Category Archives: Vouchers

School Choice Opponents Concede Defeat Just Days After Declaring Victory

School Choice Opponents Concede Defeat Just Days After Declaring Victory

Arizona school choice

School choice opponents in Arizona just tried to block the state’s newly passed school choice expansion to all Arizona children. Fortunately, parents have defeated them. (Photo: SDI Productions/Getty Images)

On Friday, opponents of education choice in Arizona declared a “historic victory.”

But by Monday, they were conceding defeat.

They had sought to gather enough signatures to block Arizona’s newly passed massive expansionof education choice and put it on the ballot for voters to decide. But apparently, the voters weren’t interested in what opponents were selling.

“I think we will end up short, yes,” said Beth Lewis, the executive director of the anti-school choice group Save Our Schools Arizona. Their defeat is a testament to the power of parents who mobilized to defend the education choice policy.

Earlier this summer, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed a bill sponsored by Arizona House Republican Majority Leader Ben Toma to expand eligibility for the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account policy to all 1.1 million of the state’s K-12 students.

Arizona’s ESA policy is now the gold standard of education choice. Arizona ranks first in the nationfor education choice in The Heritage Foundation’s inaugural Education Freedom Report Card and second for education freedom overall (including in rankings of education choice, academic transparency, regulatory freedom, and return on investment for education spending), behind only Florida.

With an ESA, families receive about $7,000 per student—slightly more than the median elementary school tuition in Arizona—to use for educational expenses such as private school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, homeschool curricula, online courses, special-needs therapy, and more. Students with special needs can receive additional funding.

On Friday, Save Our Schools Arizona claimed it had gathered 141,714 signatures, significantly more than the 118,823 valid signatures it needed to put the ESA expansion on the 2024 ballot.

Even then, its victory rang hollow. As I noted on Friday:

‘Valid’ is the key word. Signatures may be invalid for a variety of reasons—for example, if the signer isn’t registered to vote in Arizona, the signature or address doesn’t match what’s on file, and so on.

According to Ballotpedia, the average signature validity rate of ballot initiative petitions such as this one is 75.3%. Even with an 80% validity rate, Save Our Schools would need about 150,000 signatures to meet the threshold.

With about 142,000 signatures, Save Our Schools Arizona would need an 84% validity rate.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear that it turned in far fewer than the number it initially claimed. Although Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has not yet released the official number of signatures submitted, the Arizona Mirrorexplained why the information released thus far shows it is practically impossible that Save Our Schools cleared the signature threshold:

According to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, the group filed 8,175 petition sheets. That means the group would have needed about 17.3 signatures per petition sheet to hit the number of signatures claimed — an impossibility, as there are only 15 lines per sheet.

And in order to meet the 118,823 valid signatures required to successfully block the law from going into effect to put it on the 2024 ballot, Save Our Schools Arizona needs more than 14.5 signatures on every sheet. That essentially means every sheet needs to be full for the measure to succeed.

A cursory review of the petition sheets that the Secretary of State’s Office digitized as part of its initial evaluation process shows very few sheets have all 15 lines full.

In short: It’s all over.

After a review of the digitized petition sheets, the Goldwater Institute and Center for Arizona Policy tallied that Save Our Schools Arizona submitted only 88,866 signatures. That’s not only far fewer signatures than they needed this year, it’s also far fewer than the roughly 111,000 signatures gathered for a similar referendum in 2018.

“We just sometimes get things wrong,” concededLewis.

“Arizona families have rejected special interests’ attempts to take away their ability to choose the education that best meets their child’s unique needs,” said Victor Riches, president and CEO of the Goldwater Institute. “Families deserve the right to choose the best education option for their children, regardless of ZIP code, and now, they’ll once again be able to exercise that right by applying for ESAs.”

What does all this mean? And what happens next? Here are three key takeaways:

1) All Arizona students will soon have access to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

Since the Arizona Department of Education began accepting ESA applications under the recently expanded eligibility on Aug. 16, it received more than 10,000 applications from families whose children qualified under the new guidelines. That means the number of ESA students will nearly double since the last academic year, when 11,775 Arizona students received an ESA.

But those families are in limbo as the ESA expansion is still on hold pending the official results of the referendum attempt.

The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office has 20 days to review the Save Our Schools Arizona petitions. If it failed to clear the signature threshold, then the ESA expansion will go into effect immediately.

But as Arizona Senate President Karen Fann noted today, the signature verification process should not take nearly that long, especially since the Secretary of State’s Office “relies on signature-review software to automate petition signature counting.”

The secretary of state should release the results with all deliberate speed so that Arizona families can start getting access to the ESAs that they need to provide their children with the education that best fits their individual learning needs.

At a rally this afternoon in front of Hobbs’ office, Ducey called on her to expedite the signature verification process, eliciting cheers from the scores of protesters in attendance.

2) Parents want education choice.

By all accounts, Save Our Schools Arizona should have garnered more signatures this year than it did four years ago. This time around, it had more experience, a larger network, and a bigger target (universal eligibility) than before. Yet is seems it significantly underperformed relative to 2018. Why?

In a word: parents.

In the wake of prolonged school shutdowns, “Zoom school,” and concerns over politicized classrooms, public support for education choicehas reached all-time highs, especially among parents.

A Morning Consult poll released last month found that 66% of Arizonans and 75% of parents of school-age children support Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. If given the choice, 58% of Arizona parents said they would like their child to attend a school of choice, including a private school (31%), a charter school (17%), or homeschool (10%).

