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The Looming Crisis of Demographic Decline and Entitlement Expansion

Mon, 02/22/2021 - 12:14pm

There are many compelling economic arguments against entitlement programs.

Since I’m a libertarian, I also have moral concerns about tax-and-transfer programs.

Today, though, let’s address the big problem of entitlements and demographics, especially with regards to social insurance programs that transfer money from young people to old people (most notably Social Security and Medicare).

But I’ll start by acknowledging that demographics doesn’t have to be a problem. When nations first created such programs, they generally had “population pyramids” featuring a few old people, lots of working-age people (i.e., taxpayers), and then an even greater number of children (future workers and taxpayers).

As illustrated by this image, entitlement programs can be sustainable with that type of demographic profile.

But there’s been a big shift in demographics in developed nations.

Simply stated, we’re living longer and having fewer kids. In some sense, population pyramids are becoming population cylinders.

And this creates major challenges for entitlement programs because instead of there being many workers supporting just a few retirees, you wind up with “old-age dependency ratios” that require very onerous tax burdens (or very high levels of government borrowing).

I’ve already written how this is a big problem for the United States.

Indeed, I periodically cite long-run forecasts from the Congressional Budget Office to warn about the worrisome fiscal implications.

And I’ve also noted that Japan is in serious trouble.

Today, let’s look at some recent data to show that Europe is another part of the world where this problem is acute.

The European Commission published its 2021 Ageing Report late last year and there are three visuals that deserve attention.

First, here’s a look at the European Union’s population cylinder (or maybe an upside-down pyramid).

And here’s a table that compares the number of old people with the working-age population in 2019, 2045, and 2070.

At the bottom of the table, I’ve circled in red the averages for the eurozone (nations using the single currency) and the entire European Union. From the perspective of fiscal policy, these are horrific numbers.

But there are numbers that are even worse.

Our final visual is a table showing the economic dependency ratio, which the European Commission defines as “… the ratio between the total inactive population and employment. It gives a measure of the average number of individuals that each employed person ‘supports’ economically.”

Once again, I’ve circled the averages at the bottom of the table.

The bottom line is that most European nations already have a stifling fiscal burden, yet it’s all but certain that there will be even higher taxes and more government spending in the near future.

Which means more economic stagnation for Europe (and those of us in America face that possibility as well).

At the risk of stating the obvious, there is a solution to both Europe’s woes and America’s woes. Simply stated, there needs to be genuine entitlement reform.

That means “pre-funding,” which is the jargon for mandatory private savings, presumably augmented by some form of safety net.

Singapore is probably the world’s leading example for mandatory savings, while AustraliaDenmarkChileSwitzerlandHong KongNetherlandsFaroe Islands, and Sweden are a few of the many other jurisdictions that have fully or partially shifted to systems based on real savings.

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Image credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões | CC BY 2.0.

George H.W. Bush’s Ill-Fated Luxury Tax

Sun, 02/21/2021 - 12:31pm

When politicians target “the rich” with class-warfare schemes like wealth taxes, it’s often ordinary people that bear the costs.

For a painful example of how this works in the real world, check out the first 42 seconds of this video.

From an economic perspective, this is a story about secondary or indirect effects. Or, as noted in the video, there are unintended consequences.

In most cases, the fundamental problem with class-warfare taxes is that they penalize saving and investment with double taxation. This is bad for workers because there’s a strong link between the level of capital (i.e., machines, tools, technology) and productivity.

And since there’s also a strong link between productivity and pay, this explains why ordinary people generally don’t enjoy much opportunity in societies with spite-driven tax laws.

Now let’s consider the case of the luxury tax, which was part of President George H.W. Bush‘s disastrous 1990 tax increase.

Rather than being a broad tax on saving and investment, it was an excise tax on a group of products (the levy on expensive boats got most of the attention).

Let’s see what actually happened, and we’ll start with some excerpts from this 1993 column in the Washington Post by James Glassman.

Rich people aren’t happy about paying this extra money. Even if they can afford it, they think it’s unfair. And in some cases, they’re refusing to pay it — simply by refusing to buy new boats and planes. Of course, rich people don’t have to buy a new 90-foot Broward… So the federal government doesn’t get the tax money — and, worse, Broward doesn’t sell its yacht and various boat builders get put out of work. As a result, in its first year and a half, the yacht tax raised a pathetic $12,655,000 for the Treasury. …Meanwhile, the tax has contributed to the general devastation of the American boating industry — as well as the jewelers, furriers and private-plane manufacturers that were also targets of the excise tax… What went wrong with the luxury tax was that, in trying to go after the rich guys’ toys, Congress put the toymakers out of business. The rich guys, meanwhile, bought other toys (including foreign-made ones) not covered by the tax; or they bought used toys and refurbished them; or they simply saved the money, waiting to spend it another day.

The government still collected some money from the tax on the “toys,” but it’s also important to understand that it lost money when the “toymakers” lost their jobs.

So there was a Laffer Curve-type effect.

The great, late, Walter Williams opined on this issue more recently. Here are segments of his 2011 column.

Let’s look at what happened when…George H.W. Bush signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 and broke his “read my lips” vow not to agree to new taxes. When Congress imposed a 10 percent luxury tax on yachts, private airplanes and expensive automobiles, Sen. Ted Kennedy and then-Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell crowed publicly about how the rich would finally be paying their fair share of taxes. What actually happened…In the first year, one-third of U.S. yacht-building companies stopped production, and according to a report by the congressional Joint Economic Committee, the industry lost 7,600 jobs. When it was over, 25,000 workers had lost their jobs building yachts, and 75,000 more jobs were lost in companies that supplied yacht parts and material. …Jobs shifted to companies in Europe and the Bahamas.

Walter explicitly explains why the government lost revenue.

The U.S. Treasury collected zero revenue from the sales driven overseas. …Congress told us that the luxury tax on boats, aircraft and jewelry would raise $31 million in revenue a year. Instead, …job losses cost the government a total of $24.2 million in unemployment benefits and lost income tax revenues. The net effect of the luxury tax was a loss of $7.6 million in fiscal 1991. …Why did congressional dreams of greater revenues turn into a nightmare? Kennedy, Mitchell and their congressional colleagues simply assumed that the rich would act the same after the imposition of the luxury tax as they did before and that the only difference would be more money in the government’s coffers. Like most politicians then and now, they had what economists call a zero-elasticity vision of the world, a fancy way of saying they believed that people do not respond to price changes. People always respond to price changes. The only debatable issue is how much and over what period.

And Walter’s analysis also applies to Joe Biden’s proposed tax increases.

It’s quite possible that the government will collect more money if Biden’s fiscal plan is enacted, but not as much as politicians think. More important, there will be lots of collateral economic damage.

Call me crazy, but I don’t want ordinary people to lose jobs simply because greedy politicians want more money so they can try to buy more votes.

P.S. If it’s any consolation, politicians from other nations can be equally foolish and short-sighted. Both France and Italy suffered when governments went after yachts.

P.P.S. You won’t be surprised to learn that pro-tax former Senator John Kerry avoided taxes on his yacht.

The IMF’s Poisonous Fiscal Advice for China

Sat, 02/20/2021 - 12:55pm

I have mixed feelings about China’s economic policies.

During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, China was horrifically impoverished because of socialist policies. According to the Maddison database, the country was actually poorer under communism than it was 1,000 years ago.

But there was then a bit of economic liberalization starting in 1979. As a result, there’s been a significant increase in living standards and a huge reduction in poverty.

That’s the good news. And I sometimes use China’s post-1979 growth as an example of how even a modest bit of pro-market reform can generate positive results.

The bad news, though, is that China is still a relatively poor nation. Living standards are not only far below American levels, but per-capita economic output is also much lower than the levels in other East Asian nations.

Why hasn’t China caught up?

In part, it takes time for poorer nations to economically converge with richer nations.

But the bigger problem is that convergence is not going to happen unless China engages in a lot more economic reform.

According to the most-recent edition of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World, China is in the bottom quartile, ranked #124 out of 162 nations.

If you look at the the details of China’s score, you’ll notice that it does poorly in all areas. But the nation’s lowest score is for fiscal policy (“size of government”).

So if the goal is to help China converge, the obvious place to start is by shrinking the size and scope of government.

But not according to the bureaucrats at the International Monetary Fund.

In a recent report, the IMF actually advised China to move fiscal policy even further to the left.

I’m not joking. Here are the relevant excerpts.

A combination of a permanent strengthening of the social safety net with reforms to broaden the tax base and increase progressivity would provide effective household support. This would include: Expanding significantly the coverage of unemployment insurance… These efforts would be more effective if complemented with hiring subsidies and programs. …there remains ample scope to further increase transfers… Tax reforms could help improve the progressivity of the tax system as well as meet additional financing needs to permanently expand the social safety net.

This is so misguided, I’m at a loss for words.

But fortunately, I don’t need to be locquacious because Mihai Macovei already wrote an excellent article, critiquing the IMF’s statist approach, for the Mises Institute.

