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Updated: 2 hours 46 min ago

The Case for Capitalism, Part VI

Sat, 01/08/2022 - 12:52pm

I have shared five videos (Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV, and Part V) that make the case for capitalism.

Here’s a sixth example.

The video notes that poverty was the natural condition for humanity (notwithstanding the economic illiteracy of Congresswoman Pressley).

But then, starting a couple of hundred years ago, capitalism gained a foothold and – for the first time in world history – there were nations with mass prosperity.

We learn about how various places became rich, including the United StatesHong Kong, and New Zealand.

The narrator also pointed out that Ireland experienced a period of dramatic market-driven growth.

Which gives me a good excuse to make the following comparison, which shows the dramatic divergence between Ireland and Greece beginning in the mid-1980s.

Why the stunning divergence (one of many examples I’ve collected)?

Ireland controlled spending and cut tax rates and now routinely ranks among the nations with the most economic liberty.

Greece, by contrast, has imposed more and more government over time.

Let’s close with this tweet, which nicely summarizes Walter Williams’ famous observation.

P.S. This comparison of Sweden and Greece also makes the key point about the superiority of markets over statism.

P.P.S. Don Boudreaux and Deirdre McCloskey have must-watch videos on how capitalism enabled (some) nations to escape poverty.

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Image credit: Joe King | CC BY-SA 3.0.

Which Nations Do Best at Providing Rule of Law…and Why It Matters

Fri, 01/07/2022 - 12:48pm

Back in 2014, I shared a video explaining why the “rule of law” is important for a just and free society.

Here’s another video on the same point.

When I discuss rule of law (generally when explaining the various components that are used to calculate rankings of economic freedom), I often use a shortcut definition – namely that rule of law exists when government officials don’t have arbitrary power.

In other words, rule of law is present when even politicians and bureaucrats have to adhere to laws and rules.

Where is the rule of law strongest?

According to the World Justice Project, Scandinavian nations are at the top, led by Denmark.

Other European nations – and European offshoot nations – dominate the rankings (there is a benefit to Western Civilization).

A handful of East Asian jurisdictions also get good scores.

And you’ll notice I had to include 27 nations in order to see where the United States ranks.

That’s depressing, especially considering that the U.S. ranked #19 when I first wrote about this report back in 2014.

But at least we’re not Venezuela (gee, what a surprise), which is in last place of the 139 nations included in the rankings.

Readers also should note that the dismal rankings of some other major nations, most notably China (#98) and Russia (#101).

Now let’s consider the economic implications.

In a new working paper from the University of Rome, Esther Acquah, Lorenzo Carbonari, Alessio Farcomeni, and Giovanni Trovato estimate the impact of rule of law on economic outcomes.

We estimate the impact that our measures of institutional quality have on the level and the growth rate of per capita GDP, using a large sample of countries over the period 1980-2015. …Institutions matter especially in low and middle-income countries, and not all institutions are alike for economic development. For this group of countries, we find: i) a positive correlation between our main institutional index and the GDP growth and ii) that improvement in the reliability and fairness of the legal system leads to a higher long-run per capita GDP level. We also document non-linearities in the causal effects that different institutions have on growth, and the presence of threshold effects.

For what it’s worth, I sometimes state in my speeches that rule of law is akin to the foundation of a building.

It needs to be solid in order for the rest of the building (fiscal policy, trade policy, regulatory policy, and monetary policy) to be livable.

One final point is that you don’t necessarily get more rule of law by enacting additional laws. Indeed, that may actually reduce the rule of law because politicians and bureaucrats then can engage in capricious enforcement.

As pointed out back in the 1800s by the great Frederic Bastiat.

Simply stated, over-criminalization is not a good thing.

P.S. In the are of economic development, there’s a big discussion over whether there needs to be more “state capacity” if we want more growth.

I’ve criticized some advocates because they use “state capacity” as an excuse to push for bigger government.

But it is true that very weak and incompetent governments do a poor job of providing rule of law, so it’s also true that there are instances where it would be good to boost state capacity. Assuming the term is properly defined.

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Image credit: Daniel_B_photos | Pixabay License.

More Nonsense from the OECD’s Poverty Hucksters

Thu, 01/06/2022 - 12:43pm

I created the Eighth Theorem of Government to illustrate the difference between well-meaning people (who want to help the poor) and zero-sum people (who seem to think some people are poor because other people are rich).

This raises the interesting question of whether folks in the latter group are misguided or malicious?

For what it’s worth, I assume most people who fixate on inequality simply don’t understand the issue.

I like to think that they would change their minds if – for instance – they were shown Scott Winship’s devastating, slam-dunk response to Gabriel Zucman.

But there are others (like Zucman) who almost certainly know better, yet they push the inequality narrative for political or ideological reasons.

The bureaucrats at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development definitely also belong in the malicious category.

I first exposed the OECD’s disingenuous approach back in 2012, noting that the Paris-based bureaucrats used an utterly dishonest definition of poverty to make the laughably inaccurate claim that there was more poverty in the United States than in nations such as Greece, Hungary, Turkey, and Portugal.

Well, the OECD is still being dishonest. Here’s a look at the bureaucracy’s latest “poverty” measurement.

For those of us who actually pay attention to details, the data in the above chart have nothing to do with poverty.

Instead, the OECD is showing a particular way of measuring how income is distributed (in this case, the share of the population with less than half of the average income).

To see why it is profoundly absurd to measure poverty by looking at the distribution of income, consider these two examples.

  1. Haiti is a wretchedly poor nation, with per-capita yearly income of $1729. But since almost everyone (other than the political elite) in the country is equally destitute, Haiti would have almost no poverty according to the OECD’s perverse definition.
  2. Poor people in the United States have income equal to (or greater than) than middle class people in other developed nations, yet OECD bureaucrats want people to think poverty is a bigger problem in America than in a backward economy like Mexico’s.

I’ll close by pointing out the greatest absurdity of all.

If something miraculous happened and everyone in the United States somehow wound up with ten times as much income next year, guess what would happen to America’s poverty rate, as measured by the OECD? How much would it decrease?

Give yourself a gold star if you correctly answered that it would not change. At all.

What a crock of you-know-what.

P.S. The OECD is not the only guilty party when it comes to lying about poverty. Others who (willingly or unwittingly) misrepresent distribution data as poverty data include:

P.P.S. It’s also worth noting that poor nations aren’t poor because rich nations are rich.

World Bank Data: Comparing the U.S. and Europe

Wed, 01/05/2022 - 12:15pm

As I warned a few days ago, Biden’s so-called Build Back Better plan is not dead.

There’s still a significant risk that this economy-sapping plan will get enacted, resulting in big tax increases and a larger burden of government spending.

Proponents of a bigger welfare state say the President’s plan should be approved so that the United States can be more like Europe.

This argument is baffling because it doesn’t make sense to copy countries where living standards are significantly lower.

In some cases dramatically lower.

Let’s explore this issue in greater detail.

In a column for Bloomberg, Allison Schrager analyzes America’s supply-chain problems and the impact on consumption patterns.

But what caught my eye were the numbers comparing the United States and Europe.

Americans can’t spend like they used to. Store shelves are emptying, and it can take months to find a car, refrigerator or sofa. If this continues, we may need to learn to do without — and, horrors, live more like the Europeans. That actually might not be a bad thing, because the U.S. economy could be healthier if it were less reliant on consumption. …We consume much more than we used to and more than other countries.  Consumption per capita grew about 65% from 1990 to 2015, compared with about 35% growth in Europe. …What would that mean for the U.S. economy? European levels of consumption coexist with lower levels of growth.

Here’s the chart that accompanied her article.

As you can see, consumption in the United States is far higher than it is in major European nations – about $15,000-per-year higher than the United Kingdom and about double the levels in Germany, Belgium, and France.

