Topic: International Economics and Development

Message to Hillary: Americans Still Make Lots of Things

This presidential campaign has featured more than its share of misleading statements about trade and manufacturing. Nowhere has that been more on display than when the two Democratic candidates have been hustling for votes in what used to be the nation’s industrial heartland of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

On the eve of today’s crucial Pennsylvania primary, here is how the Boston Globe described a scene at a Hillary Clinton event in the western side of the state:

“We need to still be a manufacturing nation,” she said at a rally in downtown Pittsburgh yesterday, as a woman in the crowd shouted “Right on!” “I don’t think a country that doesn’t make things can remain strong and vibrant and leading in the global economy.”

Right on? Not exactly. Implied in Clinton’s remark is that manufacturing has been in decline and that we are in danger of becoming a nation “that doesn’t make things.”

One huge problem with her statement is that manufacturing output in the United States has continued to EXPAND in recent decades. According to the Federal Reserve Board, America’s factories produced 30 percent more in real output in 2007 than a decade earlier and three times more than in the 1960s.

And just what sort of things do Americans make? According to the U.S. Commerce Department, in 2006 U.S. factories produced:

• 4,522 complete civil aircraft and 12,299 complete civil aircraft engines.
• 87 million metric tons of raw steel and 113 million tons of shipped steel products.
• 11,260,300 cars and light trucks.
• 26,925,715 million computers (digital, analog, hybrid, and other).
• 11,966,177 household refrigerators and refrigerator-freezers.
• 9,993,990 washing machines.
• 7,654,882 water heaters (electric and non-electric).
• 7,402,333 dishwashing machines.
• 6,004,765 household gas and electric ranges.
• 1,399,938 clothes dryers.
• 1.93 billion square yards of carpet and rugs.
• 11.4 million short tons of chlorine gas, 8.9 million tons of sodium hydroxide, 4.7 million tons of hydrochloric acid, and another 2.6 million tons of commercial aluminum sulfate, sodium sulfate, finished sodium bicarbonate, and sodium chlorate.
• 1,537.7 million gallons of paints and allied products at $13.60 a gallon.
• $127 billion worth of pharmaceutical preparations (except biologicals).

The real beef of the Democratic candidates and their union allies is that all that stuff was made with fewer unionized workers than in years past. We can make more and better things with fewer workers because of soaring productivity.

Please remind me what’s so bad about that.

When Provider Networks Go Global

According to HealthLeaders Media:

South Carolina-based Companion Global Healthcare added three Singapore hospitals to its network. The deal now allows Americans access to medical and surgical services at ParkwayHealth operated hospitals at pre-negotiated, in-network rates lower than those of U.S. hospitals…

David Williams, consultant and cofounder of MedPharma Partners LLC[, notes,] “It may be a bit of a wake-up call to the local hospitals in South Carolina, putting them on notice that they are facing a broader set of competitors.”

More than one million members of Blue Cross Blue Shield and BlueChoice HealthPlan of South Carolina now have access to the three Singapore hospitals—Mount Elizabeth, Gleneagles, and East Shore—at preferred network rates. The hospitals are accredited by the Joint Commission International, the affiliate of The Joint Commission.

Competition is healthy.  (You know what?  That’s catchy.)

El Salvador’s Private Pension System Turns 10

This week marks the 10-year anniversary of El Salvador’s adoption of a private social security system. Following the example of Chile 17 years earlier, El Salvador moved from a government-run (and bankrupt) pay-as-you-go system to one of individual accounts for workers administered by private operators. Salvadorians are free to choose who runs their pension accounts as well as the conditions of their own retirement.

Today, the combined value of the pension operators’ assets — that is, the savings of the Salvadorian workers — represents 21.5 percent of the country’s GDP.

An editorial yesterday in the local newspaper El Diario de Hoy lauds the success of the reform and credits Cato’s José Piñera as the father of the “pension revolution.”

Paraguay between Three Bad Choices

The worse, the worser and the worst. Those are the choices confronting Paraguayans this Sunday when they head to the polls to elect a new president.

The leading candidate is Fernando Lugo, a former Catholic bishop who entered politics last year and endorses Hugo Chávez’s “socialism of the 21st century.” Running behind him in the polls is Lino Oviedo, an authoritarian retired general who spent 10 years in prison after leading a failed military coup in 1996. In third place is Blanca Olevar, of the ruling Colorado party, which has governed Paraguay without interruption for 61 years—longer than any other party in the world. The Colorado party is one of the most corrupt political organizations in Latin America (and that’s saying something). Fifteen out of its 20 leading Senatorial candidates—including the current president Nicanor Duarte—have been investigated for corruption.

Paraguay is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Its GDP per capita (PPP adjusted) in 2006 was only $4,040. During 1995-2005, Paraguay was the world’s 10th slowest growing economy at 1.2 percent a year. Lack of an independent judiciary, crippling regulations on labor and businesses, and widespread corruption are the primary reasons why Paraguay is stuck in poverty.