The assault on education choice by Save Our Schools Arizona awakened a sleeping giant. Under the banner “Decline to Sign,” Arizona parents mobilized to inform voters about education choice and thwart the attempt to block the ESA expansion.

“If [Save Our Schools] showed up to gather signatures, there was a Decline to Sign parent volunteer also there,” said Grant Botma, a father of three from Gilbert, Arizona. “The energy and effort that these pro-ESA parents put forth helped properly educate our community to limit SOS petition signatures.”

When presented with both sides, voters were much less likely to sign a petition than they were four years ago. Not only that, but the protesters often piqued the voters’ interest in exercising education choice themselves.

Christine Emmanuel, a mother of four ESA students from Wittmann, Arizona, said she spoke to countless voters about the referendum and “about what the ESA can do for their children.” When she was done speaking with them, she said, “The only signing they wanted to do was to sign up for an Empowerment Scholarship Account.”

3) Save Our Schools Arizona has a credibility crisis.

If the secretary of state confirms the Goldwater/Center for Arizona Policy petition count and it is confirmed that Save Our Schools turned in about 50,000 signatures fewer than it claimed, its credibility will take a major hit.

“We did not intentionally fluff any of the numbers,” Lewis told the Arizona Mirror. “There’s a lot of room for human error.”

But it’s hard to square that claim with the facts.

Save Our Schools initially asserted that it had turned in 141,714 signatures—a very precise figure, down to the ones’ unit. But on Monday, it reversed course, claiming that “our counts were necessarily estimates.”

But as noted by Christine Sawhill Accurso, a leader of the Decline to Sign effort, a 50,000-signature shortfall is not just a “rounding error.”

It’s understandable if estimates are off by 5% or even 10%, but the Save Our Schools “estimates” were off by about 56%, suggesting gross error at best, malfeasance at worst.

And that’s not all. According to the secretary of state, Save Our Schools Arizona initially claimedthat it had turned in 10,200 petition sheets, but the office later confirmed that only 8,175 sheets had actually been turned in.

How were its reported submissions off by more than 2,000 sheets? Was it that inept or did ity lie to the secretary of state and the general public? And if the latter, didn’t it realize that the truth would very quickly come out?

No doubt Save Our School Arizona’s many volunteers, supporters, and donors are asking those very questions right now. Although Lewis has pledged to try another ballot initiative to curb education choice next year, it’s unlikely that there will be much appetite among donors and grassroots activists to support her group again.

Meanwhile, families seeking to provide their children with an education that best fits their learning needs are breathing a sigh of relief.

Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email letters@DailySignal.com, and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the URL or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.

Apparent Victory Rings Hollow for Group Opposing School Choice

One of the greatest hurdles for Arizona’s opponents of school choice is voter support, which has reached all-time highs in the wake of prolonged school shutdowns and concerns over politicized classrooms. (Photo illustration: Image Source/Getty Images)

The effort to block a massive expansion of education choice in Arizona appears to be running out of steam.

Beth Lewis, executive director of the anti-school choice group Save Our Schools Arizona, or SOS, put on her best game face Friday afternoon as she announced that her group has gathered enough signatures to put the recent expansion of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accountprogram on the ballot for voters to decide.

But it wasn’t hard to detect Lewis’ disappointment.

Earlier this summer, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed a bill sponsored by Arizona House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, to expand eligibility for the state’s ESA policy to all 1.1 million of the state’s K-12 students.

Want to keep up with the 24/7 news cycle? Want to know the most important stories of the day for conservatives? Need news you can trust? Subscribe to The Daily Signal’s email newsletter. Learn more >>

That would mean all families could receive about $7,000 to use for educational expenses such as private school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, homeschool curricula, online courses, special-needs therapy, and more.

The program is widely hailed as the gold standard of education choice, cementing Arizona’s first-place ranking for education choice in The Heritage Foundation’s new Education Freedom Report Card. Arizona placed second nationwide for education freedom overall (including rankings of education choice, academic transparency, regulatory freedom, and return), behind only Florida.

Lewis’ group acted quickly to contest the ESA expansion. Under Arizona state law, voters may refer recently enacted legislation to the ballot for voter approval if they gather the signatures of registered Arizona voters equal to at least 5% of all votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.

In 2018, Save Our Schools Arizona ran a similar referendum campaign, in which it gathered about 111,000 signatures—comfortably exceeding the threshold of about 75,000 valid voter signatures. This year, sending the issue to referendum required about 119,000 valid signatures.

“Valid” is the key word. Signatures may be invalid for a variety of reasons—for example, if the signer isn’t registered to vote in Arizona, the signature or address doesn’t match what’s on file, and so on.

According to Ballotpedia, the average signature validity rate of ballot initiative petitions such as this one is 75.3%. Even with an 80% validity rate, Save Our Schools would need about 150,000 signatures to meet the threshold.

But SOS turned in only about 142,000 signatures Friday afternoon. Unless the group achieved an unusually high validity rate—84%—it is likely that it has failed to obtain enough valid signatures.

It appears that Save Our Schools Arizona already sees the writing on the wall. Earlier this week, Lewis offered a litany of excuses to the left-wing media outlet Salon, complaining about the higher signature threshold relative to 2018, the 80-day window to collect signatures, and likely scrutiny from the legal system.

But Lewis reserved her greatest ire for the efforts of school choice groups such as the Goldwater Institute and the American Federation for Children, to protect the expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Salon reported:

‘They’re already signaling massive legal battles,’ said SOS Arizona director Beth Lewis, who said that petitions are frequently challenged over not just issues like duplicate signatures but also incomplete addresses for signees and smudged notary markings.