So when someone says we should expand the welfare state and be more like Europe, what they’re really saying is that we should copy nations that are far behind the United States.

Some of you may have noticed that Ms. Schrager is citing per-capita consumption data from the World Bank and you may be wondering whether other numbers tell a different story.

After all, if higher levels of consumption in America are simply the result of borrowing from overseas, that would be a negative rather than a positive.

So I went to the same website and downloaded the data for per-capita gross domestic product instead. I then created this chart (going all the way back to 1971). As you can see, it shows that Americans not only consume more, but we also produce more.

For those interested, I also included Japan and China, as well as the average for the entire world.

The bottom line is that it’s good to be part of western civilization. But it’s especially good to be in the United States.

Since we’re on the topic of comparative economics, David Harsanyi of National Review recently wrote about the gap between the United States and Europe.

More than anything, it is the ingrained American entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic that separates us from Europe and the rest of the world. …Europe, despite its wealth, its relatively stable institutions, its giant marketplace, and its intellectual firepower, is home to only one of the top 30 global Internet companies in the world (Spotify), while the United States is home to 18 of the top 30. …One of the most underrated traits we hold, for instance, is our relative comfort with risk — a behavior embedded in the American character. …Americans, self-selected risk-takers, created an individual and communal independence that engendered creativity. …Because of a preoccupation with “inequality” — one shared by the modern American Left — European rules and taxation for stock-option remuneration make it difficult for start-up employees to enjoy the benefits of innovation — and make it harder for new companies to attract talent. …But the deeper problem is that European culture values stability over success, security over invention…in Europe, hard work is less likely to guarantee results because policies that allow people to keep the fruits of their labor and compete matter far less.

In other words, there’s less economic dynamism because the reward for being productive is lower in Europe (which is simply another way of saying taxes are higher in Europe).

P.S. The main forcus of Ms. Schrager’s Bloomberg article was whether the U.S. economy is too dependent on consumption.

It feels like our voracious consumption is what fuels the economy. But that needn’t be the case. Long-term, sustainable growth doesn’t come from going deep into debt to buy stuff we don’t really need. It comes from technology and innovation, where we come up with new products and better ways of doing things. An economy based on consumption is not sustainable.

sort of agree with her point.

Simply stated high levels of consumption don’t cause a strong economy. It’s the other way around. A strong economy enables high levels of consumption.

But this doesn’t mean consumption is bad, or that it would be good for America to be more like Europe.

Instead, the real lesson is that you want the types of policies (free markets and limited government) that will produce innovation and investment.

That results in higher levels of income, which then allows higher levels of consumption.

Leftism and Hypocrisy

Tue, 01/04/2022 - 12:22pm

I periodically write about our leftist friends who display remarkable hypocrisy on issues such as taxationeducationCovid, and climate.

Here are just a few examples.

Gee, it’s almost as if there’s a pattern.

Writing for Reason, Professors Jason Brennan and Christopher Freiman highlight more of the hypocrisy that seems so prevalent on the left.

It’s been a bad year in public relations for Champagne socialists—or if you prefer, Neiman Marxists. The socialist Twitch streamer and Young Turks host Hasan Piker bought a $2.7 million house in Beverly Hills, complete with a swimming pool and an outdoor widescreen… Millionaire Aurora James designed Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s show-stealing “Tax the Rich” dress, which she wore to the $35,000-per-ticket Met Gala. The phenomenon of egalitarians living in luxury while denouncing the evils of inequality is not new. …socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders…remains within the top 1 percent of U.S. earners and the top .02 percent worldwide. Curious observers may question why Sanders, a tireless critic of the 1 percent, doesn’t sell his $575,000 vacation home and give the proceeds to charity or offer them as a general donation to the U.S. government via pay.gov. The same goes for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a longtime progressive who has a net worth of over $10 million… When the disconnect between personal behavior and expressed ideology is this dramatic, and when the person gets rich and famous for expressing that ideology, we have to wonder whether he was ever sincere or was instead merely trying to promote himself. …Talking about socialism is cheap (indeed, even lucrative); a $2 million donation is not. Yet rather than bear a real cost to really help the poor, Piker and other prominent egalitarians adopt a philosophy that they think demonstrates their good hearts but that allows them to live high.

So is there any defense of this type of hypocrisy?

Sort of, though I’m not sure it’s very persuasive.

In a Wall Street Journal column last year, Ted Rall defended rich leftists by claiming they put values above self-interest.

‘Limousine liberals” have driven full circle—or rather the term has returned to its origins. Coined in 1969 by Mario Procaccino, the Democratic Party’s unsuccessful challenger to New York Mayor John Lindsay, the epithet described “hypocritical wealthy do-gooders insulated from the negative fallout of their bad ideas,” in historian David Callahan’s definition. “This theme,” Mr. Callahan has written, “remained a staple of conservative attacks.” Sen. Ted Kennedy was a classic example. He sent his kids to exclusive private schools at the same time he was telling working-class whites to bus their kids to distressed schools in the slums. …The accusation of hypocrisy or inauthenticity is…less logical… Had Kennedy gotten the tax system of his dreams, he and his family would have been poorer. He voted his values, not his self-interest. That’s admirable.

P.S. Libertarians can be hypocrites, of course, but the only article I’ve analyzed on the issue was not convincing.

P.P.S. By contrast, there are plenty of hypocritical Republicans.

P.P.P.S. The champion hypocrites are the bureaucrats at the OECD and IMF, who reflexively support higher taxes while receiving very generous tax-free salaries.

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

The Need for Global Tax Competition

Mon, 01/03/2022 - 12:08pm

In my recent column listing the “Best and Worst News of 2021,” I included Joe Biden’s global tax cartel as one of the awful things that happened in the past 12 months.

It’s bad news for workers, consumers, and shareholders that politicians approved a system that will require all nations to have a corporate tax rate of at least 15 percent.

From the perspective of politicians, it’s easy to understand why they want a tax cartel. it’s a way for them to get their hands on more money. Just as gas stations would want a system that rigs gas prices at a high level. Or grocery stores would want a system to rig high food prices.

From the perspective of taxpayers, however, tax competition is much better. Politicians have a much harder time raising tax rates (and in many cases feel pressure to lower tax rates) when they know that jobs and investment can shift across borders from high-tax nations to low-tax nations.

As illustrated by this visual.

To explore this issue in greater detail, let’s look at a new article, written by Sven Larson for the European Conservative.

First, a quick history of the global campaign against low taxes. …it has been spearheaded by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD. This government-funded international think tank has built an international cartel of more than 130 governments to battle tax competition. …People who want to keep more of their own money, and who want to enjoy strong privacy laws, are being told by the OECD and the tax cartel that their financial planning is “harmful.” The purpose behind the OECD-led campaign is both sinister and transparent: to make sure taxpayers in high-tax countries have no low-tax options. …It won a big victory this past summer when the countries in the G-7 group complied with the directives of the OECD and agreed to create a global minimum corporate-income tax.

This is spot on.

The OECD is a pro-statism international bureaucracy that looks after the interests of politicians rather than citizens.

Sven also makes a great point about how the corporate tax cartel is just the beginning.

This tax cartel is only the beginning. Once countries with costly governments have created a Berlin Wall around their high-tax jurisdictions, they will be free to collude on other taxes beyond the corporate income tax. Personal income taxes, wealth taxes, death taxes… there is no end to the imagination of a government that does not have to worry about tax competition.

Also spot on.

You should read the entire article. But for purposes of my column, I’m going to highlight one additional point – which is Sven’s observation about how human rights are better protected in a world where people can safely invest their money where national governments can’t grab it.

