Topic: Tax and Budget Policy

Breastmilk, Formula, and WIC

The federal government runs more than 2,300 subsidy programs. One of the problems created by the armada of hand-outs is that many programs work at cross-purposes.

Government information programs urge women to breastfeed. This website says, “the cells, hormones, and antibodies in breastmilk protect babies from illness. This protection is unique and changes to meet your baby’s needs.” Breastfeeding, the government says, may protect babies against asthma, leukemia, obesity, ear infections, eczema, diarrhea, vomiting, lower respiratory infections, necrotizing enterocolitis, sudden infant death syndrome, and diabetes. 

The alternative to breastfeeding is baby formula. Some moms need to use formula, but you would think given the superiority of breastmilk that the government would not want to encourage formula. But that is exactly what the government does with the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. According to the Wall Street Journal, the “largest single expense” in the $6 billion program is subsidies for formula. If you subsidize something, you get more of it. And, presumably, more formula means less breastmilk.

Failing Aviation Administration (FAA)

The federal government operates the air traffic control (ATC) system as an old-fashioned bureaucracy, even though ATC is a high-tech business. It’s as if the government took over Apple Computer and tried to design breakthrough products. The government would surely screw it up, which is the situation today with ATC run by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The Washington Post reports:

A day after the Federal Aviation Administration celebrated the latest success in its $40 billion modernization of the air-traffic control system, the agency was hit Friday by the most scathing criticism to date for the pace of its efforts.

The FAA has frustrated Congress and been subject to frequent critical reports as it struggles to roll out the massive and complex system called NextGen, but the thorough condemnation in a study released Friday by the National Academies was unprecedented.

Mincing no words, the panel of 10 academic experts brought together by the academy’s National Research Council (NRC) said the FAA was not delivering the system that had been promised and should “reset expectations” about what it is delivering to the public and the airlines that use the system.

The “success” the WaPo initially refers to is a component of NextGen that was four years behind schedule and millions of dollars over-budget. That is success for government work I suppose.

The NRC’s findings come on the heels of other critical reports and years of FAA failings. The failings have become so routine—and the potential benefits of improved ATC so large— that even moderate politicians, corporate heads, and bureaucratic insiders now support major reforms:

“We will never get there on the current path,” Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said two months ago at a roundtable discussion on Capitol Hill. “We’ve spent $6 billion on NextGen, but the airlines have seen few benefits.”

American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker added, “FAA’s modernization efforts have been plagued with delays.”

And David Grizzle, former head of the FAA’s air-traffic control division, said taking that division out of FAA hands “is the only means to create a stable” future for the development of NextGen.

The reform we need is ATC privatization. Following the leads of Canada and Britain, we should move the entire ATC system to a private and self-supporting nonprofit corporation. The corporation would cover its costs by generating revenues from customers—the airlines—which would make it more responsible for delivering results.

Here is an interesting finding from the NRC report:  “Airlines are not motivated to spend money on equipment and training for NextGen.” Apparently, the airlines do not trust the government to do its part, and so progress gets stalled because companies cannot be sure their investments will pay off. So an advantage of privatization would be to create a more trustworthy ATC partner for the users of the system.

ATC privatization should be an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to forge a bipartisan legislative success. In Canada, the successful ATC privatization was enacted by a Liberal government and supported by the subsequent Conservative government. So let’s use the Canadian system as a model, and move ahead with ATC reform and modernization.

Those Gruelling U.S. Tax Rates: A Global Perspective

The Tax Foundation released its inaugural “International Tax Competitiveness Index” (ITCI) on September 15th, 2014. The United States was ranked an abysmal 32nd out of the 34 OECD member countries for the year 2014. (See accompanying Table 1.) The European welfare states such as Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with their large social welfare systems, still managed to have less burdensome tax systems on local businesses than the U.S. The U.S. is even ranked below Italy, the country that has had such a pervasive problem with tax evasion that the head of its Agency of Revenue (roughly equivalent to the Internal Revenue Service in the United States) recently joked that Italians don’t pay taxes because they were Catholic and hence were used to “gaining absolution.” In fact, according to the ranking, only France and Portugal have the dubious honor of operating less competitive tax systems than the United States.

The ITCI measures “the extent to which a country’s tax system adheres to two important principles of tax policy: competitiveness and neutrality.” The competitiveness of a tax system can be measured by the overall tax rates faced by domestic businesses operating within the country. In the words of the Tax Foundation, when tax rates are too high, it “drives investment elsewhere, leading to slower economic growth.” Tax competitiveness is measured from 40 different variables across five different categories: consumption taxes, individual taxes, corporate income taxes, property taxes, and the treatment of foreign earnings. Tax neutrality, the other principle taken into account when composing the ITCI, refers to a “tax code that seeks to raise the most revenue with the fewest economic distortions.” This would mean that tax systems are fair and equally targeted towards all firms and industries, with no tax breaks for any specific business activity. A neutral tax system would also limit the rate of – amongst others – capital gains and dividends taxes, all of which encourage consumption at the expense of savings and investment. 

