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No Bailout for California

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 12:54pm

I’ve already written that state governments shouldn’t get a bailout from Washington.

Today, let’s specifically focus on California, a beautiful state that – as explained in this video – is being ruined by an even-worse-than-average collection of politicians.

This video was produced in 2018, so it goes without saying that California is in even worse shape today, in part because of a coronavirus-caused economic downturn.

But the Golden State also is in trouble because the politicians in Sacramento have been spending like drunken sailors (with apologies to drunken sailors for that unfair comparison).

That’s only part of the problem. California also imposes onerous taxes, an approach that is causing a steady exodus of households and business to states with better policy.

And when you consider other policies, the net result is that the Golden State is ranked only #48 out of 50 for overall economic freedom.

Should this bad track record be rewarded?

Writing yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, Gerald Parsky is willing to give a bailout if strings are attached.

California is facing a $54 billion budget deficit… To help address the shortfall, Gov. Gavin Newsom wants billions of federal dollars. Not so fast. Any bailout should come with strings attached. Washington should tie assistance to tax reform… California’s finances are too dependent on the personal income tax, which is the most volatile form of taxation. California’s revenues from personal income taxes amount to about 67% of all state revenues (up from 11% in 1950). Moreover, less than 1% of taxpayers contribute more than 50% of the tax revenue. The result is that when the economy softens and people earn less—or move out of the state—tax revenue plunges. …A survey of California residents showed that 53% of them are considering leaving.

Here’s Mr. Parsky’s specific proposal.

…these developments underscore the need for dramatic tax reform. …the California Legislature created a bipartisan commission, which I chaired… The commission recommended that California reduce its dependence on the personal income tax by…dropping the top rate from 9.3% to 6.5% and reducing or eliminating many deductions. The commission also recommended eliminating the corporate and sales-and-use taxes, replacing them with a broad new “business net receipts tax.” …A few years later, Gov. Jerry Brown and state policy makers did the opposite…they put forward a statewide initiative that raised the top marginal rate to 13.3%, thus making state revenues even more dependent on a volatile tax and California’s income-tax rate the highest in the nation. …there is an opportunity for the Trump administration to link any federal assistance to an overhaul of the way California taxes its residents.

For all intents and purposes, the author wants to extort California into adopting better (or less-worse) tax policy.

And if Trump (being a big spender) decided to bail out the states, it would be good to attach requirements so that there would be a silver lining to that dark cloud.

But here’s a better approach: Tell the politicians in Sacramento that they caused the mess and it’s their responsibility to fix it. Taxpayers elsewhere in America shouldn’t have to cough up cash to keep California from committing suicide.

Especially since it would simply be a matter of time before the Golden State’s politicians reneged on the deal and re-imposed class-warfare tax policy.

The bottom line, as illustrated by this cartoon from Michael Ramirez, is that California is on a downward trajectory and I don’t see any feasible way of reversing the trend.

P.S. Ramirez has a comfortable lead (as of today) in the best-political-cartoonist contest.

P.P.S. Paul Krugman attacked me a few years ago for being pessimistic about California. He was wrong then and he’s even more wrong today.

P.P.P.S. Some leftists in California have advocated for secession. I wonder if they still have that view.

The Economic Tragedy of Argentina

Fri, 07/10/2020 - 12:18pm

It doesn’t get as much attention as basket-case nations such as VenezuelaNorth KoreaZimbabwe, or Cuba, but Argentina is one of the world’s worst-governed nations.

Though the most damning indictment, in my humble opinion, is that Argentina in the late 1940s used to be one of the world’s 10-richest nations.

But beginning in 1946 under Juan Peron’s statist presidency (much beloved by Pope Francis for inexplicable reasons), policy shifted to the left and Argentina become one of the world’s least market-oriented nations.

Not surprisingly, the country’s relative living standards then began a steady decline, thus providing us with a painful lesson that rich nations that adopt bad policy don’t remain rich.

Recent history hasn’t made things better. Populist-left governments were in charge from 2003-2015, followed by an ineffective right-reformist government (akin to Nixon-Bush-Trump-style Republicanism) from 2015-2019, and now the left is back in charge.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is that Argentina has bloated, corrupt, and ineffective government.

Here are some details from a column that Mohamed A. El-Erian wrote last September for Project Syndicate.

Argentina has fallen back into crisis for the simple reason that not enough has changed since the last debacle. …Argentinian authorities succumbed to the same temptation that tripped up their predecessors. In an effort to compensate for slower-than-expected improvements in domestic capacity, they permitted excessive foreign-currency debt, aggravating what economists call the “original sin”: a significant currency mismatch between assets and liabilities, as well as between revenues and debt servicing. …Undeterred by Argentina’s history of chronic volatility and episodic illiquidity – including eight prior defaults – creditors gobbled up as much debt as the country and its companies would issue… The search for higher yields has been encouraged by unusually loose monetary policies… Then there is the IMF, which readily stepped in once again to assist Argentina… So far, Argentina has received $44 billion under the IMF’s largest-ever funding arrangement.

This latest bailout is a classic case of throwing good money after bad, which seems to be the IMF’s primary purpose – especially with regards to Argentina.

Later that same month, Anne Krueger weighed in with another column for the same publication.

Argentina is…chronically overspending and over-regulating until it is forced to go to the International Monetary Fund for a new round of treatment. In 2001, the country suffered a major crisis, and…entered into an IMF loan program. But its debt restructuring was messy, and policies to address its underlying structural problems – lowering trade barriers, allowing public-utility prices to rise – were pursued halfheartedly or not at all. …government spending and fiscal deficits began to increase once again. Consolidated public expenditures rose from a low of 22.9% of GDP in 2002 to 30.1% of GDP in 2008, and to 42.2% in 2015. …For an economy as distorted as Argentina’s, there is no medicine that can prevent a period of painful adjustment. …By early 2018, Argentina was in another crisis. …in June 2018 the IMF approved a $50 billion loan program, the largest in the Fund’s history. …The problem, once again, is that the medicine was not strong enough. At the patient’s insistence, the measures were too mild to be effective, and more difficult structural reforms were delayed. …the country needs structural reforms, especially a further reduction in the size of the government sector, starting with pensions. More gradualism will only prolong the pain and allow political opposition to mount.

Ms. Krueger is correct. Only good policy will cure Argentina’s woes.

Sadly, bailouts actually undermine that goal give the country’s awful politicians an excuse to postpone necessary reforms.

Though there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of Argentine statism. James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute pointed out earlier this year that we now has a real-world example of democratic socialism.

…the Nordic nations are “firmly rooted in capitalism and free markets,” wrote Michael Cembalest of JP Morgan Asset Management in a note last summer… The closest Cembalest could find to a true democratic socialist state, at least by his definition, is Argentina, “which has defaulted 7 times since its independence in 1816, which has seen the largest relative standard of living decline in the world since 1900, and which is on the brink of political and economic chaos again in 2019.” …Argentina met most of the following criteria: a) higher personal and corporate tax rates, and higher government spending; b) more worker protections restricting the ability of companies to hire and fire, and less flexibility for companies to set wages based on worker productivity and/or to hire foreign labor; c) more reliance on regulation, more constraints on real estate development; d) more anti-trust enforcement and more state intervention in product markets; and a shift away from a shareholder-centric business model; e) protections for workers and domestic industries through tariff and non-tariff barriers, and more constraints on capital inflows and outflows.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of so-called democratic socialism.

If you prefer hard data, this chart shows that Argentina has the world’s worst economic performance over the past 100 years.

And I imagine the country would look even worse if 1945 was the base year.

Let’s close with this recently tweeted video from Human Progress, which shows relative levels of per-capita economic output over a 100-year period for 16 different nations.

Pay specific attention to how high Argentina was ranked in the late 1940s if you want to appreciate the awful consequences of Peronist statism.

Argentina is one of many countries where competitive enterprise has been vilified, contributing to:

❌Political turmoil
❌Bad economic policies
❌Debt crises

Argentina’s growth has suffered as a result. pic.twitter.com/7nBfyCLYME
Full article: https://t.co/C76SZIkFWn

— HumanProgress.org (@HumanProgress) July 7, 2020

P.S. Also make sure to note that Chile was in last place in the 1970s and then significantly improved in the rankings by liberalizing the economy and reducing the burden of government in the 1980s. Yet another reminder that the world is a laboratory and every experiment tells us the same thing: Statism produces bad results and markets deliver good results.

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Image credit: eliasbuty | Pixabay License.

Trump Humor and the Ninth Theorem of Government

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 12:08pm

I know pro-market people who plan on voting to re-elect Trump because they like his record on taxes or regulation. I also know pro-market people who plan on voting against Trump because they don’t like his record on spending or trade.

I understand their motives. What baffles me, however, are people who have decided – because of their views on Trump – to change their views on policy issues. Which is one of the clever aspects of this amusing video from Ryan Long.

By the way, this is not a new phenomenon.

During the 2001-2008 period, I constantly interacted with people who were against proposals for bigger government when Bill Clinton was in the White House, but then decided to rationalize George Bush’s profligacy and interventionism.

There’s a word for this: Hypocrisy.

This accusation certainly applies to politicians, who face pressure to “be a team player” when a member of their party is in the White House and issuing foolish proposals.

But it also applies to ordinary people. And this Ninth Theorem of Government is dedicated to both groups.

I’ll close by revisiting what I wrote about understanding the motives of pro-market people who are either voting for Trump or against Trump.

That being said, I don’t the pro-Trump voters to suddenly decide that it’s a good idea to squander money or impose trade taxes. I want them to vote for Trump in spite of those bad policies.

And I don’t want the anti-Trump voters to decide that it’s a a good idea to oppose pro-growth tax cuts and deregulation.  I want them to vote against Trump in spite of those good policies.

This analysis also applies to folks who are motivated by other issues (immigration, foreign policy, guns, judges, decorum, etc). Simply stated, put principles first.

P.S. Here are the eight previous Theorems of Government.

  • The “First Theorem” explains how Washington really operates.
  • The “Second Theorem” explains why it is so important to block the creation of new programs.
  • The “Third Theorem” explains why centralized programs inevitably waste money.
  • The “Fourth Theorem” explains that good policy can be good politics.
  • The “Fifth Theorem” explains how good ideas on paper become bad ideas in reality.
  • The “Sixth Theorem” explains an under-appreciated benefit of a flat tax.
  • The “Seventh Theorem” explains how bigger governments are less competent.
  • The “Eighth Theorem” explains the motives of those who focus on inequality.

