Topic: Tax and Budget Policy

Disaster Collectivism

Naomi Klein, darling of the loonie left, has a new book out called The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. The basic idea is that the insidious forces of neoliberalism take advantage of wars, economic crises, and natural disasters to impose their evil schemes on disoriented and distracted publics. The career of Milton Friedman, the occupation of Iraq, and the bungled response to Katrina are all supposedly cases in point.

Klein is not a serious person, and in this book she does not mount a serious argument. But she does raise an interesting issue: the political implications of crises. It is certainly true that the waves of liberal reform (political as well as economic) that swept the world in the ’80s and ’90s were often triggered by economic crises. Indeed, I wrote a book on the subject in which I interpreted the current episode of globalization as a response to the often cataclysmic breakdown of various state-dominated models of economic development.

There’s nothing terribly surprising about this. Inertia is a powerful force in politics: every status quo has vested interests that benefit from it, while advocates of change push in all different directions and frequently cancel each other out. A crisis, though, can discredit the status quo and demoralize its supporters, while galvanizing particular pro-reform camps and boosting their credibility. Politics suddenly becomes more fluid; rapid and sweeping changes that had no chance of being enacted beforehand now occur in rapid succession.

But it’s ridiculous to portray this dynamic as somehow uniquely favoring one side of the political spectrum. Recall the great triumphs historically associated with the left: the French Revolution was made possible by the financial distress of the ancien regime; the Paris Commune was founded after defeat at the hands of the Prussians; the Russian Revolution was catalyzed by military failures in World War I.

In our own country, it was a one-two punch of cataclysms – the Great Depression, followed by World War II — that brought Big Government to the United States and then consolidated its hold. The unprecedented economic collapse made traditional American attitudes of laissez faire and individual responsibility seem hopelessly outdated; by contrast, the frenetic activity of the New Deal, regardless of the decidedly mixed results, projected boldness and vigor and hope. The subsequent mass mobilization for total war reinforced the shift in political culture. If you watched any of the wonderful new Ken Burns documentary on “The War,” you saw that the “home front” wasn’t just an expression: the diversion of the country’s industrial might to war production, price controls and rationing, extremely high tax rates, war bond drives, and incessant propaganda combined to thoroughly collectivize American society. And it worked: the economy boomed, people reaped the psychological satisfactions of banding together against a common and abominably evil enemy, and in the end America triumphed.

Today people on the left are filled with nostalgia for the political economy of the early postwar decades. I don’t think many of them recognize, though, how heavily their Golden Age depended on the lingering economic and cultural effects of destruction on a mind-boggling scale. They call themselves progressives, yet they pine for the good old days of disaster collectivism.

[cross-posted from www.brinklindsey.com]

Catholics against SCHIP

The Rev. Robert A. Sirico is a Catholic priest, as well as president and co-founder of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.  In today’s Detroit News, he weighs in on the debate over the State Children’s Health Insurance Program:

The Catholic Health Association has blasted President Bush for vetoing a program called SCHIP, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. How can anyone be against the health of children?

Well, public policy is more complicated than that. When the state gets involved in public health, there are unintended consequences. In fact, there is enough wrong with this program to make it possible to oppose SCHIP in good conscience…

There is not a living soul who would not wish that every person, especially every child, would have access to perfect medical care. But the essential condition for universal coverage is universal prosperity, and the only means available to create that is a flourishing and free economy – a condition that programs like SCHIP help to undermine…

It is folly to seek short-term gains at the expense of long-term economic development. Eliminating taxes and regulations that hinder private industry will make greater strides toward universal coverage than any state program can or will…

What I fear most is that politicians use legitimate issues to gather more power unto themselves and their friends in government. The population becomes more dependent on the public sector and less reliant on the sectors over which they exercise real control.

Amen to that.  Now how do we get the Catholic hospitals to stop taking Caesar’s coin?

Why Can’t Republicans Embrace Corporate Tax Cuts Like Canadian Liberals?

When they were in power, Canada’s left-wing party reduced the corporate tax rate from 28 percent to 19 percent. Now they are proposing to reduce the rate even more (and by more than the trivial 0.5 percentage point reduction proposed by the incumbent Conservative Party). As reported by Tax-news.com, the leader of the Liberal Party makes a very strong supply-side/tax competition argument for the lower rate:

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion has pledged to further reduce the Canadian federal corporate tax rate to better compete with other countries and strengthen Canada’s economic sovereignty. …Dion told the Economic Club of Toronto…“A lower corporate tax rate is a powerful weapon in the federal government’s arsenal to generate more investment, higher living standards and better jobs.” …The previous Liberal government reduced the federal corporate tax rate to 19% from 28%. Dion said he would go deeper than the Conservatives have done with their reduction to 18.5% in 2011. …“If you lower the corporate tax rate, you lower the cost of capital for Canadian companies. Therefore, these companies are induced to spend more on capital equipment. As for foreign investment, we need a big hook to snare investment, including Canadian investment, that might otherwise go south of the border. Finally, it would strengthen Canadian companies against foreign takeover,” Dion concluded.

