Archives: February, 2010

New Lawsuit against DC Government

Yesterday the Washington Post ran a nice profile about Tom Palmer and other DC residents who are challenging the constitutionality of regulations that make it a crime for people to bring their firearm outside of their residence for purposes of self-defense.  Most criminal attacks occur outside the home (around 87%) and the criminals are armed and always have the advantage of choosing when they’ll strike – and that’s usually when there are no cops around.

Related Cato scholarship here.  More here.

Monday Links

  • Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron: “Economists find weak or contradictory evidence that higher government spending spurs the economy. Substantial research, however, does find that tax cuts stimulate the economy and that fiscal adjustments—attempts to reduce deficits by raising taxes or lowering expenditure—work better when they focus on tax cuts.”

Instant Analysis of Implicit Tax Rates in New Obama Proposal

The Cato Institute had already scheduled a policy forum for noon today where the Urban Institute’s Gene Steuerle and I will discuss the implicit tax rates in the House and Senate health care bills.

We’ve already been able to calculate the implicit tax rates that President Obama’s new proposal would impose on low- and middle-income workers. We have also been able to calculate the incentives to drop coverage under the president’s proposal. Upshot:

  • The president’s proposal would result in higher implicit tax rates on low-wage workers than the House and Senate bills.
  • The president’s proposal would result in greater incentives for higher-income workers to drop coverage than under the House and Senate bills. That would cause insurance markets to unravel even faster.

Zip over to Cato right now to hear me present the results – or watch the forum streaming here.

Remember When National Standards Were Going to be “Voluntary”?

In a speech today to the National Governors’ Association, President Obama proposed that states do exactly as he tells them regarding national education standards, or his government will take their people’s money and not give it back. The applause was… light.

Under the president’s preferred reform to federal education law, states would have to bring their curriculum standards into line with his administration’s wishes or they would be denied their share of the $14.5 billion education program known as “Title 1.”

But of course taxpayers in every state must pay for Title 1, whether or not the administration deigns to allow their children to participate. So the president wants to take their money and only give it back if they do as he says. The closest word I can think of to describe this arrangement is… extortion.

I’m fairly sure that’s not a central value underlying American greatness, but there’s another political entity that it does evoke.

Meet the New Plan, Same as the Old Plan

Or it may even be worse.

This morning, President Obama released his latest health care blueprint, which he hopes will breathe life into his moribund effort to overhaul one-sixth of the U.S. economy.  The new blueprint is almost exactly the same as the House and Senate health care bills that the public have opposed since July.  It mostly just splits the difference between the two.

One new element, however, is the president’s proposal to impose a new type of government price control on health insurance premiums.  I explain here how those price controls are a veiled form of government rationing that helped sink the Clinton health plan.

If anything, those price controls make the president’s new plan even more bureaucratic and government-heavy.  The Senate bill would take an ill-advised stab at cost-control by imposing a tax on the highest-cost health plans.  That president proposes to pare back that excise tax and instead have a panel of federal bureaucrats cap the growth in health insurance premiums for all health plans.  Those new government powers could make it even harder for people to obtain the coverage and care that they need.

Arne Duncan Embraces False Friedman

In a shocking development, U.S. Secretary of Arne Duncan embraced the ideas of Milton Friedman today, championing the funding of students instead of schools! Unfortunately, it was in the context of higher education – Duncan and his boss have done all they can to destroy school choice elsewhere – and he completely misrepresented what Friedman said about higher ed, suggesting that the Nobel Laureate somehow endorsed the federal Direct Loan Program:

We will end the loans under the Federal Family Education Program and make them directly to students – just as economist Milton Friedman proposed 50 years ago, and just as the Department of Education has been doing since 1993 through the Direct Loan Program.

