and Far Too Many Dupes and Apologists

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 12:07pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I suppose Crazy Bernie deserves a mention as well.

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

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

Drugs, Prohibition, and Taxation

Sat, 11/04/2017 - 12:46pm

My view on the Drug War is somewhat schizophrenic. In my personal life, I’m basically a social conservative. I don’t like drugs, I’ve never tried drugs, and I urge others to behave the same way.

But I know that prohibition is a costly failure that leads to abusive government (such as intrusive money-laundering laws and Orwellian asset-forfeiture laws).

And even if one doesn’t care about individual rights, the Drug War is an irrational misallocation of law enforcement resources.

So does this make a libertarian on the issue? The answer is yes, of course, but I confess that legalization has a downside. And I’m not talking about more people wrecking their lives with drug abuse (indeed, evidence from Portugal suggests drug use may go down).

Instead, I don’t like the fact that politicians see legalization mostly as an opportunity to generate additional tax revenue.

My fears have materialized. sort of.

According to a CNN report, politicians in California want to be the biggest profiteers from legal pot.

Between customers, retailers and growers, taxes on cannabis may reach as high as 45% in parts of the state, according to a Fitch Ratings report. …Consumers will pay a sales tax ranging from 22.25% to 24.25%, which includes the state excise tax of 15%, and additional state and local sales taxes ranging from 7.25% to 9.25%. Local businesses will have to pay a tax ranging from 1% to 20% of gross receipts, or $1 to $50 per square foot of marijuana plants, according to the Fitch report. In addition, farmers will be taxed $9.25 per ounce for flower, and $2.75 per ounce for leaves. …Van Bustic, a specialist in the environmental impact of cannabis cultivation for Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, said that registering with the state and becoming compliant will cost about $100,000.

Geesh, greedy governments can take the fun out of anything!

But not so fast. It seems that politicians are being so greedy that the geese with the golden eggs (or, in this case, drug-addled geese with golden buds) will stay in the shadow economy.

Not that we should be surprised. There is a wealth of evidence showing that high tax burdens lead to evasion and avoidance.

The Wall Street Journal looks at this issue and hits the nail on the head, editorializing that high tax rates on pot are a recipe for non-compliance.

…in California, where recreational pot was legalized last year, citizens now have a much clearer view of the unintended consequences that come from high tax rates. A new report from the global credit-rating firm Fitch Ratings highlights the effect of California’s high taxes on the marijuana market. The combined local and state rate on non-medical cannabis may be as high as 45% in some places, and Fitch says this acts as an incentive for Californians to shun legal pot dealers who pay the tax in favor of black-market sellers who don’t and can charge lower prices. …The irony is that one argument for legalizing pot has been to reduce illegal trafficking. But by imposing taxes that are too high on legal weed, politicians give pot heads an incentive to go back on the illegal market. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the boon to illegal smokes from high cigarette taxes in places like New York City.

The CNN story cited above also addressed this issue.

Among the eight states where recreational marijuana is legal, only Washington has a higher tax rate at about 50%. Colorado and Nevada both follow with rates of 36%. Oregon has a tax rate of 20% and Alaska has a rate of up to 20%. …If taxes increase the price of cannabis beyond a certain point, the legal market becomes less competitive than the illicit market and then consumers become less likely to make the transition from the illicit market to the legal market,” said John Kagia, analyst for New Frontier Data, which tracks the cannabis industry. The Fitch report says this dynamic has already prompted Colorado, Washington and Oregon to lower their “initially uncompetitive” tax rates.

Indeed. I wrote about Colorado’s experience with pot taxation back in 2015.

story in the Washington Post confirms that the buzzed version of supply-side economics is alive and well.

High taxes on legal marijuana in California could have the potential to turn many consumers away from the state’s cannabis shops and toward the black market, according to a report from Fitch Ratings. …“The existing black market for cannabis may prove a formidable competitor to legal markets if new taxes lead to higher prices than available from illicit sources,” the report says. …These high tax rates have the potential to drive customers toward the black market. …Colorado, Oregon and Washington all reduced tax rates after the commencement of legalization to shift customers back toward the legal market.

That last sentence warms my heart. Isn’t it nice when politicians are forced to lower tax burdens even when they don’t want to?

P.S. Government is a buzz-kill in other ways. Deregulation helped unleash the craft beer industry, but also created a new source of tax revenue.

P.P.S. Since I’m a fiscal wonk, legalizing drugs has never been high (no pun intended) on my list of priorities. But when U.N. bureaucrats try to tell American states that they’re not allowed to end prohibition, I’m almost tempted to become a user.

Tax Reform, Red Ink, and the Ticking Time Bomb of Federal Spending

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 12:47pm

The swamp is pulsating with excitement. For the lobbying community, tax reform is like Christmas. No matter what happens, they win because of lucrative retainers and fat contracts.

And what about libertarian policy wonks? What do we get? Well, we look at the sausage-making process in Washington with disdain, but we hope that the final outcome is a less-destructive tax system.