Lewis appeared especially aggravated by the pro-ESA grassroots activists who urged voters to decline to sign her group’s petitions. According to Salon, she accused these activists (without evidence) of being backed by the Goldwater Institute and American Federation for Children:

In the meantime, the final weeks of petition gathering have turned hostile, as groups backed by the Goldwater Institute and AFC have launched a massive ‘Decline to Sign’ campaign, holding protests at petition gathering spots, urging supporters to call businesses near petition sites to complain that ‘this is hurting our children’s education’ and videotaping both petition circulators and voters who sign, posting clips of those interactions online. In this atmosphere, petition volunteers say they’ve been surrounded, harassed and followed for blocks on end, while pro-ESA protesters say they’ve been insulted or sworn at by referendum supporters.

While Lewis said there wasn’t ‘any organized opposition’ to the [2018] petition process … this year, ‘It’s like a war zone at some of these events.’

The “Decline to Sign” protesters, who want to protect the ESA program, see it differently.

“Hundreds of volunteer parents from all different backgrounds have come together to peacefully hold signs and talk to voters about the ESA program,” said Taylor Hoffman, a mother of two from Gilbert, Arizona, including one child with special needs.

Taylor described how she and fellow protesters have had great success in persuading voters not to sign the Save Our Schools petitions. In one case, they approached a father who was considering signing.

“We brought up the fact that Save Our Schools has a history of fighting against multiple school choice laws in Arizona, including the original ESA program that helps special needs students,” Taylor said. “The dad decided not to sign and walked away.”

One of the greatest hurdles for Save Our Schools Arizona is voter support for education choice, which has reached all-time highs in the wake of prolonged school shutdowns, Zoom school, and concerns over politicized classrooms.

A Morning Consult poll released in August found that 66% of Arizonans and 75% of parents of school-age children said they support Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Meanwhile, only a third of voters said they believe that their local district schools are on the “right track.”

Save Our Schools’ assault on education choice at a time when parents need it most may have awakened a sleeping giant and filled it with a terrible resolve.

“The grassroots movement of Decline to Sign not only slowed down SOS signature gatherers, but it created a community of like-minded folks that genuinely care about what is best for kids,” said Grant Botma, a father of three from Gilbert, Arizona. “No politics. No hidden agenda. Just parents fighting for what is best for their kids and kids in the community.”

The coming weeks certainly will see signature challenges and likely will see litigation. One thing is for certain: Arizona parents will be watching.

Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email letters@DailySignal.com and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the url or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.

Milton Friedman’s film series “Free to Choose” Episode on Education part 3. It was Friedman’s voucher plan that was put into practice in Sweden in 1993.

I am sitting in the St. Louis airport waiting to get on my plane to Orlando on a business trip. Can you imagine, I booked a trip with Southwest Airlines because they have always done such a great job and they sent me from Little Rock to Florida by way of St. Louis.

Liberals  are so critical of the  Little Rock public school system, but they don’t want to offer other choices with vouchers which would cause competition. However, both the public schools and other schools would become more efficient if there were vouchers. That is exactly what has happened in Sweden.

Max Brantley is always critical of charter schools, but I personally prefer to look at the option of a school system that is funded by vouchers.

I read an excellent article called “School Choice in Sweden: An Interview with Thomas Idergard of Timbro,” (March 8, 2010) by Dan Lips and I wanted to share some of his answers with you below:

DL: What has Sweden’s experience been with the universal vouchers program?
TI: People really choose! Before the reform, less than 1 percent of all pupils in compulsory education (and around the same amount for students in upper secondary schools) were enrolled in private schools. Today, 10 percent of the pupils in compulsory education and 20 percent of students in upper secondary education choose independent schools. In certain regions of the country, almost half of all pupils and students are enrolled in independent schools.
The independent schools have gone from being an odd phenomenon in certain cities to an obvious and natural part of the Swedish education system. From a business point of view, the independent schools are developing into what can be considered as a real industry, and they are promoting real innovation.
The small independent schools have often challenged the public schools and forced them to improve. But the large chain companies, which have an estimated one-fourth to one-fifth of all independent school students, have proven to be an important force for innovative progress, regarding both educational methods and, important enough, ways to measure, compare, maintain, and improve results.
This also explains why independent schools, on an average, prove to have a smaller per pupil cost than public schools. Since 2004, the inflation-adjusted cost increase per pupil has been smaller for independent schools than that for the whole Swedish education system. And independent schools are not allowed to choose their students. Detailed analysis of cost items shows that independent schools spend a higher share of their revenues on education and teaching materials and are more efficient in managing other costs.

Apparent Victory Rings Hollow for Group Opposing School Choice

Apparent Victory Rings Hollow for Group Opposing School Choice

One of the greatest hurdles for Arizona’s opponents of school choice is voter support, which has reached all-time highs in the wake of prolonged school shutdowns and concerns over politicized classrooms. (Photo illustration: Image Source/Getty Images)

The effort to block a massive expansion of education choice in Arizona appears to be running out of steam.

Beth Lewis, executive director of the anti-school choice group Save Our Schools Arizona, or SOS, put on her best game face Friday afternoon as she announced that her group has gathered enough signatures to put the recent expansion of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accountprogram on the ballot for voters to decide.

But it wasn’t hard to detect Lewis’ disappointment.

Earlier this summer, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed a bill sponsored by Arizona House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, to expand eligibility for the state’s ESA policy to all 1.1 million of the state’s K-12 students.

