Tag: economists

Nobody Considers Health Insurance Mandates a Tax? Really??

As my colleague Jeffrey Miron noted earlier today, when grilled by George Stephanopolous on whether the so-called “individual mandate” is a tax increase, Obama replied, “Nobody considers that a tax increase….You can’t just make up that language and decide that that’s called a tax increase…My critics say everything is a tax increase.”

Where do Obama’s critics get these wacky ideas?  From a bunch of nobodies, that’s who!

Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt, quoted by Larry Summers (1987):

[Just because] the fiscal flows triggered by mandate would not flow directly through the public budgets does not detract from the measure’s status of a bona fide tax.

Economist Larry Summers, Obama’s National Economic Council chair (1989):

Economists have generally devoted little attention to mandated benefits regarding them as simply disguised tax and expenditure measures… Essentially, mandated benefits are like public programs financed by benefit taxes… [If] the mandated benefit is worthless to employees, it is just like a tax from the point of view of both employers and employees…There is no sense in which benefits become ‘free’ just because the government mandates that employers offer them to workers.

Columbia University economist Sherry Glied, Obama’s appointee to HHS Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, in the New England Journal of Medicine (2008):

The mandate is in many respects analogous to a tax. It requires people to make payments for something whether they want it or not. One important concern is that the government will provide insufficient funds for the subsidies intended to accompany the mandate. In that case, the mandate will act as a very regressive tax, penalizing uninsured people who genuinely cannot afford to buy coverage.

Congressional Budget Office (2009):

Under some proposals, firms would be required to make payments to the federal government if they chose not to offer health insurance to their employees, and individuals who did not comply with the requirement to  obtain insurance would have to pay a penalty. Such payments would be equivalent to a tax or a fine, and the government’s receipts should be recorded in the budget as federal revenues.

Here’s a question: if an individual mandate is not a tax, why exempt anybody?  If an employer mandate isn’t a tax, why exempt small businesses?

A Super-Majority of Economists Agree: Trade Barriers Should Go

Sure, economists disagree among themselves about a number of public policy issues, but not about the desirability of free trade. The latest edition of Econ Journal Watch, published by the American Institute for Economic Research in Great Barrington, Mass., reports the results [pdf] from a random survey of members of the American Economic Association.

Based on questionnaires returned by more than 100 members, all with Ph.D.s in economics, the survey’s author, Robert Whaples, reports:

  • The economics profession continues to show a consensus in favor of unfettered international trade, as 83 percent agree and only 10 percent disagree that the United States should eliminate remaining tariffs and other barriers.
  • Other issues in which the economists reached a strong consensus:
    • 82 percent disagreed that the U.S. government should ban genetically modified crops; only 7 percent agreed.
    • 78 percent agreed that U.S.-government subsidies for ethanol should be eliminated or reduced, compared to 10 percent who want them increased.
    • 72 percent agreed that “A Wal-Mart store typically generates more benefits to society than costs,” versus 15 percent who disagreed.
    • 72 percent disagree with the proposition that “Employers in the U.S. should be required to provide health insurance to ALL their employees”; 20 percent agreed.
    • 70 percent believe the typical American saves too little; 0 percent believe we save too much.
    • 70 percent agreed that “The U.S. should allow payments to organ donors and their families,” while 16 percent disagreed.

To learn more about why the economists are right about free trade, see my new Cato book, Mad about Trade: Why Main Street America Should Embrace Globalization.

Why Chile Is More Economically Free Than the United States

42-16335429In the 2009 Economic Freedom of the World Report, Chile is now #5, one place ahead of the United States.

In 1975, of 72 countries, Chile was No 71. How did this happen? The explanation lies in what I call the “Chilean Revolution,” because it was as important and transformative to my country as the celebrated American Revolution that gave birth to the United States.

The exceptional political circumstances of this period have obscured the fact that from 1975 to 1989 a true revolution took place in Chile, involving a radical, comprehensive, and sustained move toward economic and political freedom (from a starting point where there was neither one nor the other). This revolution not only doubled Chile’s historic rate of economic growth (to an average of 7% a year, 84-98),  drastically reduced poverty (from 45% to 15%), and introduced several radical libertarian reforms that set the country on a path toward rapid development; but it also brought democracy, restored limited government, and established the rule of law.