And there are some interesting debates along the way. Here’s an interview I did a couple of days ago with Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. We touch on several topics relating to tax reform, but pay close attention to the discussion on federal spending and red ink because you’ll see a very interesting mix of agreement and disagreement.

There are big areas of overlap. We both like spending restraint. We both favor getting rid of loopholes (though I fear she may favor the Haig-Simons definition of loopholes rather than the consumption-base definition). And we both seem to agree that lower tax rates can improve economic performance.

But it seems we might diverge on whether a stand-alone tax cut is desirable. My view is that the right kind of tax cut will boost incentives for productive behavior. Yes, that can produce more red ink, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if it “starves the beast” and creates pressure to restrain the growth of spending. I’m motivated by a desire to limit the overall size of government.

Maya, by contrast, is not happy that Congress is considering a stand-alone tax cut. As a “deficit hawk,” she would prefer that the tax cut be “paid for” with spending restraint or by cutting back on tax preferences. She is motivated by a desire to limit red ink.

For what it’s worth, I think she’s focusing on the symptom of red ink when it would be better to focus on the underlying disease of excessive spending.

I think this 2×2 matrix is a good way of illustrating our areas of agreement and disagreement. Libertarians like me are in the top-left box. Indeed, in the top-left corner of the top-left box. I want less spending and lower taxes. Deficit hawks like Maya, by contrast, are going to be somewhere in the lower-left box since they want less spending but are open to higher taxes.

I also added other groups to the matrix, such as Reaganites (i.e. the Gipper), populists (i.e., Trump), and so-called compassionate conservatives (i.e., Bush). As well as some Democratic politicians such as Bill ClintonHillary Clinton, and Crazy Bernie. Since I’m going by gut instinct, I’m not going to claim everybody is in the exact right spot, but I do think this is a decent representation of the real debate in Washington.

But it’s not a perfect representation. For instance, we know the folks in the lower-left box care about red ink. But you can also find people in the top-left box and lower-right box who favor balanced budgets. Perhaps there should be a diagonal line from the top left to the lower right so that we can see who wants balanced budgets and/or budget surpluses.

So here’s a slightly more cluttered version of my fiscal matrix.

And I added Hong Kong and Sweden to the matrix to show that balanced budgets are possible with small government or big government.

Last but not least, I decided to create one more visual. The fiscal matrix is mostly designed to show preferences on spending and taxes, with the obvious implication that people below the diagonal line don’t like deficits.

But if we consider just red ink, here’s a spectrum showing how people view deficits. Maya and her group are in the deficits-are-horrible camp on one end, while the deficits-are-wonderful Keynesians are on the other end. And I put myself in the middle to represent the alleged voice of moderation.

Though even this spectrum isn’t really accurate since Keynes only believed in deficits during a downturn. And I confess I have no idea whether Maya would support red ink in that circumstance.

By the way, I can’t resist commenting on a few other moments in the interview.

  • First, Maya said that tax cuts don’t pay for themselves. That’s true (except in rare circumstances), but it’s still very important to realize that supply-side tax cuts can produce some degree of revenue feedback.
  • Second, modest spending restraint would enable both huge tax cuts and a balanced budget.
  • Third, Republicans in Congress actually approved budgets that restrained spending when Obama was in the White House (hence, my reference in the interview to the Ryan budgets).

I’ll close with a grim prediction. The tax reform battle will be Part II of the Obamacare repeal battle. I fear the effort will come to naught. Those 76,000 pages in the tax code are defended by too many powerful interest groups.

Grading the Republican Tax Plan

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 12:18pm

House Republicans have unveiled their much-anticipated tax plan.

Is this something to celebrate? Well, that depends on whether you’re grading on a curve. Compared to a pure, simple, and fair flat tax, it’s timid and disappointing.

But compared to today’s wretched and unfair tax code, there are some very positive changes.

At the end of 2015, I reviewed the major tax plans put forth by the various presidential candidates, grading them on issues such as tax rates, double taxation, and simplicity.

Trump’s plan got the lowest score, though “B-” nonetheless represented a non-trivial improvement over the status quo.

And since he wound up in the White House, nobody should be surprised to see that many of his priorities are reflected in the House plan.

So let’s grade the major provisions of this new proposal (with the caveat that grades may change as more details emerge).

Lower corporate rate: A

America’s high corporate tax rate is probably the most self-destructive feature of the current system. If the rate is permanently reduced from 35 percent to 20 percent, that will be a huge boost to competitiveness.

Lower individual rates: C+

The proposal is relatively timid on rate reductions for households. This is disappointing, but not unexpected since lower individual tax rates mean considerable revenue loss.

Ending deduction for state and local income taxes: A+

Next to the lower corporate tax rate, this is the most encouraging part of the proposal. It generates revenue to use for pro-growth provisions while also eliminating a subsidy for bad policy on the part of state and local governments.

Curtailing mortgage interest deduction: B-

Instead of allowing mortgage interest deduction on homes up to $1 million, the cap is reduced to $500,000. A modest but positive improvement that will reduce the distortion that creates a bias for residential real estate compared to business investment.

Death tax repeal: A-

Don’t die for six years, because that’s how long it will take before the death tax is repealed. But if we actually get to that point, this will represent a very positive change to the tax system.

