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Archive for the ‘Obama’ Category

Here’s my debate on Larry Kudlow’s show about Social Security personal retirement accounts.

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I don’t agree with all the points in this column from Real Clear Markets, but I fully agree with the overall theme that the GOP would be wise to cut Bush out of the Party’s history. Like Nixon, he was a failed, big-government statist.

The sour economy is presenting Republicans with a golden opportunity to retake both houses of Congress. The Democrats will try to defend their seats by attacking Bush’s record on the economy. Republican candidates should counter this move by acknowledging the economic errors made during the Bush years. This will help restore the credibility of the Republican brand with respect to the economy and free up the candidates to move on to what really matters-the future.

…Was Bush 43 the worst post-1952 president in terms of the economy? No, he was the second-worst. Jimmy Carter managed to drive the Real Dow down by 78% in just four years, 1976-1980. If considered as one presidency, Nixon/Ford was the third-worst…

So, what were the mistakes that made Bush 43 the second-worst president since 1952 with respect to the economy?

The biggest single economic error Bush made was his “weak dollar” policy. While the president has no direct control over monetary policy, it is said that a president always gets the monetary policy he wants. Bush (and his Treasury Secretaries) wanted a weak dollar, and they got one. The dollar lost 69% of its value against gold during the Bush years. This accounted for almost 80% of the decline in the Real Dow during his presidency.

The unstable dollar during the Bush years was the root cause of the financial crisis of 2008. The dollar fell almost continuously during the first seven years of his term. By February 2008, it had lost 72% of its value.

…The third biggest economic error under Bush was the design of the 2001 tax cuts, which phased in the reductions in the top income tax rate over 5 years. As we learned in 1981-1982, phased-in tax cuts guarantee economic sluggishness, because people defer income until the lower rates take effect. The result was a “jobless recovery”, slow growth, and escalating deficits. The 2001 tax cuts also wasted $58 billion on futile Keynesian “stimulus”, an error that Bush was to repeat in 2008.

If Bush had gotten his 2001 tax cuts right, and economic growth in fiscal years 2002 and 2003 had averaged 3.5% instead of 1.6%, the “Bush deficits” would have peaked at 2.5% of GDP in FY2004, rather than at 3.5%. A continuation of 3.5% real growth would have put the budget in surplus by FY2007, despite the massive spending.

…Because the Democrats have “doubled down” on Bush’s economic errors, Democrat-held House and Senate seats are ripe for the picking. During the first 18 months of the Obama administration (i.e., through June, 2010), the Real Dow fell by another 11% to 7.86, which was the level of June 1952. After 16 months of massive government “stimulus”, total employment in June 2010 was 6.0 million below what the administration predicted it would be if the stimulus bill passed, and 3.2 million lower than they said it would be if the stimulus bill didn’t pass. If the labor force participation rate had not unexpectedly declined, June’s unemployment rate would have been reported at 11%.

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Appearing on Fox Business News, I summarize the many reasons why the Bush-Paulson-Obama-Geithner TARP bailout was – and still is – bad policy.

I’m sure I have plenty of flaws, but at least I am philosophically consistent. Here’s what I said about the issue more than 18 months ago. The core message is the same (though I also notice I have a bad habit of starting too many sentences with “well”).

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Michael Fleischer is a brave man. He exposed himself and his company to retribution and attack by explaining how Obama’s policies are discouraging job creation in a column for the Wall Street Journal. Let’s hope he doesn’t mysteriously get audited, because he provides valuable real-world insight into how taxes and other forms of government intervention hinder job creation (and reduce take-home pay for those lucky enough to still have jobs).

Employing Sally costs plenty too. My company has to write checks for $74,000 so Sally can receive her nominal $59,000 in base pay. Health insurance is a big, added cost: While Sally pays nearly $2,400 for coverage, my company pays the rest—$9,561 for employee/spouse medical and dental. We also provide company-paid life and other insurance premiums amounting to $153. Altogether, company-paid benefits add $9,714 to the cost of employing Sally.

Then the federal and state governments want a little something extra. They take $56 for federal unemployment coverage, $149 for disability insurance, $300 for workers’ comp and $505 for state unemployment insurance. Finally, the feds make me pay $856 for Sally’s Medicare and $3,661 for her Social Security.

When you add it all up, it costs $74,000 to put $44,000 in Sally’s pocket and to give her $12,000 in benefits. Bottom line: Governments impose a 33% surtax on Sally’s job each year.

Because my company has been conscripted by the government and forced to serve as a tax collector, we have lost control of a big chunk of our cost structure. Tax increases, whether cloaked as changes in unemployment or disability insurance, Medicare increases or in any other form can dramatically alter our financial situation. With government spending and deficits growing as fast as they have been, you know that more tax increases are coming—for my company, and even for Sally too.