There are also reasons related to individual freedom to preserve low-tax jurisdictions. To take just one example, in 2017, …Turkish President Erdogan accused investors of “treason” if they moved their assets out of the country. Erdogan’s comments, France24 explains, came on the heels of Turkish prosecutors seizing the assets of an investor who had testified in a court in New York on how a Turkish bank circumvented U.S. sanctions against Iran. The asset seizure easily comes across as retaliatory and meant to send a signal to others who might act in ways that would displease Mr. Erdogan. A total of 23 individuals were affected by the asset seizure. If these individuals had been able to shield their assets from the Turkish government, they would have been free to oppose the Erdogan regime while working, investing, and developing their businesses.

Another argument that is spot on.

The bottom line is that low-tax jurisdictions should be celebrated rather than persecuted.

If the goal is better lives for ordinary people, policy makers should be criticizing tax hells rather than tax havens.

Especially when you consider that politicians have a very strong tendency to over-tax and over-spend (leading to goldfish government) in the absence of some sort of external constraint.

Or, to be more blunt, we need to restrain the “stationary bandit” that leads to “predatory government.”

P.S. Click here or here to learn about the economics of tax competition (and click here to see how many winners of the Nobel Prize agree).

P.P.S. Click herehere, and here for interesting examples of what happens when you oppose the left’s anti-tax competition agenda.

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Image credit: pixelcreatures | Pixabay License.

Hopes and Fears for 2022

Sat, 01/01/2022 - 12:21pm

It’s an annual tradition (2021202020192018etc) to list a handful of things that I hope might happen in the upcoming year, as well as the things I fear may happen.

Sadly, since I understand the economics of “public choice” (something Thomas Jefferson also implicitly understood) it’s always easier to envision the latter category.

But it’s good to begin a new year with optimism, so here are the good things that hopefully will happen in 2022.

Biden’s So-Called Build Back Better Stays Dead – The President squandered money on a fake stimulus and an infrastructure boondoggle, but we dodged the biggest bullet when Democrats couldn’t get all 50 of their Senators to support a multi-trillion dollar, growth-sapping expansion in taxes and spending.

The Supreme Court Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture – This was on my list last year, but the odious practice of “theft by government” continues. That being said, I still think it won’t survive if the Supreme Court has a chance to make a ruling (especially since America’s best Justice is very aware of the problem).

Republicans Win Congress in 2022 – I don’t have much faith in Republicans to do the right thing (especially when a Republican is in the White House), but I hope they win the House and Senate in November because they will oppose big tax increases while Democrats control the White House – even if only for partisan reasons.

In the “honorable mention” or “runner-up” category, I also hope to see further progress for school choice in 2022.

And I used to list a collapse of Venezuela’s reprehensible socialist government as one of my annual “hopes,” but I’ve largely given up (particularly since Latin Americans seem foolishly susceptible to “leftist saviors“).

Now let’s shift to the bad things that I fear will happen over the next 365 days.

Biden’s BBB Budget Plan Springs Back to Life – The President’s “Build Back Better” plan may be on life support, but sadly it’s not quite dead. I fear a scaled-down (but still horrible) version of the legislation may get approved this year. Senator Manchin of West Virginia, for instance, says he is willing to support a $1.5 trillion package and I fear the left eventually will decide that 50 percent of a (moldy and weevil-ridden) loaf is better than none.

Biden’s Remains a Protectionist – I hoped last year that Biden would reduce government trade taxes. Not because he believes in economic liberty, but simply because he wouldn’t want to continue a Trump-era policy. But that didn’t happen, and I now fear he’ll continue with protectionism in 2022. I don’t even have much hope that he’ll resuscitate the World Trade Organization.

New Tax Cartels – One of last year’s big defeats was the creation of a global tax cartel by governments. Barring some sort of miracle that prevents implementation, greedy politicians have set up a system that will require all nations to have a minimum corporate tax of 15 percent. That’s very bad news for workers, consumers, and shareholders, but I’m even more worried about the precedent it creates for additional tax cartels and ever-higher tax rates.

I’ll close by noting that last year’s list included the possibility of Kamala Harris becoming president.

But Biden has been so bad that it’s unclear that Harris would make things worse.

P.S. For the “fears” category, I could – and probably should – list entitlements every single year. Simply stated, the country is in deep long-run trouble because of an aging population and poorly designed tax-and-transfer programs. Years ago, I was semi-hopeful that we would get Medicaid and Medicare reform.

Now that seems like a distant dream and the real battle is preventing further entitlement expansions such as Biden’s per-child handout.

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Image credit: GDJ | Pixabay License.

Best and Worst News of 2021

Fri, 12/31/2021 - 12:27pm

Per tradition (202020192018etc), we highlight the best and worst developments of the year on December 31.

The choices are based on whether a particular policy increases or decreases individual liberty, either in a big way or a symbolic way.

Interestingly, the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t show up on either the good list or bad list.

Why? Because governments continue to make things worse, but not in ways that are significantly new or different.

With that in mind, let’s look at what happened in 2021, starting with the good news.

The Death of (the horribly misnamed) Build Back Better – President Biden somehow decided a very narrow victory over a very unpopular incumbent meant that he had a mandate for a radical expansion of the welfare state, accompanied by a plethora of class-warfare tax increases. Fortunately, Congress did not approve Biden’s growth-sapping plan.

School Choice Advances – Led by a sweeping plan to empower parents in West Virginia, there were many encouraging victories this year for school choice. And as teacher unions continue to mishandle the pandemic, there’s hope for continued progress next year.

Arizona Tax Reform – Several states lowered tax rates in 2021, but what happened in Arizona deserves special attention. Lawmakers reversed the outcome of a class-warfare referendum, meaning the state’s top tax rate on households will be 4.5 percent rather than 8 percent.

Speaking of referendum results, if we had an “honorable mention” or “runner-up” category, I would list three results from  2021

Now let’s look at the three worst policy developments of 2021.

Biden’s Fake Stimulus and Infrastructure Boondoggle – Even though the so-called Build Back Better plan failed to advance, President Biden was able to significantly increase the burden of government spending with a supposed stimulus plan early in the year, followed by a grab-bag of special-interest handouts as part of “infrastructure” legislation later in the year.

Chile Elects a Hard-Core Leftist President – Much to my dismay, Chilean voters opted for a hard-core leftist president who wants to dismantle the nation’s very successful private social security system. The most economically successful nation in Latin America is now in danger of becoming another Argentina. Or worse.

Global Tax Cartel – While Biden’s proposal for a higher corporate tax rate in the United States did not succeed, he seems to have successfully paved the way for a global tax cartel that will require all nations to have a corporate tax rate of at least 15 percent. This is a victory for politicians over workers, consumers, and shareholders. And it creates a very dangerous precedent.

Let’s also have an honorable mention for bad news.

One positive development during the Trump years was the unwinding of regulations that forced Americans to use crummy, low-flow showerheads.

Well, that victory was short-lived, as captured by this headline from a Reason article.

For what it’s worth, I suspect this bit of bad news will be followed by some bad news on a related issue.

P.S. I thought about including inflation as one of the bad things that happened in 2021, but I think that’s the results of years of misguided monetary policy. Politicians from both parties seem perfectly happy with Keynesian policy from the Federal Reserve.

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Image credit: Jon S | CC BY 2.0.

According to the Human Freedom Index, Switzerland Is the Most Libertarian-Oriented Nation

Thu, 12/30/2021 - 12:13pm

A new edition of the Human Freedom Index has been released. When you combine measures of personal freedom and economic freedom, the “sensible nation” of Switzerland is at the top of the rankings.

I don’t know if this means we should view Switzerland as the world’s most libertarian nation (or perhaps the world’s least statist nation), but it’s obviously good to lead this list.

And it’s not surprising that New Zealand is next, though many people are probably shocked to see Denmark in third place (it has very bad fiscal policy, but otherwise is a very laissez-faire nation).

