Free Markets, Free People

Economy

What’s Our Future? Bigger Government And Higher Taxes

At least that’s what Robert Samuelson sees for us. I can’t really dispute his numbers either:

For the past half-century, federal spending has averaged about 20 percent of GDP, federal taxes about 18 percent of GDP and the budget deficit 2 percent of GDP. The CBO’s projection for 2020 — which assumes the economy has returned to “full employment” — puts spending at 26 percent of GDP, taxes at a bit less than 19 percent of GDP and a deficit above 7 percent of GDP. Future spending and deficit figures continue to grow.

What this means is that balancing the budget in 2020 would require a tax increase of almost 50 percent from the last half-century’s average. Remember, that average was 18 percent of GDP. To get from there to 26 percent of GDP (spending in 2020) would require an additional 8 percentage points. In today’s dollars, that would be about $1.1 trillion, a 44 percent annual tax increase. Even these figures may be optimistic, because CBO’s projections for defense and “nondefense discretionary” spending may be unrealistically low. This last category covers much of what government does: environmental regulation, aid to education, highway construction, law enforcement, homeland security.

Now, this should come as no surprise, really, to anyone with a passing knowledge of accounting. When you increase spending without increasing revenue, you end up with a deficit. And what we’ve seen the government doing for decades is exactly that.  Now it’s in the midst of piling up massive deficits and planning huge increases in government.

And it’s not all the politicians fault. After all the average American keeps returning the same fiscally irresponsible people to the same place where they can continue doing what they’ve been doing for decades – spending us into bankruptcy.

Because, as Samuelson notes, Americans like the benefits even if they don’t like the taxes. So the formula has been a little different for each party but the result has been precisely the same:

Republicans want to cut taxes without cutting spending. Democrats want to increase spending without increasing taxes, except on the rich. The differences between the parties are shades of gray. Hardly anyone asks the hard questions of who doesn’t need benefits, which programs are expendable and what taxes might cover remaining deficits.

In fact, much harder questions are routinely ignored, such as “why is government getting into _________ at all?” To me that is the key question that is never asked. Name your program and tell me when anyone asks why government is involving themselves in such things?

It all comes back to the fundamental question which, over the centuries, has seen the answer change radically – “What is the basic function of legitimate government?”

Few are going to be able to argue successfully that the answer in 1781 was the same as it is today, are they? And you don’t really have to be an economist to understand what this direction we seem to be intent upon taking means for our future.  It should also be clear by now that those who’ve have gotten us into this mess have little incentive to change their ways and certainly no stomach for the sort of work it would entail:

There is little appetite for any of this, and so we face the consequences of much bigger government. Certainly higher taxes for future Americans. Probably a less robust economy. The CBO notes that elevated deficits would penalize saving, investment and income, while unprecedented tax burdens could “slow the growth of the economy, making the [government's] spending burden harder to bear.” To such warnings, Americans’ collective response is: Go away.

Enjoy.

You can go back to sleep now.

~McQ

Presidential Reality Check (Update)

Keith Hennesey does a fair job of fisking President Obama’s Washington Post editorial in which Obama tries to put a happy face on what his administration has done thus far to combat the recession. Hennesy included a chart by Don Marron that graphically takes Obama to task on one of his favorite claims, namely:

Nearly six months ago, my administration took office amid the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Marron’s chart:

image1

Now Obama’s claim is certainly close to being true, but by 1/10th of a percent, it isn’t quite there. And, it could be argued, the past 6 months of this administration’s policies has moved it closer to being what he claims than it was when he took office.

But when he talks about the gloom and doom of the “most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression”, remember this chart. He and the Democrats are and have been using that claim as a means of justifying all sorts of deficit spending. It is also the means to justify health care reform (claim: health care spending is going to “bankrupt us”) and cap-and-trade (claim: the route to fiscal health is “green jobs” and “green industry”).

The point here is to understand how overplayed the “most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression” really is. Yeah, it’s a nasty one, but in comparison to the Great Depression it simply doesn’t compare. In fact, it isn’t even close.