Companies have also been pressed into serving as providers of health insurance. In a saner world, health insurance would be something that individuals buy for themselves and their families, just as they do with auto insurance. Now, adding to the insanity, there is ObamaCare.

Every year, we negotiate a renewal to our health coverage. This year, our provider demanded a 28% increase in premiums—for a lesser plan. This is in part a tax increase that the federal government has co-opted insurance providers to collect. We had never faced an increase anywhere near this large; in each of the last two years, the increase was under 10%.

To offset tax increases and steepening rises in health-insurance premiums, my company needs sustainably higher profits and sales—something unlikely in this “summer of recovery.” We can’t pass the additional costs onto our customers, because the market is too tight and we’d lose sales. Only governments can raise prices repeatedly and pretend there will be no consequences.

And even if the economic outlook were more encouraging, increasing revenues is always uncertain and expensive. As much as I might want to hire new salespeople, engineers and marketing staff in an effort to grow, I would be increasing my company’s vulnerability to government decisions to raise taxes, to policies that make health insurance more expensive, and to the difficulties of this economic environment.

A life in business is filled with uncertainties, but I can be quite sure that every time I hire someone my obligations to the government go up. From where I sit, the government’s message is unmistakable: Creating a new job carries a punishing price.

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A very depressing story in USA Today reveals that federal bureaucrats are making more than twice as much as people in the productive sector of the economy. Even worse, the advantage for bureaucrats has jumped from $30K to $62K during the spendaholic Bush-Obama years.

At a time when workers’ pay and benefits have stagnated, federal employees’ average compensation has grown to more than double what private sector workers earn, a USA TODAY analysis finds.

Federal workers have been awarded bigger average pay and benefit increases than private employees for nine years in a row. The compensation gap between federal and private workers has doubled in the past decade.

Federal civil servants earned average pay and benefits of $123,049 in 2009 while private workers made $61,051 in total compensation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The data are the latest available.

The federal compensation advantage has grown from $30,415 in 2000 to $61,998 last year.

Just to remind everybody why this stinks, here’s the video I narrated on how we have too many bureaucrats and they are paid too much.

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I don’t like wasteful government spending, but it really adds insult to injury when politicians use my tax dollars for political propaganda. A nauseating example of this practice are the highway signs highlighting how projects are funded by the so-called stimulus. In my young and reckless days, they would have been ideal targets for vandalism. Now that I’m just an old grouch, I mutter under my breath.

So I was very happy to see this amusing image appear on my twitter feed.

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John Goodman of the NCPA has a great article about how the current healthcare system is heavily distorted by government policies that result in people making decision with other people’s money (or at least what they perceive as other people’s money). The excerpt below is a good summary of John’s key points, but I’ll add a couple of rhetorical questions. What do you think would happen if government created a tax break that made it attractive to expand auto insurance to cover the cost of oil changes and trips to the gas station? Would that make that market more efficient or less efficient? Would Jiffy Lube and Sunoco charge higher prices or lower prices? What would happen to administrative costs?

Almost everyone believes there is an enormous amount of waste and inefficiency in health care. But why is that? In a normal market, wherever there is waste, entrepreneurs are likely to be in hot pursuit — figuring out ways to profit from its elimination by cost-reducing, quality-enhancing innovations. Why isn’t this happening in health care?

As it turns out, there is a lot of innovation here. But all too often, it’s the wrong kind.

There has been an enormous amount of innovation in the medical marketplace regarding the organization and financing of care. And wherever health insurers are paying the bills (almost 90 percent of the market) it has been of two forms: (1) helping the supply side of the market maximize against third-party reimbursement formulas, or (2) helping the third-party payers minimize what they pay out. Of course, these developments have only a tangential relationship to the quality of care patients receive or its efficient delivery.

The tiny sliver of the market (less than 10 percent) where patients pay out of pocket has also been teeming with entrepreneurial activity.  In this area, however, the entrepreneurs have been lowering cost and raising quality — what most of us wish would happen everywhere else.

…Wherever there is third-party payment, the goal of innovation is to produce more products that qualify for reimbursement, even if the effects on patient outcomes are only marginal. Wherever there is no third-party reimbursement, innovators are focused on ways to lower cost and raise quality.

Take cosmetic surgery. Over the past two decades there has been an enormous amount of innovation in the field — all of the cost-lowering, quality-raising variety. That explains why the volume of cosmetic surgeries grew six-fold over the past 20 years, while the real price declined by more than one-third. Similarly, there has been remarkable innovation in LASIK surgery — another area where third-party payers are not. Yet the real price of LASIK surgery has declined by 25 percent over the past decade.