Change to consumer price index: C

It is quite likely that the consumer price index overstates inflation because it doesn’t properly capture increases in the quality of goods and service. Shifting to a different price index will lead to higher revenues because tax brackets and other provisions of the tax code won’t adjust at the same rate. That’s fine, but I’m dissatisfied with this provision since it should apply to spending programs as well as the tax code.

Reduced business interest deduction: C+

The business interest deduction is partially undone, which is a step toward equal treatment of debt and equity. It’s not the right way of achieving that goal, but it does generate revenue to finance other pro-growth changes in the legislation.

Here’s a useful summary from the Wall Street Journal of changes to business taxation.

Now let’s zoom out and grade the overall plan in terms of major fiscal and economic goals.

Restraining the growth of government: F

In my fantasy world, I want a return to the very small federal government created and envisioned by the Founding Fathers. In the real world, I simply hope for a modest bit of spending restraint. This legislation doesn’t even pretend to curtail the growth of government, which is unfortunate since some fiscal prudence (federal budget growing about 2 percent per year) would have allowed a very large tax cut while also balancing the budget within 10 years.

Collecting revenue in a less-destructive manner: B

This is a positive proposal. It will mean more jobs, increased competitiveness, and higher incomes. The wonks in Washington doubtlessly will debate whether these positive effects are small or large, but I’m not overly fixated on that issue. Yes, I think the growth effects will be significant, but I also realize that many other policies also determine economic performance. The most important thing to understand, though, is that even small increases in growth make a big difference over time.

The bottom line is that half a loaf (or, in this case, a fourth of a loaf) is better than nothing. House Republicans have a good plan. Now the question is whether the Senate makes it better or worse (hint: don’t be optimistic).

Tax Reform, Lobbying, the Swamp, and Political Reality

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 12:08pm

It’s not easy being a libertarian in the policy world of Washington. I view the flat tax as a timid intermediate step, with the real goal being a tiny federal government (like the Founding Fathers envisioned) that can be financed without any broad-based tax.

Yet even my timid intermediate step is considered radical and impractical by DC standards. There’s no discussion of fundamental tax reform. Instead, the debate revolves around whether we can reduce a couple of tax rates in one part of the code and “pay for” those changes by altering some provisions in another part of the code.

This is very frustrating, which is why I joked with Neil Cavuto that we could kill two birds with one stone by trading Trump, Hillary, Manafort, and Podesta to Russia in exchange for that country’s 13 percent flat tax.

But I want to address a couple of serious points in the interview.

To conclude, most people assume that something will pass simply because GOPers desperately need some sort of victory to compensate for their failure to repeal (or even just tinker with) Obamacare.

That’s true, but that doesn’t change the fact that any bill can be defeated if Democrats are unified in opposition and a small handful of Republicans decide to vote no.

By the way, I’m not completely unsympathetic to some of the Republicans who are wavering on whether to vote for a reform bill. Consider their predicament: If there’s a bill that cuts the corporate tax rate and gets rid of the deduction for state and local income taxes (to my chagrin, I’m assuming property taxes will still be deductible), that will be a net plus for the economy. But, depending on other provisions in the legislation, it may mean that a non-trivial number of voters (especially from high-tax states) will be hit with a tax increase.

Members of Congress who want good policy can explain to those voters that the economy will grow faster. They can tell those voters that their state politicians now will be more likely to reduce state income tax burdens. I think those assertions are true, but voters looking at higher tax burdens probably won’t care about those long-run effects.

Cut the Corporate Tax Rate to Boost Wages and Help Workers

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 12:37pm

I’ve been arguing all year that a substantially lower corporate tax rate is the most vital goal of tax reform for reasons of competitiveness.

And I continued to beat that drum in an interview last week with Fox Business.

The Wall Street Journal agrees that the time has come for a lower corporate rate. Unless, of course, one would prefer the United States to fall even further behind other countries.

President Emmanuel Macron last week pushed a budget featuring substantial tax relief through the National Assembly. The top rate on corporate profits will fall to 28% by 2020 from 33.33% today, and Mr. Macron has promised 25% by 2022. …Critics branded Mr. Macron “the President for the rich” for these overhauls, but the main effect will be to stimulate investment and job creation… The Netherlands also is jumping on the bandwagon. Prime Minister Mark Rutte promises to cut the top corporate rate to 21% from 25% by 2021… Do American politicians really want to have to explain to voters why they let the U.S. trail even France?

For the most part, opponents of tax reform in the United States understand that they have lost the competitiveness argument. So they will pay lip service to the notion that a lower corporate rate is desirable (heck, even Obama notionally agreed), but they will fret about the loss of tax revenue and a supposed windfall for the “rich.”

I agree that tax revenues will decrease, at least in the short run. But there’s some very good research showing the long-run revenue-maximizing corporate rate is somewhere between 15 percent and 25 percent.

And Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute reviewed fifty years of data for industrialized nations and ascertained that lower tax rates are associated with rising revenue.

There’s also good evidence from Canada and the United Kingdom if you want country-specific examples of the relationship between corporate tax rates and corporate tax revenue.