In 1998, The Los Angeles Times described the importance of the Chilean Revolution to the world:

In a sense, it all began in Chile. In the early 1970s, Chile was one of the first economies in the developing world to test such concepts as deregulation of industries, privatization of state companies, freeing of prices from government control, and opening of the home market to imports. In 1981, Chile privatized its social-security system. Many of those ideas ultimately spread throughout Latin America and to the rest of the world. They are behind the reformation of Eastern Europe and the states of the former Soviet Union today… which demonstrates, once again, the awesome power of ideas.

The role and achievements of Chile’s team of classical liberal economists is well known. They were the ones who in 1975, once the quasi-civil war was over, decided to carry out a principled, “friendly takeover” of the military government that had arisen from the breakdown of democracy in 1973 (here is my essay, published in “Society”, on that drama). Much less well-known, however, is that they were also the foremost proponents of a gradual and constitutional return to a limited democracy.

In fact, on August 8, 1980, a new Constitution, containing both a bill of rights and a timeline for the restoration of full political freedom, was proposed and approved in a referendum. In the period 1981-1989, what Fareed Zakaria has called the “institutions of liberty” were created—an  independent Central Bank, a Constitutional Court, private television and universities, voting registration laws, etc—since they were crucial for having not only elections but a democracy at the service of freedom. Then on March 11, 1990, an extraordinary event happened: the governing military Junta surrendered its power to a democratically elected government in strict accordance to the 1980 Constitution (here is my note on the restoration of democracy in Chile).

Since 1990, Chile has had four moderate center-left governments and, despite minor setbacks on tax, labor and regulation policies, the essence of the free-market reforms are still intact. The 1980 Constitution is the law of the land, and has been amended by consensual agreements among all parties represented in Congress. Not only is Chile now at the top of rankings on free trade (number 3 in the world after Hong Kong and Singapore) and transparency (less corruption that in most western European countries), but it is expected to be a developed country by 2018, the first in Latin America.

Nobel Laureate Friedrich Hayek proved, again, to have been a visionary when he stated in 1981: “Chile is now a great success. The world shall come to regard the recovery of Chile as one of the great economic miracles of our time.”

Early Education: Lots of Noise, Little to Hear

This weekend, the Detroit News ran a letter to the editor taking issue with a piece I wrote about the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsbility Act (SAFRA). Strangley, though the main part of SAFRA deals with higher education loans; the bill contains new spending all over the education map; and I made no specific mention of early-childhood education in my piece (though there is an early-ed component in the bill); the letter is all about pre-K education.

That the pre-K pushers even saw my op-ed as something to write about illustrates how very agressive they are. Unfortunately, the letter also demonstrates how dubious is the message that they are so loudly and energetically proclaiming. Here’s a telling bit:

Economists, business leaders and scientists all know from cold, hard data that high-quality early education provides a significant return on investment in terms of education, social and health outcomes.

Whether pre-K education is worth even a dime all depends on how you define “high quality.” As Adam Schaeffer lays out in his new early-education policy analysis — and Andrew Coulson reiterates in an exchange with economist James Heckman — the “cold, hard data” say only that a few programs seem to work, and most don’t. Pronouncements about the huge returns on pre-K investment are almost always based on very small, hyper-intensive programs that would be all but impossible to replicate on a large scale. And the programs that do function on a large scale? As Adam lays out, they provide little to no return on investment.

The early-education crowd is very good at getting out its message. Too bad the message itself is so darn suspect.

Research Shows $100 Billion Ed. Stimulus Likely Hurting Economy

Tomorrow morning, the president’s Council of Economic Advisers will release a report assessing the short and long-term effects of the stimulus bill on the U.S. economy. As with previous iterations, this report will attempt to forecast overall effects of the stimulus across its many different components and the different economic sectors it targets. In doing so, it ignores the clearest research findings available pertaining to a key portion of the stimulus: k-12 education.