Want to keep up with the 24/7 news cycle? Want to know the most important stories of the day for conservatives? Need news you can trust? Subscribe to The Daily Signal’s email newsletter. Learn more >>

That would mean all families could receive about $7,000 to use for educational expenses such as private school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, homeschool curricula, online courses, special-needs therapy, and more.

The program is widely hailed as the gold standard of education choice, cementing Arizona’s first-place ranking for education choice in The Heritage Foundation’s new Education Freedom Report Card. Arizona placed second nationwide for education freedom overall (including rankings of education choice, academic transparency, regulatory freedom, and return), behind only Florida.

Lewis’ group acted quickly to contest the ESA expansion. Under Arizona state law, voters may refer recently enacted legislation to the ballot for voter approval if they gather the signatures of registered Arizona voters equal to at least 5% of all votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.

In 2018, Save Our Schools Arizona ran a similar referendum campaign, in which it gathered about 111,000 signatures—comfortably exceeding the threshold of about 75,000 valid voter signatures. This year, sending the issue to referendum required about 119,000 valid signatures.

“Valid” is the key word. Signatures may be invalid for a variety of reasons—for example, if the signer isn’t registered to vote in Arizona, the signature or address doesn’t match what’s on file, and so on.

According to Ballotpedia, the average signature validity rate of ballot initiative petitions such as this one is 75.3%. Even with an 80% validity rate, Save Our Schools would need about 150,000 signatures to meet the threshold.

But SOS turned in only about 142,000 signatures Friday afternoon. Unless the group achieved an unusually high validity rate—84%—it is likely that it has failed to obtain enough valid signatures.

It appears that Save Our Schools Arizona already sees the writing on the wall. Earlier this week, Lewis offered a litany of excuses to the left-wing media outlet Salon, complaining about the higher signature threshold relative to 2018, the 80-day window to collect signatures, and likely scrutiny from the legal system.

But Lewis reserved her greatest ire for the efforts of school choice groups such as the Goldwater Institute and the American Federation for Children, to protect the expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Salon reported:

‘They’re already signaling massive legal battles,’ said SOS Arizona director Beth Lewis, who said that petitions are frequently challenged over not just issues like duplicate signatures but also incomplete addresses for signees and smudged notary markings.

Lewis appeared especially aggravated by the pro-ESA grassroots activists who urged voters to decline to sign her group’s petitions. According to Salon, she accused these activists (without evidence) of being backed by the Goldwater Institute and American Federation for Children:

In the meantime, the final weeks of petition gathering have turned hostile, as groups backed by the Goldwater Institute and AFC have launched a massive ‘Decline to Sign’ campaign, holding protests at petition gathering spots, urging supporters to call businesses near petition sites to complain that ‘this is hurting our children’s education’ and videotaping both petition circulators and voters who sign, posting clips of those interactions online. In this atmosphere, petition volunteers say they’ve been surrounded, harassed and followed for blocks on end, while pro-ESA protesters say they’ve been insulted or sworn at by referendum supporters.

While Lewis said there wasn’t ‘any organized opposition’ to the [2018] petition process … this year, ‘It’s like a war zone at some of these events.’

The “Decline to Sign” protesters, who want to protect the ESA program, see it differently.

“Hundreds of volunteer parents from all different backgrounds have come together to peacefully hold signs and talk to voters about the ESA program,” said Taylor Hoffman, a mother of two from Gilbert, Arizona, including one child with special needs.

Taylor described how she and fellow protesters have had great success in persuading voters not to sign the Save Our Schools petitions. In one case, they approached a father who was considering signing.

“We brought up the fact that Save Our Schools has a history of fighting against multiple school choice laws in Arizona, including the original ESA program that helps special needs students,” Taylor said. “The dad decided not to sign and walked away.”

One of the greatest hurdles for Save Our Schools Arizona is voter support for education choice, which has reached all-time highs in the wake of prolonged school shutdowns, Zoom school, and concerns over politicized classrooms.

A Morning Consult poll released in August found that 66% of Arizonans and 75% of parents of school-age children said they support Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Meanwhile, only a third of voters said they believe that their local district schools are on the “right track.”

Save Our Schools’ assault on education choice at a time when parents need it most may have awakened a sleeping giant and filled it with a terrible resolve.

“The grassroots movement of Decline to Sign not only slowed down SOS signature gatherers, but it created a community of like-minded folks that genuinely care about what is best for kids,” said Grant Botma, a father of three from Gilbert, Arizona. “No politics. No hidden agenda. Just parents fighting for what is best for their kids and kids in the community.”

The coming weeks certainly will see signature challenges and likely will see litigation. One thing is for certain: Arizona parents will be watching.

Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email letters@DailySignal.com and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the url or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.

Milton Friedman’s film series “Free to Choose” Episode on Education part 3. It was Friedman’s voucher plan that was put into practice in Sweden in 1993.

I am sitting in the St. Louis airport waiting to get on my plane to Orlando on a business trip. Can you imagine, I booked a trip with Southwest Airlines because they have always done such a great job and they sent me from Little Rock to Florida by way of St. Louis.

Liberals  are so critical of the  Little Rock public school system, but they don’t want to offer other choices with vouchers which would cause competition. However, both the public schools and other schools would become more efficient if there were vouchers. That is exactly what has happened in Sweden.

Max Brantley is always critical of charter schools, but I personally prefer to look at the option of a school system that is funded by vouchers.