Securing Land Rights for Chinese Farmers

A critical determinant of China’s long-term economic growth and social stability will be whether the wealth of its economic boom can reach the majority of its 700 million farmers, who make up approximately 56 percent of the total population. In the new Cato study, “Securing Land Rights for Chinese Farmers: A Leap Forward for Stability and Growth,” authors Zhu Keliang and Roy Prosterman confirm one fundamental cause of the widening rural-urban income gap: most Chinese farmers still lack secure and marketable land rights that would allow them to make long-term investments in land, decisively improve productivity, and accumulate wealth.

Bush Administration Seeks More Risky Government Housing Handouts

John Berlau of the Competitive Enterprise Institute explains in the Wall Street Journal how the Federal Housing Administration has hindered the effective functioning of the housing market - and how Congress and the White House want to make the problem even worse:

Both Mr. Frank and President Bush support major increases in the limits on the value of loans the agency can make, which are contained in a bill that passed the House of Representatives last month. Only 72 Republicans, mostly members of the conservative Republican Study Committee, voted against the bill. A similar bill cleared the Senate Banking Committee 20-1. But before the FHA’s loan spigots are opened up, a little due diligence by the political sector is in order. The FHA’s recent credit history shows it is far from the prudent institution it is said to be. By its own estimate, next year the agency expects to be in the red, paying out more for defaulted loans than borrowers pay to it in insurance premiums. …The agency poses more than just a threat to taxpayers. The collapse of whole segments of the housing market can be traced to FHA-subsidized mortgage products. Despite its decreasing market share, the FHA appears to have played a significant role in the current mortgage “meltdown” attributed to subprime loans. For the past three years, delinquency rates on the oh-so-safe mortgages insured by the FHA have consistently been higher than even those of the dreaded subprime mortgages. …FHA-insured loans have also been at the center of some of the worst excesses of the housing boom, including mortgage fraud, loans made without income verification, and property “flipping” with inflated appraisals. …In both the Clinton and Bush administrations, the FHA’s response to private alternatives for low-income borrowers was to aggressively compete with them – by making the agency’s own lending standards even more “subprime” than those of the private sector. Since its inception in 1934, the FHA has required a down payment – originally 20%, but gradually whittled down to 3% – for a home loan. …Despite these trends, HUD Secretary Jackson’s biggest concern has appeared to be not the FHA’s solvency, but the government agency’s loss of business to the private sector. “I am absolutely emphatic about winning back our share of the market,” he told the Washington Post in 2005. Looking at the agency’s dismal performance over the past few years, we can predict that, if the FHA racks up more “wins,” taxpayers and low-income home buyers will likely be suffering the losses.

Democratic Candidates Uniformly Bad on Capital Gains Tax Issue

The Wall Street Journal opines about the universal support for higher capital gains tax rates by the leading Democratic presidential candidates. Hillary is the “moderate,” seeking to raise the rate to 20 percent, while Obama and Edwards want a 28 percent rate. Yet as the WSJ explains, the capital gains tax is a perverse form of double taxation that ultimately hurts workers by reducing the amount of capital in the economy:

When it comes to taxes, Barack Obama is no Jack Kennedy. The Illinois Senator recently announced that he wants to raise the capital gains tax to restore “fairness” to the tax code. That makes it a three-peat: All of the leading Democratic contenders for President have endorsed higher taxes on stock ownership. Hillary Clinton is the “moderate” in that so far she’d merely raise the tax to 20% from the current 15% – a 33% increase. John Edwards and Mr. Obama want to nearly double it, to 28%. …roughly 52% of American adults own stock in some form, and last year 8.5 million of these investors paid a capital gains tax. The value of those assets will decline if capital gains taxes go up because financial markets instantly capitalize higher taxes on stock profits into lower stock prices. …Since we already tax corporate earnings at 35% through the corporate income tax, taxing those profits again when the stock is sold imposes a double tax on risk capital. That’s why 12 industrialized nations, including Hong Kong and Korea, impose a zero capital gains rate. …A study by former Treasury Department economist Gary Robbins has found that from 1946-1998, about 90% of the returns to capital investment accrued to workers in the form of higher wages, because when workers have more tools like computers, forklifts and robotic equipment, they produce more.