The president has committed $100 billion in new money to the nation’s public school systems, and required that states accepting the funds promise not to reduce their own k-12 spending. The official argument for this measure is that higher school spending will accelerate U.S. economic growth. But a July 2008 study in the Journal of Policy Sciences finds that, to the authors’ own surprise, higher spending on public schooling is associated with lower subsequent economic growth. Spending more on public schools hurts the U.S. economy.

How is that possible? There is little debate in academic circles that raising human capital – improving the skills and knowledge of workers – boosts productivity. So an obvious interpretation of the JPS study is that raising public school spending must not increase human capital. While this possibility surprised study authors Norman Baldwin and Stephen Borrelli, it is consistent with the data on U.S. educational productivity over the past two generations.

Since 1970, inflation adjusted public school spending has more than doubled. Over the same period, achievement of students at the end of high school has stagnated according to the Department of Education’s own long term National Assessment of Educational Progress. Meanwhile, the high school graduation rate has declined by 4 or 5%, according to Nobel laureate economist James Heckman. So the only thing higher public school spending has accomplished is to raise taxes by about $300 billion annually, without improving outcomes.

The fact that more schooling without more learning is not a recipe for economic growth is confirmed by the independent empirical work of economists Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann. Their key finding is that academic achievement, not schooling per se, is what matters to economic growth.

Based on this body of research, the president’s decision to pump $100 billion into existing public school systems is likely slowing the U.S. economic recovery.

Have Mexican Dishwashers Brought California to Its Knees?

workerAn article published this week by National Review magazine blames the many problems of California on—take a guess—high taxes, over-regulation of business, runaway state spending, an expansive welfare state? Try none of the above. The article, by Alex Alexiev of the Hudson Institute, puts the blame on the backs of low-skilled, illegal immigrants from Mexico and the federal government for not keeping them out.

Titled “Catching Up to Mexico: Illegal immigration is depleting California’s human capital and ravaging its economy,” the article endorses high-skilled immigration to the state while rejecting the influx of “the poorly educated, the unskilled, and the illiterate” immigrants that enter illegally from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.

Before swallowing the article’s thesis, consider two thoughts:

One, if low-skilled, illegal immigration is the single greatest cause of California’s woes, how does the author explain the relative success of Texas? As a survey in the July 11 issue of The Economist magazine explained, smaller-government Texas has avoided many of the problems of California while outperforming most of the rest of the country in job creation and economic growth. And Texas has managed to do this with an illegal immigrant population that rivals California’s as a share of its population.

Two, low-skilled immigrants actually enhance the human capital of native-born Americans by allowing us to move up the occupational ladder to jobs that are more productive and better paying. In a new study from the Cato Institute, titled “Restriction or Legalization? Measuring the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform,” this phenomenon is called the “occupational mix effect” and it translates into tens of billions of dollars of benefits to U.S. households.

Our new study, authored by economists Peter Dixon and Maureen Rimmer, found that legalization of low-skilled immigration would boost the incomes of American households by $180 billion, while further restricting such immigration would reduce the incomes of U.S. families by $80 billion.

That is a quarter of a trillion dollar difference between following the policy advice of National Review and that of the Cato Institute. Last time I checked, that is still real money, even in Washington.

Rose Friedman Passes

Rose Friedman, co-author of several books with her late husband and Nobel laureate economist Milton, passed away this morning. Rose and Milton co-wrote Free to Choose the wonderful book that formed the basis of Milton’s PBS television series, as well co-writing their joint auto-biography “Two Lucky People.”

She was intimately involved in the school choice movement both before and after Milton’s passing, as co-founder of the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation for School Choice, ably led by Robert Enlow.

Rose and Milton were not just skilled economists who cared about kids, they were a charming couple. At a casual policy event a decade ago, they shared a single armchair to ensure that there would be enough seats for everyone. They weren’t just models of commitment to a worthy cause, they were models for how two smart, forthright people can build a marriage that lasts a lifetime.

Rose and Milton will long be remembered.