I read an excellent article called “School Choice in Sweden: An Interview with Thomas Idergard of Timbro,” (March 8, 2010) by Dan Lips and I wanted to share some of his answers with you below:

DL: What has Sweden’s experience been with the universal vouchers program?
TI: People really choose! Before the reform, less than 1 percent of all pupils in compulsory education (and around the same amount for students in upper secondary schools) were enrolled in private schools. Today, 10 percent of the pupils in compulsory education and 20 percent of students in upper secondary education choose independent schools. In certain regions of the country, almost half of all pupils and students are enrolled in independent schools.
The independent schools have gone from being an odd phenomenon in certain cities to an obvious and natural part of the Swedish education system. From a business point of view, the independent schools are developing into what can be considered as a real industry, and they are promoting real innovation.
The small independent schools have often challenged the public schools and forced them to improve. But the large chain companies, which have an estimated one-fourth to one-fifth of all independent school students, have proven to be an important force for innovative progress, regarding both educational methods and, important enough, ways to measure, compare, maintain, and improve results.
This also explains why independent schools, on an average, prove to have a smaller per pupil cost than public schools. Since 2004, the inflation-adjusted cost increase per pupil has been smaller for independent schools than that for the whole Swedish education system. And independent schools are not allowed to choose their students. Detailed analysis of cost items shows that independent schools spend a higher share of their revenues on education and teaching materials and are more efficient in managing other costs.

Dan Mitchell: America’s fiscal future is very grim, largely because of an ever-expanding burden of entitlement spending!

How to Solve America’s Worsening Fiscal Mess

America’s fiscal future is very grim, largely because of an ever-expanding burden of entitlement spending.

To see the magnitude of the problem, let’s peruse the Budget and Economic Outlook, which was released yesterday by the Congressional Budget Office has some.

Most people are focusing on how deficits are going to climb from $1 trillion to $2 trillion-plus over the next 10 years.

That’s not good news, but we should be far more worried about the fact that the burden of government spending is growing faster than the private economy. As a result, government will be consuming an ever-larger share of national output.

The budget wonks who (mistakenly) focus on red ink say the problem is so serious that we need higher taxes.

They look at this chart, which is based on CBO’s baseline forecast (what will happen if taxes and spending are left on autopilot), and assert we have no choice but to raise taxes.

They point out that the annual deficit in 2032 will be almost $2.3 trillion and that it’s impossible cut spending by that much.

Needless to say, it would be a near-impossible political undertaking to cut $2.3 trillion in one year (though it would fulfill libertarian fantasies).

But what if, instead of kicking the can down the road, policymakers imposed some sort of overall spending cap to avoid a giant deficit in 10 year.

This second chart displays that scenario. I took CBO’s baseline (autopilot) numbers and assumed that spending could only increase by 1.4 percent annually starting in 2024.

As you can see, that modest bit of fiscal discipline completely eliminates the project $2.3 trillion annual deficit in 2032.

In other words, there is no need for any tax increase.

Especially since politicians almost certainly would respond to the expectation of additional revenue by increasing spending above the baseline (as would happen with Joe Biden’s so-called Build Back Better scheme).

I’ll close by noting that there’s no need to fixate on whether the budget is balanced by 2032. What matters is trend lines.

It’s not good for government to grow faster than the private economy in the long run. And it’s not good for deficits and debt to climb as a share of economic output in the long run.

Both of those outcomes can be avoided if we have some sort of spending cap so that outlays grow slower than the private sector.

The stricter the cap, the quicker the progress.

  • I prefer actual cuts (a requirement to reduce nominal spending each year).
  • I would be happy with a hard freeze (like we had for a few years after the Tea Party revolt).
  • As noted above, a 1.4 percent spending cap balances the budget by 2032.
  • But we would make progress, albeit slow progress, even if the spending cap allowed the budget to grow by 2.0 percent of 2.5 percent per year.

P.S. I start the spending cap in 2024 because spending is not projected to grow by very much between 2022 and 2023. That’s not because today’s politicians are being responsible, however. It’s simply a result of one-time pandemic emergency spending coming to an end. But since that one-time spending has a big impact on short-run numbers, I delayed the spending cap for one year.

P.P.S. The blue revenue line has a kink in 2025 because the baseline forecast assumes that many of the Trump tax cuts expire that year. If those tax cuts are extended or made permanent, revenues would be about $400 billion lower in 2032. As such, balancing the budget by that year would require a spending cap that allows annual outlays to increase by less than 0.9 percent per year.

P.P.P.S. President Biden is bragging that the deficit is falling this year, but that’s only because the one-time pandemic spending is coming to an end.

P.P.P.P.S. A spending cap is a simple solution, but it would not be an easy solution. In the long-run, it would require genuine entitlement reform.

Another Reason for Spending Caps

The United States needs a constitutional spending cap, sort of like the “debt brake” that has been producing positive results in Switzerland for the past two decades.

Imposing a limit on annual spending increases would be a much-needed way of stopping politicians from saddling the nation with “Goldfish Government.”

The best-case scenario is that a spending cap is very stringent (say, limiting annual spending increases to 2 percent annually). This level of fiscal restraint reduces the burden of government spending compared to the private sector (i.e., it fulfills fiscal policy’s Golden Rule).

The avoid-harm scenario is that a spending cap prevents government from becoming a bigger burden. Given dismal long-run fiscal forecasts (a consequence of demographic change and poorly designed entitlement programs), this actually would be an impressive achievement.

There are also some auxiliary benefits of a spending cap.

A new working paper from Italy’s central bank, authored by Anna Laura Mancini and Pietro Tommasino, considers whether spending caps can mitigate the problem of dishonest budgeting by politicians.