By the way, even left-leaning multilateral bureaucracies such as the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have published research showing the same thing.

And what about the debate over whether the “rich” benefit?

That issue is a red herring. Yes, shareholders of companies, on average, have higher incomes, and they will benefit if the rate is reduced, but I’ve never been motivated by animosity against those with more money (assuming they earned their money rather than mooching off the government).

What does get my juices flowing, however, is growth. And if we can get more dynamism in the economy, that translates into more jobs and higher income.

new report from the Council of Economic Advisers estimates the potential benefit for ordinary people.

Reducing the statutory federal corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent would, the analysis below suggests, increase average household income in the United States by, very conservatively, $4,000 annually. …Moreover, the broad range of results in the literature suggest that over a decade, this effect could be much larger.

There’s some good cross-country data showing nations with lower corporate tax rates do better.

Between 2012 and 2016, the 10 lowest corporate tax countries of the OECD had corporate tax rates 13.9 percentage points lower than the 10 highest corporate tax countries, about the same scale as the reduction currently under consideration in the U.S. The average wage growth in the low tax countries has been dramatically higher.

Here’s the accompanying chart.

As you can see, there’s a clear divergence between higher-tax and lower-tax nations. Though, given the limited time period in the chart and the fact that many other factors can impact wage growth, I’m actually more persuaded by some of the other empirical research cited in the CEA report.

Arulpalapam et al (2012) find that workers pay nearly 50 percent of the tax, while Desai et al (2007) estimate a worker share of 45 to 75 percent. Gravelle and Smetters (2006) generate a rate of 21 percent when the rate of capital mobility across countries is moderate and 73 percent when capital can flow freely, evidence that the labor incidence is likely both dynamic and positively correlated with the rate of international capital transfers. A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study (Randolph, 2006) finds that workers bear 70 percent of the corporate income tax burden in the baseline and 59 to 91 percent in alternative specifications. In a summary study, Jensen and Mathur (2011) argue for an assumption of greater than 50 percent. …A cross-country study by Hassett and Mathur (2006) based on 65 countries and 25 years of data finds that the elasticity of worker wages in manufacturing after five years with respect to the highest marginal tax rate in a country is as low as -1.0 in some specifications, although other sets of control variables increase the elasticity to -0.3. Expanded analysis by Felix (2007) follows the Hassett and Mathur strategy, but incorporates additional control variables, including worker education levels. Felix settles on an elasticity of worker wages with respect to corporate income taxes of -0.4, at the high end of the Hassett and Mathur range. …Felix (2009) estimates an elasticity of worker wages with respect to corporate income tax rates based on variation in the marginal tax rate across U.S. states. In this case, the elasticity is substantially lower; a 1 percentage point increase in the top marginal state corporate rate reduces gross wages by 0.14 to 0.36 percent over the entire period (1977-2005) and by up to 0.45 percent for the most recent period in her data (2000-2005). …Desai et al (2007)…measure both the changes in worker wages and changes in capital income associated with corporate income tax changes. The estimated labor burden of the corporate tax rate varies from 45 to 75 percent under various specifications in the paper.

That’s a lot of jargon, so I suspect that many readers will find data from Germany and Australia to be more useful when considering how workers benefit from lower corporate rates.

P.S. While I think a lower corporate tax rate may result in more revenue over time, that’s definitely not my goal.

P.P.S. The biggest obstacle to good tax policy is the unwillingness of Republicans to impose even a modest amount of spending restraint.

An Anniversary of Evil: 100 Years of Communism, 100 Million Deaths

Mon, 10/30/2017 - 12:07pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re just scratching the surface.

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

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

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

Nazi Germany started #WWII and killed 27 millions Soviet people. USSR ended #WWII and saved the world from the Brown Plague#blackribbonday pic.twitter.com/Xb8D6QrgYK

— MFA Russia (@mfa_russia) August 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Enterprise, Creative Destruction, and Consumer Power

Sun, 10/29/2017 - 12:57pm

I fully agree with my leftist friends who say that corporations want to extract every penny they can from consumers. I also (mostly) agree with them when they say corporations are soulless entities that don’t care about people.

But after they’re done venting, I then try to educate them by pointing out that the only way corporations can separate consumers their money is by vigorously competing to provide desirable goods and services at attractive prices.

Moreover, their “soulless” pursuit of those profits (as explained by Walter Williams) will lead them to be efficient and innovative, which boosts overall economic output.

Moreover, in a competitive market, it’s not consumers vs. corporations, it’s corporations vs. corporations with consumers automatically winning.

Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute makes a very valuable point about what happens in a free economy.

Comparing the 1955 Fortune 500 companies to the 2017 Fortune 500, there are only 59 companies that appear in both lists (see companies in the graphic above). In other words, fewer than 12% of the Fortune 500 companies included in 1955 were still on the list 62 years later in 2017, and more than 88% of the companies from 1955 have either gone bankrupt, merged with (or were acquired by) another firm, or they still exist but have fallen from the top Fortune 500 companies (ranked by total revenues).

It’s not just the Fortune 500.