The IMF argues…that a “reliable and effective social safety system” and a “reduction of the high household savings rate” would rebalance and make “resilient” China’s growth model. But why would high saving and low consumption impede sustainable growth? Both sound economic theory and historic experience refute the mainstream’s claim that China needs a big welfare state like those of modern Western economies in order to get richer. …China’s social safety nets are much less generous than in advanced economies, in particular in terms of unemployment benefits and pension income… The fact that China has not built a highly redistributive welfare system like in most advanced economies is illustrated primarily by the very limited role played by the personal income tax (PIT) in income redistribution. …Only people in the top income quintile are effectively paying an income tax… As a result, the Chinese budget collects only 1.2 percent of GDP from PIT, compared to more than 10 percent of GDP in the US. …All this prompts the IMF…to call China’s taxation system “regressive” and to call for more progressive income taxation and redistribution. …In reality, China’s lighter taxation system reduces less people’s incentives to work and save compared to other economies. At the same time, less welfare redistribution ensures higher workforce participation and less waste relative to the oversized and increasingly unsustainable social safety nets in modern advanced economies. …the mainstream criticism of China’s high savings propensity, lean welfare system, and reduced progressivity of taxation seems utterly misplaced.

Mihai is obviously very polite. I would use all sorts of bad words to describe the IMF’s recommendations, but he simply observes that the bureaucracy’s approach is “utterly misplaced.”

To be fair, not everything in the report is nonsense. The IMF is correctly skeptical of China’s industrial policy, and the bureaucrats also understand that protectionism is economically foolish.

But they have a blind spot on fiscal policy, perhaps because IMF bureaucrats get lavish, tax-free salaries and thus have no way of understanding the real-world impact of punitive laws.

Though at least you can give the IMF credit for consistency. The bureaucrats also pushed for higher taxes and bigger government in China in 2015 and 2018.

As you might expect, I take the opposite approach and always urge pro-market reforms for the country.

P.S. Since we’re discussing China, here’s an amazing example of media bias.

P.P.S. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is another international bureaucracy advocating for bad fiscal policy in China.

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Image credit: IMF | Public Domain.

Assessing Trump’s Record on Regulation

Fri, 02/19/2021 - 12:19pm

When I did my final assessment of Trump’s economic record, I gave him credit for cutting red tape in some areas, but also noted that he increased government intervention in other areas.

…there were some very positive moves on regulation, but they were partly offset by areas where Trump increased intervention (coal subsidiesproperty rightsFannie/Freddie, and international tax rules, for instance).

I did give him credit, on net, for moving regulatory policy in the right direction. In other words, the good things he did regarding red tape outweighed the bad things.

But that’s a judgement call, in part because it’s rather difficult to measure the myriad forms of regulation from dozens of different bureaucracies, but also because there’s no agreement on how to measure success (is it a victory, for instance, to reduce the rate of increase in red tape?).

To see how this is challenging, let’s see what various experts wrote about Trump’s regulatory track record.

new study, authored by Professors Cary Coglianese, Natasha Sarin, and Stuart Shapiro, pours cold water on Trump’s claim that he successfully reduced economic intervention.

Both the extent and impact of the Administration’s efforts to eliminate regulation are considerably less substantial than President Trump and his supporters have claimed. …We recognize that the Trump Administration has repealed or modified a series of agency regulations adopted under the Obama Administration, and even that the Administration has adopted a smaller number of new regulations deemed significant than other recent administrations. Yet overall the reality of regulatory elimination is rather unremarkable… The Administration has accomplished markedly little compared to what it has claimed. … in measuring levels of regulatory activity,researchers rely on a variety of sources of data, including overall pages in the Federal Register and the CFR,the incidence of new rules published in the Federal Register,and the number of actions listed in the semi-annual regulatory agenda. …The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the authoritative source of all existing regulatory requirements on the books. …Growth continued in the Obama Administration to 185,053 pages in 2016. If President Trump’s claim to have eliminated 25,000 pages were correct, we would expect to see no more than160,000 pages in the CFR by now. But, quite to the contrary, the count as of the end of 2019 was185,984 pages—actually a somewhat greater number of pages, not fewer.

Here’s Figure 1 from the paper, which does confirm that there was not a 25,000-page reduction in red tape.

Though if you focus on the last couple of years, it is obvious that the rate of increase slowed significantly. Depending on one’s perspective, that is either a victory or a smaller defeat.

The authors do acknowledge that the number of pages isn’t even the right way to measure regulatory burden.

So they then examine the claim that the Trump Administration had more initiatives to reduce rather than increase red tape.

A count of pages in the CFR is only an indirect proxy for regulatory obligations. …Another way to look at what the Trump Administration has done by way of deregulation would be to look not at pages but at the number of actual rules. …Although the President and his supporters have claimed various levels of deregulatory activity—from 7 to 22 rules removed for every new rule added—these claims are false or misleading. …The lists overcount deregulatory actions by including withdrawals of proposals that were never finalized, delays in effective dates which do not eliminate regulations, non-regulatory actions such as the repeal of guidance documents, and even proposed deregulatory actions rather than completed ones. In addition, when comparing deregulatory actions to regulatory ones, the White House only counts new regulations designated as “significant,” while they count deregulatory actions of any magnitude or level of significance… rather than there being more deregulatory actions than other actions, as the Trump Administration’s claims have implied, there was, in fact, just the opposite. Overall about three completed actions in the regulatory agenda appear for every action designated as deregulatory.

The bottom line, based on their assessment, is that Trump didn’t accomplish much, particularly when compared to what happened under Carter and Clinton.

…in terms of“dramatic regulatory relief,” nothing the Trump Administration has done compares to the deregulation of the airlines, rail, and truck transportation that was executed by the Carter Administration in the late 1970s. Prior to that time, these major sectors of the economy—along with others, such as natural gas and telecommunications—were subject to regulations of prices and outputs—an inefficient form of regulation that advantaged incumbent firms but at the expense of consumers. President Carter championed major deregulatory initiatives that loosened the government restrictions on the air, rail, and transport sectors.Retrospective analysis indicates that the deregulation of these industries resulted in $70 billion in annual consumer benefits. …the evidence does not support the Trump Administration’s claims to have engaged in a dramatic scaling back of government regulation. More pages were removed from the CFR in the Clinton Administration than the Trump Administration. A more substantial unleashing of market forces occurred from the deregulatory changes made in the Carter Administration. And the Trump Administration has done at least as much regulating as it has deregulating.

For what it’s worth, Clinton was much more market oriented than most people realize. And Carter, while misguided in some areas, did a very good job on regulation.

So it’s not necessarily a knock on Trump to say he fell short of those two presidents.

Now let’s look at a pro-Trump perspective.

Professor Casey Mulligan of the University of Chicago early last year offered an upbeat assessment of the former president’s performance in tackling regulations.

In just three years the administration has reversed hundreds of regulations, many of which drone on for hundreds of pages. …Many of the regulations reversed had been written and implemented at the behest of special interests, including large banks, trial lawyers, major health insurance companies, big tech companies, labor unions, and foreign drug manufacturers. …the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA)…dedicated a great deal of manpower preparing a comprehensive and rigorous assessment of deregulation since 2017. That report, released in June, concluded that the past three years of deregulation is comparable to, and probably exceeds, any deregulatory episode in modern U.S. history. …the CEA report estimates that over the next five to 10 years, the deregulatory efforts of the Trump administration will increase annual real incomes in the United States by $3,100 per household.

wrote about the above-mentioned report from the CEA in the summer of 2019. The CEA’s goal was to present Trump’s policies favorably, so I certainly don’t object to some skepticism from outsiders, but I also noted that, “the underlying assumptions aren’t overly aggressive” and “even modest improvements in growth lead to meaningful income gains over time.”

In a column for the Hill, James Broughel of the Mercatus Center analyzed Trump’s track record and concluded that some good things happened.

…the president issued Executive Order 13,771 soon after taking office. Its “2 for 1” requirement received the most attention: Two regulations must be identified for elimination each time a new one is put forward. However, perhaps more important is the “regulatory budget” it set up, which essentially set a cap on new regulatory costs executive branch agencies can impose. …A look at the data suggests the cap is largely working. On Jan. 20, 2017 — Trump’s inauguration day — there were 1,079,601 regulatory restrictions on the books. By Dec. 6, 2019, that number stood at 1,077,822. While the code has not declined substantially by this measure — and the administration should acknowledge that aggregate cuts to-date have been modest — it’s rare to see a code fail to grow across an entire presidential term.

Incidentally, the Mercatus measure of “regulatory restrictions” almost certainly is better than other measures of red tape, so it’s disappointing that Coglianese, Sarin, and Shapiro failed to include it in their analysis.

But if we’re simply looking at the volume of “significant rules,” here’s a tweet from James Pethokoukis showing that the increase in red tape dramatically slowed once Trump took over.

Philip Wallach of the R Street Institute examined Trump’s track record on red tape in an article for National Review in late 2019 and he thought the glass was half empty rather than half full.

Regulation became one area where conservatives wary of Trump allowed themselves high hopes. Trump’s experiences as a developer left him with a bone-deep skepticism of regulations. …There have been some real bright spots for deregulators. Many of the Obama administration’s aggressive and legally dubious environmental rules have been stalled or rolled back, including the Waters of the United States rule, Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for tailpipe emissions, and the Clean Power Plan, which regulated greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants. The Endangered Species Act will be interpreted so as to make it less burdensome. Promises to scrap Obamacare may have gone unfulfilled, but the administration has quietly and constructively made the program more flexible for states and individuals. …the Trump administration…to an unprecedented degree…has…issu[ed] far fewer new regulations than any of its predecessors.