…policy-makers have an incentive to “plan to cheat”. That is, they promise an amount of expenditures higher than what they will actually deliver, because this allows them to cater to the demands of the various groups of voters, and at the same time they present overoptimistic revenue forecasts, in order to preserve the appearance of fiscal discipline. Once the extra revenues hoped for by the government fail to materialize, budgeted investment expenditures are downsized or abandoned altogether. In this context, caps on realized spending can contribute to more realistic ex ante spending plans. Indeed, politicians have less room to inflate planned expenditures, once there is a legal ceiling in place.

The authors crunch the numbers and conclude that spending caps result in a greater level of fiscal honesty.

In this paper, we provide evidence in favour of this theoretical intuition, exploiting a unique dataset including the ex-ante budget plans as well as ex-post budget outcomes of…a rule that constrains capital expenditures in municipalities with more than 5,000 residents. …Our analysis show that the municipalities subject to the new capital-spending rule significantly reduced their over-optimism in expenditure projections… Furthermore, in the new regime revenue projections are also more accurate (less over-optimistic). …The reform reduced the forecast error concerning capital expenditures… The effects is significant both statistically and in economic terms. …the introduction of the cap on investment reduced the forecast error on investment expenditures by almost €1 mln, or 35% of the pre-reform average error.

For wonky readers, Figure 1 shows some of relevant data.

For what it’s worth, we seem to have a different problem in the United States.

Rather than exaggerate potential spending on so-called public investment, as seems to have been the case in Italy, American politicians generally low-ball cost estimates for infrastructure projects.

And then, once the projects get started, we get absurd cost overruns (with the high-speed rail project in California being an especially absurd example).

The good news is that a spending cap solves both the Italian version of the problem and the American version of the problem.

As the authors found in their research, it removes the incentive for dishonest budgeting in Italy. And, if adopted in the United States, politicians would learn that it doesn’t help to produce laughably low cost estimates if a spending cap means there is no way of financing cost overruns in the future.

P.S. There is a spending limit in Hong Kong’s constitution, and it has generated very positive results. Given China’s increasing control, it’s unclear how effective it will be in the future.

P.P.S. There’s also a spending limit in Colorado’s constitution, known as the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. It has been very successful.

P.P.P.S. Last month, I wrote about research from both the IMF and the ECB about the benefits of spending caps.

Steve Forbes is 100 percent correct, as was Milton Friedman. Bloated and wasteful government spending is the problem, not inadequate revenue. Deficits are merely a symptom of over-spending:

The late Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once famously observed that he would prefer a federal government budget of $1 trillion (this was when a trillion bucks was real money) with a big deficit to a federal budget of $2 trillion that was balanced. His obvious point was that the bigger Washington is, the more of a burden it puts on the economy, whether it finances its spending via taxation, borrowing or printing money. So it’s not President Obama’s mind-numbing, from-here-to-eternity deficits that we should be worrying about but the increasing deadweight put on the rest of us by Washington’s burgeoning budget bloat. Senate Republicans were right to put the kibosh on the formation of a formal bipartisan deficit-fighting commission. Those things always end up increasing taxes while doing little to reduce spending. …One of the biggest economic myths since the Great Depression is that governments can ameliorate or counteract the ebbs and flows of free markets. Government spending has never worked as a trigger for sustained and vibrant economic growth. Ever. Scholarship has demonstrated that the New Deal perpetuated the Depression rather than cured it. On the eve of the Depression the U.S. had the lowest unemployment rate among developed nations. But a decade later, despite six years of FDR’s New Deal, our unemployment rate was one of the highest among developed economies. Japan’s serial stimulus programs over the past two decades have repeatedly underscored this truth. The more the government takes as a proportion of the economy, the worse equity markets do and the higher the unemployment rate.

Everything You Need to Know about the National Debt

The title of this column is an exaggeration. What we’re really going to do today is explain the main things you need to knowabout government debt.

We’ll start with this video from Kite and Key Media, which correctly observes that entitlement programs are the main cause of red ink.

I like that the video pointed out how tax-the-rich schemeswouldn’t work, though it would have been nice if they added some information on how genuine entitlement reform could solve the problem  (as you can see here and here, I’ve also nit-picked other debt-themed videos).

Which is why I humbly think this is the best video ever produced on the topic.

As you can see, I’m not an anti-debt fanatic. It was perfectly okay, for instance, to incur debt to win World War II.

But I’m very skeptical of running up the nation’s credit card for routine pork and fake stimulus.

But my main message, which I’ve shared over and over again, is that deficits and debt are merely a symptom. The underlying disease is excessive government spending.

And that spending hurts our economy whether it is financed by taxing or borrowing (or, heaven forbid, by printing money).

Now let’s look at some recent articles on the topic.

We’ll start with Eric Boehm’s column for Reason, which explains how red ink has exploded in recent years.

America’s national debt exceeded $10 trillion for the first time ever in October 2008. By mid-September 2017 the national debt had doubled to $20 trillion. …data released by the U.S. Treasury confirmed that the national debt reached a new milestone: $30 trillion.…Entitlements like Social Security and Medicare are in dire fiscal straits and will become even more costly as the average American gets older. Even without another unexpected crisis, deficits will exceed $1 trillion annually, which means the debt will continue growing, both in real terms and as a percentage of the economy. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the federal government will add another $12.2 trillion to the debt by 2031.

As already stated, I think the real problem is the spending and the debt is the symptom.

But it is possible, of course, that debt rises so high that investors (the people who buy government bonds) begin to lose faith that they will get repaid.

At that point, governments have to pay higher interest rates to compensate for perceived risk of default, which exacerbates the fiscal burden.