The United States is #15, which is good but not great.

Here are a few passages from the report’s executive summary.

The Human Freedom Index (HFI) presents a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. This seventh annual index uses 82 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom… The HFI covers 165 jurisdictions for 2019, the most recent year for which sufficient data are available. …fully 83 percent of the global population lives in jurisdictions that have seen a fall in human freedom since 2008. That includes decreases in overall freedom in the 10 most populous countries in the world. Only 17 percent of the global population lives in countries that have seen increases in freedom over the same time period. …Jurisdictions in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significantly higher average per capita income ($48,748) than those in other quartiles; the average per capita income in the least free quartile is $11,259. The HFI also finds a strong relationship between human freedom and democracy

If you want to know the world’s worst nations, here are the bottom 10.

Venezuela is normally the worst of the worst, but in this case Syria wins the Booby Prize.

Let’s now give some extra attention to Hong Kong.

The report notes that there’s been a very unfortunate decline in human freedom in Hong Kong, mostly because of an erosion of personal freedom.

And Hong Kong’s score is expected to drop even further in future editions.

Freedom has suffered a precipitous decline in Hong Kong. The territory was once one of the freest places in the world, but the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) escalating violations of Hong Kong’s traditional liberties has caused its ranking in our index to fall from 4th place in 2008—when the first globally comprehensive data appeared—to 30th place in 2019, the most recent year in our report… Our survey does not yet capture the suppression of 2020 and 2021, including the CCP’s imposition of a draconian security law that enabled its aggressive takeover of Hong Kong.

Thanks to the recent election, I expect we will see a similar discussion of Chile’s decline in future editions.

Here’s a final observation that should be highlighted.

Because the report relies on hard data (which often takes a year or two to be finalized and reported), this year’s HFI is based on 2019 data.

And that means we won’t see the effect of pandemic-related restrictions, which generally were adopted in early 2020, until next year’s version.

…this year’s report does not capture the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on freedom.

P.S. Here’s what I wrote about the previous edition of the Human Freedom Index. And if you want to dig into the archives, I also wrote about the publication in 2016 and 2018.

P.P.S. For what it’s worth, I still think Australia might have the best long-run outlook for human freedom.

The Best and Worst States for Tax Policy

Wed, 12/29/2021 - 12:23pm

Yesterday’s column included a map showing which states gained and lost the most population over the past year.

I speculated that some of America’s internal migration was driven by differences in tax policy.

So it’s appropriate today that I share this map from the Tax Foundation’s annual State Business Tax Climate Index, showing Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska, and Florida with the best scores and Connecticut, California, New York, and New Jersey with the worst scores.

Comparing today’s map with yesterday’s map, I immediately noticed that two states losing a lot of people – New York and California – also are states that have very bad tax systems.

And if you examine other states, you’ll confirm that there’s a relationship between tax policy and people “voting with their feet.”

Does that mean taxes are the only thing that matters? Of course not.

But as Janelle Cammenga and Jared Walczak explain in their report, they definitely have an effect on where money gets invested and where jobs get created.

Taxation is inevitable, but the specifics of a state’s tax structure matter greatly. The measure of total taxes paid is relevant, but other elements of a state tax system can also enhance or harm the competitiveness of a state’s business environment. …all types of businesses, small and large, tending to locate where they have the greatest competitive advantage. The evidence shows that states with the best tax systems will be the most competitive at attracting new businesses and most effective at generating economic and employment growth. …State lawmakers are right to be concerned about how their states rank in the global competition for jobs and capital, but they need to be more concerned with companies moving from Detroit, Michigan, to Dayton, Ohio, than from Detroit to New Delhi, India. …Tax competition is an unpleasant reality for state revenue and budget officials, but it is an effective restraint on state and local taxes.

One of the more interesting parts of the report is that you get to see where states rank when considering different types of taxes.

Here’s Table 1, which has the overall ranking in the first column, followed by the rankings for the main revenue sources for states.

If you read the report’s methodology, you’ll notice that there are different weights.

The worst tax (assuming a state wants a competitive system) is the personal income tax, followed by the sales tax and corporate income tax.

No state ranks in the top 10 for all five categories, though Florida, North Carolina, and Utah have relatively good scores across the board.

P.S. One important caveat is that the report does not list energy severance taxes, which are major sources of revenue for states such as Alaska and Wyoming. To be sure, those taxes that largely are borne by out-of-state consumers, so there’s a reason for the omission. Nonetheless, those taxes enable excessive government spending, which is why I think South Dakota and Florida actually have the nation’s best fiscal systems.

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Image credit: Mapswire | CC BY 4.0.

Americans Are “Voting with their Feet” against High Taxes

Tue, 12/28/2021 - 12:20pm

I’ve written many times about how Americans are moving from high-tax states to low-tax states.

Now we have even more evidence because the Census Bureau has issued its annual report on state population changes, along with this accompanying map.

You don’t need to be an expert in map reading to see that CaliforniaIllinois, and New York are losing people at the fastest rate (orange states).

Likewise, the states gaining population at the fastest rate (purple states) include Texas.

This chart from the Wall Street Journal shows the biggest changes, as measured by the number of people moving in and out.

To be sure, taxes are not the only factor that drive internal migration.

But it’s also clear that people tend to move to lower-tax states, either because they overtly want to keep more of their money, or because they are attracted to the job opportunities that tend to be more plentiful where taxes are lower.

As you might expect, the coverage from Fox News highlights the fact that people are leaving blue states and moving to red states.

Between 2020 and 2021, the country has seen the lowest population growth since its founding, at only a 0.1% increase, but the biggest declines have occurred in Washington, D.C., and Democrat-led states, according to a report Tuesday by the Census Bureau. …New York with a 1.6% decline, Illinois with a 0.9% decline, and Hawaii and California that both saw a 0.7% decline. Meanwhile, the states that saw the biggest increase in population growth were Republican-run states, starting with Idaho at a 2.9% increase, followed by Utah with 1.7%, Montana with 1.7%, Arizona with 1.4% and South Carolina with 1.2%. …Florida and Texas, each saw a population growth of 1%.

Citing a different report, he Wall Street Journal opined a few days ago about the implications of migration for Illinois.

The Land of Lincoln is one of only three states, including West Virginia and Mississippi, to have lost population since 2010. But its population over age 55 has grown as Baby Boomers have aged. …Illinois is losing young people while Florida is gaining them. State development specialist Zach Kennedy notes that “the U.S. population actually grew in the prime working age, young adult age cohorts, 25 to 29, 30 to 34 and 35 to 39 year olds.” Illinois was among the few states to see a decline in these age cohorts. …“Only New Jersey lost more college-aged individuals out of state who never returned,” Mr. Kennedy says. Hmmm. What do the two have in common? …a shrinking population of prime-age working people and children means a smaller tax base will have to support growing retirement liabilities. Folks who stick around will have to pay higher and higher taxes. …each Illinois household on average is on the hook for $110,000 in government-worker retirement debt, up from $90,000 in 2019. …The per-household pension burdens in Iowa and Wisconsin were $3,500 and $3,200, respectively. Both states have gained young people. State and local government in Illinois is run by public-worker unions, and people are fleeing the economic and fiscal consequences.

The most important sentence in the preceding excerpt points out that “Folks who stick around will have to pay higher and higher taxes.”

And that will encourage even more of them to leave, which leads to even-further pressure for higher taxes on the chumps who remain.

Needless to say, that won’t end well, for Illinois or other blue states. Either they go bankrupt or future politicians do a big blue-state bailout.

P.S. This helps to explain why curtailing the federal tax code’s subsidy for excessive state and local tax burdens was so important.

P.P.S. This is also why federalism is both good politics and good policy.

