New Federal Pay Data

The Bureau of Economic Analysis just released its annual data on employee compensation by industry. (See tables 6.2, 6.3, 6.5, and 6.6).

The new data for 2006 show that 1.8 million federal civilian workers earned an average $111,180 in total compensation (wages plus benefits). That is more than double the $55,470 average earned by U.S. workers in the private sector.

Looking just at wages, federal workers earned an average $73,406, which is 60 percent greater than the $45,995 average earned by private sector workers.

Average federal pay has soared in recent years, growing much faster than private sector pay between 2001 and 2005. However, federal pay growth slowed in 2006, while private sector pay accelerated. As a result, average compensation for federal civilians grew 4.0 percent in 2006, compared to the average in the private sector of 4.2 percent.

Hopefully, federal pay increases will continue slowing to help relieve the soaring taxpayer costs of federal workers. I’ve proposed freezing federal pay to help reduce the deficit and privatizing expensive activities such as air traffic control.

The BEA data show that compensation for federal civilian workers cost taxpayers $203 billion in 2006, up from $145 billion in 2001 when President Bush took office. (The costs of military compensation have grown even more rapidly, from $98 billion in 2001 to $156 billion in 2006).

The acceleration of federal compensation is clear in the figure below covering 1990-2006.

Source: Chris Edwards, Cato Institute, based on Bureau of Economic Analysis data

For further information, see

http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=6611

http://www.cato.org/pubs/tbb/tbb-0605-35.pdf

(Data note: The BEA data for number of employees is measured in full-time equivalents.)

French Tax Exiles Unlikely to Go Home

For all the joking about the French (e.g.: Ad seen on E-Bay: French military rifles for sale. Hardly used, only dropped once), they deserve credit for not being dumb enough to trust politicians. A Bloomberg story discusses the huge number of productive people who have fled France’s oppressive tax system and notes that very few of these tax exiles are tempted to return merely because Sarkozy is tinkering with the tax system:

Nicolas Sarkozy is rolling out the welcome mat for thousands of rich French people who fled one of Europe’s most onerous tax regimes. Few may heed his call. In his first economic act as president, Sarkozy is pushing a tax law to lure back exiles such as rock star Johnny Hallyday, 64, and members of the Mulliez clan, who control the French retailer Groupe Auchan SA. The measure will increase exemptions on the “fortune” tax – the bete noire of rich expatriates – and cap the total individual tax rate at 50 percent of income. Sarkozy, 52, needs these wealth-creators to help rekindle an economy that’s lagging behind its neighbors and to sustain future growth. …

“In France, to earn a lot of money is to be seen as a little bit criminal,” says author Anne-Marie Mitterrand, who moved to Belgium in 1997. … “The Right to Laziness,” a 19th century book by Paul Lafargue, Karl Marx’s son-in-law, advised against working more than three hours a day. And French author Honore de Balzac famously said, “Behind every great fortune lies a crime.” This prejudice drove French citizens to Switzerland, Belgium, the U.K. and the
U.S., where at least 500,000 of them reside, either to make more or keep more of what they have. London and the U.S. are preferred refuges for younger people. Switzerland, with about 200,000 French residents, attracts the retired and stars like Hallyday. …

Households fleeing the fortune tax climbed to a record 649 in 2005 from 370 in 1997, according to a study by French Senator Philippe Marini. Another study by the Economic Analysis Council, which advises the government, says about 10,000 business directors fled in the last 15 years, taking 70 billion to 100 billion euros ($137 billion) in capital to invest elsewhere. …

Francois Micheloud, a Lausanne lawyer who helps clients settle in Switzerland, says he doubts French exiles will return anytime soon because they distrust government tax policies.

“Carried Interest” Battle Could Be Precursor to Broader Effort to Increase Capital Gains Tax

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Phil Kerpen of Americans for Prosperity weighs in on the taxation of the returns to private equity funds. He notes, as have others, that the so-called “carried interest” is a capital gain – even if it is then shared with the fund manager. The key message of the article is that the attempt to raise the tax on this type of capital gains is the first step in an effort to raise the tax rate on all capital gains:

Under current law, individual partners in an investment partnership such as a hedge fund or private equity fund are taxed based on what the underlying partnership income is; if the income comes from a capital gain, it is taxed at the capital gains rate. Ordinary income is taxed at ordinary income tax rates. This tax treatment is consistent with the rationale for a lower capital gains tax rate – to alleviate the double taxation of corporate-source income and to encourage risk taking, entrepreneurship and capital formation. The legislation Congress is considering ends those protections, saying in effect that it doesn’t matter if the income is a clear-cut capital gain, such as proceeds from the sale of corporate stock. What matters is who receives the income, in this case politically unpopular rich guys. All investors should be on notice that if the capital gains tax is considered a loophole for investment partnerships, it can’t be long before the capital gains tax is raised for everyone else. Some leading Democrats, including Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and presidential candidate John Edwards, are already calling to do just that.