And if there’s not a credible plan to fix the problem, a country can go into a downward spiral. In other words, a debt crisis.

This is what happened to Greece. And I think it’s just a matter of time before it happens to Italy.

Heck, many European nations are vulnerable to a debt crisis. As are many developing countries. And don’t forget Japan.

Could the United States also be hit by a debt crisis? Will we reach a “tipping point” that leads to the aforementioned loss of faith?

That’s one of the possibilities mentioned in the New York Timescolumn by Peter Coy.

It’s hard to know how much to worry about the federal debt of the United States. …Either the United States can continue to run big deficits and skate along with no harm done or it’s at risk of losing investors’ confidence and having to pay higher interest rates on its debt, which would suppress economic growth. …the huge increase in federal debt incurred during and after the past two recessions — those of 2007-09 and 2020 — has used upa lot of the “fiscal space” the United States once had. In other words, the federal government is closer to the tipping point where big increases in debt finally start to become a real problem. …any given amount of debt becomes easier to sustain as long as the growth rate of the economy (and thus the growth rate of tax revenue) is higher than the interest rate on the debt. In that scenario, interest payments gradually shrink relative to tax revenue. …but it doesn’t explain how much more the debt can grow. …Past a certain point, there’s a double whammy of more dollars of debt plus higher interest costs on each dollar. …sovereign debt crises tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies: Investors get nervous about a government’s ability to pay, so they demand higher interest rates, which raise borrowing costs and produce the bad outcome they feared. It’s a dynamic that Argentines are familiar with — and that Americans had better hope they never experience.

For what it’s worth, I think other major nations will suffer fiscal crisis before the problem becomes acute in the United States.

I really this will make me sound uncharacteristically optimistic, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will finally lead politicians to adopt a spending cap so we don’t become Argentina.

P.S. The Wall Street Journal recently editorialized on the issue of government debt and made a very important point about the difference between the $30 trillion “gross debt” and the “debt held by the public,” which is about $6 trillion lower.

…the debt really isn’t $30 trillion. About $6 trillion of that is debt the government owes to itself in Social Security and other IOUs. …The debt held by the public is some $24 trillion, which is bad enough.

As I’ve noted when writing about Social Security, the IOUs in government trust funds are not real.

They’re just bookkeeping entries, as even Bill Clinton’s budget freely admitted.

Indeed, if you want to know whether some is both honest and knowledgeable about budget matters, ask them which measure of the national debt really matters.

As you can see from this exchange of tweets, competent and careful budget people (regardless of whether they favor big government or small government) focus on “debt held by the public,” which is the term for the money government actually borrows from credit markets.

If you want to know the difference between the various types of government debt – including “unfunded liabilities” – watch this video.

P.P.S. This column explains how and when debt matters. If you’re interested in how to reduce the debt, there’s very good evidence that spending restraint is the only effective approach. Even in cases where debt is enormous.

P.P.P.S. By contrast, the evidence is very clear that higher taxesactually make debt problems worse.

Yes, Starve the Beast

As part of a recent discussion with Gene Tunny in Australia, I explained why I support “Starve the Beast,” which means keeping taxes as low as possible to help achieve the goal of spending restraint.

The premise of Starve the Beast is very simple.

Politicians like to spend money and they don’t particularly care whether that spending is financed by taxes or financed by borrowing (both bad options).

As Milton Friedman sagely observed, that means they will spend every penny they collect in taxes plus as much additional spending financed by borrowing that the political system will allow.

The IMF published a study on this issue about 10 years ago. The authors (Michael Kumhof, Douglas Laxton, and Daniel Leigh) assert that there’s no way of knowing whether Starve the Beast will lead to good or bad results.

…there is no consensus regarding the macroeconomic and welfare consequences of implementing a starve-the-beast approach, henceforth referred to as STB. …it could be beneficial in the ideal case in which it results in cuts in entirely wasteful government spending. In particular, lower spending frees up resources for private consumption, and the associated lower tax rates reduce distortions in the economy. On the other hand, …lower government spending may itself entail welfare losses…if it augments the productivity of private factors of production. …the paper examines whether the principal macroeconomic variables such as GDP and consumption, both in the United States and in the rest of the world, respond positively to this policy. …In addition, the paper assesses how the welfare effects depend on the degree to which government spending directly contributes to household welfare or to productivity.

The authors don’t really push any particular conclusion. Instead, they show various economic outcomes depending on with assumptions one adopts.

Since plenty of research shows that government spending is not a net plus for the economy (even IMF economists agree on that point), and because I think a less-punitive tax system is possible (and desirable) if there’s a smaller burden of government spending, I think the findings shown in Figure 4 make the most sense.

Now let’s shift from academic analysis to policy analysis.

In a piece for National Review back in July 2020, Jim Geraghty notes that Starve the Beast has an impact on government finances at the state level.

…we’re probably not going to see a massive expansion of government at the state level in the coming year or two. …Thanks to the pandemic lockdown bringing vast swaths of the economy to a halt, state tax revenues are plummeting.…So states will have much less tax revenue, constitutional balanced-budget requirements that are not easily repealed, and a limited amount of budgetary tricks to work around it. State governments could attempt to raise taxes, but that’s going to be unpopular and hurt state economies when they’re already struggling. Add it all up and it’s a tough set of circumstances for a dramatic expansion of government, no matter how ardently progressive the governor and state legislatures are.

For what it’s worth, Geraghty warned in the article that fiscal restraint by state governments wouldn’t happen if the federal government turned on the spending spigot.

And that, of course, is exactly what happened.

