Is England Becoming a Nation of Big-Government Snitches?

According to Tax-news.com, about 200,000 Brits have tattled on their neighbors to the tax authority. It is unclear whether this has generated more revenue for the
UK’s bloated public sector, but the more interesting aspect of this story is that the snitches do not get any reward. At least Russians who ratted out family members to the KGB might get a pair of jeans from the West. And Cubans who turn in their colleagues might get their meat ration upped to twice monthly:

Almost 200,000 Britons have shopped their friends, family and colleagues to the tax man in the year since HM Revenue and Customs set up a confidential hotline for taxpayers to inform on those they suspect of dodging their taxes. … However, it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of the HMRC initiative, as the Treasury reportedly refused to divulge to the Times how many successful prosecutions had resulted from such informants, nor how much extra tax had been brought in. …informants in the UK receive no monetary rewards for shopping tax evaders. …HMRC has said that it needs additional powers and deterrents to extract money from non-payers, in order to reduce the cost and effort of pursuing around 200,000 people through the court system every year.

“Pragmatic” Health Care Reform?

The Washington Post has a story today gushing over how “pragmatic” and “moderate” Democratic presidential candidates are being in pursuit of universal health care. Moderate in comparison to Michael Moore maybe, but let’s look at what those candidates are actually proposing:

1) An individual mandate requiring every American to purchase a specific government-designed insurance plan or face financial penalties. (Edwards and Clinton). Such a mandate, however unenforceable in practice, is an unprecedented (except for Massachusetts) infringement on individual liberty and sets the stage for further regulation of the insurance industry.

2) A “play or pay” mandate on businesses, requiring them to provide employees with health insurance or pay additional taxes (Obama, Edwards, Clinton). Such a mandate would raise the cost of employment resulting in a loss of jobs and lower employee compensation.

3) A government-mandated minimum benefits package for insurance (Obama, Edwards, Clinton). Rather than true insurance—spreading catastrophic risk—the government would require a “Cadillac” policy, leading to a feeding frenzy for special interests representing providers and disease constituencies.

4) Community rating and guaranteed issue, raising the cost of insurance for young and healthy individuals. (Obama, Edwards, Clinton).

5) Price controls on insurance premiums (Obama) and prescription drugs under Medicare (Obama, Edwards, Clinton).

6) Huge tax increases, ranging from $65 billion per year (Obama) to more than $120 billion per year (Edwards).

7) Massive expansion of government health care programs like Medicaid (Obama, Edwards, Clinton). Edwards would also create a new government-run health care program like Medicare to compete with private insurance.

8) Managed-competition-style regional insurance pools or “connectors.” (Obama and Clinton).

The fact that Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and the Heritage Foundation also support many of these proposals doesn’t make them any more moderate. These proposals would radically increase government control over one seventh of the US economy, would increase taxes, destroy jobs, and slow economic growth, and most importantly would lead to worse health care for millions of Americans.

Medicare Meets Mephistopheles: “Damnably Funny”

The blogger David in DC describes himself as a “Knee-Jerk Bleeding-Heart Liberal-Progressive With a Hyphenation Problem.”  He nevertheless offers his praise for David Hyman’s book Medicare Meets Mephistopheles:

O.K., how often do you suppose you’re gonna get a recommendation from me for a book published by the Cato Institute (a libertarian think tank) and denouncing one of the most important legacies of LBJ’s “Great Society” program?…

This book has charts, graphs and endnotes. It’s a scholarly work.

But it’s also damnably funny.

Check it out.

It’s a nice review.  But I think his mom put him up to it.

Anti-Money Laundering Laws Impose Heavy Costs, yet Do Not Hinder Crime and Terrorism

The Associated Press reports that financial institutions in North America are paying 71 percent more over the past three years to comply with government anti-money laundering rules and regulations. Even supporters of the current approach admit that the costs are enormous, totaling about $7 billion yearly (and that estimate is three years old). This steep burden might be worthwhile if it led to a reduction in crime and/or terrorism, but as I have explained elsewhere, there is scant evidence that anti-money laundering laws reduce underlying criminal/terrorist behavior. Indeed, because law enforcement resources are being used to spy on everybody rather than targeted at those who want to harm the country, it is possible that the misallocation of resources required by anti-money laundering policy actually makes America less safe:

Complying with anti-money laundering laws has been much more expensive than banks anticipated, and some still aren’t meeting all requirements, a new survey says. …Among the six regions surveyed, North American banks saw the highest percentage cost increase, with costs rising 71 percent over the last three years. …Many governments require that banks take steps to prevent money laundering. Money laundering involves making certain financial transactions to hide the source, nature or destination of illegal funds. The United States has the Bank Secrecy Act, which was passed in 1970 and amended by the USA Patriot Act of Oct. 26, 2001. It has since been used increasingly to stop the flow of financing to terrorist organizations.