UPDATE: Here’s a perfect example of an exaggerated and, naturally, unfalsifiable claim by a politician.

~McQ

Pontiff Pontificates On Economics … Badly

When it comes to economics, the Pope should stick to poping. While it’s not uncommon for the papacy to issue decrees and opinions vaguely in line with common socialist principles (e.g. love thy neighbor, etc.), it is somewhat rare for the Pope to outright call for one-world government:

Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday called for a radical rethinking of the global economy, criticizing a growing divide between rich and poor and urging the establishment of a “world political authority” to oversee the economy and work for the “common good.”

He criticized the current economic system, “where the pernicious effects of sin are evident,” and urged financiers in particular to “rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity.”

He also called for “greater social responsibility” on the part of business. “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty,” Benedict wrote in his new encyclical, which the Vatican released on Tuesday.

I wonder what happened to leave to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s? Or how about that whole concept of “free will”; you know the very basis and foundation of our religious “faith” (which, of course, can only come from choice and not from force)? That seems to be under indictment with Pope Benedict’s latest encyclical.

Leaving aside world governance for the moment, the Pope really goes off the rails when he gets into economic policy. For example, at one point he decries “globalization” and “outsourcing” as little more than the rich preying on the poor:

Indeed, sometimes Benedict sounds like an old-school European socialist, lamenting the decline of the social welfare state and praising the “importance” of labor unions to protect workers. Without stable work, he notes, people lose hope and tend not to get married and have children.

But he also wrote that “The so-called outsourcing of production can weaken the company’s sense of responsibility towards the stakeholders — namely the workers, the suppliers, the consumers, the natural environment and broader society — in favor of the shareholders.”

In short, managers should run their companies for the benefit of those who whine about the common good rather than for those who actually paid for the company (i.e. the shareholders). I’m guessing this is the “squeaky wheel” part of the sermon.

Yet, while outsourcing is deemed “bad”, the Pope also laments that poor countries aren’t better taken care of by richer ones. Towards that end

Benedict also called for a reform of the United Nations so that there could be a unified “global political body” that allowed the less powerful of the earth to have a voice, and he called on rich nations to help less fortunate ones.

“In the search for solutions to the current economic crisis, development aid for poor countries must be considered a valid means of creating wealth for all,” he wrote.

Except for the fact that “development aid” is not wealth. Wealth is created through productivity, not handouts. Indeed, the surest and simplest way to aid development in poor countries to give them jobs … a.k.a “outsourcing.” Doesn’t that whole give a man a fish/teach a man to fish thing ring any bells, your Holiness? Moreover, the more things like outsourcing happen, then the greater wealth there is in the world, and the more work/wealth/happiness there is for everyone to enjoy. Again, I’m pretty sure that was something about loaves and fishes in the Bible that would help illustrate this point.

So much for Papal infallibility.

Just to be clear, I say all of this as a practicing Catholic who is raising his own children in the same tradition. I have great respect for the Pontif when it comes to matters of the spirit. I just wish he’d leave the day-to-day management to the rest of us.

Today’s Employment Situation

First of all, let’s compare the current situation with employment with what the Obama Adnministration told us would happen if we didn’t pass the stimulus package.  As has been obvious for some time now the stimulus is not–as we repeatedly predicted–substantially impacting the employment situation.

stimulus-vs-unemployment-june-dots

Unemployment: Promised v. Actual

Instead, employment has risen by more than 3%.

Now, today’s surprise was not that there were a net 467,000 jobs lost last month, but that the employment rate went up by only 0.1%.  The answer to that mystery is found in the employment data from the BLS, which shows that the civilian labor force declined by 358,000 people last month.

The Bureau of labor Statistics uses a neat bit of sleight-of-hand when calculating the unemployment rate.  If you are not in the workforce, you aren’t counted as unemployed.  You disappear from the numbers.

There are a number of ways to leave the labor force.  You can retire.  You can become injured or disabled.  Or, you can simply become so discouraged that you stop looking for a job.

For the latter category, that means you may still not have enough money to house and clothe your family.  and you might still really want to work.  But there are no jobs for you, and if you stop actively looking for work, then you drop out of the labor force.