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

Another Contestant in the 2020 Best-Counter-Tweet Contest

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 12:58pm

I periodically share tweets that have some sort of remarkable feature, either good or bad.

Clever counter-tweets are especially appreciated. I even started giving recognition to the most brutally effective response each year.

But I may have been too quick to assign a winner for this year.

That’s because a Twitter account called @architecturpic published this tweet yesterday.

While it’s accurate to point out that highway exits don’t produce scenic architecture, is this an indictment of capitalism?

Not if you compare it to the slums of socialism, which is the message in this devastating response from @BrentCochran1.

Ouch. As the announcers might say at a tennis tournament, “game, set, and match for Brent Cochran.”

Suffice to say that there will have to be co-winners for the best counter-tweet of 2020.

By the way, it’s normally quite easy to find both nice and ugly architecture in any nation.

So to add a bit of hard data to today’s column, I’ll simply note that the average poor American has more spacious housing than the average middle-class person in Europe.

That doesn’t mean the housing will be architecturally significant, but it does indicate that people are better off in countries with smaller government and more economic liberty (indeed, it’s also worth noting that the average poor American enjoys higher overall living standards than middle-class folks in most other industrialized nations).

Which is why any tweet comparing socialism and capitalism has a foregone conclusion.

P.S. At some point, I’ll probably set up a special page for “Remarkable Tweets.” But since that hasn’t yet happened, here are the other tweets that I found to be noteworthy.

Ranking Presidents: Was Woodrow Wilson the Worst of the Worst?

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 12:36pm

I certainly don’t intend to do this for everyone who has made it to the White House, but I have produced big-picture economic assessments of several presidents.

Today, let’s go back farther in history and take a look at Woodrow Wilson.

At the risk of understatement, he did a very bad job. Indeed, it’s quite likely that he ranks as America’s worst president, at least when judging economic policy. His mistakes were either huge or disgusting.

Creating the income tax – The internal revenue code began when Wilson signed into law an income tax on October 3, 1913. The initial tax wasn’t overly onerous – with a top rate of just 7 percent – but it predictably evolved into the punitive levy that currently plagues America.

Creating the Federal Reserve – You don’t have to be a libertarian-minded advocate of competitive currencies to conclude that the central bank – also signed into law by Wilson in 1913 – has caused immense damage with its erratic, boom-bust approach to monetary policy.

Segregating the federal government – Wilson was a reprehensible racist. To make matters worse, he turned that personal moral failing into a big policy mistake by overseeing rampant (and costly) discrimination and segregation in the federal government.

Those are just the highlights – though lowlights would be a more accurate word to describe Wilson’s policies.

The Encyclopedia Britannica has a description of some additional forms of intervention imposed during his tenure.

…he took up and pushed through Congress the Progressive-sponsored Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914. It established an agency—the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)—with sweeping authority. …because his own political thinking had been moving toward a more advanced Progressive position—Wilson struck out upon a new political course in 1916. He began by appointing Louis D. Brandeis, the leading critic of big business and finance, to the Supreme Court. Then in quick succession he obtained passage of a rural-credits measure to supply cheap long-term credit to farmers; anti-child-labour and federal workmen’s-compensation legislation; the Adamson Act, establishing the eight-hour day for interstate railroad workers; and measures for federal aid to education and highway construction.

Lawrence Reed of the Foundation for Economic Education put together a damning indictment of Wilson.

1913…was a disastrous year that we’re still paying a hefty, annual price for… Wilson, arguably the worst president…ordered the segregation of all departments within the executive branch and appointed ardent segregationists to high positions. …He locked up political dissidents right and left as he trampled on the Constitution’s guarantees of speech, assembly, and press freedoms. His wartime economic controls were hideously stupid and counterproductive. …the 16th Amendment to the Constitution was…Strongly supported by Wilson… Subsequent legislation set the top rate at a mere 7 percent. …When Wilson left office eight years later, the top rate was more than ten times higher. …Wilson’s signature enshrined into law the Federal Reserve Act, creating a central bank and more economic mischief than any other federal initiative or institution in the last 100 years. …In American history, 1913 should go down as a year that will live in infamy.

It’s also worth noting that Wilson was a believer in global governance, which adds to his awful legacy.

In a review of a biography about Wilson for the Claremont Review of Books, David Goldman mentions that unpalatable feature of his presidency.

So utterly utopian was Wilson’s vision that it is unfair to characterize the internationalism of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush as “Wilsonian.” Clinton and Bush threw America’s weight around after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but they did not propose—as Wilson did—to replace America’s sovereign decision-making with a global council. …He wanted to compromise American sovereignty and most of the Senate did not. …Wilson would have liked to impose a legal obligation from a foreign body upon the United States, but could not say so openly. …His obsession was the creation of a supranational agency able to dictate policy to national governments, an obsession that grew out of his lifelong hostility to the American political system… To make sense of his grand overreach in 1919, historians will need to give more attention to his rancor at the U.S. Constitution… The constitution in Wilson’s reading had become a relic of a bygone era. He proposed to jettison this putatively archaic document in favor of a government less burdened by checks and balances. …The same utilitarian criteria that Wilson applied to the Constitution guided his judgment about capitalism and socialism. …As economists Clifford Thies and Gary Pecquet have observed, “Wilson believed that the difference between socialism and democracy was a matter of means rather than ends.” …He eschewed mass expropriation of industry only because he thought it inefficient. …Although Wilson’s dudgeon came from the Deep South, his Progressivism came from Princeton and the Social Gospel.

Wilson’s hostility to the Constitution was part of the so-called progressive era. Unlike America’s Founders, proponents of this approach viewed the federal government as a positive force rather than something to be constrained.

The idea that government or “the community,” has “an absolute right to determine its own destiny and that of its members” is a progressive one. The difference between the Founders’ and progressive’s visions can be summarized this way: The Founders believed citizens could best pursue happiness if government was limited to protecting the life, liberty, and property of individuals. …Unlike the framers of the Constitution, progressives believed that…“communities” have rights, those rights are more important than the personal liberty of any one individual in that community. …they believed…government-sponsored programs and policies as well as economic redistribution of goods from the rich to the poor. …Wilson, who served as president from 1913-1919, advocated what we today call the living Constitution, or the idea that its interpretation should adapt to the times. …Wilson oversaw the implementation of progressive policies such as the introduction of the income tax and the creation of the Federal Reserve System to attempt to manage the economy.

Bre Payton, in an article for the Federalist, opined about Wilson and the changes during the progressive era.

…to understand The New Deal and how American life and government  changed in the twentieth century and beyond, it is vital to understand the Progressive Era… FDR cited progressive-minded presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson as his intellectual inspirations. …Progressives believed restricting government to only protecting citizens’ life, liberty, and ability to pursue happiness was simplistic. …Thus people should not fear the ever-expanding role of government… Wilson went on to say that modern European thinkers had declared that men were defined not by their individuality, but by their society. And one’s rights come from government.

Hostility to the Constitution and limited government was just one problem with the progressives.

Their views of minorities also were very troubling.

In a column for National Review, Paul Rahe documented not only Wilson’s racism, but also his use of government power to harm the economic prospects for black Americans.

Wilson, our first professorial president, was…the very model of a modern Progressive…he shared the conviction, dominant among his brethren, that African-Americans were racially inferior to whites. …Prior to the segregation of the civil service in 1913, appointments had been made solely on merit as indicated by the candidate’s performance on the civil-service examination. Thereafter, racial discrimination became the norm. …The existing work force was segregated. Many African-Americans were dismissed. …Jim Crow had not been the norm before 1890, even in the deep South. …it became the norm there only when it received sanction from the racist Progressives in the North. …For similar reasons, Wilson was hostile to the constitutional provisions intended as a guarantee of limited government. The separation of powers, the balances and checks, and the distribution of authority between nation and state distinguishing the American constitution he regarded as an obstacle.

This article from the New Republic covers the same ground, starting with his time as head of Princeton University, but from a left-wing perspective.

Wilson not only refused to admit any black students, he erased the earlier admissions of black students from the university’s history. …Elected president in 1912, …Wilson appeared to be the quintessential Progressive Era leader. …the progressive ideology of the era was in many ways quite racist. …it quickly became known that the Wilson administration was instituting a major modification in the treatment of black workers throughout the federal government from what had been the case under postwar presidents. …the Civil Service began demanding photographs to accompany employment applications for the first time. It was widely understood that the only purpose of this requirement was to weed out black applicants. …He insisted that the segregation policy was for the comfort and best interests of both blacks and whites.

There’s more bad news about Wilson.

In a column for the Washington Post, Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian, writes about his authoritarianism as well as his racism.

His most disgraceful flaw was his racism. …Wilson especially stood out in his white supremacy. He was not a man of his time but a throwback. …Wilson, who preened as a civil libertarian, persuaded Congress to pass the Espionage Act, giving him extraordinary power to retaliate against Americans who opposed him and his wartime behavior. That same law today enables presidents to harass their political adversaries. Wilson’s Justice Department also convicted almost a thousand people for using “disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language” against the government, the military or the flag. Wilson is an excellent example of how presidents can exploit wars to increase authoritarian power and restrict freedom.

All things considered, definitely one of America’s worst chief executives.

This tweet is an apt summary of Wilson’s presidency.

Woodrow Wilson also segregated the government, coined the concept of a “living Constitution,” hated Jews, & founded modern progressivism & the administrative state. https://t.co/OG8u5C4aU0

— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) June 16, 2019

For readers who are interested in the quirks of history, Lawrence Reed of the Foundation for Economic Education bemoans the fact that an untimely death in 1899 probably led to the unfortunate election of Wilson.

Garret Augustus Hobart—known to his friends as “Gus”—was America’s 24th vice president. He served under William McKinley for two years and eight months until his death in office in November 1899 at the age of 55. With Hobart’s untimely passing, President William McKinley had to find a new running mate for the election of 1900. That man turned out to be Theodore Roosevelt, who became president upon McKinley’s assassination only six months into his second term. …Teddy…enter the presidential race in 1912 as a third-party nominee. That split the Republican vote and handed the presidency to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Wilson won with just 42% of the popular tally and went on to become arguably the very worst of our 45 chief executives. …I greatly lament the sad fact that Gus Hobart wasn’t around to run again with McKinley in 1900. If he had lived, he instead of Teddy would have become our 26th President when McKinley died. And if there had been no Teddy Roosevelt presidency, there might never have been a philandering, racist, “progressive” Wilson in the White House to royally screw up the country with an income tax, a Federal Reserve, entry into World War I, and other mischievous adventures in statism.