…corporations in the S&P 500 Index in 1965 stayed in the index for an average of 33 years. By 1990, average tenure in the S&P 500 had narrowed to 20 years and is now forecast to shrink to 14 years by 2026. At the current churn rate, about half of today’s S&P 500 firms will be replaced over the next 10 years.

Here’s Mark’s list of companies that have stayed at the top of the Fortune 500 over the past 62 years.

Mark then offers an economic lesson from this data.

The fact that nearly 9 of every 10 Fortune 500 companies in 1955 are gone, merged, or contracted demonstrates that there’s been a lot of market disruption, churning, and Schumpeterian creative destruction over the last six decades. It’s reasonable to assume that when the Fortune 500 list is released 60 years from now in 2077, almost all of today’s Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist as currently configured, having been replaced by new companies in new, emerging industries, and for that we should be extremely thankful. The constant turnover in the Fortune 500 is a positive sign of the dynamism and innovation that characterizes a vibrant consumer-oriented market economy.

He also emphasizes that consumers are the real beneficiaries of this competitive process.

…the creative destruction that results in the constant churning of Fortune 500 (and S&P 500) companies over time is that the process of market disruption is being driven by the endless pursuit of sales and profits that can only come from serving customers with low prices, high-quality products and services, and great customer service. If we think of a company’s annual sales revenues as the number of “dollar votes” it gets every year from providing goods and services to consumers… As consumers, we should appreciate the fact that we are the ultimate beneficiaries of the Schumpeterian creative destructionthat drives the dynamism of the market economy and results in a constant churning of the firms who are ultimately fighting to attract as many of our dollar votes as possible.

Incidentally, Mark did this same exercise in 2014 and 2015 and ascertained that there were 61 companies still remaining on the list.

So creative destruction apparently has claimed two more victims.

Or, to be more accurate, the needs and desires of consumers have produced more churning, leading to greater material abundance for America.

I’ll close with two points.

All of which explains why I want separation of business and state.

The bottom line is that an unfettered market produces the best results for the vast majority of people. Yes, people are greedy, but that leads to good outcomes in a capitalist environment.

But we get awful results if cronyism is the dominant system, and that seems to be the direction we’re heading in America.

P.S. Even when corporations try to exploit people in the third world, the pursuit of profits actually results in better lives for the less fortunate.

Are Tax Cuts Dangerous?

Sat, 10/28/2017 - 12:21pm

I’ve responded to all sorts of arguments against lower taxes.

  • Tax cuts are “unfair” because rich people will benefit.
  • Tax cuts are wrong because revenue should be going up, not down.
  • Tax cuts are pointless because the economy won’t grow faster.
  • Tax cuts are misguided because there will be more red ink.
  • Tax cuts are risky because vital services would be unfunded.

But I’ve never had to deal with the argument that lower taxes are “dangerous.”

Yet that’s what Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post would like readers to believe. Here’s some of what she wrote today.

…tax cuts — not to mention tax cuts of the magnitude Trump and fellow Republicans contemplate — are worse than unwarranted. They are dangerous.

Dangerous?!?

Before clicking on the headline, my mind raced to imagine what she had in mind. Was she going to argue that lower taxes somehow might cause the nutjob in North Korea to launch a nuke? Was her argument that a tax cut would unleash the Ebola virus in the United States?

Well, you can put your mind at ease. The world isn’t coming to an end. It turns out that Ms. Marcus is simply making a rather hysterical version of the argument that tax cuts are bad because they result in more red ink.

They would add trillions to the national debt at a point when it is already dangerously large as a share of the economy. …the national debt is 77 percent of the economy, the highest since the end of World War II. It is on track to exceed the entire gross domestic product by 2033. That is even without a $1.5 trillion tax cut, the amount envisioned in the just-passed budget resolutions. …the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that increased growth would be counteracted within a few years by the drag of higher deficits; overall, the plan would increase deficits by $2.4 trillion during the first decade. …As an economic matter, they are simply reckless.

I’m actually semi-sympathetic to her argument. It isn’t prudent in the long run to reduce revenues and allow a continuing expansion in the burden of government spending. She would be right to hit Republicans for wanting to do the fun part of cutting taxes while ducking the politically difficult task of restraining spending.

That is a recipe for becoming another Greece. Not today. Not next year. Or even 10 years from now. The United States probably has the ability to stumble along for decades without doing anything to reform entitlements (the programs that are causing our long-term fiscal problems).

But I can’t resist making two points.

First, where was Ms. Marcus when Bush was pushing the TARP bailout through Congress? Where was she when Obama was advocating for his faux stimulus? Or the Obamacare boondoggle?

These pieces of legislation were hardly examples of fiscal rectitude, yet a search of her writings does not produce examples of her warning about the “dangerous” implications of more red ink.

Her selective concern about deficits makes me think that what she really wants is bigger government. So if the deficit is increasing because of new spending, that’s fine. But if red ink is increasing because of tax cuts, that’s “dangerous.”

If nothing else, Marcus may deserve membership in the left-wing hypocrisy club.