Granted, there’s no other way to really count the labor force, but this does help explain why the employment rate remained much more restrained vis a vis the actual number of net job losses.  The number of people not in the labor force increased from 80,371,000 in May to 80,729,000 in June.  That nearly equals the number of job losses, so the unemployment rate comes out nearly even.

CBO, Entitlments, Health Care Reform and the Deficit

One more time into the breach. The CBO has issued a warning to Congress about entitlement spending. Again. Here’s a key paragraph:

Almost all of the projected growth in federal spending other than interest payments on the debt comes from growth in spending on the three largest entitlement programs–Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

Most of you know that Medicare and Medicaid have an unfunded future liability of 36 trillion dollars. That’s about 3 times the annual total GDP of the US economy. And they are the very same type of “public option” program – i.e. government insurance – that the left says is so very necessary and crucial to real “health care reform”.

In other words, the left’s argument is that adding at least 47 million (presently uninsured), plus the possibility of adding 119 million who are shifted to the public option from private insurance (private insurance, btw, doesn’t have any effect on the deficit whatsoever since we, the private sector, are paying for it) will somehow make the deficit picture better?

I’m obviously missing something here.

With the public option, we’re adding a new entitlement (47 million who presently supposedly can’t afford insurance, meaning taxpayers will subsidize theirs). Assuming it is set up originally to be paid for by premiums, at some point, like Medicare and Medicaid, and every other government entitlement program I can think of, it will pay out more than it takes in. How can it not? It is a stated “non-profit” program and it will include subsidies. At some point, another revenue stream is going to be necessary as it burns through the premiums with its payouts.

Well, say the proponents of government involvement in your health care, we’re going to save money by doing preventive health care. Yes, preventive care is the key to lower costs because a healthier population is one which visits the doctor less. While that may seem to be at least partially true (you’d think a healthier population would, logically, visit the doctor less) the part that is apparently missed when touting this popular panacea is the cost of making the population healthier (and the fact that the assumption of less visits isn’t necessarily true) doesn’t cost less – it costs more:

If health care providers can prevent or delay conditions like heart disease and diabetes, the logic goes, the nation won’t have to pay for so many expensive hospital procedures.

The problem, as lawmakers are discovering to their frustration, is that the logic is wrong. Preventive care — at least the sort delivered by doctors — doesn’t save money, experts say. It costs money.

That’s old news to the analysts at the Congressional Budget Office, who have told senators on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that it cannot score most preventive-care proposals as saving money.

So with that myth blown to hell, we’re now looking at a government plan which will add cost to the deficit by subsidizing the insurance of 47 million and (most likely) many more, plus a plan to use a more costly form of medicine as its primary means of giving care.

But, back to the entitlement report – or warning. The CBO says that unless entitlements are drastically reformed (that means Medicare, Medicaid and to a lesser extent, Social Security) we’re in deep deficit doodoo:

The most frightening findings in this report are the deficit and debt projections. In this year and next year, the yearly budget shortfall, or deficit, will be the largest post-war deficits on record–exceeding 11 percent of the economy or gross domestic product (GDP)–and by 2080 it will reach 17.8 percent of GDP.

The national debt, which is the sum of all past deficits, will escalate even faster. Since 1962, debt has averaged 36 percent of GDP, but it will reach 60 percent, nearly double the average, by next year and will exceed 100 percent of the economy by 2042. Put another way, in about 30 years, for every $1 each American citizen and business earns or produces, the government will be an equivalent $1 in debt. By 2083, debt figures will surpass an astounding 306 percent of GDP.

The report also finds high overall growth in the government as a share of the economy and of taxpayers’ wallets that provides an additional area of concern. While total government spending has hovered around 20 percent of the economy since the 1960s, it has jumped by a quarter to 25 percent in 2009 alone and will exceed 32 percent by 2083. Taxes, which have averaged at 18.3 percent of GDP, will reach unprecedented levels of 26 percent by 2083. Never in American history have spending and tax levels been that high.