Unfortunately things might get worse. This has been the bitterest political campaign since the country went back to democracy in 1989. President Duarte denounces that Venezuelan and Ecuadorean elements are within Paraguay ready to start violence once the Colorado party claims victory on Sunday. Candidate Lugo warns that the only way for him to loose is through fraud, and calls his sympathizers to be ready to go into the streets. In Paraguay there’s no runoff election, so Sunday’s winner will automatically become the next president.

This election has been mostly neglected by the international media. That could change on Sunday night.

Another Company Escapes Britain’s Punitive Tax Regime

A major pharmaceutical company is moving its tax domicile to Ireland because the U.K.’s corporate tax systems is too burdensome. This story from the Guardian is a great example of tax competition, of course, but it also highlights the fact that governments are only subject to competitive pressure if taxpayers have the freedom to shift economic activity to jurisdictions with better tax law - and they have the ability to benefit from those better laws. Sadly, American companies no longer have this freedom thanks to “anti-expatriation” or “anti-inversion” laws enacted by greedy politicians:

Shire, the country’s third biggest drugmaker, has intensified the debate over Britain’s corporate tax regime with plans to move its tax base to Ireland from the UK. The FTSE-100 company said it was applying to a court to create a new holding company incorporated in tax-haven Jersey and would become tax resident in Ireland, where corporate tax rates are less than half those in the UK. …its board of directors will hold meetings in its Dublin office once the tax residence move gets court approval. Most importantly, the move means it will be subject to an official corporate tax rate of 12.5%, compared with 28% in the UK. …Business lobby group the CBI said Shire’s decision deepened its concerns about the UK corporate tax system. “We are particularly worried that an uncompetitive corporate tax system is spoiling the UK’s attractiveness as a place to do business, and that other internationally-mobile firms will follow Shire’s path,” said CBI director-general Richard Lambert. Last month, technology giant Yahoo announced it was moving its European headquarters from London to Switzerland to increase competitiveness and deliver “efficiencies”. A recent survey by accountancy firm KPMG blamed complex rules and a mass of legislation for putting the UK in the bottom half of a league table of the most attractive places to do business in Europe. The study ranked Cyprus, Ireland and Switzerland top for their combination of easy-to-understand rules, low tax rates and stable fiscal laws. The UK came 12th out of 22 countries for the attractiveness of their domestic tax regimes.

Berlusconi Wants 10-Percentage Point Cut in Italy’s Top Income Tax Rate

The good news, according to Tax-news.com, is that newly-elected Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wants to reduce Italy’s top income tax rate from 43 percent to 33 percent. The bad news is that he made similar promises the last time he held office, but never delivered. One can only hope that this time he is more serious about improving Italy’s economy:

Italy’s evergreen centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, is set to return for his third stint as the country’s Prime Minister following his recent election victory, and has promised to reduce Italy’s tax burden… Berlusconi has also pledged to axe other taxes, including an overtime levy, a tax on annual bonuses, and a tax on car ownership, and, before his five year term is out, he wants the top rate of income tax reduced from 43% to 33%. Ultimately, Berlusconi is targeting a reduction in the country’s overall tax burden to less than 40% of gross domestic product from its current level of more than 43%.

Violence against Unions or Just Violence in General?

Yesterday in the Washington Post, AFL-CIO’s president John Sweeney rhetorically asked “How many murders are ‘acceptable’?” regarding the union killings that have been used as argument by Congressional Democrats to delay indefinitely a vote on the FTA with Colombia. “I can’t answer… with a number other than zero,” stated Sweeney.

That’s good posturing. Sweeney presents these killings—which have dropped by nearly 90 percent since President Alvaro Uribe took office—as a clear sign of violence against union activity in Colombia. However, the evidence shows otherwise.

In an op-ed last Friday in the Boston Globe, Edward Schumacher-Matos, a visiting professor for Latin American studies at Harvard University, writes that:

The number of convictions now being won in the union’s own cases reveals that perhaps one-fifth, and almost certainly less than half, of the killings had to do with unionism.

Of convictions won in 87 cases since the first one in 2001, almost all for murder, the ruling judges found that union activity was the motive in only 17, according to the attorney general’s office. The judges found 15 of the cases had to do with common crime, 10 with passion, and 13 with being guerrilla members [emphasis added. No motive was established in 16 of the cases.

The unions don’t dispute the judicial findings, and deep in their reports say that they, in fact, have no idea of suspect or motive in 79 percent of their cases going back to 1986. The killings, in other words, are isolated and not part of a campaign against unionizing.

As we can see, far from being a targeted campaign against union activity, the killings of union members in Colombia are mostly part of that country’s sad history of regular violence, which also affects teachers, politicians, journalists, etc.

It’s time to get the facts straight in this debate.