The same principle can be seen at work in the international marketplace. For example, India has a potentially huge market for medical care. But 80 percent of health care spending in that country is private and there is very little health insurance. So some of the companies that make expensive technology for the developed world are now finding ways to produce the same services for a fraction of the price.

GE Healthcare, for example, has introduced a portable electrocardiogram machine into the Indian market that will perform the heart exam for 20 cents (compared to a normal price of $50). Siemens (another maker of high-end, expensive equipment) has built mobile diagnostics units for the Indian market with X-ray, ultrasound and pathology systems.

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Caroline Baum of Bloomberg has an excellent column explaining why soak-the-rich taxes don’t work. Simply stated, wealthy people are not like you and me. They have tremendous control over the timing, composition, and level of their income. When the rich are hit with higher tax rates, they adjust their behavior and protect themselves by reducing the amount of taxable income they earn and/or report to the IRS. That usually causes collateral damage for the economy, but the class-warfare crowd is either oblivious or uncaring about real-world effects.

Why, after all this time and an extensive body of data, are we still questioning whether reductions in marginal and capital- gains tax rates increase economic activity enough to generate more revenue for the federal government?

“Because they don’t like the answer,” Laffer says of the doubters. “It’s not tax cuts that pay for themselves. Tax cuts on the poor cost you lots of money. Tax cuts on the rich pay for themselves. Rich people can afford lawyers, accountants, and can defer income.”

…The rich have the luxury to respond to incentives, to opt for more work and less leisure when the return on work is greater. They are motivated to take risks, maybe start a business, invent something, and get even richer while giving others the opportunity, through hiring, to do the same.

The opposite is true for low-income workers. When the government raises taxes, someone struggling to put food on the table for his family may have to go out and get a second job to maintain his level of take-home pay. For this socio-economic group, higher taxes translate to more work.

To ignore evidence that the rich behave differently is silly. The government can’t get more blood from a stone, yet it keeps trying. Instead of demagoguing tax cuts for the rich, Democrats should try embracing them for a change.

…Academics are busy churning out articles claiming tax cuts for the rich deliver less bang for the buck because the rich save more of the money than the poor.

That’s true. It also misses the point. The goal isn’t spending, or distributing other people’s money to create “aggregate demand.” That’s a wealth transfer, not a net stimulus. (Fiscal policy gets its punch from monetary policy, from the increase in the money supply to pay for the spending.)

The goal should be to incentivize individuals to work hard, save and invest in the future. It’s about growing the pie.

Sound familiar? We’re right back to square one. I, for one, would like to see the debate shift from class warfare over tax rates and targeted tax relief to tax reform. Either scrap the tax code and introduce a simple flat tax with no deductions, or scrap the IRS and move to a consumption tax.

If you want to get money out of politics, there’s only one way to do it. Take the tax code out of Congress’s hands.

Baum’s column touches on most of the key issues, but she doesn’t address the political economy of class-warfare taxation. In this video on soak-the-rich tax policy, I provide five reasons why high tax rates are misguided – including the oft-overlooked point that politicians impose punitive taxes on the rich as a prelude to hitting the rest of us with higher taxes.

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Appearing on MSNBC, I explain why Reagan’s approach helped America. But I also warn that Obama is making America more like France.

For inexplicable reasons, some people have been giving me a hard time about my very snazzy jacket.

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If I was organized enough to send Christmas cards, I would take Richard Rahn off my list. I do one blog post to call attention to his Washington Times column and it seems like everybody in the world wants to jump down my throat. I already dismissed Paul Krugman’s rant and responded to Ezra Klein’s reasonable attack. Now it’s time to address Derek Thompson’s critique on the Atlantic’s site.

At the risk of re-stating someone else’s argument, Thompson’s central theme seems to be that there are many factors that determine economic performance and that it is unwise to make bold pronouncements about policy A causing result B. If that’s what Thompson is saying, I very much agree (and if it’s not what he’s trying to say, then I apologize, though I still agree with the sentiment). That’s why I referred to Reagan decreasing the burden of government and Obama increasing the burden of government. I wanted to capture all the policy changes that were taking place, including taxation, spending, monetary policy, regulation, etc.Yes, the flagship policies (tax reduction for Reagan and so-called stimulus for Obama) were important, but other factors obviously are part of the equation.

The biggest caveat, however, is that one should always be reluctant to make sweeping claims about what caused the economy to do X or Y in a given year. Economists are terrible forecasters, but we’re not even very proficient when it comes to hindsight analysis about short-run economic fluctuations. Indeed, the one part of my original post that causes me a bit of guilt is that I took the lazy route and inserted an image of the chart from Richard’s column. Excerpting some of his analysis would have been a better approach, particularly since I much prefer to focus on the impact of policies on long-run growth and competitiveness (which is what I did in my New York Post column from earlier this week and also why I’m reluctant to embrace Art Laffer’s warning of major economic problems in 2011).