Here’s the important point to be made – these projections do not include cap-and-trade or health care reform.

Got that? We’re looking at the “highest spending and tax levels” in our history without either of those huge tax and spend programs now being considered included in the numbers above. Total government spending, as a percent of GDP is now at an unprecedented 25%. And they’re trying to add more while this president, who is right in the middle of it, tells us we can’t keep this deficit spending up forever.

Fair warning.

~McQ

Krugman Endorses “Carbon Tariff”

Paul Krugman came out today for “border adjustments” (tariffs) on goods from countries who aren’t participating in economy killing CO2 emissions control taxation.

His argument:

If you only impose restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from domestic sources, you give consumers no incentive to avoid purchasing products that cause emissions in other countries; as a result, you have an inefficient outcome even from a world point of view. So border adjustments here are entirely legitimate in terms of basic economics.

Actually they’re “entirely legitimate” if you swallow the premise Krugman is pushing here, namely that CO2 is a “pollutant” and its restriction is a “legitimate” reason for imposing taxes on both your own economy and the goods coming from another economy which doesn’t agree with the premise. And, of course, this ignores the probable reaction countries hit with this tariff might have.

Krugman then attempts to justify such a “border adjustment” by claiming such a move is probably legal under “international law”:

The WTO has looked at the issue, and suggests that carbon tariffs may be viewed the same way as border adjustments associated with value-added taxes. It has long been accepted that a VAT is essentially a sales tax — a tax on consumers — which for administrative reasons is collected from producers. Because it’s essentially a tax on consumers, it’s legal, and also economically efficient, to collect it on imported goods as well as domestic production; it’s a matter of leveling the playing field, not protectionism.

And the same would be true of carbon tariffs.

What he sort of dances around when he claims this will “level the playing field” is all products, regardless of their origin, will see dramatically increased pricing. The point of the tax is to hopefully steer consumers to domestically produced products which are produced under government approved conditions rather than those from countries like China and India which aren’t playing the game the US wants them to play. Not only will the consumer here be asked to pay for the CO2 offsets imposed on domestic industry, but they will have to pay for offsets for foreign producers as well when the VAT cost is passed on in the price of the goods.

The thinking, obviously, is that if prices are the same, US consumers will buy US goods instead of, say, Chinese goods. The problem, of course, is much of what we consume isn’t made here anymore. So the result would be the US consumer would end up paying higher prices for goods produced in China with no change in behavior by China.

Additionally, China will view this as a protectionist measure, whether the WTO thinks it is “legal” or not. China will simply claim that the US, as a rich country and large “polluter”, should be doing more than they are doing in terms of emissions control, and impose its own “WTO legal” VAT in response. Same with any other country targeted by the US for a tariff.

This is, frankly, an invitation to a trade war. Krugman can wrap his protectionist argument in whatever legality he’d like, but the fact remains most countries effected will view it as an attempt to limit trade and react accordingly. And, of course, by Krugman’s own admission, it is you who will be paying the tariff cost for China and India if this is ever passed into law.

~McQ

Quote Of The Day

From a commenter on Arnold Kling’s Atlantic site, one of the more succinct summaries of what Waxman-Markey really is:

‘Cap and Tax’ simply provides more opportunities for political favoritism — creating arbitrary credits to be awarded to pet projects while getting others to pay for the favors. Meanwhile the energy expense baseline of the entire economy goes up. Waxman-Markey are gushing about how historic this bill is. That it is — it puts Smoot-Hawley in second place as potentially the most misguided economic legislation of the last 100 years.

Take the time to read Kling’s post as well.

If you’re wondering who will be paying “for the favors”, Conor Clarke at the Atlantic has been kind enough to put that in chart form using the CBO’s data on tax distribution:

cap and trade share by income

But remember you 95% out there – your taxes won’t go up by a single dime – not one dime. Your fuel, electric, transportation, food and just about anything else you can imagine? Dimes won’t even begin to describe the increases you’ll see.

~McQ

“Man-Made Warming” Dubbed “Worst Scientific Scandal In History”

I understand that everywhere else today it is “Michale Jackson is dead” day – I suspect days such as this must be infinitely boring to most news junkies because the news is dominated by a single topic.