Gimmicky Public Policy from Japan

Mon, 12/27/2021 - 12:07pm

It’s hard to be optimistic about Japan’s economic future, in large part because the burden of government is expanding thanks to an aging population and a tax-and-transfer entitlement system.

Maintaining that approach is a recipe for ever-higher taxes (especially since Japan already has record levels of debt).

And Japanese politicians definitely have been grabbing more money, enabled to a considerable extent by a money-grabbing value-added tax.

To make matters worse, the country’s economy has not enjoyed much growth ever since a bubble burst about thirty years ago.

Sadly, the current prime minister, Fumio Kishida, doesn’t seem to have any sensible ideas for his country.

Instead, as reported by Ben Dooley and Hisako Ueno in the New York Times, he’s latched on to a very silly proposal.

Japan’s prime minister…wants…to…Give…employees a substantial raise. The reasoning is simple. Wage growth has been stagnant for decades in Japan, the wealth gap is widening and the quickest fix is nudging people…to pay their employees more. Higher wages, the thinking goes, will jump-start consumer spending and lift Japan’s sputtering economy. …the prime minister is calling on employers to increase pay as much as 4 percent in 2022. Companies that comply will be allowed to increase their overall corporate tax deductions by up to 40 percent. …Mr. Kishida said…Increasing pay “is not a cost,” he added. “It’s an investment in the future.”

Kishida’s scheme is a bizarre mix of industrial policy and Keynesian economics.

He wants a special loophole in the tax code, but only if companies jump through certain hoops.

All based on the flawed notion that consumer spending drives the economy (it’s actually the economy that drives consumer spending).

Unsurprisingly, the private sector isn’t very impressed by the prime minister’s approach.

Business groups, union leaders and others have questioned the feasibility… That businesses would resist increasing wages even when essentially paid to do so shows just how intractable the problem is. Years of weak growth…have left companies little room to raise prices. …The reaction to the wage proposal is an inauspicious sign for Mr. Kishida, who took office two months ago promising to…put Japan’s economy back on track through a “new capitalism.”

Kishida’s “new capitalism” sounds even worse than some of the gimmicky ideas that have been pushed on the right in the United States (reform conservatismcommon-good capitalismnationalist conservatism, and compassionate conservatism).

From an economic perspective, he needs to learn that sustained higher wages are only possible if there’s more productivity, which translates into more income for both companies and workers.

And that’s not a description of what we find in Japan.

…there is the issue of unprofitability. For nearly a decade, a majority of Japanese businesses have been unprofitable — around 65 percent in 2019, the lowest figure since 2010. They have been kept afloat by cheap money underwritten by the Bank of Japan, but no profits mean no corporate tax liability, so those businesses would not be eligible for Mr. Kishida’s incentives.

The bottom line is that Japan’s political elite has been marching steadily in the wrong direction, and they never seem to learn from previous mistakes.

The government has long tried to find something, anything, to stimulate the economy and push up prices. It has pumped money into financial markets and made borrowing nearly free. But it’s been to little avail…the Japanese government has turned to even larger amounts of stimulus, showering consumers with cash handouts and companies with zero-interest loans. …In 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe introduced a similar plan, with little success. Today, average wages remain stuck at around $2,800 a month, about the same level as two decades ago.

P.S. Part of the problem is that Japanese politicians may be listening to terrible advice from left-leaning bureaucracies such as the International Monetary Fund and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

P.P.S. Here’s another example of a foolish gimmick by Japanese politicians.

P.P.P.S. And let’s not forget that Japan may win a prize for the strangest example of regulation.

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Image credit: victorpalmer | Pixabay License.

Celebrating the Death of the Evil Empire

Sun, 12/26/2021 - 12:39pm

There are not many advantages to being old, but I feel lucky to have been alive to see the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

We should celebrate this victory over evil every day.

But especially on December 26, which is the 30th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s downfall (the Soviet flag was replaced by the Russian flag on Christmas, but the USSR wasn’t formally dissolved until the following day).

In a column for the American Institute for Economic Research, Doug Bandow writes joyfully about the end of the Soviet Union.

…the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which Reagan accurately labeled the Evil Empire…assuredly was evil. …the Evil Empire’s death wasn’t the miracle that occurred three decades ago. The Soviet Union’s peaceful death was. …Reagan was vital. He recognized the USSR as a national Humpty Dumpty, ready for its great fall. Contra the widespread assumption among foreign policy specialists that communism was likely to be with us for years, even decades, Reagan saw weakness, economic, to be sure, but also moral and spiritual. …Gorbachev…kept Red Army troops in their barracks in the breakthrough year of 1989, when the East European “satellites” slipped their orbits. …Poland and Hungary began the cascade. Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria followed more slowly. Most dramatically, the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, after East Germany’s leadership refused to commit mass murder and mow down protestors. …The Soviet Union staggered along for two more years. The regime increasingly failed to manage the economy. …Three decades ago this month the Evil Empire—created by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, empowered by Joseph Stalin, dessicated by Leonid Brezhnev, and buried by Mikhail Gorbachev—ended. Disappeared. Collapsed. Vanished. Disintegrated. Failed. And all the misguided intellectuals, venal apparatchiks, and murderous ideologues could not put it back together again. …good people can, and sometimes do, win.

The point about the “moral and economic” weakness of the Soviet Union is probably not sufficiently appreciated.

Reagan pointed out (often using humor) that communism was a moral abomination, not some sort of legitimate competing system (I’d be rich today if I had a dollar for every time some supposed expert asserted that we needed to find a middle ground with communism).

It’s probably not possible to measure the extent to which foundational criticism played a role in the collapse of the Soviet Union, but these excerpts from James Pethokoukis seem very relevant.

December will mark the 30th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. …One of the best brief analytical accounts of Soviet Union’s demise is by AEI scholar Leon Aron — a 2011 piece in Foreign Policy, “Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union Is Wrong.” …To Aron, the sudden demise of the Soviet Empire is ultimately a story of moral renaissance, an “intellectual and moral quest for self-respect and pride that, beginning with a merciless moral scrutiny of the country’s past and present, within a few short years hollowed out the mighty Soviet state, deprived it of legitimacy, and turned it into a burned-out shell that crumbled… The long-run decline and demise of the Soviet Union is also, of course, a story of the economic failure of socialism and central planning.

While Reagan deserves considerable credit, he wasn’t the only leader to help push the Soviet Union into the dustbin of history.

In an article for Reason, Stephanie Slade discusses the role of Pope John Paul II.

In 1979, less than a year after ascending to the Catholic Church’s highest office, Pope John Paul II returned to his home country, then under communist rule. He disembarked at the airport, knelt, and kissed the Polish ground. That moment was arguably the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. …While celebrating Mass at Warsaw’s Victory Square, John Paul…said, “that there can be no just Europe without the independence of Poland marked on its map!” It was an astonishing political rebuke to the Soviets, who following World War II had installed communist governments across Eastern Europe that were “independent” in name only. …As the labor organizer and future Polish president Lech Wałęsa put it, John Paul’s pilgrimage “awakened in us, the Poles, the hope for change….I have no doubt that without the pope’s words, without his presence, the birth of Solidarity would not have been possible.” …In 1987, Pope John Paul II made his third pilgrimage to Poland. Independent unions were still outlawed at the time, but that did not stop supporters from hoisting Solidarity banners during a papal Mass attended by some 800,000 people. That same week, Reagan, during a speech at the Brandenburg Gate, intoned: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Two years later, the Berlin Wall would indeed come down. We often think of that as the first domino to fall in Eastern Europe. But in fact, it occurred a few months after Poland held its first semi-free parliamentary elections. Solidarity claimed 99 percent of the open seats. …The events of the period were a triumph for individual liberty.

I’ve pointed out how a grocery store in Texas also helped bring about the end of the Soviet Union.

A TV show about the same state may have played a role as well. Here are some excerpts from a report in the U.K.-based Sun.

