The next two cartoons are almost identical. We'll start with this one from Michael Ramirez.
Ramirez is one of my favorite cartoonists, incidentally, and you can see more of his work here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Here's a Gary Varvel cartoon with the exact same message.
Instead of great minds thinking alike, this is a case of great cartoonists thinking alike. Though they probably have great minds as well.
But I don't want to make too many fawning comments since I would modify both of these cartoons so that the kids were looking at papers that said "Medicare" and "Social Security" instead of "debt."
It's always important to focus first and foremost on the disease of spending, after all, and not the symptom of red ink.
Last but not least, I can't resist linking to this comedian's video, which includes some very good economic insights about work incentives.
Sort of like this Wizard of Id parody featuring Obama.
If we want to avoid the kind of Greek-style fiscal collapse implied by this BIS and OECD data, we need some external force to limit the tendency of politicians to over-tax and over-spend.
That’s why I’m a big advocate of tax competition, fiscal sovereignty, and financial privacy (read Pierre Bessard and Allister Heath to understand why these issues are critical).
Simply stated, I want people to have the freedom to benefit from better tax policy in other jurisdictions, especially since that penalizes governments that get too greedy.
I’m currently surrounded by hundreds of people who share my views since I’m in Prague at a meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society. And I’m particularly happy since Professor Lars Feld of the University of Freiburg presented a paper yesterday on “Redistribution through public budgets: Who pays, who receives, and what effects do political institutions have?”
His research produced all sorts of interesting results, but I was drawn to his estimates on how tax competition and fiscal decentralization are an effective means of restraining bad fiscal policy.
Here are some findings from the study, which was co-authored with Jan Schnellenbach of the University of Heidelberg.
In line with the previous subsections, we find that countries with a higher GDP per employee, i.e. a higher overall labor productivity, have a more unequal primary income distribution. …fiscal competition within a country or trade openness as an indicator of globalization do not exacerbate, but reduce the gap between income classes. …expenditure and revenue decentralization restrict the government’s ability to redistribute income when fiscal decentralization also involves fiscal competition. …fiscal decentralization, when accompanied by high fiscal autonomy, involves significantly less fiscal redistribution. Please also note that fiscal competition induces a more equal distribution of primary income and, even though the distribution of disposable income is more unequal, it is open how the effect of fiscal competition on income distribution should be evaluated. Because measures of income redistribution usu-ally have adverse incentive effects which consequently affect economic growth negatively, fiscal competition might be favorable for countries which have strong egalitarian preferences. A rising tide lifts all boats and might in the long-run outperform countries with more moderate income redistribution even in distributional terms.
The paper includes a bunch of empirical results that are too arcane to reproduce here, but they basically show that the welfare state is difficult to maintain if taxpayers have the ability to vote with their feet.
Or perhaps the better way to interpret the data is that fiscal competition makes it difficult for governments to expand the welfare state to dangerous levels. In other words, it is a way of protecting governments from the worst impulses of their politicians.
The Obama campaign's "Life of Julia" ad is a disturbing sign. It suggests that political strategists, pollsters, and campaign advisers must think that the people living off government are getting to the point where they can out-vote the people paying for government.
If that's true, America is doomed to become another Greece - which would be an appropriate fate since, for all intents and purposes, Julia is the fictional twin of a real-life Greek woman who thought it was government's job to give her things.
In general, I think the best response to Julia is mockery, which is why I shared this Iowahawk parody and this Ramirez cartoon.
But we also need a serious discussion of why dependency is a bad thing, which is why I'm glad the Center for Freedom and Prosperity has produced this new "Economics 101" video.
It's narrated by Emily O'Neill, who contrasts the moocher mentality of Julia with how she wants her life to develop. To give away the message, she wants the kind of fulfillment that only exists when you earn things.
Emily's view could be considered Randian libertarianism, conventional conservatism, or both. That's because there's a common moral belief in both philosophies that government-imposed coercion and redistribution erode the social capital of a people.
This is perhaps the key issue for America's future, which is why I hope you'll share this video widely. Otherwise, we my face a future where this Chuck Asay cartoon becomes reality. Speaking of Asay, this cartoon is a pretty good summary of what the Julia ad is really saying.
The Census Bureau has just released the 2010 poverty numbers, and the new data is terrible.
There are now a record number of poor people in America, and the poverty rate has jumped to 15.1 percent.
But I don't really blame President Obama for these grim numbers. Yes, he's increased the burden of government, which doubtlessly has hindered the economy's performance and made things worse, but the White House crowd legitimately can argue that they inherited a crummy situation.
What's really striking, if we look at the chart, is that the poverty rate in America was steadily declining. But then, once President Lyndon Johnson started a "War on Poverty," that progress came to a halt.
As I've explained before, the so-called War on Poverty has undermined economic progress by trapping people in lives of dependency. And this certainly is consistent with the data in the chart, which show that the poverty rate no longer is falling and instead bumps around between 12 percent and 15 percent.
This is bad news for poor people, of course, but it's also bad news for taxpayers. The federal government, which shouldn't have any role in the field of income redistribution, has squandered trillions of dollars on dozens of means-tested programs. And they've arguably made matters worse.
By the way, just in case you think I'm being too easy on Obama, read this post about how the Administration is considering a terrible plan to re-define poverty in order to justify ever-larger amounts of redistribution.
I fully agree that the president's policies definitely have made—and will continue to make—matters worse. But the fundamental problem is 40-plus years of a misguided "War on Poverty" by the federal government.