Meanwhile Democrats are doing their best to rush cap-and-trade through the House today even while the pseudo-science that supports their effort continues to collapse.  The WSJ has an article today which points out:

Among the many reasons President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority are so intent on quickly jamming a cap-and-trade system through Congress is because the global warming tide is again shifting. It turns out Al Gore and the United Nations (with an assist from the media), did a little too vociferous a job smearing anyone who disagreed with them as “deniers.” The backlash has brought the scientific debate roaring back to life in Australia, Europe, Japan and even, if less reported, the U.S.

Interestingly, as the EPA story below points out, it has actually been suppressed here. But that hasn’t stopped the scientific community elsewhere from continuing to destroy the myth of consensus and replace it with a healthy, and might I add peer reviewed, skepticism real science brings to any theory:

In April, the Polish Academy of Sciences published a document challenging man-made global warming. In the Czech Republic, where President Vaclav Klaus remains a leading skeptic, today only 11% of the population believes humans play a role. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to tap Claude Allegre to lead the country’s new ministry of industry and innovation. Twenty years ago Mr. Allegre was among the first to trill about man-made global warming, but the geochemist has since recanted. New Zealand last year elected a new government, which immediately suspended the country’s weeks-old cap-and-trade program.

The number of skeptics, far from shrinking, is swelling. Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe now counts more than 700 scientists who disagree with the U.N. — 13 times the number who authored the U.N.’s 2007 climate summary for policymakers. Joanne Simpson, the world’s first woman to receive a Ph.D. in meteorology, expressed relief upon her retirement last year that she was finally free to speak “frankly” of her nonbelief. Dr. Kiminori Itoh, a Japanese environmental physical chemist who contributed to a U.N. climate report, dubs man-made warming “the worst scientific scandal in history.” Norway’s Ivar Giaever, Nobel Prize winner for physics, decries it as the “new religion.” A group of 54 noted physicists, led by Princeton’s Will Happer, is demanding the American Physical Society revise its position that the science is settled. (Both Nature and Science magazines have refused to run the physicists’ open letter.)

It is falling apart in big chunks now – not that anyone on the left here is listening. We’ve got the fingers firmly in the ears in Congress and the EPA. Both made up their minds years ago, having bought into the pseudo-science of Al Gore and are now determined to act on their preconceived notions – science be damned.

Economist John M. Keynes once said, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

The answer for the left is ignore them and pass economy killing legislation as fast as they can.

The collapse of the “consensus” has been driven by reality. The inconvenient truth is that the earth’s temperatures have flat-lined since 2001, despite growing concentrations of C02. Peer-reviewed research has debunked doomsday scenarios about the polar ice caps, hurricanes, malaria, extinctions, rising oceans. A global financial crisis has politicians taking a harder look at the science that would require them to hamstring their economies to rein in carbon.

Meanwhile our blinkered ideologues push cap-and-trade while ignoring the new evidence.

Comforting, isn’t it?

~McQ

Will Waxman-Markey Inspire A Trade War?

Apparently it will according to some who have actually beaten their way through the entire bill and read the contents:

The Ways and Means Committee’s proposed bill language (pdf) would virtually require that the president impose an import tariff on any country that fails to clamp down on greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course in this full bore onslaught of major life changing legislation which the Democrats seem determined to push through the Congress as quickly as they can (citing the imminent crisis it will foment if they don’t), this issue seems to be lost in the shuffle:

“This is a sleeper issue that lawmakers have not been paying enough attention to,” said Jake Colvin, vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents multinational corporations like Boeing Co. and Microsoft Corp. advocating for an open international trading system.

“The danger is, you focus so much on leveling the playing field for U.S. firms, that you neglect the potentially serious consequences that this could have on the international trading system,” Colvin said.

Ya think?