As you can see, it’s important to define success. Is it a victory to have “far fewer new regulations”?

Or, as you can see in the following excerpt from Wallach’s article, is it a victory to cut red tape by less than Obama increased it?

These triumphs notwithstanding, three years in, hopes of a thoroughgoing overhaul have been dashed. …hitting the pause button, however unusual, does not a revolution make. The hoped-for transformation of the administrative state is nowhere to be found. …In 2018, the administration sought to show its relative merit by noting that, through its first two years, the Obama administration had imposed $245 billion in regulatory costs. The Trump administration’s negative $33 billion in costs imposed at that point certainly was a lot less than $245 billion. But the comparison cuts harder in the other direction: The administration is admitting that it is coming nowhere close to reversing the costs imposed even by the Obama administration — let alone the decades of regulatory burdens built up previously. …the administration’s math allows it to take credit for deregulatory policies as soon as they are promulgated, without paying any attention to whether they are carried through. …the administrative state has been more discomfited than deconstructed by the Trump administration.

Last but not least, former Obama official Cass Sunstein opined for Bloomberg back in 2018 that Trump’s main achievement was to slow the tide of new regulations.

Is President Donald Trump dismantling the regulatory state? Not close. …let’s take a broader perspective. Under George W. Bush, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs approved about 2,500 final regulations. Under Barack Obama, it approved about 2,100 final regulations. …By comparison, the Trump administration has repealed … dozens of finalized regulations. …about 2 percent of the number of regulations finalized over the past 16 years. …Much more fundamentally, he’s substantially slowed the flow of new ones. …From Bush’s inauguration to Sept. 1, 2002, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs approved about 400 proposed regulations and about 500 final regulations. From Obama’s inauguration to Sept. 1, 2010, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs approved about 270 proposed regulations and about 470 final regulations. …the Bush and Obama administrations look pretty similar… The Trump administration is a big outlier. From Trump’s inauguration to the present, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs approved about 170 proposed regulations and about 160 final regulations. That’s a major reduction.

So what’s my two cents?

The obvious conclusion is that the Trump Administration did some good things to ease the nation’s regulatory burden, but there was no major paradigm shift.

The United States had a lot of red tape when Trump took office and it had a lot of red tape when Trump left office, though he definitely slowed the rate of increase.

But a slower rate of increase is still not good news, as illustrated by the fact that the Fraser Institute calculates that America’s score on red tape has declined slightly since 2016.

Indeed, the overall score for economic liberty in the United States has declined slightly since Obama left office, which is evidence for my argument that Trump delivered an incoherent mix of good policies (taxes, for instance) and bad policies (trade, for instance).

P.S. Trump’s Jekyll-Hyde record on economic policy is one of the reasons why I prefer Reaganism over Trumpism. The establishment doesn’t like either of those options, but I very much prefer the one that unambiguously reduces the size and scope of government.

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Image credit: Michael Vadon | CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Inspirational Rush Limbaugh, RIP

Thu, 02/18/2021 - 4:22pm

Much has been written already following yesterday’s passing of Rush Limbaugh at age 70. There’s been a lot of praise, but also much criticism that, no doubt, Rush would have expected and even relished in.

He was, after all, always up for the fight. And that’s a big reason why he inspired so many, including yours truly, to get involved in the world of politics and policy.

I started listening to “Russ” when I first heard him on the radio in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1988. It took me a few shows to realize that his name was “Rush.” The next two years of my life changed a lot, from Knoxville, to Mobile, Alabama to Athens, Georgia, but the one constant was Rush Limbaugh on the radio. Today’s generation, with instant access to the internet and on-demand podcasts, will not understand this, but I recall sitting in my car in freezing temperatures listening to Rush because I couldn’t get the AM radio show on my apartment’s radio.

Rush was a pioneer of talk radio, a true entrepreneur. He all but single-handedly saved AM radio following the exodus of music to FM. Many others have followed in his footsteps, but none have come close to being him.

What made Rush unique was his ability to make politics entertaining and accessible, which shouldn’t be taken for granted. While those of us in the think tank world aspire to produce scholarly works, we are much less effective in our missions without the ability to reach and keep the attention of regular Americans too busy working and creating our nation’s prosperity to follow the ins and outs of every policy debate.

Whatever one might think of Rush’s legacy, that’s a lesson worth heeding.

Rush was inspirational and his unique voice spoke to me. Like many others, Rush motivated me to come to Washington, DC, even moving away for a time from my then fiancée in Athens, Georgia. And Rush’s ability to explain complex issues and boiling them down for people like me to understand, gave me confidence to drop everything and show up at a friend’s Washington, DC-area home in the winter of 1990. I didn’t have a job waiting for me, but Rush inspired me to take a chance to be part of something special.

Twenty-years later, Rush’s iconic 2009 CPAC speech showed he could still have the same impact. One of my dear colleagues was at that speech, along with many other young conservatives and libertarians who were inspired by Rush to carry-on the good fight for freedom, liberty, and prosperity … and against tyranny.

Rush said that what makes America so different from the rest of the world, and I’m paraphrasing from memory, is that you can become anyone, or you can do anything that you choose to do. He proved that with his life, and in so doing inspired many of us. For those who see Rush as a partisan or vitriolic figure and wonder at the source of much conservative mourning, it’s that inspirational aspect that you do not understand.

El Rushbo, thank you for everything. Mega Dittos… you will be missed, rest in peace… but rest with the knowledge that your inspirational legacy will live on for generations.

Texas vs. California, Part VII

Wed, 02/17/2021 - 12:57pm

To begin the seventh edition of our series comparing policy in Texas and California (previous entries in March 2010February 2013April 2013October 2018June 2019, and December 2020), here’s a video from Prager University.

There will be a lot of information in today’s column, so if you’re pressed for time, here are three sentences that tell you what you need to know.

  • California has all sorts of natural advantages over Texas, especially endless sunshine and beautiful topography.
  • Texas has better government policy than California, most notably in areas such as taxation and regulation.
  • Since people are moving from the Golden State to the Lone Star State, public policy seems to matter more than natural beauty.

Now let’s look at a bunch of evidence to support those three sentences.

We’ll start with an article by Joel Kotkin of Chapman University.

If one were to explore the most blessed places on earth, California, my home for a half century, would surely be up there. …its salubrious climate, spectacular scenery, vast natural resources… President Biden recently suggested that he wants to “make America California again”. Yet…he should consider whether the California model may be better seen as a cautionary tale than a roadmap to a better future… California now suffers the highest cost-adjusted poverty rate in the country, and the widest gap between middle and upper-middle income earners. …the state has slowly morphed into a low wage economy. Over the past decade, 80% of the state’s jobs have paid under the median wage — half of which are paid less than $40,000…minorities do better today outside of California, enjoying far higher adjusted incomes and rates of homeownership in places like Atlanta and Dallas than in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Almost one-third of Hispanics, the state’s largest ethnic group, subsist below the poverty line, compared with 21% outside the state. …progressive…policies have not brought about greater racial harmony, enhanced upward mobility and widely based economic growth.

Next we have some business news from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Business leaders fear tech giant Oracle’s recent announcement that it is leaving the Bay Area for Austin, Texas, will lead to more exits unless some fundamental political and economic changes are made to keep the region attractive and competitive. “This is something that we have been warning people about for several years. California is not business friendly, we should be honest about it,” said Kenneth Rosen, chairman of the UC Berkeley Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics. Bay Area Council President Jim Wunderman said… “From consulting companies to tax lawyers to bankers and commercial real estate firms, every person I talk with who provides services to big Bay Area corporations are telling me that their clients are strategizing about leaving…” Charles Schwab, McKesson and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have all exited the high-cost, high-tax, high-regulation Bay Area for a less-expensive, less-regulated and business-friendlier political climate. All of them rode off to Texas. …the pace of the departures appears to be increasing. …A recent online survey of 2,325 California residents, taken between Nov. 4 and Nov. 23 by the Public Policy Institute of California, found 26% of residents have seriously considered moving out of state and that 58% say that the American Dream is harder to achieve in California than elsewhere.

Are California politicians trying to make things better, in hopes of stopping out-migration to places such as Texas?

Not according to this column by Hank Adler in the Wall Street Journal.

California’s Legislature is considering a wealth tax on residents, part-year residents, and any person who spends more than 60 days inside the state’s borders in a single year. Even those who move out of state would continue to be subject to the tax for a decade… Assembly Bill 2088 proposes calculating the wealth tax based on current world-wide net worth each Dec. 31. For part-year and temporary residents, the tax would be proportionate based on their number of days in California. The annual tax would be on current net worth and therefore would include wealth earned, inherited or obtained through gifts or estates long before and long after leaving the state. …The authors of the bill estimate the wealth tax will provide Sacramento $7.5 billion in additional revenue every year. Another proposal—to increase the top state income-tax rate to 16.8%—would annually raise another $6.8 billion. Today, California’s wealthiest 1% pay approximately 46% of total state income taxes. …the Legislature looks to the wealthiest Californians to fill funding gaps without considering the constitutionality of the proposals and the ability of people and companies to pick up and leave the state, which news reports suggest they are doing in large numbers. …As of this moment, there are no police roadblocks on the freeways trying to keep moving trucks from leaving California. If A.B. 2088 becomes law, the state may need to consider placing some.

