OPEN LETTER TO BARACK OBAMA ON HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY “A PROMISED LAND” Part 95 WELFARE NANNY STATE “we sometimes debated whether…certain regulations were discouraging innovation, whether the “nanny state” was sapping individual initiative”

Milton Friedman PBS Free to Choose 1980 Vol 4 of 10 From Cradle to Grave

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February 24, 2021

Office of Barack and Michelle Obama
P.O. Box 91000
Washington, DC 20066

Dear President Obama,

I wrote you over 700 letters while you were President and I mailed them to the White House and also published them on my blog http://www.thedailyhatch.org .I received several letters back from your staff and I wanted to thank you for those letters. 

There are several issues raised in your book that I would like to discuss with you such as the minimum wage law, the liberal press, the cause of 2007 financial meltdown, and especially your pro-choice (what I call pro-abortion) view which I strongly object to on both religious and scientific grounds, Two of the most impressive things in your book were your dedication to both the National Prayer Breakfast (which spoke at 8 times and your many visits to the sides of wounded warriors!!

I have been reading your autobiography A PROMISED LAND and I have been enjoying it. 

Let me make a few comments on it, and here is the first quote of yours I want to comment on:

As our society grew more complex, more and more of the government’s function took the form of social insurance, with each of us chipping in through our tax dollars to protect ourselves collectively—for disaster relief if our house was destroyed in a hurricane; unemployment insurance if we lost a job; Social Security and Medicare to lessen the indignities of old age; reliable electricity and phone service for those who lived in rural areas where utility companies wouldn’t otherwise make a profit; public schools and universities to make education more egalitarian.
     It worked, more or less. In the span of a generation and for a majority of Americans, life got better, safer, more prosperous, and more just. A broad middle class flourished. The rich remained rich, if maybe not quite as rich as they would have liked, and the poor were fewer in number, and not as poor as they’d otherwise have been. And if we sometimes debated whether taxes were too high or certain regulations were discouraging innovation, whether the “nanny state” was sapping individual initiative or this or that program was wasteful, we generally understood the advantages of a society that at least tried to offer a fair shake to everyone and built a floor beneath which nobody could sink.
     Maintaining this social compact, though, required trust. It required that we see ourselves as bound together, if not as a family then at least as a community, each member worthy of concern and able to make claims on the whole. It required us to believe that whatever actions the government might take to help those in need were available to you and people like you; that nobody was gaming the system and that the misfortunes or stumbles or circumstances that caused others to suffer were ones to which you at some point in your life might fall prey.

Welfare, Taxes, the Nanny State, and Supply-Side Economics

What’s the right way to define good tax policy? There are several possible answers to that question, including the all-important observation that the goal should be to only collect the amount of revenue needed to finance the legitimate functions of government, and not one penny above that amount.

But what if we want a more targeted definition? A simple principle to shape our understanding of tax policy?

I’m partial to what I wrote last year.

…the essential insight of supply-side economics…when you tax something, you get less of it.

I’m not claiming this is my idea, by the way. It’s been around for a long time.

Indeed, it’s rumored that Reagan shared a version of this wisdom.

I don’t know if the Gipper actually said those exact words, but his grasp of tax policy was very impressive. And the changes he made led to very good results, even if folks on the left still refuse to believe the IRS data showing that Reagan’s lower tax rates on the rich generated more revenue.

In any event, our friends on the nanny-state left actually understand this principle when it suits their purposes. They propose sugar taxessoda taxescarbon taxeshousing taxestanning taxestobacco taxes, and even “adult entertainment” taxes with the explicit goal of using the tax code to reduce the consumption of things they don’t like.

I don’t like the idea of government trying to dictate people do with their own money, but these so-called sin taxes generally are successful because supply-siders are right about taxes impacting incentives.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always popular when statist governments impose such policies. At least not in Belarus, according to a story from RFERL.

Protests over a new tax aimed at reducing social welfare spread beyond the Belarusian capital, as thousands took to the streets in Homel and other towns. Along with similar protests two days earlier in Minsk, the February 19 demonstrations were some of the largest in the country in years. In Homel, near the border with Russia, at least 1,000 people marched and chanted slogans against the measure, known as the “Law Against Social Parasites.”

But what are “social parasites” and what does the law do?

…the law…requires people who were employed fewer than 183 days in a calendar year to pay a tax of about $200. …The measure is aimed at combating what President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has called “social parasitism.”

For what it’s worth, the Washington Post reports that the government had to back down.

The protesters won. On Thursday, Lukashenko announced that he won’t enforce the measure this year, though he’s not scrapping it. “We will not collect this money for 2016 from those who were meant to pay it,” he told the state news agency Belta. Those who have already paid will get a rebate if they get a job this year. The law, signed into effect in 2015, is reminiscent of Soviet-era crackdowns against the jobless, who undermined the state’s portrayal of a “workers’ paradise.”

That’s good news.

If people can somehow survive without working (assuming they’re not mooching off taxpayers, which is something that should be discouraged), more power to them. It’s not the life I would want, but it’s not the role of government to tax them if they don’t work. Or if they simply choose to work 182 days per year.

Mr. Lukashenko should concentrate instead on taking the heavy foot of government off the neck of his people. According to the most-recent Index of Economic Freedom, Belarus is only ranked #104, with especially weak scores for “rule of law” and “open markets.”

If he turns his country into a Slavic version of Hong Kong, based on free markets and small government, people will be clamoring to work. But I’m not holding my breath expecting that to happen.

P.S. While government shouldn’t tax people for not working, it’s also a bad idea to subsidize them for not working. Indeed, there’s even a version of the Laffer Curve for poverty and redistribution.

P.P.S. Given the low freedom ranking for Belarus, I suspect the real parasites in that country (just like in the U.S.) are the various interest groups that are feeding from the government trough.

P.P.P.S. On an amusing note, here’s the satirical British video on killing the poor instead of taxing them. Ready

Sincerely,

Everette Hatcher III, 13900 Cottontail Lane, Alexander, AR 72002, ph 501-920-5733 everettehatcher@gmail.com

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