Second, if Ms. Marcus genuinely cares about deficits, then I’ll forgive her for her past hypocrisy and instead simply ask her to look at the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent long-run fiscal forecast.

She will see that more than 100 percent of America’s future fiscal crisis is due to expected increases in the burden of entitlement spending.

You may be wondering how something can cause more than 100 percent of a problem. Well, if you look closely at that long-run forecast (or previous forecasts), you will discover that tax revenues automatically are expected to increase. Not just in nominal terms. Not just after adjusting for inflation. Tax revenues will climb as a share of overall economic output. By about two percentage points over the next 30 years.

By the way, that built-in tax increase is bigger than the Trump/GOP tax cut, which will only reduce taxes over the next 10 years by $1.5 trillion out of an expected haul of $43 trillion.

Oh, by the way, I’ll add a third point. Advocates of higher taxes should be required to explain why more revenue for Washington will somehow lead to better results than what happened when such policies were adopted in Europe.

In other words, some of us don’t want to “feed the beast.”

Ranking Presidents on Economic Policy: The Predictably Bad Record of Barack Obama

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 6:35pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Bizarre Rankings from Jeffrey Sachs, Cuba Scores above the United States for Achieving the U.N.’s “Sustainable Development Goals”

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 12:45pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

And here is the same information for the United States.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congress Rebukes CFPB for Attempted Gift to Trial Lawyers

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 4:46pm

Yesterday evening the Senate voted, thanks to a tiebreaker from Vice President Pence, to disapprove of the CFPB’s anti-arbitration rule using the Congressional Review Act. President Trump is expected to sign the bill in a victory against trial lawyers and the unaccountable Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Earlier this summer, CF&P led a coalition calling for reversal of the rule on the grounds that CFPB  justified it based on shoddy analysis, and that it would only serve to benefit trial lawyers instead of consumers.

While the vote is a much-needed victory against the overreach of the CFPB, the agency remains unconstitutionally immune to Congressional oversight. Rather than counting on being able to reverse the numerous bad rules produced by CFPB, Congress needs to get to the root of the problem and reform if not outright abolish it.

The Best Argument against the State and Local Tax Deduction

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 12:33pm

I’ve written a couple of times to explain why the deduction for state and local taxes should be eliminated as part of pro-growth tax reform.

One of my main arguments, as I pointed out at the beginning of this interview, is that Republicans are generally unwilling to finance pro-growth tax changes by restraining government spending.

And since GOPers are too timid on spending, that means “revenue offsets” are needed to finance the good provisions in tax reform (assuming the goal is to make such changes permanent).

But this second-best approach can still be very good if the right loopholes are targeted.

In other words, wiping out the deduction is a good idea as a general principle, but it’s a very good idea in today’s environment since it would produce a lot of revenue to “offset” the cost of lowering tax rates and making our awful tax system less onerous. Plus, the deduction is unfair and inconsistent with principles of good policy.

Many organization point out that generating revenues by getting rid of the state and local deduction would be a win-win situation.

The National Taxpayers Union is not a fan.

…the provision departs from principles of sound tax policy and unwisely abets the behavior of high-tax states, enabling big government.

And the Heritage Foundation doesn’t like the loophole.

The deduction for state and local taxes creates winners and losers within states. Higher-income taxpayers win; lower-income taxpayers lose.

The Tax Foundation has weighed in.

The deduction favors high-income, high-tax states like California and New York, which together receive nearly one-third of the deduction’s total value nationwide.

Along with the American Enterprise Institute.

…repealing the state and local tax deduction would be an important move toward broadening the tax base.

Americans for Tax Reform also opposes the deduction.

…this deduction actually subsidizes upper income earners in high tax states.

And the Center for Freedom and Prosperity has a fact sheet with lots of data.

…nearly all filers (~99.7%) would likely benefit from a lower rate and increased standard deduction notwithstanding the loss of SALT.

National Review rejects the loophole.

Getting rid of state-tax deductibility is…good policy. …deductions mainly benefit higher-income households. …The federal government…should not use the tax code to encourage or discourage.

But the most powerful and persuasive evidence for getting rid of the deduction is that organizations favoring higher taxes and bigger government openly admit that the loophole encourages and enables bad policy (what they would call good policy) at the state and local level. You don’t have to believe me. Here are some passages from a report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

…with this deduction, higher-income filers are more willing to support state and local taxes. …Ending the SALT deduction would strain state budgets over time by making it harder for states and localities to raise…revenues… The GOP tax plan…would threaten many states’ ability to raise…revenue.

What’s amazing is that the report openly acknowledges that the deduction overwhelmingly benefits the wealthy, something that CBPP normally doesn’t like because of their support for class-warfare taxation.

But if one’s goal is bigger government, you acquiesce to reverse class warfare when it makes life easier for tax-aholic politicians in states such as CaliforniaConnecticutIllinoisNew York, and New Jersey.

The lesson for the rest of us, though, is that if CBPP thinks this preference for the rich is worth preserving, the rest of us should want it abolished.

Let’s close with some analysis that is compelling to me. Here’s what Ronald Reagan said when he tried to eliminate this odious loophole back in the 1980s.