How Schooling Affects Culture

Cato’s Brink Lindsey has a good essay in today’s WSJ on how cultural differences between communities (from child-rearing to views and expectations on education) widen America’s socioeconomic gap. The one point where I diverge from Brink is that I am far more sanguine about the feasibility of reducing the cultural gaps that exacerbate the socioeconomic gap. The key is to understand that our educational institutions actually shape our culture.

Our monopoly school system has gradually marginalized parents, removing from them any significant responsibility for deciding where, what, how, when, and by whom their children are taught. This usurpation of traditional parental responsibilities has not only facilitated but fomented an unprecedented level of disengagement from their children’s education. Responsibilities breed responsibility. Powerlessness breeds apathy and disengagement.

When parents are actively involved in choosing their children’s schools, and when they have some measure of financial responsibility for their children’s education, they take a more active role, they are more satisfied with their children’s education, and their children’s achievement and attainment goes up. The most dramatic findings come from the areas most in need of improvement: our inner cities. University of Chicago economist Derek Neal has shown that urban black students attending Catholic schools are far more likely to graduate from high-school, be accepted to college, and graduate from college than similar students who attend government schools. That and other relevant research is digested and linked to here.

Replacing our dependency-producing school monopoly with a free education market that requires all parents to choose their children’s schools, and requires all parents to contribute something to the cost of their own children’s education (in kind rather than cash, where necessary), would not simply minimize the damage done by America’s culture gap. It would significantly shrink that gap, because it would compel parents to once again take a more active role in their children’s education. “Free” monopoly schooling isn’t merely inefficient, it is socially destructive.

Brink Lindsey on “The Libertarian Center”

The July issue of Cato Unbound hits virtual newsstands this morning with Cato VP for research Brink Lindsey’s new essay elaborating his argument in The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture that the culture wars are over and a vaguely libertarian consensus is the result. While recognizing that principled libertarianism doesn’t have a significant constituency, Lindsey argues that the soft libertarian synthesis constrains the Democrats and Republicans as they seek to cobble together working political majorities. Keep your browsers pointed to Cato Unbound: Jonah Goldberg of National Review has first whack at Brink on Wednesday.

Gordon Brown’s Finance Minister Defends UK’s Status as Tax-Haven

The United Kingdom has extremely favorable rules for “non-domiciled” residents, a policy that enables highly productive people to live in London while avoiding most taxes on capital income and foreign-source income. The left in Europe hates this policy, especially since entrepreneurs and investors are escaping high-tax nations to live in London, but the new Chancellor of the Exchequer seems content to leave well enough alone. The Observer reports:

London, the great global financial centre, has another claim to fame: it has become the fastest growing destination for international tax avoiders. The world’s super-rich and an elite cadre of financiers working in the Square Mile are increasingly using non-domicile tax status to sidestep paying tax on their fortunes. …Those benefiting from non-dom status have rocketed over the last five years. The Treasury…confirmed that 112,000 individuals indicated non-dom status in their self-assessment returns in the tax year to April 2005. This is a 74 per cent increase over 2002’s figures. …Unlike UK citizens, non-doms escape tax on income from property or capital gains. It is not only the international jet set who claim non-dom status; it is also available to some of the most powerful figures in the City. …Non-domicile status is self-assessed. Forms are easy to download from the web and there are just 19 questions. One tax expert says it is easy to convince the Revenue that a claimant is based overseas, whether it is through a relative or a series of overseas investments. In addition, the Revenue makes very few checks on status. Many senior City figures qualify for non-dom tax exemptions, including Dominic Murphy, the UK boss of private equity giant KKR. And it is widely thought that the Chancellor’s City adviser Sir Ronald Cohen and a large collection of Labour Party donors do too.  …Earlier this week, new Chancellor Alistair Darling made it clear that nothing must harm the international pre-eminence of the City and he warned against ‘knee jerk’ reactions to calls to amend the regulation.