Small Government Is Efficient, and Decentralized Government Is even Better

May 8, 2015

Phineas Fahrquar:

One reason I grew to be a limited government conservative is that the empirical evidence shows that it delivers better results, as in the linked article below:

Originally posted on International Liberty:

In early November of last year, I shared some remarkable data from a groundbreaking study published by the European Central Bank (ECB).

The study looking at public sector efficiency (PSE) in developed nations and found that “big governments spend a lot more and deliver considerably less.”

Later in the month, I wrote about a second ECB study that looked at a broader set of nations and further confirmed that smaller government produces better results.

The first ECB study clearly concluded that “small” government is more efficient and productive than either “medium” government or “big” government. Based on the second ECB study, we can conclude that it’s even better if government is…well, I guess we’ll have to use the term “smaller than small.”

Today, we can augment this research by looking at a new study from the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF’s new working paper on “Fiscal Decentralization and the Efficiency…

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(Video) In praise of Calvin Coolidge, the “Great Refrainer”

May 4, 2015

Via Prager University, recent years have given me a far greater appreciation of the virtues of our 30th president:

The lecturer, Amity Shlaes, has not only written a well-received biography of Coolidge, but also a revisionist history of the Great Depression that should be must reading.


In the Left’s Orwellian World, Taxpayers Who Get to Keep their Income Are Getting “Handouts”

April 19, 2015

Phineas Fahrquar:

The difference between a conservative and a progressive: the conservative believes the money you earn is yours, and the government should take only the minimum it needs to perform necessary tasks. The progressive believes the money is yours, but government knows best how it should be used and how much you really need.

Originally posted on International Liberty:

I’ve sometimes asserted, only half-jokingly, that statists believe all of our income belongs to the government and that we should be grateful if we’re allowed to keep any slice of what we earn.

This is, at least in part, the mentality behind the “tax expenditure” concept, which creates a false equivalence between spending programs and provisions of the tax code that allow people to keep greater amounts of their own income.

Here’s how I characterized this moral blindness when criticizing a Washington Post columnist back in 2013.

Hiatt presumably thinks that the government’s decision not to impose double taxation is somehow akin to a giveaway. But that only makes sense if you assume that government has a preemptive claim to all private income. …Hiatt wants us the think that there’s no moral, ethical, or economic difference between giving person A $5,000 of other people’s money and person B being…

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Welcome to tax season, now prepare to give your #Obamacare subsidy back

February 2, 2015
"Obamacare has arrived"

“Obamacare has arrived”

This item has been sitting in my files for a while (1), but, since we’re deep into tax season, it’s still relevant — especially so for people relying on that federal subsidy to help pay for their “affordable” health care:

As many as 3.4 million people who received Obamacare subsidies may owe refunds to the federal government, according to an estimate by a tax preparation firm.

H&R Block is estimating that as many as half of the 6.8 million people who received insurance premium subsidies under the Affordable Care Act benefited from subsidies that were too large, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

“The ACA is going to result in more confusion for existing clients, and many taxpayers may well be very disappointed by getting less money and possibly even owing money,” the president of a tax preparation and education school told the Journal.

While the Affordable Care Act fines those who don’t have health insurance, it also provides subsidies for people making up to four times the federal poverty line ($46,680).

But the subsidies are based on past tax returns, so many people may be receiving too much, according to Vanderbilt University assistant professor John Graves, who projects the average subsidy is $208 too high, the Journal reports.

If, like a lot of people, you’re used to getting some sort of a refund, you probably already have an idea of how much you expect and how you plan to spend it. Imagine then how happy these many millions of people will be when they’re told they’re either getting less of a refund, or that they in fact owe money. And, on top of that, their subsidy for the next year will almost certainly be lower, so even more of their money will go to the insurance companies by force of law for coverage that probably isn’t as good as they had before, or at least isn’t what was promised.

That, my friends, is a recipe for angry voters. And, oh, there’s a presidential election warming up, too. Fancy that.

If anything good comes of this fiasco, it will probably be the hard-learned lesson that government is poorly equipped to do more than a certain few tasks and running a huge, massively complicated healthcare system isn’t among them.

Call it another “teachable moment.”

Footnote:
(1) Ancient by Internet standards — a whole month!

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Prediction: Gridlock for the Next Two Years, but that’s Better than the Alternative of Expanding Government

January 28, 2015

Phineas Fahrquar:

If Congress and the administration can’t agree to do anything good, then doing nothing is the next best solution. Or, as Reagan (I think) once said, “Don’t just do something, stand there!”

Originally posted on International Liberty:

There’s a lot of navel-gazing analysis in Washington about whether to expect some sort of bipartisanship over the next two years.

I find such discussions very irritating because they assume that you automatically get good results when Republicans and Democrats both agree on a policy. My reaction, to put it mildly, is “these people are f@*&#^@g crazy!!!”

Was it progress when Republicans and Democrats conspired to bail out their contributors on Wall Streetwith TARP?