P.S. I still prefer the first-best option of tax reform financed by spending restraint. If Republicans simply limited federal spending so it grew by 1.96 percent per year over the next 10 years, that would enable both a balanced budget and a $3 trillion tax cut. And that’s even with static scoring!

P.P.S. Back during the debate on tax reform in the 1980s, Reagan also opposed the VAT. Helps to explain why I admire the Gipper so much.

Ranking Presidents on Economic Policy: The Dismal Record of George W. Bush

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 12:26pm

Back in 2013, I did an assessment of economic policy changes that occurred during the Clinton Administration.

The bottom line was that the overall burden of government declined by a semi-significant amount. Which presumably helps to explain why the economy enjoyed good growth and job creation in the 1990s, especially in the last half of the decade when most of the pro-growth reforms were enacted.

The chart I prepared has been very helpful when speaking to audiences about what actually happened during the Clinton years, so I decided to do the same thing for other presidents.

A week ago, I put together my summary of economic policy changes during the Nixon years. At the risk of understatement, it was a very grim era for free markets.

A few days ago, I followed up with a look at overall economic policy during the Reagan years. That was a much better era, at least for those of us who favor economic liberty over statism.

Now it’s time to look at the record of George W. Bush. It’s not a pretty picture.

I think the TARP bailout was the low point of the Bush years, though he also deserves criticism for big spending hikes (especially the rapid rise of domestic spending), additional red tape, special-interest trade taxes, and more centralization of education.

On the plus side, there was a good tax cut in 2003 (the 2001 version was mostly Keynesian and thus didn’t help growth), as well as some targeted trade liberalization. Unfortunately, those good reforms were swamped by bad policy.

As has been the case for other presidents, my calculations are based solely on policy changes. Presidents don’t get credit or blame for policies they endorsed or opposed. So when fans of President Bush tell me he was better on policy than his record indicates, I shrug my shoulders (just like I don’t particularly care when Republicans on Capitol Hill tell me that Clinton’s good record was because of the post-1994 GOP Congress).

I simply want to show where policy improved and where it deteriorated when various presidents were in office. Other people can argue about the degree to which those presidents deserve credit or blame.

In the case of Bush, for what it’s worth, I think he does deserve blame. None of the bad laws I listed were enacted over his veto.

Incidentally, I was torn by how to handle monetary policy. The artificially low interest rates of the mid-2000s contributed to the housing bubble and subsequent financial meltdown. Should I have blamed Bush for that because of his Federal Reserve appointments?

On a related note, the affordable lending mandates of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were made more onerous during the Bush years, thus exacerbating perverse incentives in the financial sector to make unwise loans. Was that Bush’s fault, or were those regulations unavoidable because of legislation that was enacted before Bush became President?

Ultimately, I decided to omit any reference to the Fed, as well as Fannie and Freddie. But I double-weighted TARP, both because it was awful economic policy and because that was a way of partially dinging Bush for his acquiescence to bad monetary and housing policy.

If there’s a lesson to learn from this analysis of Bush policy, it is that party labels don’t necessarily have any meaning. The economy suffers just as much if a Republican expands the burden of government as it does when the same thing happens under a Democrat.

P.S. I haven’t decided whether to replicate this exercise for pre-World War II presidents. If I do, Calvin Coolidge and Grover Cleveland presumably would look very good.

The New Prime Minister of New Zealand: Vacuous, Sinister, Dishonest, or Clueless?

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 12:08pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OECD Watch

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 5:07pm

Originally published by Cayman Financial Review on October 18, 2017.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has gradually carved for itself a central role in global tax matters over the last two decades. Today, its many initiatives impact global economic activity in a variety of ways. OECD Watch summarizes and analyzes the organization’s recent activities relating to international finance and tax matters.

The assimilation continues

The OECD celebrated Bahrain’s signing of the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters as the 112th jurisdiction to join. Barbados and Montserrat joined the Inclusive Framework on BEPS as the 101st and 102nd jurisdictions. Mauritius, Cameroon, and Nigeria signed the Multilateral Convention to Implement Tax Treaty Related Measures to Prevent Base Erosion and Profit Shifting, bringing it to 71 jurisdictions, while Nigeria also became the 94th jurisdiction to join the CRS Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement.

Judge and jury

Fifteen jurisdictions previously given less than satisfactory ratings on peer reviews for the exchange of information upon request standard (EIOR) were subjected to a fast-track review process in the run-up to the G20 Leaders Summit in Hamburg, where the OECD was to prepare a list of “non-cooperative jurisdictions.”

Of those reviewed, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Costa Rica, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, the Federated States of Micronesia, Lebanon, Nauru, Panama, Samoa, the United Arab Emirates, and Vanuatu were given provisional ratings of Largely Compliant with the EIOR standard, while the Marshall Islands were rated Partially Compliant, and Trinidad and Tobago was not upgraded from its previous rating of Non-Compliant.

The OECD previously established that in order to avoid being placed on the list of naughty (non-compliant) jurisdictions, two of the following three criteria need to be met: 1) At least a “Largely Compliant” rating by the EOIR standard, 2) A commitment to implement the automatic exchange standard, and 3) participation in the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance on Tax Matters or a sufficiently broad exchange network permitting both EOIR and AEOI (a U.S-only carveout thanks to FATCA).