Classic soap Dallas brought down communism in the Soviet Union, Eurythmics star Dave Stewart has claimed. …And the claim comes from an impeccable source — a conversation the songwriter had with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1990s. Dave, 68, said: “What ­Gorbachev was saying — it was Dallas, the TV show. …“Somebody managed to get a VHS to work and broadcast it to part of Russia and they thought, ‘Hang on, that’s how people live in America’. “He said that had more effect, that half an hour, than anything else.” …watching such shows was banned behind the Iron Curtain.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think grocery stories and TV shows were quite as important as Reagan and the Pope.

But I think such factors helped to erode the confidence of the communist elite (the bosses who were much more likely to be exposed to the superior economic outcomes in capitalist nations).

Let’s close with a final observation about the failures of the American policy elite.

I’ve previously opined on the glaring inability of some academic economists to understand the inherent flaws of communism. Well, a recent column by George Will contains these amazing observations about a similar blindness by supposed experts inside the U.S. government.

In 1992, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) remembered a warning by CIA Director Allen Dulles (who would become a Washington casualty of the Bay of Pigs) in 1959 that the Soviet Union’s economy was humming so efficiently that by 1970 the gap between the Soviet and U.S. economies would be dangerously narrow. But, then, the 1957 Gaither Commission projected that the Soviet gross domestic product would surpass the U.S. GDP in 1993. (The sclerotic Soviet Union did not live that long.) Moynihan noted that in 1987 the CIA reported that East Germany’s per capita GDP was higher than West Germany’s, an assessment that “any taxi driver in Berlin” could have refuted.

don’t like majoritarianism, but passages like this are why I’m also not a fan of rule by self-styled experts. But that’s a topic for another day.

The moral of today’s column is that communism was an evil failure.

As epitomized by the Soviet Union, it was an economic failure and a humanitarian failure.

P.S. If you want to learn more about the economic performance of East Germany and West Germany, you can click here.

P.P.S. If you want other examples of how communist economics led to terrible outcomes, you can also compare Czechoslovakia to nations in Western Europe, as well as Cuba vs Chile and North Korea vs South Korea.

The Economics of Scrooge

Fri, 12/24/2021 - 12:26pm

Since it’s Christmas Eve, let’s use this opportunity for a holiday-themed economics lesson.

I did a version of this back in 2012 by sharing a remake of Christmas songs. This year, we’re going to look at A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Let’s start with an analysis of the story from Jacqueline Isaacs.

Many communist and socialist leaders have looked to Dickens as a champion for their cause. Even Karl Marx was a self-professed fan. …many have labeled Dickens a socialist and have used his ever-popular seasonal classic A Christmas Carol, as a condemnation of capitalism and consumerism. …I would challenge anyone…to notice the decidedly non-socialist themes Dickens presents. …First, Dickens never condemns capitalism, decries the success of business owners, nor denounces the trading by which they amassed their wealth. …When the character has gone through his revelatory experience and come out a better man, he does not then become poor. Instead, the new Scrooge uses his wealth to help those around him. …Secondly, Dickens seems to go out of his way to point out the inadequacies of government anti-poverty programs. …If the government takes over the responsibility of caring for the poor, then we will all be Scrooges. …Lastly, Dickens takes a relatively narrow view of community. The New Ebenezer did not set forth to save all of England, but he took care of those needy people whom he encountered every day. …Socialism and communism take very large views of community. They require large numbers of people to participate in the system so that the more productive members of society can fully support the less productive.

Senator Phil Gramm and a former aide, Mike Solon, pointed out in the Wall Street Journal last year that Scrooge may have been an unhappy miser, but his frugality generated benefits for everyone else.

Scrooge is a distilled caricature of a businessman in the Victorian era: a rich, obsessive wealth hoarder. …It does not appear that Dickens seriously considered the possibility that Scrooge and Marley’s business contributed to the common welfare of mankind. Like Scrooge, Marley created and accumulated wealth, leaving it to Scrooge, who continued to invest and accumulate. When Dickens has Scrooge’s nephew say his uncle’s wealth “is of no use to him” because he doesn’t spend it, it is made clear that Dickens never considered who Scrooge’s wealth was useful to. …For all Dickens knew or could envision, the only hope for the poor was charity. Yet unknown to him and his contemporaries, a revolution was beginning at the moment “A Christmas Carol” was published. The Market Revolution, funded by the thrift of Britain’s Scrooges, was already enriching mankind. …the period from 1840-1900 to have been the beginning of a golden age for workers. Wages, stagnant for more than 600 years, exploded during the Victorian era—rising from less than $567 a year in 1840 to $1,216 in 1900 (expressed in 1970 dollars). Life expectancy rose by 20%. Literacy rates soared. …Who then benefited from the accumulated wealth of Scrooge and Marley? First Britain and then all mankind. Since Scrooge and Marley never consumed the wealth they created, its use was a gift to all. It funded the factories and railroads, the tools and jobs that fed and clothed millions of British subjects and then billions around the world. Their unspent wealth was of no use to them, but it was of sublime use to humanity.

Gary North then explains how the thrift of rich people is good for the rest of us, as well as how free enterprise translates self interest into the common interest.

Dickens was living in the second generation after the Industrial Revolution began. Sometime around 1780, an economic revolution like no other in history had begun. It was marked by compound economic growth… The driving force of this revolution was specialization — specialization funded by capital, itself the product of thrift, by double-entry bookkeeping, and by attention to detail. In short, it was men like Ebenezer Scrooge who were the architects of capitalism. …The spread of capital is the basis for men’s increased productivity. The spread of the bookkeeper’s mindset is the basis of net retained earnings, which in turn finance additional capital. Taking care of business reduces poverty as nothing else in man’s history ever has. …without Scrooge and men like him, who are devoted to the details of their businesses, the shops of London would not be filled with cornucopias — at Christmas or all year round. …The heart of capitalism is service to the consumer. In serving the consumer, the producer must pay attention to what the consumer wants, at what price, when, and where. But the same is true of the producers’ attitude toward his employees. They, too, must be served… The free market does not make men good. It does encourage them to serve the consumer. It forces losses on them if they are less efficient in their service than their competitors. The free market society is not a dog-eat-dog world. It is dog-serve-master world. The consumer is the master.

Jerry Bowyer then puts Dickens’ work in context, noting that it could be viewed as a debunking of Malthus.

Thomas Malthus. Malthus’ ideas were still current in British intellectual life at the time A Christmas Carol was written. …What was Dickens really doing when he wrote A Christmas Carol? Answer: He was weighing in on one of the central economic debates of his time… Malthus famously argued that in a world in which economies grew arithmetically and population grew geometrically, mass want would be inevitable. …Jean Baptiste Say…argued on the other hand…that the gains from global population growth, spread over vast expanses of trading, trigger gains from a division of labor which exceed those ever thought possible before the rise of the market order. …If Scrooge has modern counterparts, they’re more likely to be found among those sad, self-sterilizing minimizers of carbon footprints than in the circles of supply-side entrepreneurs. …The debate between Say and Malthus, between Scrooge and the Ghosts, continues to this day. Is the market economy a source of abundance or shortage? Is each new little boy or a girl mostly mouth, or mostly mind? Is it a Say/(Julian) Simon/Forbes/Wanniski/Gilder world, or is it a Keynes/Ehrlich/Krugman/Gore world?

In other wordsthree cheers for capitalism.

P.S. Another famous character this time of year is George Bailey, the lead character in Frank Capra’s classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.

In a 2019 column for the Wall Street Journal, Gramm and Solon highlight the film’s main economic lesson.