In keeping with my traditional practice, here’s a visual depiction of the good and bad policies of the Wilson Administration.

And although it’s hard to measure, Wilson belongs in the presidential Hall of Shame because his administration was a turning point in America’s tragic evolution from Madisonian constitutionalism to modern statism.

For instance, Wilson almost surely paved the way for FDR’s ill-fated New Deal.

P.S. Now readers will hopefully understand why I wrote that Obama (who largely had a forgettable legacy) wasn’t nearly as bad at Wilson.

In One Picture, Everything You Need to Know about Government

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 12:33pm

Having written more than 5000 columns over the past ten-plus years, I’ve learned that policy analysis doesn’t “go viral.”

But I got a small taste of what that would be like when I shared an image in 2016 showing that the right kind of class warfare pits productive people (earners, entrepreneurs, and protectors) against looters (predators, cronies, and rent-seekers).

In other words, rich vs poor is the wrong way to divide society.

Today, I have another image that also has a very powerful message. I don’t know if it will go viral, but it has a very appropriate and accurate message.

For instance, America is now dealing with a lot of controversy regarding occasional police misbehavior and sometimes-violent protests, but it’s hopefully accurate to say that most cops and most protestors are good people

And the same is true for clergy and doctors, even though both groups have a few bad apples.

But notice the group at the bottom.

In part, this image is designed for humorous purposes (and it’s always fun to mock politicians).

But there’s also a serious point. Why are there so many bad and corrupt people in government? There are two possible explanations.

  1. Shallow, insecure, and power-hungry people are drawn to politics because they want to control the lives of others.
  2. Good people run for political office, but then slowly but surely get corrupted because of “public choice” incentives.

Needless to say, it’s possible for both answers to be partially accurate.

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

Three Cheers for “Neoliberalism”

Sun, 07/05/2020 - 12:01pm

I don’t know whether I’ll live 3 more years or 30 more years.

But I’m increasingly convinced that my “Never-Answered Question” will still be unanswered when I kick the bucket.

One of the reasons for my confidence is that folks on the left have remarkably shoddy arguments on economic issues.

For instance, in a column for the New York Times, Mehrsa Baradaran condemns the “neoliberal” revolution in the United States.

A law professor from the University of California, Irvine, Ms. Baradaran is unhappy that this modern version of classical liberalism resulted in more economic freedom.

…an ideological coup quietly transformed our society over the last 50 years… The roots of this intellectual takeover can be traced to a backlash against socialism… Austrian School economist Friedrich A. Hayek was perhaps the most influential leader of that movement, decrying governments who chased “the mirage of social justice.” Only free markets can allocate resources fairly and reward individuals based on what they deserve, reasoned Hayek. The ideology — known as neoliberalism — …leapt from economics departments into American politics in the 1960s, where it fused with conservative anti-communist ideas and then quickly spread throughout universities, law schools, legislatures and courts. By the 1980s, neoliberalism was triumphant in policy, leading to tax cuts, deregulation and privatization.

Since I’m a big fan of Prof. Hayek, I like this part of Professor Baradaran’s column.

And it is true that the United States became more “neoliberal” during the Reagan and Clinton years (though it’s definitely a huge exaggeration to think that pro-market ideas were dominant in “universities, law schools, legislatures and courts”).

Indeed, the entire world moved in the direction of free markets during the last two decades of the 20th century, thanks is part to the “Washington Consensus” for more economic liberty.

Ms. Baradaran, however, does not approve of these developments.

And she specifically doesn’t like some of the folks on Wall Street.

The private equity industry embodies the neoliberal movement’s values, while exposing its inherent logic. Private equity firms use money provided by institutional investors like pension funds and university endowments to take over and restructure companies or industries. …In the last decade, private equity management has led to approximately 1.3 million job losses due to retail bankruptcies and liquidation.

I have no idea whether there’s any validity to the specific estimate of 1.3 million job losses as a result of private equity investors over the past 10 years (an average of 130,000 jobs per year).

But it certainly is true that lots of jobs are lost every year as a result of “creative destruction.” Indeed, 130,000 jobs are just a tiny fraction of the total losses.

Here’s a chart taken directly from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that more than 10 million jobs are lost – on average – every single year.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that average job gains have been even higher over the past decade, averaging more than 12 million per year.

Call me crazy, but this seems like a ringing endorsement of “neoliberalism.” Especially when you consider that Americans enjoy much higher living standards than their counterparts in European nations with bigger burdens of government.

There are two additional excerpts from her column that merit some attention.

First, she regurgitates the myth that the 2008 financial crisis was caused by free markets and deregulation.

An examination of the recent history of private equity disproves the neoliberal myth that profit incentives produce the best outcomes for society. …Faith in market magic was so entrenched that even the 2008 financial crisis did not fully expose the myth: We witnessed the federal government pick up all the risks that markets could not manage and Congress and the Federal Reserve save the banking sector ostensibly on behalf of the people. Neoliberal deregulation was premised on the theory that the invisible hand of the market would discipline risky banks without the need for government oversight.

At the risk of understatement, the Federal Reserve, along with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, deserve the lion’s share of the blame.

Also, she closes her column by embracing genuine socialism (i.e., government owning and operating parts of the economy).

Federal or state agencies can provide essential services like banking, health care, internet access, transportation and housing at cost through a public option. …we can move beyond the myths of neoliberalism…we should choose flourishing communities over profits.

At the risk of understatement, I don’t want more of our economy to be like the Post Office or DMV. I prefer private businesses, which face pressure to please consumers, rather than government-run businesses, which care mostly about pleasing politicians.

And I also think Ms. Baradaran needs a lesson from Walter Williams so she learns that profits make flourishing communities possible.

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Image credit: geralt | Pixabay License.

Happy Dependence Day

Sat, 07/04/2020 - 12:45pm

Exactly nine years ago, I crafted a “Declaration of Dependence” for my left-leaning friends.

I thought it was reasonably clever, at least for something produced by a policy wonk.

But I’ll never reach the standards of the nation’s top satire site, Babylon Bee, which has a story about how Biden, Pelosi, and other politicians will be celebrating today.

Every year on July 4, Democrats celebrate the high holy day where they thank the government for its gracious gifts. “It’s good to pause every year and think about how we are completely and utterly dependent on the government for everything,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. …”This good and benevolent government was given to us by, you know, the thing,” said Joe Biden. …The DNC’s official Twitter account tweeted, “Let’s take a moment to think about everything we owe the government this Dependence Day.” …The celebrations conclude with the reading of the Communist Manifesto and the singing of “Imagine”.

Here’s the make-believe tweet that accompanied the story.

Though maybe it’s not fake.

After all, some of us remember “Julia,” the mythical moocher created by the Obama-Biden campaign in 2012 to show how government could subsidize every aspect of a person’s life.

In any event, there is academic research showing that traditional July 4 celebrations help Republicans, so it’s understandable that Democrats would want to change the focus.

P.S. My two cents is that we should be celebrating today the words of Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan.

P.P.S. Given the BLM protests, I would be remiss if I didn’t call attention to the words I shared last July 4 from one of the Tuskegee Airmen.

P.P.P.S. And since I wrote recently about the (hopeful) death of gun control, I’ll also share this polling data from 2014 about how even 35 percent of Democrats agree that owning a gun is a form of patriotism.

Race, Gun Control, and the Second Amendment

Fri, 07/03/2020 - 12:39pm

Back in 2014, I wrote about “The Unsavory History of Gun Control” to document how many of the first gun control laws in the United States were used as a tool to oppress blacks.

Today, let’s take a closer look at this issue.

And since we have a lot of material, we’ll follow a chronological outline, first addressing some of the history of the 2nd Amendment, followed by some historical data on gun control, and closing with a look at growing support for gun rights in the African-American community.

Regarding the 2nd Amendment, I’ve written a couple of columns about the Constitution’s right to keep and bear arms.

But not everyone views that part of the Bill of Rights favorably.

Indeed, some people actually view gun rights as being a legacy of racism. Here’s a tweet from Nikole Hannah-Jones of the New York Times.

This is historically inaccurate.

Writing for National Review, David Harsanyi debunks the notion that the 2nd Amendment was created to help slaveowners.

There’s no historical evidence to suggest that the Second Amendment was “created to ensure Southern slaveowners the right to maintain & arm slave patrols to put down insurrections amongst the enslaved,” even if southerners subsequently used guns for their nefarious purposes. …The right to self-defense, in fact, is incompatible with the idea of slavery — it runs counter to the arguments made by the Founders, even if some of them were hypocrites… The animating ideas of the Second Amendment — both as personal and communal protection — are predicated on natural rights and English common law. And while nearly every intellectual, political, and military leader of the Founding generation stressed the importance of the right to bear arms as a means of preserving liberty, some of its most vociferous champions were against slavery. …The first American effort to codify and guarantee the right to bear arms was made in Pennsylvania, under a conference run by Benjamin Franklin, also president of the colony’s antislavery society. The second colony to do so was Vermont, where there were few slaves and no fear of a revolt. …What’s most ironic about Jones, who names herself after 19th-century civil-rights leader Ida B. Wells, is that the historic figure was a champion of the Second Amendment. She maintained…“that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”

And David Kopel of the Independence Institute explains that gun control historically has been a tool used by racists.

If the Times’ project is historically accurate, then it will explain that America’s unique arms culture predates slavery, and historically developed in opposition to slavery. By contrast, American gun control had a close connection with slavery and the maintenance of a racial caste system. …Unlike American gun culture, gun control in America did grow out of slavery. …South of the Mason-Dixon line, various laws were enacted against unauthorized arms possession by slaves, and sometimes against free blacks as well. In the South, slave patrols searched slave quarters to look for unauthorized arms. …some people believe a bogus theory that the Second Amendment was created for the sole purpose of suppressing slave insurrections. But this can’t explain the ardent support for arms rights in Massachusetts, where slavery had already been abolished by 1791, or in Pennsylvania, where slavery was rare and already on its way to extinction. …former slave states quickly enacted laws banning firearms possession by blacks, or allowing such possession only with a government license. The Reconstruction Congress responded vigorously. The Second Freedmen’s Bureau Bill, the Civil Rights Act, and then the Fourteenth Amendment were all enacted with the express purpose of wiping out southern gun control.