Kerpen’s fears are confirmed by a story in the New York Sun. At a Finance Committee hearing, a number of politicians expressed support for broader tax hikes:

Democrats may dodge a tax hike on private equity managers and instead look to raise other taxes that would generate greater revenue from a broader swath of the American economy. At hearings on Capitol Hill yesterday, Senate Democrats voiced fresh doubts about legislative proposals to increase tax rates in the burgeoning private equity industry, questioning both the fairness of the plans and whether they would yield the revenue infusion lawmakers are seeking for the federal coffers. … Lawmakers indicated yesterday that they might turn their attention to more far-reaching tax shifts, such as increasing the rate on capital gains, to 20% from 15%, and the marginal income rate for the top-earning Americans, to 40% from 35%.

Poole on Friedman’s Monetary Legacy

Like Andrew Coulson, I attended an event in honor of Milton Friedman’s birthday yesterday. This one was in Missouri, and it featured Bill Poole, who’s president of the Saint Louis Federal Reserve Bank and a frequent participant in Cato events on monetary policy. The event was sponsored by the University of Missouri and the Show-Me Institute. In his speech, he credited Friedman with making the case that changes in the money supply are a major factor in the business cycle. However, he noted that modern-day central bankers do not agree with Friedman’s contention that central banks should focus on limiting the growth of the money supply:

Everything Milton argued about money stock control is true, but the effect of inflation expectations on the practice of monetary policy itself was, I believe, a missing element in the analysis. The economy functions differently when inflation expectations are firmly anchored. If a central bank allows expectations to become unanchored, then interest-rate control becomes a dangerous and potentially destabilizing policy. But should the practice of monetary policy depend on how well inflation expectations are anchored? I do not recall Milton discussing this question, perhaps because he believed that the best way to maintain well-anchored expectations over time was for the central bank to commit to steady and low money growth under all circumstances.

How does a central bank anchor inflation expectations? One approach would be for the central bank to commit to low and steady money growth come what may. A problem with this approach is that it may not appear credible to the markets when financial instability and/or recession occurs. If a policy of steady money growth has exceptions, can the exceptions be defined in such a way to retain anchored inflation expectations?

A necessary and sufficient condition for anchoring is that the central bank act vigorously to resist inflation or deflation whenever it becomes evident and particularly when inflation expectations change, up or down, in an unwelcome way. If the central bank is willing to push as hard as it takes, regardless of short-run consequences to unemployment and especially to the bond and stock markets, then market participants will develop firm views on the likely rate of inflation in the future. The Fed must convince market participants who bet against it that they will regret their bets.

However, Poole concludes that “Although Milton did not prevail in his quest to have the Fed maintain a constant money-growth rate, he did prevail in his insistence that policy be apolitical and rely to the maximum possible extent on market judgments. He lost a battle but truly did win the war.”

A Correction

In my post last week on the House farm bill, I quoted a Congressional Quarterly article that said that “[chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Representative Collin] Peterson also worked to stave off a last-minute revolt by Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members by dedicating $1 million [sic] in extra funding for historically black universities and for black farmers.” (link requires subscription).

Further reporting has disclosed that the figure dedicated to those causes was $100 million (see here). Apologies.

State Government “Financial Implosion”

In prior posts, I noted the problems of rapidly rising state government debt and massive unfunded state health care promises.

I just came across a detailed study by an Illinois group that puts the problem in stark perspective. The report by the Commercial Club of Chicago begins: “Illinois is headed toward financial implosion–Illinois’ debt and unrecognized obligations have grown at an enormous rate.”

The study puts the state’s pension debt at $10 billion, its unfunded pension costs at $46 billion, its unfunded employee health care costs at $48 billion, and its unpaid Medicaid bills at $2 billion. The total costs that will be pushed onto tomorrow’s taxpayers without reforms is an enormous $106 billion, or $8,800 per every person in the state of Illinois.

As the report notes, the Illinois state constitution requires a balanced budget, but state policymakers are routinely abusing that requirement by financing spending with debt and imposing growing unfunded obligations on future generations.

The Commerical Club’s report is not libertarian by a long shot, and indeed calls for tax increases as part of a solution. But the report does a good job describing the excessive benefits received by state bureaucrats and the irresponsible growth in unfunded spending that has become the norm in legislatures across the nation in recent years.

For background see here [.pdf].