The late (and great) Walter Williams actually joked back in 2012 that California might set up East German-style border checkpoints. Let’s hope satire doesn’t become reality.

But what isn’t satire is that people are fleeing the state (along with other poorly governed jurisdictions).

Simply state, the blue state model of high taxes and big government is not working (just as it isn’t working in countries with high taxes and big government).

Interestingly, even the New York Times recognizes that there is a problem in the state that used to be a role model for folks on the left.

Opining for that outlet at the start of the month, Brett Stephens raised concerns about the Golden State.

…today’s Democratic leaders might look to the very Democratic state of California as a model for America’s future. You remember California: People used to want to move there, start businesses, raise families, live their American dream. These days, not so much. Between July 2019 and July 2020, more people — 135,400 to be precise — left the state than moved in… No. 1 destination: Texas, followed by Arizona, Nevada and Washington. Three of those states have no state income tax.

California, by contrast, has very high taxes. Not just an onerous income tax, but high taxes across the board.

Californians also pay some of the nation’s highest sales tax rates (8.66 percent) and corporate tax rates (8.84 percent), as well as the highest taxes on gasoline (63 cents on a gallon as of January, as compared with 20 cents in Texas).

Sadly, these high taxes don’t translate into good services from government.

The state ranks 21st in the country in terms of spending per public school pupil, but 27th in its K-12 educational outcomes. It ties Oregon for third place among states in terms of its per capita homeless rate. Infrastructure? As of 2019, the state had an estimated $70 billion in deferred maintenance backlog. Debt? The state’s unfunded pension liabilities in 2019 ran north of $1.1 trillion, …or $81,300 per household.

Makes you wonder whether the rest of the nation should copy that model?

Democrats hold both U.S. Senate seats, 42 of its 53 seats in the House, have lopsided majorities in the State Assembly and Senate, run nearly every big city and have controlled the governor’s mansion for a decade. If ever there was a perfect laboratory for liberal governance, this is it. So how do you explain these results? …If California is a vision of the sort of future the Biden administration wants for Americans, expect Americans to demur.

Some might be tempted to dismiss Stephens’ column because he is considered the token conservative at the New York Times.

But Ezra Klein also acknowledges that California has a problem, and nobody will accuse him of being on the right side of the spectrum.

Here’s some of what he wrote in his column earlier this month for the New York Times.

I love California. I was born and raised in Orange County. I was educated in the state’s public schools and graduated from the University of California system… But for that very reason, our failures of governance worry me. California has the highest poverty rate in the nation, when you factor in housing costs, and vies for the top spot in income inequality, too. …but there’s a reason 130,000 more people leave than enter each year. California is dominated by Democrats, but many of the people Democrats claim to care about most can’t afford to live there. …California, as the biggest state in the nation, and one where Democrats hold total control of the government, carries a special burden. If progressivism cannot work here, why should the country believe it can work anywhere else?

Kudos to Klein for admitting problems on his side (just like I praise the few GOPers who criticized Trump’s big-government policies).

But his column definitely had some quirky parts, such as when he wrote that, “There are bright spots in recent years…a deeply progressive plan to tax the wealthy.”

That’s actually a big reason for the state’s decline, not a “bright spot.”

I’m not the only one to recognize the limitations of his column.

Kevin Williamson wrote an entire rebuttal for National Review.

Who but Ezra Klein could survey the wreck left-wing Democrats have made of California and conclude that the state’s problem is its excessive conservatism? …Klein the rhetorician anticipates objections on this front and writes that he is not speaking of “the political conservatism that privatizes Medicare, but the temperamental conservatism that” — see if this formulation sounds at all familiar — “stands athwart change and yells ‘Stop!’” …California progressives have progressive policies and progressive power, and they like it that way. That is the substance of their conservatism. …Klein and others of his ilk like to present themselves as dispassionate pragmatists, enlightened empiricists who only want to do “what works.” …Klein mocks San Francisco for renaming schools (Begone, Abraham Lincoln!) while it has no plan to reopen them, but he cannot quite see that these are two aspects of a single phenomenon. …Klein…must eventually understand that the troubles he identifies in California are baked into the progressive cake. …That has real-world consequences, currently on display in California to such a spectacular degree that even Ezra Klein is able dimly to perceive them. Maybe he’ll learn something.

I especially appreciate this passage since it excoriates rich leftists for putting teacher unions ahead of disadvantaged children.

Intentions do not matter very much, and mere stated intentions matter even less. Klein is blind to that, which is why he is able to write, as though there were something unusual on display: “For all the city’s vaunted progressivism, [San Francisco] has some of the highest private school enrollment numbers in the country.” Rich progressives have always been in favor of school choice and private schools — for themselves. They only oppose choice for poor people, whose interests must for political reasons be subordinated to those of the public-sector unions from which Democrats in cities such as San Francisco derive their power.

Let’s conclude with some levity.

Here’s a meme that contemplates whether California emigrants bring bad voting habits with them.

Though that’s apparently more of a problem in Colorado rather than in Texas.

And here’s some clever humor from Genesius Times.

P.S. My favorite California-themed humor (not counting the state’s elected officials) can be found herehereherehere, and here.

Coalition to Congress: Don’t Restrict Retail Investors

Wed, 02/17/2021 - 4:08am

[PDF Version]

The Honorable Sherrod Brown
Chairman
Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Maxine Waters
Chairwoman
House Committee on Financial Services
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Brown and Chairwoman Waters:

We welcome your planned hearings to examine the circumstances surrounding recent trading of GameStop and other stocks. We hope you will focus your investigations on questions regarding equal access to markets and fair treatment of retail investors.

Restrictions placed on retail investors at the same time as large institutions were suffering big losses from risky shorts raise basic questions of fairness. To help bolster faith in our markets and financial institutions it is important that Congress get to the bottom of whether any firms indeed acted inappropriately in restricting trades, as well as whether any government policies played a role in those decisions and, if so, whether those policies ought to be reformed.

We further hope that you will also take this opportunity to examine rules, such as accredited investor requirements, that create a tiered system in the name of protecting retail investors. Today’s retail investors are more sophisticated and have greater access to information than ever before. They should have all the same rights and privileges as institutional traders. When a mobile phone is all you need to participate in the stock market, Americans are going to be less tolerant of rules that amount to special treatment for the wealthy or connected even if the purpose is to protect retail investors.

Finally, amid reports of coming regulatory scrutiny on retail traders, or even possible criminal investigations, we urge you to make clear that the ability of individuals to share stock analyses and trading ideas on public forums is protected speech, and that a bunch of Americans buying a stock they like is not manipulation. Regulators should not conduct investigations that run counter to the principle that all Americans deserve open and equal access to our financial markets. 

Top-down policies, from restrictions on types of trades to financial transaction taxes to ad hoc enforcement toward retail investors, will expand government’s reach, create unnecessary barriers, and negatively impact the retirement savings of everyday Americans.

Sincerely,

Andrew F. Quinlan ~ President, Center for Freedom and Prosperity
Ryan Ellis ~ President, Center for a Free Economy
David Williams ~ President, Taxpayers Protection Alliance
John Berlau ~ Senior Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute
Seton Motley ~ President, Less Government
Saulius “Saul” Anuzis ~ President, 60 Plus Association
James L. Martin, Founder/Chairman ~ 60 Plus Association
Phil Kerpen ~ President, American Commitment
George Landrith ~ President, Frontiers of Freedom
Brent Wm. Gardner ~ Chief Government Affairs Officer, Americans for Prosperity

Government Schools: More Bureaucracy, Lower Performance, and Higher Costs

Tue, 02/16/2021 - 12:12pm

Whenever I’m asked to give an example of a powerful and persuasive visual, I always have an easy answer.

The late Andrew Coulson created a very compelling chart showing that huge increases in money and staff for government schools have not led to improvements in educational outcomes.

All rational people who look at that image surely will understand that we’re doing something wrong.

And if they review the academic evidence on government spending and educational results, they’ll definitely know we’re doing something wrong.

The international data, by the way, tells the same story. Which is especially disheartening since Americans taxpayers spend much more on education than their counterparts in other developed nations.

Let’s further investigate this issue.

I came across a 2017 tweet from Mark Perry that gives us another way of looking at the numbers.

He reviewed 64 years of data and found that government spending on education soared by 368 percent. And that’s after adjusting for inflation.

We got more teachers with all that money, but the main outcome was a massive expansion in the number of education administrators and other bureaucrats.

In other words, most of the additional money isn’t being used for classroom instruction.

And the numbers seems to get worse every year. In a recent article for Education Next, Ira Stoll uses two different data sets to document the growth of bureaucracy.

Here is some of the data he got from the Department of Labor.

Are schools really spending more on administration than they used to? The short answer is yes. …information to corroborate the idea of skyrocketing administrative spending may be obtained from a different source: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. …The category of “education administrators, kindergarten through secondary” in May 2019 included 271,020 people earning a mean annual wage of $100,340. In 1999, there were 186,220 people in this category, earning a mean annual wage of $65,480. That is 45.5 percent growth in the number of administrators. …The math works out to nearly three $100,000-a-year administrators for every school.

Here’s his table based on numbers from the Department of Education.

In each case, we see bureaucrats have been the biggest winners. There are a lot more of them than there used to be, and they enjoy lavish compensation packages.

Cory DeAngelis of Reason summarized Stoll’s findings in a pair of tweets.

Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute explains that all this additional funding and additional bureaucracy is not yielding worthwhile results.

…the U.S. spends more than $700 billion on K–12 education a year, or about $14,000 per student. That’s 39 percent more than the average OECD nation. And many big-city districts spend considerably more, with per-pupil outlays of more than $20,000 per year in places such as Washington, D.C., and Boston. …But it’s not clear that we’re spending all of this money in effective ways. For instance, …the ranks of non-instructional staff have grown more than twice as fast as student enrollment over the past 30 years. …in public bureaucracies, new dollars often double as a convenient excuse to avoid hard choices.

So what’s the moral of the story?

I don’t need to write anything because this article in National Review by Cameron Hilditch has a very apt summary.

American taxpayers have been hoodwinked by the whole idea of “public schools.” …We’ve been putting more and more money into the system for decades without reaping more returns for the nation’s children. …schools are advertised to taxpayers as institutions that serve every child in the nation. In reality, they serve the interests of no one other than the small group of Americans who work in these schools as teachers and administrators. …Since the teachers unions can shield their own avarice with claims of “public service” to children, they can manipulate the actual public into thinking that more money, job security, or political power for themselves is in everyone’s interest instead of their own. …a look at graduation rates, test scores, and graduate employability calls this into question.

P.S. While this column has mostly focused on the ever-expanding number of administrators and other education bureaucrats, as well as their lavish salaries, it’s worth noting that compensation for teachers also has been going up.

P.P.S. Though the real problem is not teacher pay. Some deserve more pay, some deserve less pay, and some deserve to be fired, but we can’t separate the wheat from the chaff because teacher unions and local politicians have created an inefficient system that delivers mediocrity.

P.P.P.S. We need school choice so that competitive pressure rewards the best teachers as part of a system that focuses on better results for students.

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Image credit: Ken Gallager | CC BY-SA 4.0.

Everything You Need to Know about Fixing the Budget Mess in Washington

Mon, 02/15/2021 - 12:06pm

The 21st century has been bad news for proponents of limited government. Bush was a big spender, Obama was a big spender, Trump was a big spender, and now Biden also wants to buy votes with other people’s money.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that there is still a simple solution to America’s fiscal problems. According to the just-released Budget and Economic Outlook from the Congressional Budget Office, tax revenues will grow by an average of 4.2 percent over the next decade. So we can make progress, as illustrated by this chart, if there’s some sort of spending cap so that outlays grow at a slower pace.

The ideal fiscal goal should be reducing the size of government, ideally down to the level envisioned by America’s Founders.

But even if we have more modest aspirations (avoiding future tax increases, avoiding a future debt crisis), it’s worth noting how modest spending restraint generates powerful results in a short period of time. And the figures in the chart assume the spending restraint doesn’t even start until the 2023 fiscal year.

The main takeaway is that the budget could be balanced by 2031 if spending grows by 1.5 percent per year.

But progress is possible so long as the cap limits spending so that it grows by less than 4.2 percent annually. The greater the restraint, of course, the quicker the progress.

In other words, there’s no need to capitulate to tax increases (which, in any event, almost certainly would make a bad situation worse).

P.S. The solution to our fiscal problem is simple, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Long-run spending restraint inevitably will require genuine reform to deal with the entitlement crisis. Given the insights of “public choice” theory, it will be a challenge to find politicians willing to save the nation.

P.P.S. Here are real-world examples of nations that made rapid progress with spending restraint.

P.P.P.S. Switzerland and Hong Kong (as well as Colorado) have constitutional spending caps, which would be the ideal approach.

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

The Case Against Socialism, Part II

Sun, 02/14/2021 - 12:58pm

Two years ago, I explained that socialism is an economic failure, regardless of how it is defined.

In today’s follow-up column, let’s start with an excellent video from John Stossel.

Before addressing the three myths mentioned in the video, it’s worth noting that there’s a technical definition of socialism based on policies such as government ownershipcentral planning, and price controls, and a casual definition of socialism based on policies such as punitive tax rateswelfare state, and intervention.

I don’t like any of those policies, but they are not identical.

That’s why I came up with this flowchart to help illustrate the different strains of leftism (just as, on the other side of the spectrum, Trumpism is not the same as Reaganism is not the same as libertarianism).

Now that we’ve covered definitions, let’s dig into Stossel’s video. He makes three main points.

  1. Socialist policies don’t work any better if imposed by governments that are democratically elected. Simply stated, big government doesn’t magically have good consequences simply because a politician received 51 percent of the vote in an election.
  2. Scandinavian nations are not socialist. I’ve addressed this issue several times and noted that countries such as Sweden and Denmark have costly welfare states, but they are based on private property and rely on private markets to allocate resources.
  3. Socialism has a lot in common with fascism. Stossel could have pointed out that Hitler was the head of the National Socialist Workers Party, but he focused on the less inflammatory argument that socialism and fascism both rely on government control of the economy.

By the way, Stossel also narrated an earlier video on this same topic that addressed two other topics.

First, he countered the argument that we can’t learn anything from the failure of nations such as the Soviet Union and Cuba because they did not have not “real socialism.” My two cents on that topic is to challenge socialists (or anyone else on the left) to answer this question.

Second, he addressed the specific argument that Venezuela can’t teach us anything because its collapse has nothing to do with socialism. The New York Times may want people to think Venezuela’s failure is due to factors such as low oil prices, but the real reason is that economic liberty has been extinguished.

The bottom line is that socialism doesn’t work. Regardless of how it’s defined, it’s both immoral and a recipe for economic decline.

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Image credit: Max Pixel | CC0 1.0.

Part IV: Poverty Is a Problem, Not Inequality

Sat, 02/13/2021 - 12:34pm

My series on poverty and inequality (see herehere, and here) focuses on why we should try to help the poor rather than hurt the rich.

We’ll continue with that theme in Part IV, which begins with this video by Russ Roberts of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

Russ makes some great points throughout the video about the importance of creating the conditions for upward mobility.

Here are some of the main takeaways.

  1. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting richer as well.
  2. Cronyism is bad, especially when it winds up subsidizing the rich.
  3. We should focus on reducing poverty rather than fixating on inequality.

Regarding that final point, my favorite part is when he said that, “Focusing on inequality as something inherently bad can blind us to the problems of poverty. Inequality and poverty aren’t the same thing.  …I’m much more concerned about those at the bottom who are left behind.”

In effect, he was stating his version of the Eighth Theorem of Government. At least the first half of it (he’s probably too nice to impugn the motives of those who focus on inequality).

I also like the fact that he points out the need to get rid of licensing.

And he repeatedly argues that we need to improve the quality of education, though I wish he had explicitly stated that this means we have to replace the government’s failed education monopoly with a choice-based system.

But no need to nit-pick. The video is great, as are his other videos that I have shared over the years (see hereherehere, and here).

P.S. For those who have trouble believing that the poor, middle class, and rich can all simultaneously enjoy rising incomes, click herehere, and here for evidence.

P.P.S. I also think this data from China is very powerful.

P.P.P.S. The people who fixate on inequality favor policies that would make the United States more like Europe, so it’s worth noting that lower-income people in America are usually better off than middle-class people on the other side of the Atlantic.

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Image credit: Steven Depolo | CC BY 2.0.

The Economics of “Lookism”

Fri, 02/12/2021 - 12:13pm

I repeatedly write about inequality, largely in hopes of helping people, especially my left-leaning friends, understand that we should instead focus on other issues, such as economic opportunity and poverty reduction. In other words, let’s try to help the less fortunate rather than tear down successful people

I specifically try to convince them that they shouldn’t be bothered if someone gets rich (assuming wealth is being earned rather than the result of handouts, bailouts, and subsidies from politicians). What matters is “growing the pie” so all of us have a chance to enjoy more prosperity.

But what if someone gets rich because of good luck? In other words, instead of becoming wealthy because of hard work, intelligence, or entrepreneurship, what if someone is simply the beneficiary of being attractive? Or being tall?

As captured by this tweet from Rob Henderson, this is not mere speculation.

I actually referenced Prof. Mankiw’s work when writing about this issue back in 2010.

And I periodically come across new research on the economic advantages enjoyed by attractive folks.

Highly attractive women’s salaries are one-tenth higher than the average even at similar education and competence levels, a low attractivity means a loss of 4 percent, according to a study presented by sociologist Petra Anyzova at a workshop based on a job market research project today. …Anyzova said that the results are similar to the findings of other studies and the trend suggests that men are disadvantaged if they display more feminine traits and women are disadvantages if they display more masculine traits. In the case of men, the impact of physical attractiveness on being able to secure a higher socio-economic status is significant.

And here’s another study Henderson tweeted about.

So what are the policy implications of this research? And the other research that I cited back in 2018 and 2019?

As far as I’m concerned, there aren’t any.

Yes, some people are very lucky because of their looks or their height and they wind up with extra income because of those random characteristics, but that shouldn’t be a reason for government-coerced redistribution.

The same thing is true for those fortunate enough to be born into the right families.

As I wrote two years ago.

…taller people and better-looking people earn more money and have better lives. That’s genuine unfairness, just like having better parents is a source of genuine unfairness. Yet not even Bernie Sanders or AOC have proposed taxes to equalize those sources of real unfairness.

Yes, the research suggests that life isn’t fair.

But government intervention isn’t the answer, as I explained back in 2011.