Were Milton Friedman still with us, I think he would be pretty miffed with Duncan. For one thing, 50 years ago there was no Federal Family Education Loan Program. Moreover, assuming Duncan is referring to Friedman’s “The Role of Government in Education,” Friedman was clearly stating that if there is going to be any higher education aid it should go to students, not schools. And then there’s this:

The resulting system would follow in its broad outlines the arrangements adopted in the United States after World War II for financing the education of veterans, except that the funds would presumably come from the States rather than the Federal government [italics added].

It’s bad enough that Duncan and his boss reject Friedman’s very wise and proven counsel when it comes to elementary and secondary education. It’s even worse that Duncan then has the gall to blatantly lie about what Friedman wrote in an effort to sell a rotten and costly piece of federal legislation, the laughably titled Student Aid and Fiscal Repsonsibility Act.

A Fiscal Train Wreck

That is the title of a 2003 New York Times column by economist Paul Krugman. The gist of his column was that the Bush tax cuts and future entitlement program liabilities would usher in calamitous deficits. Setting aside the tax cut and entitlements issue, Krugman’s comments on the dangers of deficits are interesting considering seven years later Krugman is one of the most prominent supporters of massive deficit spending to stimulate the economy.

Here are some selected Krugman quotes from the column:

With war looming, it’s time to be prepared. So last week I switched to a fixed-rate mortgage. It means higher monthly payments, but I’m terrified about what will happen to interest rates once financial markets wake up to the implications of skyrocketing budget deficits.

Two years ago the administration promised to run large surpluses. A year ago it said the deficit was only temporary. Now it says deficits don’t matter. But we’re looking at a fiscal crisis that will drive interest rates sky-high. A leading economist recently summed up one reason why: ‘When the government reduces saving by running a budget deficit, the interest rate rises.’ Yes, that’s from a textbook by the chief administration economist, Gregory Mankiw.

But my prediction is that politicians will eventually be tempted to resolve the crisis the way irresponsible governments usually do: by printing money, both to pay current bills and to inflate away debt. And as that temptation becomes obvious, interest rates will soar. It won’t happen right away. With the economy stalling and the stock market plunging, short-term rates are probably headed down, not up, in the next few months, and mortgage rates may not have hit bottom yet. But unless we slide into Japanese-style deflation, there are much higher interest rates in our future.

Although this shouldn’t be construed as an endorsement of George Bush’s fiscal policies, the deficit for fiscal year 2003 when Krugman wrote his column was $378 billion. The Congressional Budget Office just reported that the deficit for the first quarter of FY 2010 was $434 billion.

The following chart shows the annual deficits from fiscal years 2002 through 2010 (projected). For 2009 and 2010 the first quarter deficit is also shown. In short, the two most recent first quarter deficits have been about $100 billion higher than the average annual deficits run from 2002 to 2008.

In FY2003, the deficit was 3.4 percent of GDP – for FY2010 it’s projected to be 10.6 percent. According to the President’s optimistic FY2011 budget, annual deficits won’t fall below 3.6 percent of GDP at any point in the next ten years.

Yes, Krugman believes that large deficit spending is necessary to turn the economy around. But that doesn’t change the fact that his dire warnings about deficits in 2003 should apply to today’s even larger deficits, especially now that we’re even closer to an entitlement crisis. However, Krugman recently penned a column warning against “deficit hysteria” in which he makes comments that are more than just a little at odds with his 2003 column:

These days it’s hard to pick up a newspaper or turn on a news program without encountering stern warnings about the federal budget deficit. The deficit threatens economic recovery, we’re told; it puts American economic stability at risk; it will undermine our influence in the world. These claims generally aren’t stated as opinions, as views held by some analysts but disputed by others. Instead, they’re reported as if they were facts, plain and simple.

Yet they aren’t facts. Many economists take a much calmer view of budget deficits than anything you’ll see on TV. Nor do investors seem unduly concerned: U.S. government bonds continue to find ready buyers, even at historically low interest rates. The long-run budget outlook is problematic, but short-term deficits aren’t — and even the long-term outlook is much less frightening than the public is being led to believe.

Scratching your head?  I am too.