Following the fast-track reviews, only Trinidad and Tobago was identified as non-compliant, though the OECD promised that “discussions are continuing” and that “progress is anticipated soon.”

Not long after, the first 10 outcomes from a “new and enhanced” peer review process for the EIOR standard, combining the prior Phase 1 and Phase 2 elements while adding in the ability of tax authorities to access beneficial ownership information, were released. Ireland, Mauritius, and Norway received ratings of Compliant. Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Cayman Islands, Germany, and Qatar were rated Largely Compliant. Jamaica was rated as Partially Compliant, which will require a supplementary report on follow-up measures.

Economic surveys

Economic surveys were released for New Zealand, Belgium, Slovak Republic, Iceland, Luxembourg, Austria, Argentina, and South Africa. For New Zealand, the OECD recommended reducing barriers to foreign investment and lowering the corporate tax rate to increase productivity. It also called for Belgium to reduce the statutory corporate rate, but then undermined that good advice by suggesting, under the guise of promoting “inclusive growth,” the introduction of a federal capital gains tax. Argentina should undertake revenue-neutral tax reform, according to the OECD, with a focus on lowering the threshold where taxpayers start paying personal income taxes, broadening the VAT base, and adding progressivity to social security contributions. The other nations were not given particularly noteworthy tax and fiscal advice.

In addition, in the fourth annual edition of Revenue Statistics in Asian Countries, the OECD lamented that “some countries have experienced a decline in tax revenues in recent years,” and suggested that “further efforts are needed to increase tax revenues.”

“Bridging Divides” with big government

Continuing its full-throated embrace of the ideology of big government, the OECD made “Bridging Divides” its central theme of the 2017 OECD Forum and ministerial meeting in June. Further fleshing out the organization’s focus on what it terms “inclusive growth,” the event demonstrated just how far the OECD has drifted from its initial focus on facilitating trade and economic cooperation.

In the lead-up to the meeting, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría wrote, “We’re beyond quick fixes to address the discontent of citizens. … The only way forward is not to patch up globalisation, but to shake it up.” What he wants to “shake up” is not the growth of the parasitic class in the form of ever bigger governments – which is the actual source of most economic problems facing the world – but the system of free markets and limited governments that emerged over previous centuries and lifted billions out of poverty in a surge a growth never before witnessed in human history.

His end game is made clear when he speaks of “rising inequalities of income” and “limited progressivity of our tax systems” as part of the “core concerns” in need of addressing, as the obvious implied solutions are higher taxes and more government redistribution, both of which will reduce global economic growth. There are of course political and economic challenges which nations may wish to address, such as workers’ displacement from rapid technological advancement. However, options to mitigate such growing pains are much more modest than a “shake up” of globalization and the free enterprise system.

A pair of statements summed up the work of the ministerial meeting. A Statement of the Chair, held by Denmark, addressed “International Trade, Investment and Climate Change.” On the plus side, it affirmed “the importance of international investment and free flow of capital,” and “the need to … push for the removal of support by government and related entities that distort markets.” Less impressive was its cheerleading for the Paris agreement, which has estimated costs of at least 1 percent of global GDP for very little environmental gain.

The Ministerial Council Statement, titled “Making Globalisation Work: Better Lives For All,” was also a mixed bag. It began with nods to the indisputable facts that “we have seen hundreds of millions lifted out of poverty” thanks to globalization, and that “increased productivity and continued economic growth provide the best opportunity to raise prosperity and well-being for our citizens.” But then it delves into the OECD’s misguided obsession with inequality, flogging its work on “Inclusive Growth,” conflating tax avoidance with evasion once again, and praising BEPS and the automatic exchange of information standard.

Inclusive growth is the new rallying cry

The meeting also saw the release of Update Report 2017 – Inclusive Growth, featuring several troubling observations and recommendations. It calls redistribution “vital for reducing market income inequality.” In a swipe at tax competition, it laments the mobility of capital and the inability of politicians to impose onerous tax burdens without consequence.

Particularly bad news for the global economy is the section on raising taxes on capital with an aim to “increase the overall progressivity of the tax system,” as well as calls for “strengthening international cooperation on the taxation of mobile tax bases” – a euphemism for the OECD’s efforts at forming a global tax cartel.

A Policy Brief titled Time to Act: Making Inclusive Growth Happen further outlines how inclusive growth will be used to advance a big government agenda. It calls “to re-write the rules of the economic system to make them work for everyone,” with specific recommendations to “enhance the progressivity of residential property taxation” and “strengthen inheritance and gift taxes.” It also self-servingly calls to “bolster global governance of tax policy” and thus further undermine fiscal sovereignty.

Unfortunately, things are likely to get worse going forward. The Ministerial Council Statement requests the OECD work on the development of a “Framework for Policy Action on Inclusive Growth” for the 2018 Ministerial Council Meeting, which means the OECD will continue pushing forward with its new, politicized agenda.

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