Moving to the post-Civil War period, Tho Bishop explains, in an article for the Mises Institute, that the real legacy of racism is with those who want to curtail gun rights.

Prior to the passing of the 14th Amendment, eight states​ had gun control legislation that criminalized the possession of fire arms by non-white free citizens. Virginia required such individuals to receive government permission. Three additional states​ had constitutional language that specified that gun rights were reserved exclusively for white men. In order to maintain the horrific institution of slavery, the state had to disarm those most likely to empathize with its victims. While the “peculiar institution” was ended as a result of the Civil War, racially motivated gun control laws were not. While the 14th Amendment prevented states from explicitly mentioning race in legislation, state governments still managed to find ways to disarm black citizens. …these included laws that banned pistols that were not used by former Confederate officers, severe racial discrepancies in the penalty for unlawfully concealed carrying, as well as gun licensing requirements  that, in the words of a future Florida Supreme Court Justice, were “passed for the purpose of disarming the negro laborers” and “was never intended to apply to the white population.”

And this becomes even clearer as we advance to the 1950s and 1960s.

Charles Cobb wrote an entire book about gun ownership and the civil rights movement. Here are some excerpts from the Amazon webpage.

Like King, many ostensibly “nonviolent” civil rights activists embraced their constitutional right to self protection—yet this crucial dimension of the Afro-American freedom struggle has been long ignored by history. In This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed, civil rights scholar Charles E. Cobb Jr. describes the vital role that armed self-defense played in the survival and liberation of black communities in America during the Southern Freedom Movement of the 1960s. In the Deep South, blacks often safeguarded themselves and their loved ones from white supremacist violence by bearing—and, when necessary, using—firearms. In much the same way, Cobb shows, nonviolent civil rights workers received critical support from black gun owners in the regions where they worked. Whether patrolling their neighborhoods, garrisoning their homes, or firing back at attackers, these courageous men and women and the weapons they carried were crucial to the movement’s success. …Drawing on his firsthand experiences in the civil rights movement and interviews with fellow participants, Cobb provides a controversial examination of the crucial place of firearms in the fight for American freedom.

Writing for Reason, Thaddeus Russell reviews Cobb’s book and explains how armed blacks helped topple the racist laws imposed by Dixiecrats.

I have a dream that one day children in seventh grade will…read about people like C.O. Chinn. …Chinn was a black man in Canton, Mississippi, who in the 1960s owned…a large collection of pistols, rifles, and shotguns with which he threatened local Klansmen and police when they attempted to…intimidate civil rights activists working to desegregate Canton and register black residents to vote. …Although the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were formally committed to nonviolence, when their volunteers showed up in Canton they happily received protection from Chinn and the militia of armed black men he managed. …According to Charles E. Cobb’s revelatory new history of armed self-defense and the civil rights movement, This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed, Canton and the rest of the South could not have been desegregated without people like C.O. Chinn… the original civil rights leadership publicly believed that, as Frederick Douglass put it in 1867, “a man’s rights rest in three boxes: the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box.” …the Ku Klux Klan, whose primary mission was to disarm ex-slaves and thus was one of the first gun-control organizations in the United States. …Williams established an all-black chapter of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and used his NRA connections to procure “better rifles” and automatic weapons for his constituents. …the Monroe City Council banned Klan motorcades and, according to Williams, the KKK “stopped raiding our community.”

Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA, wrote for Huffpost about MLK and guns.

Martin Luther King Jr…kept firearms for self-protection. In fact, he even applied for a permit to carry a concealed weapon. …King had armed supporters take turns guarding his home and family. He had good reason to fear that the Klan in Alabama was targeting him for assassination. William Worthy, a journalist who covered the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, reported that once, during a visit to King’s parsonage, he went to sit down on an armchair in the living room and, to his surprise, almost sat on a loaded gun. Glenn Smiley, an adviser to King, described King’s home as “an arsenal.” …One lesson the gun advocates took was from the early King and his more aggressive followers: If the police can’t (or won’t) to protect you, a gun may be your last line of defense.

Makes this tweet from Iowahawk especially noteworthy.

Now let’s shift to modern times and consider how African-Americans are now more appreciative of the 2nd Amendment.

Here are excerpts from a story in the New York Times by Lela Moore.

…more than 100 people who responded when we asked black gun owners to tell us about their interactions with law enforcement, other authorities and the general public. …A quarter of black men and women in a 2017 Pew survey said they own guns. Some of those who wrote us said they have had no issues with authorities or the general public. Others said they have faced fearful store owners and had confrontations with law enforcement over guns they carried legally.

Here’s a sampling of responses from the article.

  • I moved to Pocatello, Idaho, (a place where guns are very popular) from St. Louis, Mo., about eight years ago. I decided to purchase a firearm so that my 2-year-old son can learn to treat firearms with respect and know that they aren’t a toy. …since purchasing the gun, I’ve experienced a sense of camaraderie with a lot of conservatives who are deep in gun culture. — Andrew Casey, 32, Pocatello, Idaho. Gun owner for two years.
  • At times, I’ve felt out of place when I’m one of the few people of color at shooting events or gun shows, but I’ve also been heartened to see other Americans of African descent and people of color there. People have been welcoming and willing to share information. …The Second Amendment is for everyone. I am the “good guy with a gun.” I’m just like you. — L. Kenton Dunn, 40, Charlotte, N.C. Gun owner for two years.
  • I am black and transgender. …I tend to not discuss guns with fellow liberals anymore. They have shown they lack the capacity to discuss the issue with integrity, maturity and nuance. — Naomi Daniels, 33, Houston. Gun owner for two years.
  • Law-abiding black people are just as motivated to defend themselves, their families and their homes as any other racial group. The right to bear arms has played a vital role in the lives of blacks for generations, and it will continue to do so. — Damon D. Colbert, 42, Alexandria, Va. Gun owner for 18 years.

In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Jon Miltimore opines on the growing support for firearms ownership in the black community.

Americans have the right to protect themselves and their property from violence, and some African-Americans are saying it’s past time that people of color embraced their constitutional right to arm themselves against threats. Rapper Michael Render (better known by his stage name “Killer Mike”) recently challenged the black community to reject the stigmatization of legal gun ownership and to find fresh solutions to preventing violence. …Nor is Render alone. Appearing on MSNBC in May following the death of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old black man fatally shot in Georgia, Charlamagne tha God said owning a firearm was a reasonable means of self-defense for African Americans. …”I would also tell all my brothers and sisters out there to go buy yourself a legal firearm and learn how to use it so you can protect yourself and your family.” …Render makes a similar observation. “I put this statement out because the police cannot always get to you on time, and the world is not a just place,” he writes.

Some black gun owners recently held a rally in Oklahoma, as reported by KFOR.

Over a hundred people marched with their firearms in a Black gun owners rally to bring awareness to their Second Amendment rights. They started at the Ralph Ellison Library and made their way to the Governor’s Mansion. “It’s time that we let everybody know, especially those that may not be aware, that you can carry your weapons too and that you can protect yourself by any means necessary,” Michael Washington, the organizer, said. …“We’re trying to get Black people to understand the Second Amendment does not only apply to a certain ethnic group, that the Second Amendment applies to everybody.” Omowale said.

In his Boston Globe column, Jeff Jacoby celebrated expanding minority firearms ownership.

The gun control crowd isn’t having a good year. Americans have been buying firearms at a phenomenal pace. …First-time buyers have accounted for an estimated 40 percent of gun purchases in 2020,…and of those new gun owners, 40 percent have been women. …Black Americans in particular have been getting a pointed lesson in the value of their Second Amendment right to bear arms, and translating that lesson into action. …The National African American Gun Association, which began in 2015 with a single chapter in Atlanta, now comprises more than 100 chapters with 40,000 members — 10,000 of whom joined within the past five months. …Black gun ownership is as essential today as it was in 1892, when Ida B. Wells wrote that “a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”

In a piece for the New York Times, Tiya Miles rethinks the issue of gun control.

I am an African-American historian and, on the matter of guns and most other political issues, decidedly liberal. …I am anti-gun and support strict gun control laws. But…walking the floors where the Haydens and their compatriots had plotted what turned out to be the roots of a political revolution to overturn slavery, pried ajar a little door in my mind. …“Black abolitionists, especially those involved in the abolitionist underground and Vigilance Committees, tended to arm themselves … fugitive slaves, often resorted to armed self-defense when confronted by slave catchers and law enforcement.” The Underground Railroad activist Harriet Tubman was said to carry a revolver and did not hesitate to point it… In the tumultuous civil rights era of the 1950s and ’60s, black activists and community organizers openly took up arms. And not just those in the more explicitly militant Black Power movement. Martin Luther King Jr., several N.A.A.C.P. officials and other leaders perceived as much more dovish, still carried or stored weapons to defend their households and communities from potential attacks. …Maj Toure, founder of Black Guns Matter…is a former member of the N.R.A., and he told me in a phone interview that…he is critical of the N.R.A. for not doing more for urban Americans, he sees the group as an important civil rights organization. …Philip Smith founded the National African-American Gun Association in Georgia. …Mr. Smith stresses. “We have black Republicans, Democrats, gay, straight.” In what may come as a surprise to some, black women make up 60 percent of the association’s membership.

Kim Trent opines for USA Today about growing support for gun ownership in the black community.

African-American gun advocates argue that guns also preserved our ancestors’ peace when they were menaced by racists in the antebellum South and the divided North. …Kenyatta, co-founder of Detroit’s Black Bottom Gun Club,..believes that gun control measures are often a  response to black Americans’ attempts to exercise their Second Amendment rights. He points to Michigan’s adoption of gun ownership restrictions after Ossian Sweet, a black physician who bought a house in a heretofore white Detroit neighborhood in 1925, used a shotgun to protect his family against an angry white mob. …on May 2, 1967, 30 or so fierce-looking members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense clad in leather coats entered the California Capitol toting loaded pistols and long guns. The Panthers were protesting proposed legislation they believed was targeting black militants’ right to use guns to protect themselves… They declared loudly that their right to carry the weapons was enshrined in the Second Amendment.  …“Gun control has a racist past and present,” says Kenyatta.

