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Regressive Europe

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Some folks love to compare the U.S. to Europe unfavorably.

Not me.

Though I’m fine with learning from European states and cultures (hey: I like Switzerland!), I shudder when I hear someone suggest that America should be “more like Europe.”

Obviously, I’m not with our current president on this. He says we should tax the rich more, make them pay “their fair share.” And his left-leaning admirers append the phrase, almost under their breath, “like in Europe.”


But reserve some of that “ugh” not at the proposal, but at the assumption that European states tax the rich with higher “progressivity.” Veronique de Rugy, reporting on a new book by Bruce Bartlett, says that view is off base. European states tend to rely on the VAT, which is heavily regressive. Additionally, Europe’s high income tax rates kick in at lower incomes, so that Europeans lower down on the middle class ladder feel the bite of high taxes.

De Rugy concludes that America is a lot like Europe, on the whole, but that America’s “tax framework may be worse. . . . It disproportionately relies on the top earners to raise revenue, it exempts a large class of taxpayers from paying any income taxes, and it conceals spending in the form of tax breaks.”

This is all very interesting. But my take-away is not to emulate Europe, but — instead — the distinctively American policies we’ve let slip away. Our limited government principles don’t require us to endlessly chase new revenue streams.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Downs and Ups

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

We hear more about inequality when times get tough than when the economy is booming.

This suggests most people are satisfied with positive growth, but that, when the opposite occurs, some fall back to covetousness and envy. When dissatisfied, we look around for someone to blame.

So what’s roadblocking the long-run upward trend?

There’s the recent bust in the ol’ boom-and-bust. But there’s a deeper problem here. Maybe.

Sheldon Richman, editor of The Freeman, notes that America’s upward mobility is stymied by a whole heckuva lot of government intervention . . . and that a New York Times story about how Americans “enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe” should surprise no one, for America isn’t “the land of the free” and Europe isn’t exactly  “socialist” — it’s more a case that the “economies of America, Canada, and Europe are all variations of corporatism, in which government power primarily benefits the well-connected and well-to-do.”

America differs from Europe in the particulars of its interventionism, not in kind.

Still, things could be worse. Veronique de Rugy, writing in the February Reason (not yet online), shows that downward mobility was in evidence pre-Bailouts. Of 1999’s 675,000 millionaires, only 38,000 remained millionaires in 2007.

That, surely, is enough 1 percenter income decline to satisfy your worst schadenfreude.

On a brighter note, de Rugy insists there’s still dynamism in the American economy, and that the lowest income earners had, during the same pre-bust period, made substantial gains.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Economics vs. Politician-Incurred Debt

Friday, May 14th, 2010

For several years now I have worried — here on Common Sense and on Townhall — about the unsustainability of politician-incurred debt.

I’ve used the word “unsustainable” quite a few times. But too often I’ve simply called it “government debt.” I think I like “politician-incurred debt” better. For it’s politicians who have been unable to keep from over-spending.

And pretending that the consequent problem of debt is “impossible to solve in the current political climate.”

They’re wrong, of course. The “current political climate” is whatever people think and speak right now. Change the way we think and speak, and suddenly the impossible becomes possible.

But what do economists say?

Economists are notoriously able at the higher maths, such as simultaneous equations, symbolic logic and regression analysis. But the number of economists unfazed by the simple calculations to figure debt load and maintenance is almost as frightening as those figures.

Luckily, those ready to do the arithmetic of public debt are on the rise.

Take economist Veronique de Rugy.

Writing in Reason magazine, de Rugy succinctly offers up the numbers. America’s trillions in debt now surpasses half of Gross Domestic Product. Politician-incurred borrowing increasingly soaks up the limited capital available, undermining market recovery. She says politicians must “reform entitlement spending, put both military and domestic spending on the chopping block, and start selling off federal assets. Better to do it now than during a fire sale later.”

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

How to Simulate Stimulation

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Historians have noticed something interesting about the Great Depression: The bulk of Roosevelt’s New Deal money and effort wasn’t directed at the hardest-hit states. It was directed at swing states.

FDR’s New Deal could thus be seen as a vast re-election drive.

Economist Veronique de Rugy, of the Mercatus Center, recently testified before Congress about her studies of recent stimulus spending. She noticed that Democratic districts received bigger bucks than did Republican ones. Coincidence?

Nick Gillespie wrote about this on Reason magazine’s blog, Hit and Run. And, nestled in the comments section, is testimony from someone in the federal government about how stimulus money is actually spent. The government does not look for especially hard-hit areas. It looks for prospect projects that have been designed and engineered and ready to be funded to reach completion quickly.

This is useful to know. If believed, I’ll leave to you the explanation why Democratic Districts might be further along this pork-project train than Republican Districts. But it’s worth noting that this method does not really show any targeted expertise on the part of the federal government. It’s just a spend-and-spend-quickly program. Throw out enough dollars and hope something “sticks” . . . to produce real growth.

You see, this is nothing like how markets for capital projects work in the private sphere. And it’s nothing like a good way of jump-starting a wounded market economy.

It’s just government-mismanagement-as-usual.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.