The real issue is whether this discrimination is real and whether it justifies government intervention. …I don’t doubt that “lookism” exists. …But does that mean we should have some sort of government bureaucracy with the power to sue, fine, arrest, or otherwise harass based on whether people claim they didn’t get promotions because of their appearance?

Just imagine, for instance, if government tried to redistribute sexual opportunities, as suggested by this example of Elizabeth Warren satire?

I’ll conclude with the observation that if we don’t try to address inequalities caused by random luck, such as looks and height, then why would we want politicians to impose taxes and redistribution to deal with inequalities that are the result of attributes over which we have considerable control, such as diligence, productivity, responsibility, and effort?

P.S. For what it’s worth, research suggests conservatives generally are viewed as more attractive and stronger than folks on the left (though that research also suggests that libertarians generally are perceived as being dorks).

The World’s Most Economically Illiterate Statement

Thu, 02/11/2021 - 12:50pm

Back in 2014, I shared two videos, one narrated by Prof. Don Boudreaux and the other narrated by Prof. Deirdre McCloskey, making the point that grinding poverty and material deprivation were the norm for most of human history. It wasn’t until capitalism emerged a few hundred years ago that we made the jump from agricultural poverty to industrial prosperity.

I know at least one person who didn’t watch those videos.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley isn’t as well known as other members the “The Squad,” especially Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar (jointly featured in this bit of satire), but she deserves some sort of recognition for being totally clueless about economics and history. Indeed, she may even deserve some sort of prize for uttering the year’s most economically illiterate sentence.

The two aforementioned videos illustrate why her statement is nonsensical, but let’s share some updated numbers to illustrate why she is profoundly wrong.

The Our World in Data site, maintained by Max Roser at Oxford University, is a great resource for researchers. If you go to the section on economic growth, you’ll find lots of information and many charts examining what has happened to living standards over long periods of time.

For instance, here’s a look at gross domestic product (GDP) over the past 2000 years. As you can see, per-capita economic output was very low (and very flat) until capitalism emerged in the 1700s and 1800s.

Thanks to capitalism’s emergence (along with the rule of law), we are vastly better off today than our ancestors.

Here’s another look at the data, but let’s focus on just the past 200 years. Yes, the 1800s was the era of the “industrial revolution” and so-called sweatshops, but that was a building block to our current prosperity.

To be fair to Congresswoman Pressley, it’s only the first part of her statement (“poverty is not naturally occurring”) that is grossly inaccurate and economically illiterate.

She then added that poverty “is a policy choice,” presumably because she wants people to believe that more redistribution can make it go away. That part of her statement also is wrong, according to both U.S. data and global data, but not quite as ludicrously erroneous.

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Image credit: iamharsha | Pixabay License.

The Case for Capitalism, Part V

Wed, 02/10/2021 - 12:11pm

There’s a recipe for growth and prosperity. It’s called capitalism.

As Dan Hannan explains in this video, it’s the way to help all groups in a society become richer.

This is a great video about how free enterprise delivers prosperity for the masses.

And because wealthy societies have lots of financial resources, capitalism also is correlated with good outcomes such as reduced pollution and increased literacy.

Hannan makes three key points in his video.

Indeed, the only possible shortcoming in the video is that it truncates Schumpeter’s quote.

As you can see below, it’s not just that free enterprise makes goods available for those at the bottom, it does so in a way that is increasingly affordable over time.

P.S. Here are Part IPart IIPart III, and Part IV of the series.

P.P.S. As always, I ask my left-leaning friends to shown me an example, either today or at some point in history, where a society became rich with big government rather than capitalism? I call this my never-answered question.

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Image credit: Erik Scheel | Pexels License.

Biden, the Minimum Wage, and Political Fantasy

Tue, 02/09/2021 - 12:28pm

While I understandably don’t like politicians, I rarely think they are stupid. They do lots of idiotic things, of course, but they are making calculated decisions that it’s okay to hurt the economy if they achieve some political benefit. That’s immoral, but not dumb.

However, sometimes politicians say things so absurdly inaccurate that it makes me wonder if they actually are…what’s the politically correct term?…cognitively challenged.

Consider, for instance, some of Donald Trump’s trade tweets, which were jaw-dropping examples of economic illiteracy.

And now Joe Biden is showing he can be similarly detached from the real world, claiming this past weekend that a $15-per-hour minimum wage is a good idea because, “all the economics show that if you do that the whole economy rises.”

Though maybe that’s true if one can somehow claim that “1 out of 40” is the same as “all.”

Moreover, it appears that “all” doesn’t include the Congressional Budget Office.

The bean counters at CBO don’t have a reputation for being fire-breathing libertarians, so it’s especially noteworthy that its new estimates show that a higher minimum wage will reduce economic output, destroy 1.4 million jobs, raise prices, and increase the burden of government spending.

As the old joke goes, “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?”

And “all” doesn’t include America’s premier source for financial news. The Wall Street Journal opined on Biden’s plan this morning.

…his proposal for a $15 federal minimum wage…by 2025, according to the CBO’s new average estimate, would result in a loss of 1.4 million jobs. The idled workers would be disproportionately younger and less educated, and CBO projects that half of them would drop out of the labor force. …The federal budget deficit through 2031 would increase $54 billion, CBO says, as the government spent more on unemployment benefits and health-care programs. …setting the minimum wage at a high of $15 would essentially put the country through an economic experiment. This would mean imposing the urban labor costs of San Francisco and Manhattan on every out-of-the-way gas station in rural America.

Of course, we’ve already experienced some real-world experiments.

Higher minimum wages already have wreaked havoc and destroyed jobs in places such as SeattleNew York CityOakland, and Washington, DC, so we already have plenty of evidence (and don’t forget the European data as well).

I’ll close with this clever cartoon strip, which mocks people who support higher mandated wages for reasons of naivete rather than stupidity.

P.S. Here’s my most recent interview about the minimum wage, here’s the interview that got me most frustrated, and here’s my interview debate with Biden’s economic advisor.

P.P.S. I strongly recommend this CF&P video on the topic.

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Image credit: Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0.

In One Image, Everything You Need to Know about Government Intervention

Mon, 02/08/2021 - 12:19pm

While I freely self-identify as a libertarian, I don’t think of myself as a philosophical ideologue.

Instead, I’m someone who likes digging into data to determine the impact of government policy. And because I’ve repeatedly noticed that more government almost always leads to worse outcomes, I’ve become a practical ideologue.

In other words, when looking at at an issue, I now have a default assumption that government is going to be the problem, not the solution.

I think more people will share my viewpoint if they peruse this chart from Mark Perry.

It shows changes in prices for selected goods and services over the past 21 years, and the inescapable conclusion (as I noted when writing about the 2014 version of his chart) is that we get higher relative prices in sectors where there’s the most government intervention.

Especially healthcare and higher education.

By contrast, we see falling relative prices (and sometimes falling absolute prices!) in sectors where there is little or no government intervention.

Here’s some of Mark’s description of what we can learn from his chart.

I’ve updated the chart above with price changes through the end of last year. During the most recent 21-year period from January 2000 to December 2020, the CPI for All Items increased by 54.6% and the chart displays the relative price increases over that time period for 14 selected consumer goods and services, and for average hourly wages. …Various observations that have been made about the huge divergence in price patterns over the last several decades… The greater (lower) the degree of government involvement in the provision of a good or service the greater (lower) the price increases (decreases) over time, e.g., hospital and medical costs, college tuition, childcare with both large degrees of government funding/regulation and large price increases vs. software, electronics, toys, cars and clothing with both relatively less government funding/regulation and falling prices.

By the way, I can’t resist also calling attention to Mark’s data on what’s happened over time to prices for various health care services and procedures.

We find that prices have skyrocketed in areas of the healthcare sector where government plays a big role, especially hospital care.

By contrast, prices have been steady (or even falling!) in areas of the healthcare sector where competitive markets are allowed to operate, most notably for cosmetic procedures.

It’s almost as if it makes sense to have a default assumption that government is the problem rather than the solution.

P.S. While the data in Mark’s chart tell a depressing story about the harmful effect of government intervention, he shares one bit of good news in his article.

The annual increase in college tuition and fees of only 1.4% last year was the smallest annual increase in the history of the CPI for college tuition and fees going back to 1978, and the only annual increase ever below 2%. That increase is far below the average annual increase in college tuition of nearly 7% over the last 42 years. So perhaps the “higher education bubble” is finally starting to show signs of deflating?

I hope he’s right, but worry he’s wrong.

P.P.S. Sadly (but predictably), some people seem to think government-caused price increases are a reason to support more government intervention.

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Image credit: Bjoertvedt | CC BY-SA 3.

Coronavirus and the Failure of Big Government: A Closer Look at the FDA

Sat, 02/06/2021 - 12:11pm

In my five-part series on coronavirus and the failure of big government (herehereherehere, and here), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received some unflattering attention.

Whether we’re examining its performance regarding equipment, testing, or vaccines, the bureaucracy has hindered the private sector’s ability to quickly and effectively respond to the pandemic.

Today, let’s devote an entire column to problems with the FDA.

Historically, the big issue is that the bureaucracy is too cautious and risk-averse.

The argument from the FDA is that a lengthy and expensive process for approving drugs is necessary to avoid the risk of a drug with bad side effects.