FDR’s New Deal Exacerbated the Great Depression

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 12:25pm

In an interview with an economic organization from India last month, I discussed many of the economic issues associated with coronavirus (fiscal falloutexcess regulationsubsidized unemployment, etc).

But I want to highlight this short clip since I had an opportunity to explain how the “New Deal” made the Great Depression deeper and longer.

For newcomers to this issue, “New Deal” is the term used to describe the various policies to expand the size and scope of the federal government adopted by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a.k.a., FDR) during the 1930s.

And I’ve previously cited many experts to show that his policies undermined prosperity. Indeed, one of my main complaints is that he doubled down on many of the bad policies adopted by his predecessorHerbert Hoover.

Let’s revisit the issue today by seeing what some other scholars have written about the New Deal. Let’s start with some analysis from Robert Higgs, a highly regarded economic historian.

…as many observers claimed at the time, the New Deal did prolong the depression. …FDR and Congress, especially during the congressional sessions of 1933 and 1935, embraced interventionist policies on a wide front. With its bewildering, incoherent mass of new expenditures, taxes, subsidies, regulations, and direct government participation in productive activities, the New Deal created so much confusion, fear, uncertainty, and hostility among businessmen and investors that private investment, and hence overall private economic activity, never recovered enough to restore the high levels of production and employment enjoyed in the 1920s. …the American economy between 1930 and 1940 failed to add anything to its capital stock: net private investment for that eleven-year period totaled minus $3.1 billion. Without capital accumulation, no economy can grow. …If demagoguery were a powerful means of creating prosperity, then FDR might have lifted the country out of the depression in short order. But in 1939, ten years after its onset and six years after the commencement of the New Deal, 9.5 million persons, or 17.2 percent of the labor force, remained officially unemployed.

Writing for the American Institute for Economic Research, Professor Vincent Geloso also finds that FDR’s New Deal hurt rather than helped.

…let us state clearly what is at stake: did the New Deal halt the slump or did it prolong the Great Depression? …The issue that macroeconomists tend to consider is whether the rebound was fast enough to return to the trendline. …The…figure below shows the observed GDP per capita between 1929 and 1939 expressed as the ratio of what GDP per capita would have been like had it continued at the trend of growth between 1865 and 1929. On that graph, a ratio of 1 implies that actual GDP is equal to what the trend line predicts. …As can be seen, by 1939, the United States was nowhere near the trendline. …Most of the economic historians who have written on the topic agree that the recovery was weak by all standards and paled in comparison with what was observed elsewhere. …there is also a wide level of agreement that other policies lengthened the depression. The one to receive the most flak from economic historians is the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). …In essence, it constituted a piece of legislation that encouraged cartelization. By definition, this would reduce output and increase prices. As such, it is often accused of having delayed recovery. …other sets of policies (such as the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the National Labor Relations Act and the National Industrial Recovery Act)…were very probably counterproductive.

Here’s one of the charts from his article, which shows that the economy never recovered lost output during the 1930s.

In a column for CapX, Professor Philip Booth adds some interesting evidence on how the United Kingdom adopted a smarter approach in the 1930s.

…the UK had a relatively good Great Depression by international standards. There was an extremely conservative fiscal policy (much more so than during the so-called austerity after 2008) and yet the economy bounced back. In the period 1930-1933, the average public sector deficit was just 1.1% of GDP. And there were only two years of negative GDP growth (1930 and 1931). By 1938, GDP growth had been sufficiently rapid, that the country had returned to trend national income as if the Great Depression had never happened. …In the UK, we had a stable regulatory environment, a liberalised market for land for building purposes and fiscal austerity. …though Roosevelt is often regarded as the great saviour, he is nothing of the sort. …taking the period 1929-1939 as a whole, real GDP growth was only 1% per annum. There was no return to trend national income levels. …unemployment in the US was much higher than in the UK. For the economy to be operating at those levels of unemployment for so long requires some very bad policies. …Arbitrary regulation damaged business and created “policy uncertainty” and top marginal tax rates were raised.

For what it’s worth, I also think it’s worth comparing what happened in the 1930s with the genuine economic recovery from the deep recession in 1920-21.

Or, look at how the economy boomed after World War II even though the Keynesians predicted the economy would fall back into depression without a massive expansion of domestic spending.

Nonetheless, as illustrated by this cartoon, some people still want to blame capitalism for problems caused by government.

P.S. FDR not only wanted a 100-percent tax rate, he actually tried to impose it without legislative approval.

P.P.S. FDR also wanted an “Economic Bill of Rights” that would have created a far-reaching entitlements to other people’s money.

P.P.P.S. This video summarizes the awful policies of Hoover and FDR.

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Image credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration | Public Domain.

Everything You Need to Know about America’s Future Entitlement Crisis

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 12:01pm

Before our depressing discussion today about the fiscal impact of entitlement programs (Social SecurityMedicareMedicaidEITCFood Stampswelfare, and Obamacare, etc), here’s a video of how it all began.

I think this is a great introduction to the issue, particularly since you learn how “public choice” (i.e., politicians engaging in self-serving behavior) played a key role in the development of today’s welfare state.

But if you don’t have the time to watch a long video, here are four key things to understand.

  1. Entitlements (budget geeks sometimes use the term “mandatory spending”) are programs that automatically give people money if they meet certain requirements (such as reaching a certain age or having income below a certain level).
  2. Since these programs automatically give people money, they are not part of the annual appropriations process (the “discretionary spending” parts of the budget that are determined on a yearly basis).
  3. Some entitlement programs are “means tested” and designed to funnel money to low-income individuals. This type of spending is sometimes referred to as “unearned benefits.”
  4. Some entitlement programs are “social insurance” since people pay specific tax in exchange for specific benefits. This type of spending is sometimes referred to as “earned benefits” (though in many cases recipient receive much more than they paid).

By the way, there’s one additional thing to understand.

Indeed, it may be the most important thing to understand if you care about America’s fiscal and economic future.

5.  Entitlement programs are a slow-motion fiscal train wreck.

Let’s look at a new study authored by James Capretta of the America Enterprise Institute. He also has some sobering observations on the history of entitlement programs.

The growing expense of entitlement programs has occurred steadily for more than a half century and is reflected in the shifting distribution of federal spending activity. …by the early 1960s, two-thirds of all spending continued to require approval by the House and Senate appropriations committees each year, and less than a third was spent on entitlement programs. … By 2019, nearly two-thirds of all spending in the budget was for entitlement programs, and less than a third went to annually appropriated accounts.

If you prefer this information visually, here are a couple of pie charts from the study.

While there are dozens of entitlement programs, the big three are Social SecurityMedicare, and Medicaid.

The largest entitlement programs are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Together, they now make up nearly half of all federal spending. Their combined growth over the past half century is the primary source of intensifying fiscal pressure. …In 2019, combined federal spending on them was 9.8 percent of GDP, up from 3.7 percent in 1970. CBO expects them to cost 17.2 percent of GDP in 2050, which is almost equal to the average annual revenue collected by the federal government from 1970 to 2019.

And here’s how they’ve been consuming ever-larger shares of America’s economic output.

What’s driving this ever-increasing fiscal burden?

In part, it’s because we have more and more old people and they are living longer.

So what does all this mean?

Capretta points out that uncontrolled entitlement spending may lead to a debt crisis.

I don’t disagree, but I think that’s a secondary concern. The real problem is that government spending will become an ever-larger economic burden. And that will hinder growth whether it’s financed by borrowing or taxes.

Speaking of taxes, here’s the chart from the study that deserves our close attention. It shows the relationship between demographics, benefit generosity, and tax burdens.

Here’s how Capretta describes the relationship.

…for each of the stipulated replacement rates (25, 50, and 75 percent), the tax rate necessary to keep the program solvent rises with increases in the aged dependency ratio. This explains why social insurance taxes in many aging societies have been increased to high levels in recent decades.

I’ve taken the liberty of augmenting the chart to show how these factors interact (though the order of #1 and #2 doesn’t matter).

The bottom line is that the United States is on track to become a high-taxEuropean-style welfare state if fiscal policy is left on autopilot.

In other words, unless there’s genuine entitlement reform, future Americans will be condemned to lower living standards.

P.S. Here’s some more history. In a column for the American Institute for Economic Research, Richard Ebeling looked at British history to explain how the private sector played a role in social insurance before being displaced by government.

Throughout the 19th century, a primary means for the provision of what today we call the “social safety nets” was by the private sector outside of government. The British Friendly Societies were mutual assistance associations that emerged to provide death benefits for the wives and children of the breadwinner who had passed away. But they soon offered a wide array of other mutual insurance services, including health care coverage, retirement pension programs, unemployment insurance, savings clubs to purchase a family house, and a variety of others. …by the end of the 19th century around two-thirds to three-quarters of the entire British population was covered by one or more of their programs and insurances. The research also discovered that a large majority of the subscribers were in the lower income brackets of the time… What stands out is that these were all private and voluntary associations and exchanges, in which the government paid little or no role.

On a related note, here’s an excellent short video on the English “poor laws” from the 1800s.

P.P.S. In addition to the fiscal burden of entitlement programs, there’s also a major problem in the way these programs discourage work.

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Image credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões | CC BY 2.0.

Teacher Unions vs. Black Children

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 12:50pm

Today is Thomas Sowell’s 90th birthday. The man is a living legend.

I’ve cited his great work many timesand I definitely urge people to read what Walter Williams just wrote about his long-time friend.

And I also recommend this Mark Perry column, which contains 15 of Sowell’s most insightful quotes, as well as two videos of Sowell in action.

Sowell continues to amaze with prodigious productivity. His 56th book, Charter Schools and Their Enemies, goes on sale today.

And he summarizes some of his arguments on that issue in this recent column in the Wall Street Journal.

New York’s charter school students are predominantly black and Hispanic, and live in low-income neighborhoods. In 2019, most students in the city’s public schools failed to pass the statewide tests in mathematics and English. But most of the city’s charter school students passed in both subjects. Such charter school results undermine theories of genetic determinism, claims of cultural bias in the tests… In 2013, a higher percentage of the fifth-graders in a Harlem charter school passed the mathematics test than any other public school fifth-graders in the entire state of New York. …In a number of low-income minority communities in New York City, charter school classes and classes in traditional public schools are held in the same buildings, serving the same communities. Some of the contrasts are almost unbelievable. In 28 classes in these buildings, fewer than 10% of the students reached the “proficient” level on statewide tests. All 28 classes were in traditional public schools. All charter school classes at the same grade levels in the same buildings did better—including six grade levels where the charter school majorities reaching the “proficient” level ranged from 81% to 100%.