Nancy Peolosi is aiming for a vote in the House this Friday, before the July 4th recess. That obviously will mean very, very limited debate, if any. As NRO notes:

Not content to tempt political fate by imposing huge carbon taxes on the American middle class, Democrats have added a provision which imposes stiff tariffs on our trading partners if they don’t adopt aggressive carbon restrictions of their own.

You heard correctly: progressives have authored a bill that earns the mortal enmity of domestic energy consumers and our most crucial trading partners at the same time. Economy-killing climate policies and a trade war — together at last!

The devil is in the details:

Leaks from Hill offices indicate that the president would now be forced to impose the carbon tariffs — and could only opt out of doing so with permission from both chambers of Congress. Carbon-intensive imports would be subject to penalties at the border unless the country of origin requires emission reduction measures at least 80 percent as costly as ours. (The original Waxman-Markey bill had a threshold of 60 percent.)

Brilliant. Of course, some are going to argue that such measures surely will not be in the Senate version and not survive the reconciliation process when the two versions are merged. With this Congress I wouldn’t bet the farm on that.

There’s some talk that the blue dogs are going to oppose this bill. Obviously you would expect the GOP to oppose it as well. Are there enough other Dems to oppose so as to defeat it? Pelosi may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to many things, but over the years she has learned to count votes I’m sure.

Bottom line: this bill is an economy killer, plain and simple. But it is also a progressive wet-dream shared by Pelosi. She is going to do everything in her power to push it through the House.

~McQ

Cap and Trade – The Plan to Raise Gasoline Prices

And apparently force you into those electric cars the government is dumping all that money into.

According to API president Jack Gerard, in a letter he sent to members of Congress, the plan included in Waxman-Markey is pretty darn clear:

The legislation will drive up individual and commercial consumer’s fuel prices because it inequitably distributes free emissions “allowances” to various sectors.  Electricity suppliers are responsible for about 40% of the emissions covered by the bill and receive approximately 44% of the allowances – specifically to protect power consumers from price increases.  However the bill holds refiners responsible for their own emissions plus the emissions from the use of petroleum products.  In total refiners are responsible for 44% of all covered emissions, yet the legislation grants them only 2% of the free allowances.

Upon reading that I assume anyone with the IQ of warm toast can see where that is headed. It is a targeted tax on oil and gas which will be passed on to the consumer in just about every conceivable way possible. Both at the pump and in the cost increases rolled into products we buy due to increased transportation costs, etc.

Electricity, however, whose coal plants are supposedly one of the primary producers of CO2 and very much responsible for the emissions problems we supposedly have get a pass. Does that even begin to hint that this legislation isn’t just about controlling CO2 emissions?

In fact, it shouts it out fairly clearly doesn’t it. Keep the proles happy by ensuring their power to the house is subsidized and stick it to them at the pump where government (who now has a stake in the game) wants consumers buying “green” cars. Don’t you just love it when a plan begins to come together?

Moving on, Gerard’s letter lays out some sobering numbers:

This places a disproportionate burden on all consumers of gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, jet fuel, propane and other petroleum products. An analysis of the Congressional Budget Office Report indicates that it could add as much as 77 cents to a gallon of gasoline over the next decade. And, according to the Heritage Foundation this legislation could cause gas prices to jump 74% by 2035. That means, at today’s prices, gasoline would be well over $4 a gallon.

Of course by 2035 we’ll all be riding around in vehicles powered by uincorn methane. And everyone knows that unicorn methane is nontoxic, environmentally friendly, smells good and is eco friendly.

That said, there is the cap and trade plan as it pertains to one vital segment of our economy in all its simple glory. It will force you to pay outrageous prices to use petroleum products in order to move you to the desired, but not yet available, means of conveyance. In the meantime, and until it is available, you’ll just have to suffer with the cost increases.  Also remember that government estimates of cost are notoriously conservative and the real cost of such legislation is likely to be much higher than anticipated.

And don’t laugh too hard when they try to sell that to you by saying they’re attempting to save the planet. They’re exempting coal fired power plants for heaven sake. Trust me, this isn’t about emissions. If it were, they wouldn’t treat natural gas the way they do in the legislation as the letter points out.

After all, they’re the government and they’re there to help.

~McQ