And there are benefits to that approach, with thalidomide being the obvious example.

However, there are also costs. Most notably, the FDA’s onerous approval process means that it takes a long time before consumers get access to many life-saving and life-improving drugs.

The net result is that the FDA has killed more people than it has saved.

If you think that is hyperbole, read this summary of academic research from the Independent Institute.

…requiring a lot of testing has at least two negative effects. First, it delays the arrival of superior drugs. During the delay, some people who would have lived end up dying. Second, additional testing requirements raise the costs of bringing a new drug to market; hence, many drugs that would have been developed are not, and all the people who would have been helped, even saved, are not. …three bodies of evidence suggest that the FDA kills and harms, on net. …It is difficult to estimate how many lives the post-1962 FDA controls have cost, but the number is likely to be substantial; Gieringer (1985) estimates the loss of life from delay alone to be in the hundreds of thousands (not to mention millions of patients who endured unnecessary morbidity). …Deaths owing to drug lag have been numbered in the hundreds of thousands. …in recent years thousands of patients have died because the FDA has delayed the arrival of new drugs and devices

Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that the FDA process means companies much charge higher prices to compensate for the expensive approval process.

But let’s look at where we are today and explore the FDA’s role in fighting the coronavirus.

We’ll start with this tweet about the bureaucracy’s unhelpful role last year as the pandemic was getting worse.

The hero of February was the Seattle Flu Study, which raised the alarm about community spread; the villain was the FDA, which refused to allow private companies to develop tests.

Incredibly, the FDA is doubling down.https://t.co/ANAvasasty

— Ben Thompson (@benthompson) May 17, 2020

But I mostly want to focus on what the FDA is doing today to make our lives less safe.

Professor Garret Jones of George Mason University has a column in the Washington Examiner excoriating the bureaucracy’s deadly delays in approving another vaccine.

Good enough for Britain. Good enough for the European Union. Not good enough for the United States. That’s what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration thinks about the evidence for the Oxford-developed, AstraZeneca-made COVID-19 vaccine: the cheap, refrigerator-friendly, easy-to-transport injection that, so far at least, is 100% successful at keeping people with COVID-19 out of the hospital. The Oxford vaccine has been given to more than a million British citizens, and the EU is now scrambling to find as many doses as it can… So why hasn’t the Oxford vaccine been approved for use in the U.S.? Because the FDA made clear that AstraZeneca needed to finish its lengthy trials in the U.S., above and beyond the trials AstraZeneca had already run in the United Kingdom, Brazil, and South Africa. …My colleague at George Mason University, Alex Tabarrok, refers to the “invisible graveyard” — those dead because lifesaving drugs and vaccines were delayed or never invented. Every day we delayed vaccine approval in 2020 was a day that COVID-19 could spread unabated, killing people in the U.S. in the hundreds of thousands. And that deadly delay continues in 2021. …The FDA should approve the Oxford vaccine immediately. Since it doesn’t require fancy freezers, it will easily reach small towns and local clinics in a way that current COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. can’t.

Since I have friends who have died from the virus, it’s infuriating that the FDA is hindering the approval and deployment of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Heck, I would love the chance to get it myself, yet a bunch of cossetted bureaucrats are telling me that my life should be at risk instead.

If you’re wondering why the FDA is mindlessly causing needless danger and death, this tweet from Professor Jones may tell us everything we need to know (he also mentioned Pelosi’s unhelpful role in the column cited above).

Why is she putting people’s lives at risk?

Is it because she reflexively supports red tape? Is it because she’s getting campaign contributions from Pfizer and is trying to keep a competing vaccine off the market? Is it because Astra-Zeneca’s vaccine was developed in the U.K. and she opposed Brexit?

I don’t know the answer, but I’m 99.99 percent sure she’s already been vaccinated and isn’t at risk like the rest of us.

What about the FDA’s motivations?

Dr. Henry Miller’s recent column in the Wall Street Journal has some insight on why the bureaucracy is willing to put our lives in danger.

…countless patients could benefit, if Food and Drug Administration regulators were less risk-averse. I know that from firsthand experience. …As the head of the FDA’s evaluation team, I had a front-row seat. …during the early 1970s, as the supply of animal pancreases declined and the prevalence of diabetes increased, fears of drug shortages spread. Around the same time, a new and powerful tool—recombinant DNA technology, or gene splicing—became available. …Eli Lilly & Co. immediately saw the technology’s promise for producing human insulin… Insulins had long been Lilly’s flagship products, and the company’s expertise was evident in the purification, laboratory testing and clinical trials of Humulin, its new human insulin. Lilly’s scientists painstakingly verified that their product was pure and identical to pancreatic human insulin. …In May 1982 the company submitted to the FDA a voluminous dossier providing evidence of the product’s safety and efficacy. …My team and I were ready to recommend approval after four months’ review. But when I took the packet to my supervisor, he said, “Four months? No way! If anything goes wrong with this product down the road, people will say we rushed it, and we’ll be toast.” That’s the bureaucratic mind-set. …A large part of regulators’ self-interest lies in staying out of trouble. One way to do that, my supervisor understood, is not to approve in record time products that might experience unanticipated problems.

Sadly, this FDA mindset hasn’t changed.

As a result, Americans are needlessly dying.

P.S. Professor Alex Tabarrok has another example of senseless regulation from the FDA.

The idea that the FDA can regulate and control what individuals may learn about their own bodies is deeply offensive. https://t.co/hVgoK4agM4

— Alex Tabarrok (@ATabarrok) September 19, 2020

P.P.S. Here’s my column on the CDC’s unhelpful role in dealing with the pandemic.

P.P.P.S. And here’s what I wrote about the international bureaucrats at the World Health Organization.

P.P.P.P.S. When dealing with other advanced nations, we should adopt the principle of “mutual recognition” so our consumers have the option of benefiting from products approved elsewhere, such as the Astra-Zeneca vaccine.

P.P.P.P.P.S. In an all-too-typical example of Mitchell’s Law, politicians and bureaucrats have created a process than makes drugs very expensive. They then respond by agitating for price controls rather than fixing the underlying problem.

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Image credit: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration | U.S. Government Works.

Four Major Problems with Senator Romney’s Plan for Universal Child Allowances

Fri, 02/05/2021 - 12:43pm

My late friend Walter Williams was a first-rate economist, an important public intellectual, and a truly great American. He also was an amazing communicator, with an unparalleled ability to make important points in a succinct and easy-to-understand manner.

My favorite Walter quote is about how capitalism enabled positive-sum wealth creation.

Today, though, I want to share Walter’s quote about the simple rules for life that basically eliminate poverty.

Sadly, the current welfare state undermines those rules and instead lures many people into self-destructive behaviors. Choices that are bad for them and bad for society.

  • Have kids out of wedlock? No problem, Uncle Sam will take care of you with a plethora of handouts.
  • Watch TV on the sofa all day rather than work? No problem, Washington will provide you with benefits.

As an economist, I’m especially concerned that redistribution programs discourage employment. That’s bad for the economy. Even more important, it’s very bad for people who get trapped in lives of dependency.

Oh, and let’s not forget that the welfare state also is a big burden on taxpayers.

The reason for highlighting these problems is that Senator Mitt Romney has unveiled a plan (the “Family Security Act”) to have the federal government provide universal child allowances.

The good news is that his plan will mitigate some of the problems with the current system. The bad news is that his proposal will exacerbate other problems.

Here are some excerpts from the Senator’s summary of the proposal.

The Family Security Act would provide a monthly cash benefit for families, amounting to $350 a month for each young child, and $250 a month for each school-aged child. …Promoting marriage; Providing equal treatment for both working and stay-at-home parents; and Reforming and consolidating outmoded federal programs, including by fully paying for the new proposal….a new national commitment to American families by modernizing and streamlining antiquated federal policies into a monthly cash benefit. …The bill consolidates overlapping and often duplicative federal policies into direct support for families. …deficit-neutral.

That description sounds nice, and the proposal would be beneficial in some ways.

Most notably, there would not be high implicit marginal tax rates on work (a big problem in the current system) since people would get the child allowances regardless of employment status.

But there are some serious drawbacks to the plan. Here are four things that cause concern.

First, it increases the burden of government.

Senator Romney (as well as proponents of the plan such as the Niskanen Center) highlight the fact that the plan is “deficit neutral.” But that doesn’t tell us whether the plan increases or reduces the size and scope of the federal government.

Unfortunately, if you take a close look at the Senator’s summary, it’s clear the proposal would be a net increase in the burden of spending.

Here’s the relevant table, which ostensibly shows Romney’s new spending along with the “spending offsets” that make the plan deficit neutral.

For what it’s worth, I’m disappointed that the Senator (his staff?) chose to be dishonest. Three of the “spending offsets” are actually measures that would increase tax revenue (circled in red).

And when you fix that dodgy bit of accounting, Romney’s plan would add more than $45 billion per year to America’s fiscal burden.

Second, why would anyone think it’s a good idea to copy Europe?

According to an article from HuffPost, “The U.S. is one of the only developed countries that doesn’t pay parents a child benefit or child allowance. Romney’s proposal shows there is bipartisan support for the policy.”

This is an accurate observation, but it’s hardly persuasive. Yes, European nations generally send people money simply because they have children.

But why on earth would we want to copy nations where living standards are far below American levels? Heck, poor people in America tend to be more prosperous than middle-class people in Europe.