Even the two countries that have less competitive tax regimes than the U.S. – France and Portugal – have lower corporate tax rates than the U.S., at 34.4% and 31.5%, respectively. The U.S. corporate rate on average across states, on the other hand, is at 39.1%. This is the highest rate in the OECD, which has an average corporate tax rate of 24.8% across the 34 member countries. According to a report by KPMG, if the United Arab Emirates’ severance tax on oil companies was ignored, the U.S. average corporate tax rate would be the world’s highest.

U.S. Corporate Tax Rate Double Canada’s

While the Obama administration has focused on tax increases over the years, Canada has focused on tax cuts. The new Canadian budget, out a couple weeks ago, summarized some of the progress that they have made.

The budget says,

The government’s low-tax plan is also giving businesses strong incentives to invest in Canada. This helps the economy grow, spurs job creation, and raises Canada’s standard of living.

That is a refreshing attitude. While the U.S. government’s approach has been to penalize businesses and treat them as a cash box to be raided, Canada’s approach has been to reduce tax burdens and spur growth to the benefit of everybody.

A chart in the new budget—reproduced below the jump—shows that Canada now has the lowest marginal effective tax rate on business investment among major economies. It also shows that the U.S tax rate of 34.7 percent is almost twice the Canadian rate of 17.5 percent.

These “effective” tax rates take into account stated or statutory rates, plus various tax base factors such as depreciation schedules. Skeptics of corporate tax rate cuts in this country often say that while the United States has a high statutory tax rate of 40 percent, we have so many loopholes that our effective rate is low. The new Canadian estimates show that is not true: the United States has both a high statutory rate (which spawns tax avoidance) and a high effective rate (which kills investment).

For the solution to this problem, see here.

IMF Proposes to Sabotage China’s Economy

For the people of China, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news, as illustrated by the chart below, is that economic freedom has increased dramatically since 1980. This liberalization has lifted hundreds of millions from abject poverty.


The bad news is that China still has a long way to go if it wants to become a rich, market-oriented nation. Notwithstanding big gains since 1980, it still ranks in the lower-third of nations for economic freedom.

Yes, there’s been impressive growth, but it started from a very low level. As a result, per-capita economic output is still just a fraction of American levels.

So let’s examine what’s needed to boost Chinese prosperity.

Budget Conference Moves Forward

Negotiators for the House of Representatives and the Senate are expected to announce a deal on the budget resolution as early as today. A budget resolution sets overall spending limits for the year. If it passes, it would be the first resolution in six years, but it does little to fix the country’s long-term fiscal mess.

The original House and Senate budget proposals left much to be desired. Each proposal increased defense spending by using the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account as a slush fund. This maneuver allowed each chamber to claim allegiance to the 2011 Budget Control Act spending caps, while bypassing it to boost spending.  The House budget included a version of Medicare reform, but delayed its start date until 2024. The Senate left Medicare reform off the table.

This week, budget negotiators seem to be taking disappointing parts from each chamber.

Indian Schools Are Failing

Since treaties in the 19th century, the federal government has provided educational aid to American Indians. These days, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) owns about 180 Indian schools, which have about 41,000 students in Arizona, New Mexico, South Dakota, North Dakota, and other states.

I examined Indian schools in this study at Downsizing Government. The schools have long failed Indian children and seem to waste a great deal of money.

The Washington Post reported similar findings:

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Education spends nearly 56 percent more money than American public schools on each student, but many Native Americans learn in facilities that are languishing in poor condition, according to federal auditors.

A report this week from the Government Accountability Office said the agency has struggled to staff, manage and repair its schools, largely because of a broken bureaucracy.

… The bureau also suffers from high leadership turnover, inconsistent accountability, poor communication between offices, a lack of strategic planning and a dearth of financial experts to manage spending, auditors said. The “systemic management challenges,” as the report described them, have hindered the agency’s efforts to improve student achievement and sustain key initiatives, according to the report.

The problems have persisted for years, despite the bureau spending significantly more than U.S. public schools in general. A 2014 GAO analysis found that the agency spends an estimated $15,000 per pupil on average, while public schools nationwide spend an estimated average of about $9,900.

… Indian Education spokeswoman Nedra Darling said Thursday that the bureau is “deep into the process of fixing the problems that the GAO highlighted.”

… “The president has asked Congress for significant increases in the budget to accomplish many of these goals and to increase staff available to serve tribal schools and BIE-run schools,” Darling said.

The last two sentences are classic: Agency leaders using their own failings as an excuse to demand more taxpayer money.

A better reform would be for Congress to advance Indian self-determination by ending the federal ownership and operation of schools and converting BIE funding to block grants. Tribal governments could then use the block grants to either competitively source school management or to pass through the funds to Indian parents in the form of school vouchers.

The important thing is to get Washington out of the business of running schools because decades of experience reveal that it is not very good at it.