The film’s antagonist is the banker Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who epitomizes the Democrats’ caricature of unredeemable capitalism. Peter Bailey (Samuel Hinds) defends capitalism in an often overlooked dialogue when he asks his son George (Jimmy Stewart) to join his building-and-loan business. …George…wants no part of “this business of nickels and dimes and spending all your life trying to figure out how to save 3 cents on a length of pipe.” His father, being older and wiser, responds: “I feel that in a small way we are doing something important. Satisfying a fundamental urge. It’s deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace, and we’re helping him get those things in our shabby little office.” By squeezing nickels and dimes, the Baileys made limited resources and labor go further, producing “dozens of the prettiest little homes you ever saw, 90% owned by suckers who used to pay rent” to old Potter. …Peter Bailey’s insight reflects a vision originating in the Enlightenment, which set people free to promote their interest, and in the process, through Adam Smith’s invisible hand, promote the interests of mankind. …Capitalism alone respects life’s greatest gift: the freedom to choose how you live your life, where you discover meaning, and what you sacrifice for.

P.P.S. If you still need to do some last-minute shopping, here’s a gift for your left-wing friendsanother for your right-wing friends, and a lot of options for your libertarian friends.

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Image credit: Ronald Searle, in Life Magazine, 1960 | CC BY-NC 2.0.

(Pathetic) Politician of the Year

Thu, 12/23/2021 - 12:11pm

Senator Elizabeth Warren is a particularly noxious politician.

It’s not just that she’s a doctrinaire leftist on a wide range of issues (class warfarecorporate governancegovernment spendingbusiness taxationcronyismwealth taxationSocial SecurityIRS funding, etc).

She’s also a fraud, having falsely claimed Indian ancestry to get hired and promoted at law schools.

And she’s a hypocrite as well, opposing school choice while utilizing private education for her offspring.

Not to mention supporting higher taxes, but then failing to participate in a Massachusetts program that enables people to voluntarily pay extra.

In other words, a political hack with no redeeming qualities.

So I was greatly amused to see that Elon Musk has responded to some her demagoguery with some very clever Twitter responses.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a “Karen” is an intrusive, annoying, and officious woman who likes to control other people’s lives.

But, as you can see, she tried to pick on someone who doesn’t feel any need to kowtow to a politician.

By the way, I’m not sharing this because I’m a knee-jerk advocate for Musk.

Yes, he’s obviously a great entrepreneur, but I don’t like the fact that he’s also benefited from some cronyism.

But let’s get back to satire.

The Babylon Bee had some fun with the Musk-Warren feud.

In a heated exchange on Twitter, a powerful white man viciously attacked Elizabeth Warren—a noble Cherokee squaw and Senator from Massachusetts. “This violent verbal attack on me was literally a hate crime,” said Warren… “The white man continues to oppress my people by resisting the government’s efforts to tax them into oblivion and waste all their money on spending bills that we write to pay off our campaign donors. This basically makes him a freeloader.” The white attacker—named Elon Musk—simply responded with cruel memes showing Elizabeth Warren wearing eagle feathers and war paint to mock her proud heritage.

And since we’re sharing humor from Babylon Beethis story from 2019 also pokes fun at her penchant for mis-characterizing her background.

Elizabeth Warren has begun sharing stories illustrating the hardship and discrimination she’s faced. Recently, she revealed a particularly tough time back in the early ’70s when she lost a teaching job because her fake mustache had fallen off, revealing she was, in fact, a woman… “It was tough for a woman back then,” Warren said at a campaign stop. “You had to wear fake facial hair and talk in a deep voice, or people would fire you.” …Warren says things have improved for women since, but they could still be better. To help the situation, she announced a plan to fund R&D for an adhesive that will easily keep mustaches in place all day.

Let’s conclude with this very amusing meme that tells you everything you need to know about the winner of the feud.

P.S. I have some Warren humor in the archives, including this extension of her class warfare philosophy and this collection of memes about her ancestry fraud.

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

(Reprehensible) Politician of the Year

Wed, 12/22/2021 - 12:42pm

I’ve written before that Connecticut should change its motto from the Nutmeg State to the Taxnut State.

And if you want an example, consider that Democrats in one town ran for reelection (successfully!) using the slogan “Lowest tax increase in 10 years.”

Maybe there’s something in the water that produces terrible politicians. Consider, for instance, this bit of state-worship from one of the state’s Senators, Chris Murphy.

That’s a despicable sentiment, but Sen. Murphy may actually be decent and rational compared to Connecticut’s other Senator.

Richard Blumenthal actually took part in an event with the Communist Party. I’m not joking. Click on Phil Kerpen’s tweet.

Some highlights of Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal and his introducer at the Connecticut People’s World Committee, an affiliate of Communist Party USA. pic.twitter.com/w5CvV7tGzy

— Phil Kerpen (@kerpen) December 15, 2021

At the risk of understatement, this is disgusting. Communism is responsible for 100 million deaths and mass impoverishment of hundreds of millions more.

It spawned one of the world’s most evil nations, the Soviet Union, and it continues to produce misery today in barbaric regimes such as North Korea and Cuba.

I’m not the only one to be nauseated. Writing for the Washington Examiner, Quin Hillyer explains why Blumenthal’s participation should be viewed as unacceptable.

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut spoke at a Dec. 11 awards ceremony for the Connecticut affiliate of Communist Party USA. …Blumenthal pronounced himself “really excited and honored to be with you today” while presenting the group’s chosen award winners with special certificates of recognition… Throughout the event, including in the introduction of Blumenthal himself just 60 seconds before the senator took the microphone, the two co-hosts repeatedly celebrated their Communist Party affiliation and urged listeners to join the Communist Party. …In any rational, morally decent media world, this would be a big scandal. …This is not some warm-and-fuzzy, well-intentioned (even if slightly impractical) affiliation. The Communist Party USA repeatedly tried to subvert constitutional democracy and spy on the U.S. government while deliberately and regularly colluding with the Soviet Union. …There is absolutely no moral difference between consorting with a Communist Party affiliate and consorting with a white supremacist or neo-Nazi one. The record of international communist cruelty is indisputable, with its 100 million deaths far exceeding (in number) the genocidal effects of Nazism. …There is nothing remotely defensible in Blumenthal’s enthusiastic participation in the event. His actions were morally depraved.

Amen.

In the past, my “Politician of the Year” award has been somewhat satirical. I’ve highlighted politicians who are mostly guilty of stereotypical sins.

Senator Blumenthal belongs in a special category, one that merits disgust and disdain.

P.S. It’s quite likely that the Senator was a victim of bad staff work. Some aide or campaign flunky probably booked the event and didn’t conduct the 5 minutes of background work that would have been needed to find the red flags (no pun intended). That being said, he should have walked out of the event when the women who preceded him (and introduced him!) was pimping for the Communist Party.

He gave aid and comfort to an evilrepugnant, and despicable ideology.

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Image credit: US Coast Guard Academy | Public Domain.

Chile Election Week, Part VI: Wrecking the Constitution?

Tue, 12/21/2021 - 12:56pm

Now that a socialist has been elected (with open support from the Communist Party), what comes next for Chile?

Lots of bad policy, for sure, but Axel Kaiser warns that the left also wants to replace the country’s pro-liberty constitution.

Axel, who is President of Fundación para El Progreso and also a Senior Fellow for the Atlas Center for Latin America, just scratches the surface in this short video. He told me that there are many other desirable provisions, including school choice.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the left in Chile is so determined to replace it with a document that empowers politicians.

wrote about this issue last year, citing experts (including folks on the left) who all agreed that giving politicians new powers over the economy was the clear purpose of a new constitution.

This is basically a fight about whether to replace rights with entitlements (or, in the language of philosophers, whether to replace “negative rights” with “positive rights”).

By the way, there’s research showing that a society based on liberties is the best way of generating the prosperity needed for higher living standards (i.e., the access to goods and service that proponents of positive rights claim to support).