Was it progress when Republicans and Democrats joined hands to impose Bush’s no-bureaucrat-left-behind education scheme?

Was it progress when the first President Bush broke his read-my-lips promise and sided with Democrats to boost taxes and spending in 1990?

So you can see why I instinctively like gridlock. Simply stated, it’s better to do nothing if the alternative is to have more bad laws that expand the burden of government.

But perhaps I’m being too…

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The IRS wants to tax your frequent flyer miles and hotel points

May 27, 2014

taxes IRS shakedown

It’s as if the agency was worried it wasn’t hated enough.

Writing at Reason, Ira Stoll reports that the Internal Revenue Service is looking at taxing rewards points offered by airlines and hotel chains:

Just in time for your summer vacation, the IRS is getting ready to toughen the tax treatment on frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty reward programs.

The IRS announced in 2002 that it wouldn’t try to go after individuals for income taxes on frequent flyer miles or hotel loyalty points earned on company-paid business trips. Yet the temptation to wring some tax revenue out of the vast non-dollar economy of Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints, Marriott Rewards points, American Airlines AAdvantage miles, Delta Skymiles, and so on is apparently so great that that the government just cannot resist.

Sure enough, the Tax Foundation, a research group that tracks tax issues, flags a recent post on the View From the Wing blog that runs under the provocative headline, “The IRS Looks To Be on the Verge of Imposing a Big Tax Burden on Loyalty Points.”

The IRS’s plans are vague, but they have airlines and hotel owners concerned enough about the issue that they reportedly sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. “The IRS’ proposal to alter the tax treatment of loyalty programs will impose a significant new tax on existing and future loyalty points that travel customers enjoy and rely upon,” said the letter, according to a report in Politico. “Any change or clarification of loyalty program accounting should be made through the legislative process, not IRS promulgation.”

Frequent flyer mile fanatics got a wake-up call on the issue back in 2012 when Citibank sent IRS Forms 1099, documenting “miscellaneous income,” at a rate of 2.5 cents a mile, to customers who had signed up for an American Airlines-branded credit card and gotten 40,000 AAdvantage miles as a bonus. It was an unpleasant surprise to cardholders who thought they were getting a free trip, not an unwanted extra tax bill.

I’ll say. I rarely rack up enough points for a free flight or hotel night, but I know plenty of people who fly a lot and who rely on those points to help cover the occasional vacation. Suddenly taxing them not only diminishes their value as a customer-retention tool, but also burdens the consumer by imposing a monetary cost for a non-monetary reward. (Sure, the points have “value,” but it’s not like real income. Just try paying for a meal with airline points…)

Stoll covers several problems with this plan, but I’ll add one of my own: this is another example of the gradual bureaucratic usurpation of legislative power that’s grown to be such a problem since the Progressive Era. Congress writes laws that allow regulatory agencies to create rules for their implementation, but agencies, like bureaucracies everywhere, constantly push the bounds of that authority to accumulate ever-greater power to themselves, to the point whereat they’re no longer writing rules, but actually making law in place of the elected legislature. Which, for progressive ideology, is a feature, not a bug. (1)

Although, perhaps “usurpation” is too strong a word. After all, congresses dominated by both Democrats and Republicans have gone along with this, even if they didn’t agree with progressive ideology, passing vague legislation and letting agencies “fill in the blanks.” It’s a tempting bit of laziness: as Washington accumulated more power to itself, Congress had to deal with more and more, until it became expedient to let someone else deal with the details. And it gives them political cover: It wasn’t your congressman who decided to tax your airline miles, it was the IRS. Left unsaid is how generations of congressmen and senators have enabled this.

Of the many reforms our government needs, congress reclaiming its power to make laws and reining in the bureaucracy —especially the IRS!— is high on the list.

Footnote:
(1) The basic idea is that democratically-elected legislatures are too prone to public passions, too full of unqualified people, to be trusted with governance. Progressives prefer unelected, dispassionate boards of technocrats who would practice scientific management of public affairs. They may be right about the problems of legislatures, but I think the last century has shown their solution is even worse.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Repeal the Gas Tax…and Get Rid of the Department of Transportation

May 9, 2014

Phineas Fahrquar:

It’s a good start. The way to end cronyist corruption in DC is to take the money away.

Originally posted on International Liberty:

More than three years ago, I wrote that the Department of Transportation should be dismantled for the simple reason that we’ll get better roads at lower cost with the federalist approach of returning responsibility to state and local governments.

I echoed those sentiments in this CNBC interview.

Since there’s only an opportunity to exchange soundbites in these interviews, let me elaborate on some of the reasons why transportation should be a state and local responsibility.

1. Washington involvement is a recipe for pork and corruption. Lawmakers in Congress – including Republicans – get on the Transportation Committees precisely because they can buy votes and raise campaign cash by diverting taxpayer money to friends and cronies.

mitchells-first-theorem-of-government2. Washington involvement in transportation is just the tip of the iceberg. As I said in the interview, the federal budget is mostly a scam where endless streams of money are shifted back and…

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