By the way, some like Romney’s plan because they think it will boost marriage rates and fertility rates (i.e., lure people into having more children). Seems like that might be theoretically true, but the data show that European birth rates are very low, significantly below American levels.

In other words, don’t hold your breath waiting for more marriages and more children.

Third, it undermines federalism by giving Washington a bigger role rather than smaller role.

I’ve argued that the so-called War on Poverty has been very bad news. We have a Byzantine system of handouts that require an army of bureaucrats to administer dozens of handouts that subsidize bad behavior.

It’s created dependency and the data show it actually has had a negative impact on the trend of poverty reduction and self sufficiency (same thing has happened in other nations as well).

The right approach is to get Washington out of the business of income redistribution. We’re far more likely to get good outcomes if we let states decide (and learn from each other on) how best to reduce poverty.

Fourth, it is akin to a “basic income” that may have a very corrosive impact on societal capital.

I was very opposed to Andrew Yang’s plan to provide universal handouts, in large part because I feared it would undermine personal independence, the work ethic, the spirit of self reliance, and other traits that are critical for a successful society. And I also didn’t trust (for good reason) Yang’s claim that his scheme would replace other redistribution programs.

Well, Romney’s proposal is like a starter version of a basic income, but with the handouts based on the number of children.

I fear this will enable some people to decide they can drop out of the labor force.

Scott Winship of the American Enterprise Institute shares my concerns.

The Romney proposal would take us back to the bad old days in key ways, and policymakers are playing Russian roulette with low-income families’ wellbeing. …some people (including future people) who would choose single parenthood or non-work except that the current safety net makes it unaffordable would be able to afford these choices under child allowances. For them, child allowances are allowances for behavior that would be expected to hurt their own long-term prospects and, more importantly, the wellbeing of their children.

I’ll conclude by observing that Romney’s plan is nowhere near as bad as Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s scheme for universal handouts.

But that’s hardly the test for good legislation. For those who prefer smaller governmentless dependency, and less centralization, Romney’s plan is bad news.

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

A Case Study of Sloppy Research and Media Bias

Thu, 02/04/2021 - 12:47pm

periodically criticize pro-statism stories and columns in outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post.

But I’ve only written one column specifically on the topic of whether the press is slanted. In that article, I pointed out that media bias rarely is based on lies.

Even when stories are overtly misleading (as is often the case with reports about poverty, for instance), journalists almost always are clever enough to avoid crossing a line to outright dishonesty.

In practice, media bias is largely about what gets covered and what doesn’t.

Media bias very rarely involves dishonesty. Deception yes, but not inaccuracies. It’s almost always about story selection and what gets emphasized.

Today, I want to share an example of this phenomenon.

A left-leaning group called the International Equalities Institute recently published a report claiming that lower tax rates on upper-income taxpayers don’t lead to faster growth.

The London-based group isn’t well known and neither are the two authors (David Hope and Julian Limberg), yet this study received a massive amount of attention.

To cite just a few examples, it got major coverage from the Washington Post.

It received a fawning write-up from CBS.

It was featured by Bloomberg.

Bloomberg liked it so much that there was a second story.

Many other news outlets also publicized the story, in many cases by simply republishing the stories from the above outlets.

Here’s the report from Al Jazeera.

Esquire even ran a puff piece on the study.

Here’s the headline from MSN.

Various CBS local stations recycled the network report.

Here’s an example from Oklahoma.

And an example from North Carolina.

The Gulf News wrote about the study.

And Business Insider also gave it lots of attention.

Even the New York Post featured the study.

The reason this report got so all this attention, in my humble opinion, is that it gave reporters an excuse to advance a pro-statism message.

And that meant writing press releases about the report rather than practicing real journalism. They praised the study as “comprehensive” and “sophisticated,” though presumably none of them know anything about its methodology.

And they certainly didn’t seek out any contrary views.

So allow me to point out a few problems with the Hope-Limberg report. Feel free to read the entire study, but I think these passages fairly summarize the two main arguments (tax cuts help the rich and tax cuts don’t help the economy) in the publication.

…it remains an open empirical question how cutting taxes on the rich affects economic outcomes. In this paper, we use data from 18 OECD countries covering the last fifty years to investigate the effects of major tax cuts for the rich on income inequality, economic growth, and unemployment. …Our results show that…major tax cuts for the rich increase the top 1% share of pre-tax national income in the years following the reform… The magnitude of the effect is sizeable; on average, each major reform leads to a rise in top 1% share of pre-tax national income of 0.8 percentage points. The results also show that economic performance, as measured by real GDP per capita and the unemployment rate, is not significantly affected by major tax cuts for the rich.

Regarding the two arguments, I’m not sure what point Hope and Limberg think they’re making with their first point about lower tax rates leading the rich to earn more income.

At the risk of stating the obvious, that’s one of the main selling points for better tax policy. Supporters of lower tax rates explicitly want entrepreneurs, investors, business owners, and other successful people to have better incentives to earn and report taxable income.

So the Hope-Limberg data actually confirm that lower tax rates on upper-income taxpayers are a great way of getting them to be more productive. Art Laffer would give them an A+ if they were students.

But what about the second argument? Is it true that there’s no positive impact when tax rates are reduced on work, saving, investment, risk-taking, and entrepreneurship?

Let’s examine their conclusions. Here’s the chart showing when selected nations reduced tax rates (in red). Hope and Limberg then calculated whether those countries enjoyed a bump in jobs and growth over the following five years and want us to accept their argument that there was no positive impact.

Since the report doesn’t include the underlying data or the model used to generate the results, we’re supposed to accept their results at face value.

At the risk of being the skunk at the garden party, I’m unconvinced. Hope and Limberg are political scientists rather than economists, but it seems like they overlooked some very important issues.

Most important, why didn’t they factor in the impact of other government policies (traderegulationgovernment spendingmonetary policy, etc)? Taxation is just one small piece of the economic policy puzzle. Maybe they covered these concerns in their undisclosed model and data, but estimating economic performance by looking solely at tax policy is like trying to figure out the score of a baseball game by just comparing the performance of shortstops.

And there are a couple of other concerns I have, such as why did they pick these 18 countries and ignore other nations? And why not examine economic performance beyond five years?

I’ll conclude by also noting that their study doesn’t pass the smell test.

The bottom line is that better tax policy isn’t some sort of elixir that guarantees prosperity. Especially if other policies in a nation are misguided.

That being said, lower tax rates are better for prosperity than higher tax rates (as illustrated by academic studies from economists). And since even small differences in economic performance can lead to big long-run benefits, the main takeaway is that it’s a good idea to enact policies to expand the economic pie.

A Case Study of How Venezuelan Socialism Killed the Goose with the Golden Eggs

Wed, 02/03/2021 - 12:41pm

The economic disintegration of Venezuela is a powerful example how socialism failsEven in a nation with massive oil wealth.

This video from Reason tells the tragic story.

I think long-run data is especially valuable when assessing a nation’s economic performance.

And Venezuela definitely looks terrible when looking at decades of data on per-capita economic output.

Especially when compared to a pro-market nations such as Chile.

Not that we should be surprised. This is what we find anytime capitalist-oriented counties are compared with statism-oriented countries.

And there are many other case studies.

But let’s re-focus on the problems of Venezuela. In one of her Wall Street Journal columns, Mary Anastasia O’Grady analyzes the government-caused crisis. She starts by describing what happened.

Efforts to guarantee outcomes are at odds with what it means to live in a free society where equality under the law is the guiding principle. …Hugo Chávez…promised to make everyone in his country equally well-off. The concept sold in a nation that believed it was infinitely rich because it was swimming in oil. …stick it to the haves. When he did, they packed their bags and left. …it is the flight of the knowledge worker that has done the most harm to the nation. …The Bolivarian revolution’s earliest large-scale assault on know-how came during a lockout at the monopoly oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PdVSA) in December 2002. …the regime used it to purge at least 18,000 PdVSA and related-company employees, gutting the industry of most of its experienced personnel. By replacing fired workers with political loyalists, Chávez believed he was protecting his golden goose. …In 2009 the regime expropriated Venezuelan companies that served the oil industry.

And she concludes by describing the consequences.

as long as oil prices were high, the costs of such recklessness was hidden. The party ended when prices tanked in 2014, government revenues dropped precipitously, and central bank money-printing led to a mega-devaluation of the bolivar. …another wave of oil engineers—this time led by a younger generation—went abroad to work. In the years that followed, more oil technicians threw in the towel on life in Venezuela. This vicious circle of declining revenue and human-capital flight has brought the once-mighty Venezuelan petroleum powerhouse to a standstill. 

In other words, exactly as depicted in the video at the start of this column.

No wonder Venezuelans are eating their pets.

Or joining gangs simply as a strategy to get food.

The bottom line is that socialism doesn’t work. Even in a country that has massive reserves of oil.

Sooner or later, the attempt to achieve coerced equality will mean that too many people are on the dole and too few people are producing. Which brings to mind Margaret Thatcher’s famous observation.

P.S. The New York Times actually wrote a big story about Venezuela’s collapse and somehow never mentioned socialism.

P.P.S. Here are four other videos about the impact of socialism in Venezuela.

P.P.P.S. The situation has become so dire that even some socialists are disavowing Venezuela.

———
Image credit: ZiaLater | CC BY-SA 3.0.

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