Sounds like great news.

But there’s a dark lining to this cloud.

Competition from charter schools is an existential threat to traditional public schools in low-income minority communities… Teachers unions and traditional public school administrators have every reason to fear charter schools. In 2019 there were more than 50,000 New York City students on waiting lists to transfer into charter schools. …Among the ways of blocking students from transferring into charter schools is preventing charter schools from getting enough classrooms to put them in. …In cities across the country, public school officials are blocking charter schools from using school buildings that have been vacant for years to prevent transfers into charter schools from taking place. …In some places, vacant school buildings have been demolished, making sure no charter schools can use them. …anti-charter-school tactics by public school officials, politicians and teachers unions call into question pious statements by them that what they are doing is “for the sake of the children.” …their actions show repeatedly that protecting their own turf from the competition of charter schools is their top priority.

This is disgusting.

Union bosses, education bureaucrats, and captive politicians are sacrificing the hopes and dreams of minority children in order to preserve their monopoly system.

Even the NAACP has chosen to put leftist ideology above the best interest of black kids.

As did Barack Obama, even though he sent his own kids to an elite private school (Elizabeth Warren also is a reprehensible hypocrite on this issue).

Here’s some data on school enrollment in New York City and the rest of the state. As you can see, most whites have escaped the NYC government system, with more than 50 percent in private schools.  For many black families, though, their only affordable option is charters, and 20 percent of black kids are benefiting from this possibility.

Sadly, expanding charters is very difficult because of teacher unions and their political allies. They benefit if they keep kids trapped in a crummy system.

Needless to say, this also explains why it is so difficult to get school choice, which is an even better option.

P.S. If you want to learn more about school choice, I recommend this video.

P.P.S. It’s uplifting to see very successful school choice systems operate in nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

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

The Most (Unintentionally) Accurate Tweet about Washington

Mon, 06/29/2020 - 12:40pm

Every so often, I’ll notice a tweet that has some remarkable characteristic.

Today, we’re going to add to this collection.

The Democratic National Committee sent out a tweet back in April that seems like it should have been issued instead by the Libertarian National Committee.

My answer to the DNC’s question is “never.” That’s why I’m a libertarian.

Even when I grudgingly acknowledge that something is a legitimate function of government, I’m never tempted to say or think that “things seem to be going smoothly.”

That’s true when looking at what happens in Washington, what happens in the states, and what happens at the local level.

Needless to say, the DNC wasn’t trying to recruit libertarians. The goal was to condemn Trump’s governing style, specifically with reference to a story about the administration’s chaotic approach to the coronavirus.

And I certainly agree that Trump gives critics plenty of ammunition.

But there are plenty of similar episodes of malfeasance and incompetence during the Obama years. And the Bush years. And in every preceding White House.

The bottom line (as suggested by my collection of “Government in Cartoons“) is that Washington at best is a clumsy oaf. And quite often is a bloated bully.

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

The Adverse Economic Consequences of Higher Tax Rates

Sun, 06/28/2020 - 12:29pm

The good news is that Joe Biden has not embraced many of Bernie Sanders’ worst tax ideas, such as imposing a wealth tax or hiking the top income tax rate to 52 percent..

The bad news is that he nonetheless is supporting a wide range of punitive tax increases.

  • Increasing the top income tax rate to 39.6 percent.
  • Imposing a 12.4 percent payroll tax on wages above $400,000.
  • Increasing the double taxation of dividends and capital gains from 23.8 percent to 43.4 percent.
  • Hiking the corporate tax rate to 28 percent.
  • Increasing taxes on American companies competing in foreign markets.

The worst news is that Nancy Pelosi, et al, may wind up enacting all these tax increases and then also add some of Crazy Bernie‘s proposals.

This won’t be good for the U.S. economy and national competitiveness.

Simply stated, some people will choose to reduce their levels of work, saving, and investment when the tax penalties on productive behavior increase. These changes give economists the information needed to calculate the “elasticity of taxable income”.

And this, in the jargon of economists, is a measure of “deadweight loss.”

But now there’s a new study published by the Federal Reserve which suggests that these losses are greater than traditionally believed.

Authored by Brendan Epstein, Ryan Nunn, Musa Orak and Elena Patel, the study looks at how best to measure the economic damage associated with higher tax rates. Here’s some of the background analysis.

The personal income tax is one of the most important instruments for raising government revenue. As a consequence, this tax is the focus of a large body of public finance research that seeks a theoretical and empirical understanding of the associated deadweight loss (DWL). …Feldstein (1999) demonstrated that, under very general conditions, the elasticity of taxable income (ETI) is a sufficient statistic for evaluating DWL. …It is well understood that, apart from rarely employed lump-sum taxes and…Pigouvian taxes, revenue-raising tax systems impose efficiency costs by distorting economic outcomes relative to those that would be obtained in the absence of taxation… ETI can potentially serve as a perfect proxy for DWL…this result is consistent with the ETI reflecting all taxpayer responses to changes in marginal tax rates, including behavioral changes (e.g., reductions in hours worked) and tax avoidance (e.g., shifting consumption toward tax-preferred goods). …a large empirical literature has provided estimates of the individual ETI, identified based on variation in tax rates and bunching at kinks in the marginal tax schedule.

And here are the new contributions from the authors.

… researchers have fairly recently come to recognize an important limitation of the finding that the ETI is a sufficient statistic for deadweight loss… we embed labor search frictions into the canonical macroeconomic model…and we show that within this framework, a host of additional information beyond the ETI is needed to infer DWL …once these empirically observable factors are controlled for, DWL can be calculated easily and in a straightforward fashion as the sum of the ETI and additional terms involving these factors. … We find that…once search frictions are introduced, …DWL can be between 7 and 38 percent higher than the ETI under a reasonable calibration.

To give you an idea of what this means, here are some of their estimates of the economic damage associated with a 1 percent increase in tax rates.

As you peruse these estimates, keep in mind that Biden wants to increase the top income tax rate by 2.6 percentage points and the payroll tax by 12.4 percentage points (and don’t forget he wants to nearly double tax rates on dividends, capital gains, and other forms of saving and investment).

Those are all bad choices with traditional estimates of deadweight loss, and they are even worse choices with the new estimates from the Fed’s study.

So what’s the bottom line?

The political impact will be that “the rich” pay more. The economic impact will be less capital formation and entrepreneurship, and those are the changes that hurt the vast majority of us who aren’t rich.

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Image credit: Max Pixel | CC0 Public Domain.

From San Francisco, Another Great Moment in Local Government

Sat, 06/27/2020 - 12:15pm

Some people say that California is the worst-governed state (I would probably choose Illinois or New Jersey, but it’s a close race).

And if you wanted to pick the worst-governed place in California, San Francisco might be at the top of the list.

The city manages to combine horrible zoning laws with insufferable red tape (there have been efforts to ban everything from Happy Meals to…umm…foreskins).

Most disturbing of all, San Francisco now has a major problem with public defecation (not that the sewer system is anything to brag about).

In an article for City Journal, Erica Sandberg explores the latest bit of upside-down governance from The City by the Bay.

San Francisco is surreptitiously placing homeless people in luxury hotels by designating them as emergency front-line workers, a term that the broader community understands to mean doctors, nurses, and similar professionals. …the city has evoked emergency-disaster law to keep the information private. Officials refuse to notify the public about what is happening in their community and are blocking the press by withholding the list of hotels and preventing reporters from entering the properties. …obfuscation is ultimately futile. Security guards standing outside hotel entrances, where they had never been before, are clear indicators that something is amiss. An uptick in crime, drug activity, and vagrancy around the hotels is another clue.

This sounds crazy, but it gets even worse.

The Department of Public Health manages the controversial free alcohol, cigarette, and cannabis program for homeless people placed in the hotels. …A public-records investigation into the matter has revealed that, as of June 16, DPH approved $3,795.98 to buy the homeless guests vodka and beer (cigarettes have been scrapped). …concerned inside sources report destroyed rooms and rampant illegal drug use. In one hotel, guests are given needle kits and are advised to call the front desk before shooting up. …The hotels were pressured into accepting the homeless guests, though they were also eager for the chance to recoup some revenue lost to the Covid-19 lockdowns. …The city-sponsored guests also receive personal grooming, sanitary, and cleaning supplies, three delivered meals, and laundry service for clothes and linens.

Free hotel room, along with free food and laundry service? And booze and pot?

Who knew being homeless was such a good racket!

Since I’m a fiscal wonk, this is the part that captured my attention.

Rooms are rented at close to $200 per night, totaling $6,000 a month—nearly double the cost of a private one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco.

Though I shouldn’t be surprised by such profligacy. The state government’s “success story” was spending “billions of dollars” to cause homelessness to “dip by 1 percent.”

And San Francisco’s government had a different program for the homeless that cost about $700 per night. So maybe the new approach described in above article is a fiscal bargain.

By the way, it appears that taxpayers across the country are contributing to this insane policy.

Hotel owners consented to the arrangements fully aware of the potential pitfalls, having been assured that FEMA dollars would cover at least some of the damages incurred.

Good ol’ FEMA. Always ready, willing, and able to foolishly spend taxpayer money.

P.S. While San Francisco is a bit of a mess, folks in other cities (such as SeattleChicagoNew York CityDetroit, etc) can make a legitimate claim that they have the nation’s worst local government.

P.P.S. When he crunched all the numbers, Dean Stansel of Southern Methodist University found that the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metropolitan statistical area in California had the worst policy in the country (San Francisco was #38 out of the 55 MSAs with at least 1 million residents).

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Image credit: Noahnmf | CC BY-SA 4.0.

Protectionism vs. Prosperity

Fri, 06/26/2020 - 12:11pm

In early 2019, I released this video summarizing some of the evidence for free trade.

The bad news is that I must not be very persuasive. Trump continued with protectionist policy.

The good news is that we now have more evidence against that form of government intervention.

But first, I’m going to start with a bit of theory. Here’s a chart from the Council of Foreign Relations showing the relationship between prosperity and trade balances.

And here’s the explanation, courtesy of Benn Steil and Benjamin Della Rocca.