And, earlier this year, I showed how that works conceptually.

But you don’t need empirical research or theoretical analysis. Just open your eyes and look around the world. The nations based on socialism and so-called positive rights have produced economic misery and deprivation.

By contrast, there’s a much better track record – especially for ordinary people – in countries where government plays a smaller role.

It’s tragic that Chilean voters chose the redistribution approach in Sunday’s election. If they opt for a new constitution next year, the nation will be doomed.

P.S. By the way, here are some excerpts from today’s Wall Street Journal‘s editorial about the election.

Latin America, or much of it, is moving to the populist left, and Chile became the latest example by electing socialist Gabriel Boric… He’s the most leftist politician to win in Chile since Salvador Allende in the 1970s. His major theme was reducing economic inequality, which he proposes to do through state power. Mr. Boric wants to raise taxes, eliminate the country’s highly successful private pension system and increase government spending and regulation. He supports the constituent assembly now rewriting the constitution, and his goal is to give government more control over just about everything. …Foreign investors and Chileans with money and property are nervous. From the end of 2019—when the left launched riots demanding a new social contract—until August 2021, Chile’s central bank says some $50 billion (15% of Chilean GDP) fled the country. About half was investment capital and half from businesses and households. …on Monday the Chilean peso fell 2% against the U.S. dollar while the broader stock market plunged 10%. …The world is watching closely to see if the new president will…take Chile in the direction of such failing Latin states as Argentina or Peru, or worse.

Amen.

The best case scenario is that Chile is copying Argentina. The worst case is that it is copying Venezuela.

P.P.S. There was a president in the United States who wanted to remake society on the basis of “positive rights.” Fortunately, he did not succeed.

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Image credit: Paulo Slachevsky | CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Chile Election Week, Part V: Another “Leftist Savior”

Mon, 12/20/2021 - 12:09pm

I warned a few days ago that Gabirel Boric would be bad news if he won Chile’s presidential election. Well, he won, and now we’re going to find out whether he will repeal the policies that made the country successful.

He definitely seems to be another “leftist savior,” as described in this video.

At best, Chile has elected someone as bad as Kirchner in Argentina.

The worst-case scenario is that Boric will be an utter disaster, like Chavez or Maduro from Venezuela.

If you want more details about the election results, Las Últimas Noticias put together this helpful graphic.

I had predicted a 54-46 Boric victory, but these results are even worse.

But what’s really depressing is that Latin America – and the world – is going to lose a role model.

Chile was already declining because of the soft leftism of two recent presidents, Michelle Bachelet and Sebastián Piñera, and it seems almost certain that this degeneration will accelerate as Boric pushes a hard-left agenda.

I’m especially worried about damage to the nation’s system of personal retirement accounts.

I’ll close with a personal observation that people sometimes challenge me to point out successful libertarian nations.

I have traditionally responded by stating that there’s no such thing as a pure libertarian country, but that we have some great success stories if we focus on comparative policy.

Sadly, I can’t really use Hong Kong as an example any more, and now it looks like I’ll have to drop Chile off my list. So my fingers are crossed that nothing bad happens to SwitzerlandEstoniaNew Zealand, or Singapore!

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Image credit: Max Pixel | CC0 1.0.

Chile Election Week, Part IV: What’s at Stake in Today’s Vote?

Sun, 12/19/2021 - 12:55pm

Greetings from Santiago. Chileans vote today for a new president and there’s a risk that a Venezuelan-style leftist, Gabriel Boric, will prevail.

And that puts at risk the economic progress described in this video.

The video has a good discussion of Chile’s very successful system of private pensions (which will be in danger if Boric wins).

But it also points out how free trade helped create the prosperity of modern Chile.

And that narrative is confirmed by looking at Chile’s score from the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World.

I’m always happy to sing the praises of free trade and condemn protectionism, but let’s keep the focus on today’s election in Chile and why it matters.

That’s why this tweet tells you everything you need to know.

Notice how Chile began to prosper after it began to shift to free markets around 1980 and notice how Venezuela began to fall after it shifted to statism starting around 2000.

Chile and Venezuela. Two countries with very different economic trajectories in recent decades. This animation shows per capita income from 1970 to 2017. Source: https://t.co/XzW3Xhtig4 pic.twitter.com/EWGhMIAMKB

— Simon Kuestenmacher (@simongerman600) February 26, 2020

Notwithstanding all this evidence, Boric is favored to win today’s election. Which would be a vote for national economic suicide – perhaps akin to the British people voting for the pro-nationalization Labour Party after World War II (described in this video, for those interested).

I hope I’m wrong, both about the results of the election and the potential changes to economic policy if Boric prevails.

P.S. If you’ve enjoyed my Chilean election coverage, I did the same thing a couple of years ago in the United Kingdom (see herehereherehere, and here).

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Image credit: AKrebs60 | Pixabay License.

Chile Election Week, Part III: Death Knell for the Private Pension System?

Sat, 12/18/2021 - 12:19pm

One reason I’m interested in Chile’s election is that the leftist candidate, Gabriel Boric, wants to eviscerate the nation’s successful private pension system.

Bettina Horst of Libertad Y Desarrollo gave me her analysis.

As an economist and Executive Director of the nation’s pro-market think tank, Ms. Horst understands that Chile’s system has helped workers by giving them real ownership of real assets.

And that’s much better than “pay-as-you-go” systems, like we have in the United States.

Chile’s private retirement accounts have enabled workers to build nest eggs, and the system has also provided a valuable source of capital for the nation’s economy.

So why would Chile’s voters consider a candidate like Boric, who wants to wreck that system?

We’ll find out Sunday night after the votes are counted, but a Boric victory would indicate that Chile’s workers decided to trust the free-lunch promises of a politician.

In a column earlier this year for the Wall Street Journal, another Chilean weighed in on this issue.

Axel Kaiser of the Atlas Research Network wrote that the left has a (long-standing) ideological agenda.

In 1981 Chile became the first country to privatize social security, ending the pay-as-you-go system that had been in place since 1924 and had collapsed. Now Chile’s left wants to resurrect it. …Last year a group of senators even introduced a bill to nationalize the pension funds, as Argentina did in 2008. An expropriation of workers’ savings looks increasingly likely, as the radical left dominates Chile’s recently elected constitutional convention. “The destruction of the AFP system is under way,” a far-left lawmaker recently said. …The attack on the AFP system is all about ideology and power. …Its destruction has long been a goal of the radical left. With the AFP out of the picture, politicians will recover the power they once had over retirees.

That’s Mr. Kaiser’s political analysis.

His column also includes some analysis of the economic benefits of the private system.

The state-run pension system was plagued by corruption and rent-seeking… Pension privatization reversed this perverse dynamic. Instead of taxing active workers to pay pensioners through the bureaucracy, the new system, created by former Labor Minister José Piñera, established that 10% of the employee’s salary is transferred automatically to an account under his name at one of the Administradoras de Fondos de Pensiones, or AFP. These private pension funds compete to attract workers and invest their pensions for a fee. …By subsequently relying on workers’ own savings to fund their pensions instead of taxing younger workers, privatization of social security ended dependency across generations. …Average pensions are also 41% higher in the AFP system than in the old one, according to the Libertad y Desarrollo research center, even as workers contribute a smaller fraction of their salaries. Between 1981 and 2019, the savings accumulated in workers’ accounts at the AFP reached $218 billion, or around three-quarters of GDP. About 70% of these funds weren’t contributions made by workers but profits generated for them by AFP investments. This accumulation of capital contributed an extra 0.5% of GDP a year to economic growth between 1981 and 2001.

As mentioned in the column, Jose Pinera created Chile’s system of personal retirement accounts.

You can click here to see him describing the case for private accounts, both in Chile and the United States.

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Image credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões | CC BY 2.0.

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