But a blog post is no fun if you just indicate where you and a critic have common ground, so let me now identify four things about Thompson’s post that rubbed me the wrong way.

1. To reinforce his warning about making excessive claims about different recessions/recoveries, Thompson pointed out that someone could claim that Reagan’s recovery was associated with the 1982 TEFRA tax hike. I’ve actually run across people who think this is a legitimate argument, so it’s worth taking a moment to explain why it isn’t true. When analyzing the impact of tax policy changes, it’s important to look at when tax changes were implemented, not when they were enacted (data on annual tax rates available here). Reagan’s Economic Recovery Tax Act was enacted in 1981, but the lower tax rates weren’t fully implemented until 1984. This makes it a bit of a challenge to pinpoint when the economy actually received a net tax cut. The tax burden may have actually increased in 1981 since the parts of the Reagan tax cuts that took effect that year were offset by the impact of bracket creep (the tax code was not indexed to protect against inflation until the mid-1980s). There was a bigger tax rate reduction in 1982, but there was still bracket creep, as well as previously-legislated payroll tax increases (enacted during the Carter years). TEFRA also was enacted in 1982, which largely focused on undoing some of the business tax relief in Reagan’s 1981 plan. People have argued whether the repeal of promised tax relief is the same as a tax increase, but that’s not terribly important for this analysis. What does matter is that the tax burden did not fall much (if at all) in Reagan’s first year and might not have changed too much in 1982. In 1983, by contrast, it’s fairly safe to say the next stage of tax rate reductions was substantially larger than any concomitant tax increases. That doesn’t mean, of course, that one should attribute all changes in growth to what’s happening to the tax code. But it does suggest that it is a bit misleading to talk about tax cuts in 1981 and tax increases in 1983. One final point. The main insight of supply-side economics is that changes in the overall tax burden are not as important as changes in the tax structure. As such, it’s also important to look at which taxes were going up and which ones were decreasing. This is why Reagan’s 1981 tax plan compares so favorably with Bush’s 2001 tax plan (which was filled with tax credits and other policies that had little of no impact on incentives for productive behavior).

2. In addition to wondering whether one could argue that higher taxes triggered the Reagan boom, Thompson also speculates whether it might be possible to blame the tax cuts in Obama’s stimulus for the economy’s subsequent sub-par performance. There are two problems with that hypothesis. First, a substantial share of the tax cuts in the so-called stimulus were actually new spending being laundered through the tax code (see footnote 3 of this Joint Committee on Taxation publication). To the extent that the provisions represented real tax relief, they were much more akin to Bush’s non-supply side 2001 tax cuts and a far cry from the marginal tax-rate reductions enacted in 1981 and 2003. And since even big tax cuts have little or no impact on the economy if incentives to engage in productive behavior are unaffected, there is no reason to blame (or credit) Obama’s tax provisions for anything.

3. Why doesn’t anyone care that the Federal Reserve almost always is responsible for serious recessions? This isn’t a critique of Thompson’s post since he doesn’t address monetary policy from this angle, but if we go down the list of serious economic hiccups in recent history (1974-75, 1980-82, and 2008-09), bad monetary policy inevitably is a major cause. In short, the Fed periodically engages in easy-money policy. This causes malinvestment and/or inflation, and a recession seems to be an unavoidable consequence. Yet the Fed seems to dodge any serious blame. At some point, one hopes that policy makers (especially Fed Governors) will learn that easy money policies such as artificially low interest rates are not a smart approach.

4. Thompson writes, “Is Mitchell really saying that $140 billion on Medicaid, firefighters, teachers, and infrastructure projects are costing the economy five percentage points of economic growth?” No, I’m not saying that and didn’t say that, but I have been saying for quite some time that taking money out of the economy’s left pocket and putting it in the economy’s right pockets doesn’t magically increase prosperity. And to the extent money is borrowed from private capital markets and diverted to inefficient and counter-productive programs, the net impact on the economy is negative. Thompson also writes that, “Our unemployment picture is a little more complicated than ‘Oh my god, Obama is killing jobs by taking over the states’ Medicaid burden!’” Since I’m not aware of anybody who’s made that argument, I’m not sure how to respond. That being said, jobs will be killed by having Washington take over state Medicaid budgets. Such a move would lead to a net increase in the burden of government spending, and that additional spending would divert resources from the productive sector of the economy.

The moral of the story, though, is to let Richard Rahn publicize his own work.

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