President Trump says that America running a trade deficit means that “jobs and wealth are being given to other countries.” …this statement is logically and historically false. The left-hand figure above shows that the relationship between trade deficits and growth in the United States, going back nearly 30 years, is the opposite. Rising growth tends to increase imports through higher consumption. The imports have not meant that “jobs and wealth are being given to other countries”: they have been a sign of a strong U.S. economy.

This is spot on. As I explained in my video on the trade deficit, people in richer, faster-growing countries can afford to buy more goods and services (regardless of where they are produced) than people in countries with anemic economic performance.

Indeed, this is why (at least in the pre-coronavirus era) America’s trade deficit was expanding.

Now let’s shift to the additional evidence that has accumulated since the video was produced.

Here’s are the key findings from a study by Kyle Handley, Fariha Kamal, and Ryan Monarch, which was just published by the Federal Reserve.

Using 2016 confidential firm-trade linked data, we document the implied incidence and scope of new import tariffs. Firms that eventually faced tariff increases on their imports ac-counted for 84% of all exports and they represent 65% of manufacturing employment. For all affected firms, the implied cost is $900 per worker in new duties. To estimate the effect on U.S. export growth, we construct product-level measures of import tariff exposure of U.S. exports from the underlying firm micro data.More exposed products experienced 2 percentage point lower growth relative to products with no exposure. The decline in exports is equivalent to an ad valorem tariff on U.S. exports of almost 2% for the typical product and almost 4% for products with higher than average exposure.

Here are some results of a recent study by Stephen J. Redding, Mary Amiti, and David Weinstein.

Using data from 2018, a number of studies have found that recent U.S tariffs have been passed on entirely to U.S. importers and consumers. …Using another year of data including significant escalations in the trade war, we find that U.S. tariffs continue to be almost entirely borne by U.S. firms and consumers. We show that the response of import values to the tariffs increases in absolute magnitude over time, consistent with the idea that it takes time for firms to reorganize supply chains.

Here’s a chart from the study showing how Trump basically tripled average trade taxes over the past couple of years.

Next we have a 2019 study authored by Davide Furceri, Swarnali A. Hannan, Jonathan D. Ostry, and Andrew K. Rose.

We estimate impulse response functions from local projections using a panel of annual data that spans 151 countries over 1963‐2014. Tariffs increases are associated with persistent economically and statistically significant declines in domestic output and productivity, as well as higher unemployment and inequality, real exchange rate appreciation and insignificant changes to the trade balance. Output and productivity impacts are magnified when tariffs rise during expansions and when they are imposed by advanced (as opposed to developing) economies; effects are asymmetric, being larger when tariffs go up than when they fall. Results are robust to a large number of perturbations to our methodology, and hold using both macroeconomic and industry‐level data.

These charts from their study paint a damning picture.

The bottom line is that Trump’s trade policies are hurting the U.S. economy (just like China’s protectionist policies are hurting that nation’s economy).

P.S. A great mystery is how some analysts understand that it’s bad to have higher taxes on trade, yet also think it’s perfectly okay to impose even bigger tax increases on work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship. The folks at the International Monetary Fund are very guilty of this type of fiscal hypocrisy.

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Image credit: AKrebs60 | Pixabay License.

America’s Next Crisis: Unfunded Pensions for State and Local Bureaucrats

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 12:03pm

I’m a long-time critic of the Federal ReserveFannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, but I had no idea they would produce something as bad as the 2008 financial meltdown. It’s not easy to predict the timing and severity of a crisis.

Unless we’re talking about the ticking time bomb described in this video.

In theory, of course, state politicians and their local counterparts are supposed to set aside enough money to pay the lavish future benefits they promise their bureaucrats.

Far too often, however, that doesn’t happen. And that means the governments (to be more accurate, their taxpayers) have a big “unfunded liability.”

This racket is a good deal for the bureaucrats – who get lots of pay now and lots of promised benefits in the future. And it’s a good deal for the state and local politicians who get votes and campaign contributions from the bureaucrats.

But, as explained in a new report from the American Legislative Exchange Council, it is a fiscal disaster that is going to explode at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Unfunded state pension liabilities total $4.9 trillion or $15,080 for every man, woman and child in the United States. State governments are often obligated, by contract and state constitutional law, to make these pension payments regardless of economic conditions. As these pension payments continue to grow, revenue that would have gone to essential services like public safety and education, or tax relief, goes to paying off these liabilities instead. …Most state pension plans are structured as defined-benefit plans. Under a defined-benefit plan, an employee receives a fixed payout at retirement based on the employee’s final average salary, the number of years worked and a benefit multiplier.

There are several ways to measure the degree to which a state has dug a big hole by promising big goodies to bureaucrats.

Figure 2 shows per-capita unfunded liabilities on a state-by-state basis. Tennessee is in the best shape, followed by Indiana and Wisconsin (thanks in part to former Governor Scott Walker). Alaska has the biggest fiscal hole, along with Illinois (no surprise) and Connecticut (no surprise).

It’s important to recognize, though, that some states have more income than others.

So in addition to a per-capita estimate of pension liabilities, here’s a map showing the burden as a share of each state’s economic output. Once again, Tennessee, Indiana (the #22 is a misprint), and Wisconsin rank the highest. Alaska stays at the bottom, joined by Mississippi and New Mexico.

Let’s also give credit and blame to states that are the top 10 and bottom 10 on each map.

In addition to Tennessee, Indiana, and Wisconsin, good states include Utah, Nebraska, South Dakota and Texas (honorable mention to Florida, which just missed).

Bad states are led by Alaska, with Nevada, New Mexico, Mississippi, Illinois, and Ohio also being governed by particularly short-sighted politicians.

So what’s the solution for the bad states? The ALEC report gives the answer.

Ultimately, one of the best ways to solve the pension crisis is to change the way pension plans are structured. Changing from the current defined-benefit system toward a defined-contribution system for new employees will improve the health of state pension plans by giving employees full control over their retirement savings.

By the way, it’s worth noting that blue states may have a bigger problem than red states, but this is a bipartisan mess.

In a recent column in the Wall Street Journal, Steve Malanga says there is plenty of blame to share.

The crisis in state pension systems is a result of decades of fiscal mismanagement. The problem, however, goes well beyond deeply indebted Illinois and New Jersey. Many state and municipal retirement funds have been on an unrelenting downward trajectory… This fiscal nightmare stems in part from politicians’ habit of increasing employee benefits while markets are booming, thereby squandering fund surpluses. …Politicians have consistently neglected to contribute to these systems even during good budgetary times, preferring to fund more popular programs. …Meanwhile, elected officials and pension administrators have endorsed overly optimistic economic assumptions that made their systems look affordable.

Let’s close today’s grim column with another way of measuring the problem.

Here’s a map from the Tax Foundation that shows how much money is set aside in pension programs compared to the level of benefits that bureaucrats are promised.

Looking at the data from this angle, Kentucky has the biggest hole, followed by New Jersey, Illinois (the only state to be in the bottom 10 on all three maps), and Connecticut, while the good states are led by Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Tennessee.

The bottom line is that some states have a very grim future, which is why even Warren Buffett is advising investors and entrepreneurs to steer clear of doing business in those places.

P.S. Unfortunately, you can’t avoid the massive unfunded liabilities of Social SecurityMedicare, and Medicaid by moving across state lines.

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

Tax Havens Are Good for Growth, Part II

Wed, 06/24/2020 - 12:56pm

Yesterday’s column focused on the theoretical argument for tax havens.

At the risk of oversimplifying, I explained that the pressure of tax competition was necessary to prevent “stationary bandits” from saddling nations with “goldfish government.”

And I specifically explained why the left’s theory of “capital export neutrality” was only persuasive if people just paid attention to one side of the equation.

Today, let’s look at some real-world evidence to better understand the beneficial role of these international financial centers.

We’ll start with a column in the Hill by Jorge González-Gallarza.

Using as a natural experiment the terminal phase-out in 2006 of corporate tax exemptions to affiliates of U.S. companies setting shop in Puerto Rico, the research finds that scrapping the island’s status as a tax haven led U.S. companies to cut back investments and job creation in the mainland substantially. The provision in question was Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Code and it exempted Puerto Rico-based affiliates of U.S. companies from paying any corporate income tax altogether. …In 1996, President Clinton signed the Small Business Job Creation Act, spelling §936’s full phaseout by 2006. …ditching §936 appears to have raised U.S. companies’ average effective tax rate on domestic corporate income by 10 percentage points. Notably yet unsurprisingly, they responded by cutting global investment by a whopping 23 percent while balancing away from domestic projects, in Puerto Rico and the mainland alike — domestic investment fell by 38 percent, with Foreign Direct Investments’ (FDIs) share of the total growing 17.5 percent. …Employing 11 million workers in the continental US before repeal, firms taking advantage of §936 laid off a million of them, amounting to a 9.1 percent decline in payrolls.

In other words, higher taxes on business resulted in less investment and fewer jobs. Gee, what a surprise.

Hopefully, the 2017 reduction in the corporate tax rate is now offsetting some of that damage.

In an article for the Tax Foundation, Elke Asen shares some academic research on how tax havens help mitigate the destructive policies of high-tax governments.

Tax havens, or “offshore financial centers,” can be defined as small, well-governed tax jurisdictions that do not have substantial domestic economic activity and impose low or zero tax rates on foreign investors. By doing so, they attract a considerable amount of capital inflow, particularly from high-tax countries. …academic research reveals that high-tax jurisdictions may also have something to gain from tax havens. …A 2004 paper by economists Mihir Desai, C. Fritz Foley, and James Hines…found that tax havens indirectly stimulate the growth of businesses in non-haven countries located in the same region. …These findings suggest that although high-tax countries can lose tax revenue due to profit shifting, tax havens can indirectly facilitate economic growth in high-tax countries by reducing the cost of financing investment in those countries.

By the way, I cited the Desai-Foley-Hines paper in my video on “The Economic Case for Tax Havens” because it makes the key point that governments hurt their own economies when they go after low-tax jurisdictions.

Here are some excerpts from an article by Abrar Aowsaf in the Bangladesh-based Dhaka Tribune. It’s especially worth citing since it notes that tax havens are a refuge for oppressed people around the world.