Coercive redistribution and diversity in the interests of its constituent groups are essential features of the modern welfare state. Disagreement over perceived consequences of social policy creates the demand for publicly justified “objective” evaluations. If there were no coercion, redistribution and intervention would be voluntary activities and there would be no need for public justification for voluntary trades.
−James J. Heckman (winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Economics), “Accounting for Heterogeneity, Diversity and General Equilibrium in Evaluating Social Programs,” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 7230, July 1999.
From my former Cato colleague, Will Wilkinson:
The trick to weaving an effective and politically-robust safety net for those who most need one is designing it to appear to benefit everyone, especially those who don't need it. The whole thing turns on maintaining the illusion that payroll taxes are "premiums" or "insurance contributions" and that subsequent transfers from the government are "benefits" one has paid for through a lifetime of payroll deductions. The insurance schema protects the main redistributive work of the programme by obscuring it. As a matter of legal fact, payroll taxes are just taxes; they create no legal entitlement to benefits. The government can and does spend your Social Security and Medicare taxes on killer drones. But the architects of America's big social-insurance schemes, such as Frances Perkins and Wilbur Cohen, thought it very important that it doesn't look that way. That's why you you see specific deductions for Social Security and Medicare on your paycheck. And that's why the government maintains these shell "trust funds" where you are meant to believe your "insurance contributions" are kept.
Alas, like Social Security and Medicare themselves, the deceptions that protect these entitlement programs cannot go on forever.
Generally, liberals are profoundly conservative about the classic Perkins-Cohen architecture of America's big entitlement programmes, which they credit for their remarkable popularity and stability. Yet that architecture offers very few degrees of freedom for significant reform. Crunch time is coming, though, and sooner or later something's got to give.
If Wilkinson's overlords at The Economist demand that he misspell program, they should be consistent and allow him to abandon the American convention of mislabeling leftists as liberals.
What is it with modern American liberals and taxes? Apparently they don't just see taxes as a necessary evil, they actually like 'em; they think, as Gail Collins puts it in the New York Times, that in a better world "little kids would dream of growing up to be really big taxpayers." But you really see liberals' taxophilia coming out when you read the reviews of the new movie Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe. If liberals don't love taxes, they sure do hate tax protesters.
Carlo Rotella, director of American Studies at Boston College, writes in the Boston Globe that this Robin Hood is "A big angry baby [who] fights back against taxes" and that the movie is "hamstrung by a shrill political agenda — endless fake-populist harping on the evils of taxation." You wonder what Professor Rotella teaches his students about America, a country whose fundamental ideology has been described as "antistatism, laissez-faire, individualism, populism, and egalitarianism."
At the Village Voice, Karina Longworth dismisses the movie as "a rousing love letter to the Tea Party movement" in which "Instead of robbing from the rich to give to the poor, this Robin Hood preaches about 'liberty' and the rights of the individual as he wanders a countryside populated chiefly by Englishpersons bled dry by government greed." Gotta love those scare quotes around "liberty." Uptown at the New York Times, A. O. Scott is sadly disappointed that "this Robin is no socialist bandit practicing freelance wealth redistribution, but rather a manly libertarian rebel striking out against high taxes and a big government scheme to trample the ancient liberties of property owners and provincial nobles. Don’t tread on him!" The movie, she laments, is "one big medieval tea party."
Moving on down the East Coast establishment, again with the Tea Party hatin' in Michael O'Sullivan's Washington Post review:
Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood" is less about a band of merry men than a whole country of really angry ones. At times, it feels like a political attack ad paid for by the tea party movement, circa 1199. Set in an England that has been bankrupted by years of war in the Middle East -- in this case, the Crusades -- it's the story of a people who are being taxed to death by a corrupt government, under an upstart ruler who's running the country into the ground.
Man, these liberals really don't like Tea Parties, complaints about lost liberty, and Hollywood movies that don't toe the ideological line. As Cathy Young notes at Reason:
Whatever one may think of Scott's newest incarnation of the Robin Hood legend, it is more than a little troubling to see alleged liberals speak of liberty and individual rights in a tone of sarcastic dismissal. This is especially ironic since the Robin Hood of myth and folklore probably has much more in common with the "libertarian rebel" played by Russell Crowe than with the medieval socialist of the "rob from the rich, give to the poor" cliché. At heart, the noble-outlaw legend that has captured the human imagination for centuries is about freedom, not wealth redistribution....The Sheriff of Nottingham is Robin's chief opponent; at the time, it was the sheriffs' role as tax collectors in particular that made them objects of loathing by peasants and commoners. [In other books and movies] Robin Hood is also frequently shown helping men who face barbaric punishments for hunting in the royal forests, a pursuit permitted to nobles and strictly forbidden to the lower classes in medieval England; in other words, he is opposing privilege bestowed by political power, not earned wealth.
The reviewers are indeed tapping into a real theme of this Robin Hood, which is a prequel to the usual Robin Hood story; it imagines Robin's life before he went into the forest. Marian tells the sheriff, "You have stripped our wealth to pay for foreign adventures." (A version of the script can be found on Google Books and at Amazon, where Marian is called Marion.) Robin tells the king the people want a charter to guarantee that every man be "safe from eviction without cause or prison without charge" and free "to work, eat, and live merry as he may on the sweat of his own brow." The evil King John's man Godfrey promises to "have merchants and landowners fill your coffers or their coffins....Loyalty means paying your share in the defense of the realm." And Robin Hood tells the king, in the spirit of Braveheart's William Wallace, "What we ask for is liberty, by law."
Dangerous sentiments indeed. You can see what horrifies the liberal reviewers. If this sort of talk catches on, we might become a country based on antistatism, laissez-faire, individualism, populism, and egalitarianism and governed by a Constitution.