A tax haven is basically a jurisdiction with low taxes, high legal security, and a high degree of protection of savers’ privacy. …The Cayman Islands, Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Jersey, and Bermuda — all of these jurisdictions that we recognize as tax havens are characterized by their high legal safety. Savers know that the government will not decide to take their money on a whim. …Operating in tax havens is not illegal in itself. …Singer Shakira, for example, uses tax havens to minimize her tax bills within the bounds of the law. …Another very important detail is that tax havens are a refuge for millions of citizens who have had the misfortune of being born in authoritarian and unstable countries. In many countries, the most basic human rights are not guaranteed. There also exist states where authoritarian governments arbitrarily decide who to repress or prosecute. Many investors do not seek protection just for the lower taxes, but they are also escaping political, ideological, and religious persecution. …In reality, tax havens are not to be blamed…nor do they force us to pay more taxes or harm our economies. Ireland, for example, was poorer than Spain in 1980. Today, thanks to its low taxes, it is the second richest country in the Eurozone. In order to improve general welfare, what we need are more companies, not more incompetent politicians and haphazard public spending. The problems faced by countries with economic difficulties do not come from tax havens, but from their politicians and ineffective policies.

Amen. More people need to be making “The Moral Case for Tax Havens.”

Andy Morriss, the Dean of Texas A&M’s School of Innovation, explains the vital role of these low-tax jurisdictions in bring more investment and prosperity to poor nations.

The seemingly endless debate over the role of IFCs in corporate and personal tax avoidance ignores these jurisdictions’ crucial role in providing the rule of law for international transactions. …The world’s poorest countries desperately need their economies to grow if their populations are to have better lives. For example, Africa has about 17 per cent of the world’s population but only 3 per cent of global GDP. The root causes of African nations’ underdevelopment are complex, but one critical element is that there is too little investment in their economies. …most developing countries lack the legal and regulatory infrastructure necessary to support a domestic capital market. …When multiple investors pool their investments, they need a mechanism to address the governance of their pooled investment. …By providing legal systems which offer a powerful combination of modern, efficient, well-designed laws and regulations, regulatory agencies staffed with experienced, well-credentialed experts, and court systems capable of quick, fair, and thoughtful decisions, IFCs offer alternative locations for transactions and entities. …In short, the price of investing in a developing economy is reduced.  And when the price of something falls, the amount demanded increases. That’s good for investors, it’s good for developing countries, and it’s good for the world’s poorest. …Improving the lives of the poorest around the world is going to require massive private investment in productive activities. This need cannot be met by government provided aid… Only economic growth can solve this problem. And growth requires investment… Fortunately, IFCs are helping to meet this need.

Click here if you want more information on how tax havens help the developing world.

Writing for the Bahamas-based Tribune and citing former Finance Minister James Smith, Neil Hartnell warns that the OECD’s agenda of “neo-colonialism” will cripple his nation’s economy.

The Bahamas “may devastate the economy” if it surrenders too easily to demands from high-tax European nations for a corporate income tax, a former finance minister warned yesterday. …OECD and European Union (EU) initiatives…calling for all nations to impose some form of “minimum level of” taxation on the activities of multinational entities. …Mr Smith…blasted the OECD’s European members for seemingly seeking to “recast our economy in their own image”, adding that this nation’s economic model had worked well for 50 years without income and other direct forms of taxation. …Describing the OECD and EU pressures as a form of “neo-colonialism”, Mr Smith said The Bahamas shared few economic characteristics with their members. He pointed out that this nation was suffering from high unemployment and “low wages for the majority” of Bahamians. “Conceptually the take from an income tax may devastate the economy,” he told Tribune Business.

The former Finance Minister is correct in that the OECD is trying to export its high-tax policies.

For what it’s worth, I’ve reversed the argument and pointed out that OECD nations should be copying zero-income tax jurisdictions such as the Bahamas.

So what’s the argument against tax havens?

As illustrated by this article from the International Monetary Fund, authored by Jannick Damgaard, Thomas Elkjaer, and Niels Johannesen, all the complaints revolve around the fact that some people don’t like it when governments can’t grab as much money.

Although Swiss Leaks, the Panama Papers, and recent disclosures from the offshore industry have revealed some of the intricate ways multinational firms and wealthy individuals use tax havens to escape paying their fair share, the offshore financial world remains highly opaque. …These questions are particularly important today in countries where policy initiatives aiming to curb the harmful use of tax havens abound. …a new study…finds that a stunning $12 trillion…consists of financial investment passing through empty corporate shells… These investments in empty corporate shells almost always pass through well-known tax havens. The eight major pass-through economies—the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Hong Kong SAR, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Ireland, and Singapore—host more than 85 percent of the world’s investment in special purpose entities, which are often set up for tax reasons. …private individuals also use tax havens on a grand scale… Globally, individuals hold about $7 trillion—corresponding to roughly 10 percent of world GDP—in tax havens. …the stock of offshore wealth ranges…to about 50 percent in some oil-producing countries, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia, and in countries that have suffered instances of major financial instability, such as Argentina and Greece.

I find it interesting that even the pro-tax IMF felt obliged to acknowledge that people living in nations with bad governments are especially likely to make use of tax havens.

Though I’m not sure I fully trust the data in this chart from the article.

Because of problems such as corruption, expropriation, crime, and political persecution, I’m sure that usage of tax havens by people in nations such as China, India, Iran, Mexico, and South Africa is much greater than what we see in the chart.

Though perhaps the numbers are distorted because the authors didn’t include the United States (sadly, the policies that make the U.S. a tax haven are only available for foreigners).

P.S. American taxpayers legally can use Puerto Rico as a tax haven.

Tax Havens Are Good for Growth, Part I

Tue, 06/23/2020 - 12:50pm

As part of my presentation earlier this month to IES Europe, I discussed topics such as comparative economics and federalism.

I also had a chance to explain why tax havens are good for global prosperity.

Many of the points I made will be familiar to regular readers.

1. Because politicians have been worried that the “geese with the golden eggs” can escape – thanks to tax havens and tax competition – governments around the world reluctantly have lowered tax rates and reduced discriminatory taxes on saving and investment.

2. The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (heavily subsidized by American taxpayers) is a bureaucracy that is controlled by high-tax governments and it seeks to undermine tax competition and tax havens by creating a global tax cartel – sort of an “OPEC for politicians.”

3. When tax competition is weakened, politicians respond by increasing tax rates.

4. There is an economic theory that is used to justify tax harmonization. It’s called “capital export neutrality” and I shared a slide in the presentation to show why CEN doesn’t make sense. Here’s a new version of the slide, which I’ve augmented to help people understand why tax havens and tax competition are good for prosperity.

The bottom line is that we should fight to protect tax havens and tax competition. The alternative is “stationary bandits” and “Goldfish Government.”

P.S. My work on this issue has been…umm…interesting, resulting in everything from a front-page attack by the Washington Post to the possibility of getting tossed in a Mexican jail.

P.S.S. This column has four videos on the issue of tax competition, and this column has five videos on the issue of tax havens.

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Image credit: SF Brit | CC BY-ND 2.0.

Is Gun Control Dead?

Sun, 06/21/2020 - 12:31pm

In recent months, governments released prisoners and announced that some laws wouldn’t be enforced because of the coronavirus. Now, with protests against police misbehavior, we’re seeing governments fail to maintain law and order.

As suggested by this excellent Reason video, these developments bolster the case against gun control.

But does this mean politicians will be more supportive of the 2nd Amendment?

The answer (at least for anyone with an IQ above room temperature) should be yes.

From an economic perspective, one major goal is to change the cost-benefit analysis for criminals. If bad guys have to worry that good guys may be armed, that significantly increases the potential cost of illegal behavior.

A well-functioning system of law enforcement can help, of course, but that’s not a description of how things work in some communities – even in normal times, much less when there’s civil unrest.

But all this evidence and analysis doesn’t seem to matter for Joe Biden. A look at his campaign website shows support for a wide range of gun-control laws from the soon-to-be Democratic nominee.

…gun violence is a public health epidemic. …In 1994, Biden – along with Senator Dianne Feinstein – secured the passage of 10-year bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. As president, Joe Biden will defeat the NRA again. …As president, Biden will: …Ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. …Regulate possession of existing assault weapons under the National Firearms Act. …Biden supports legislation restricting the number of firearms an individual may purchase per month to one. …End the online sale of firearms and ammunitions. …Give states incentives to set up gun licensing programs.

What’s especially discouraging is that Biden apparently hasn’t learned anything about so-called assault weapons since 1994.

In a 2019 column for Reason, Jacob Sullum dissected Biden’s incoherent views on the topic.

Joe Biden…is still proud of the ban on “assault weapons”… Biden argues that it made mass shootings less common…, citing a study reported in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery last January. But that is not what the researchers, led by New York University epidemiologist Charles DiMaggio, actually found. …The study…looked not at the number of mass shootings, as Biden claims, but the number of mass-shooting deaths as a share of all firearm homicides. The difference in total fatalities during the period when the ban was in effect amounted to 15 fewer deaths over a decade, or 1.5 a year on average, including mass shootings that did not involve weapons covered by the ban. …The causal mechanism imagined by Biden is even harder to figure out. He describes “assault weapons” as “military-style firearms designed to fire rapidly.” But they do not fire any faster than any other semi-automatic. …Under the 1994 ban, removing “military-style” features such as folding stocks, flash suppressors, or bayonet mounts transformed forbidden “assault weapons” into legal firearms, even though the compliant models fired the same ammunition at the same rate with the same muzzle velocity as the ones targeted by the law.

I wonder if Biden understands the policy he’s advocating.

Does he think that “assault weapons” are actual machine guns, capable of firing multiple rounds with one pull on the trigger (a remarkably common misconception among gun-control advocates)?

Or, if he understands that a so-called assault weapon is just like any other gun (firing one round each time the trigger is pulled), then why would he think anything would be achieved by banning some guns and leaving others (that work the same way) legal?

Perhaps most relevant, does he even care what the evidence shows?

The bottom line is that people are “voting with their dollars” for gun ownership for the simple reason that they know it’s unwise to trust government (either to protect them from crime or to respect their rights).

But that doesn’t mean their constitutional freedoms will be secure if Biden wins the 2020 election.

P.S. The good news is that there will be widespread civil disobedience if politicians push for new gun bans.

P.P.S. Another silver lining is that we’ll get more and more clever humor mocking gun control.

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Image credit: Ratha Grimes | CC BY 2.0.

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