Now let’s look at the most unintentional endorsement of Stave the Beast.

A couple of years ago, Paul Krugman sort of admitted that cutting taxes was a potentially effective strategy for spending restraint.

…the same Republicans now wringing their hands over budget deficits…blew up that same deficit by enacting a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. …this has been the G.O.P.’s budget strategy for decades. First, cut taxes. Then, bemoan the deficit created by those tax cuts and demand cuts in social spending.Lather, rinse, repeat. This strategy, known as “starve the beast,” has been around since the 1970s, when Republican economists like Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman began declaring that the role of tax cuts in worsening budget deficits was a feature, not a bug. As Greenspan openly put it in 1978, the goal was to rein in spending with tax cuts that reduce revenue, then “trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.” …voters should realize that the threat to programs… Social Security and Medicare as we know them will be very much in danger.

In other words, Krugman doesn’t like Starve the Beast because he fears it is effective (just like he also acknowledges the Laffer Curve, even though he’s opposed to tax cuts).

Let’s close by looking at some very powerful real-world evidence. Over the past 50 years, there’s been a massive increase in the tax burden in Western Europe.

Did all that additional tax revenue lead to lower deficits and less debt?

Nope, the opposite happened. European politicians spent every penny of the new tax revenue (much of it from value-added taxes). And then they added even more spending financed by additional borrowing.

To be fair, one could argue that this was an argument for the view of “Don’t Feed the Beast” rather than “Starve the Beast,” but it nonetheless shows that more money in the hands of politicians simply means more spending. And more red ink.

P.S. I had a discussion last year with Gene Tunny about the issue of “state capacity libertarianism.”


Friedman & Sowell: Should Our School System Be Privatized?

Regular readers know that the two things that get me most excited are the Georgia Bulldogs and the fight against a bloated public sector that is ineffective in the best of circumstances and more often than not is a threat to our freedoms.

So you will not be surprised to know that I am delighted that former Georgia Bulldog star Fran Tarkenton (who also happened to play in the NFL) has a superb piece in the Wall Street Journal ripping apart the inherent inefficiency of government-run monopoly schools.

Here is the key passage.

Imagine the National Football League in an alternate reality. Each player’s salary is based on how long he’s been in the league. It’s about tenure, not talent. The same scale is used for every player, no matter whether he’s an All-Pro quarterback or the last man on the roster. For every year a player’s been in this NFL, he gets a bump in pay. The only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases. And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct. Let’s face the truth about this alternate reality: The on-field product would steadily decline. Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt? No matter how much money was poured into the league, it wouldn’t get better. In fact, in many ways the disincentive to play harder or to try to stand out would be even stronger with more money. Of course, a few wild-eyed reformers might suggest the whole system was broken and needed revamping to reward better results, but the players union would refuse to budge and then demonize the reform advocates: “They hate football. They hate the players. They hate the fans.” The only thing that might get done would be building bigger, more expensive stadiums and installing more state-of-the-art technology. But that just wouldn’t help.

This sounds absurd, of course, but Mr. Tarkenton goes on to explain that this is precisely how government schools operate.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the NFL in this alternate reality is the real-life American public education system. Teachers’ salaries have no relation to whether teachers are actually good at their job—excellence isn’t rewarded, and neither is extra effort. Pay is almost solely determined by how many years they’ve been teaching. That’s it. After a teacher earns tenure, which is often essentially automatic, firing him or her becomes almost impossible, no matter how bad the performance might be. And if you criticize the system, you’re demonized for hating teachers and not believing in our nation’s children. Inflation-adjusted spending per student in the United States has nearly tripled since 1970. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we spend more per student than any nation except Switzerland, with only middling results to show for it.

Actually, I will disagree with the last sentence of this excerpt. We’re not even getting “middling results.” Here’s a chart from an earlier post showing that we’ve gotten more bureaucracy and more spending but no improvement over the past 40 years.

So what’s the solution to this mess? Well, since government is the problem, it stands to reason that competition and markets are the answer.

Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands are just some of the countries that have seen good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

Watch this video to get more details.

Economics 101: School Choice Example Shows Why Government Monopolies Are Bad

Related posts:

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE “The Tyranny of Control” Transcript and Video (60 Minutes)

Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE “The Tyranny of Control” Transcript and Video (60 Minutes) In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 7 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “I’m not pro business, I’m pro free enterprise, which is a very different thing, and the reason I’m pro free enterprise”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 6 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “We are the ones who promote freedom, and free enterprise, and individual initiative, And what do we do? We force puny little Hong Kong to impose limits, restrictions on its exports at tariffs, in order to protect our textile workers”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 5 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “There is no measure whatsoever that would do more to prevent private monopoly development than complete free trade”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 4 of 7 (Transcript and Video) ” What we need are constitutional restraints on the power of government to interfere with free markets in foreign exchange, in foreign trade, and in many other aspects of our lives.”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 3 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “When anyone complains about unfair competition, consumers beware, That is really a cry for special privilege always at the expense of the consumer”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 2 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “As always, economic freedom promotes human freedom”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 1 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “Adam Smith’s… key idea was that self-interest could produce an orderly society benefiting everybody, It was as though there were an invisible hand at work”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

Open letter to President Obama (Part 654) “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 7 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “I’m not pro business, I’m pro free enterprise, which is a very different thing, and the reason I’m pro free enterprise”

Open letter to President Obama (Part 654) (Emailed to White House on July 22, 2013) President Obama c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President, I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you […]

Open letter to President Obama (Part 650) “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 6 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “We are the ones who promote freedom, and free enterprise, and individual initiative, And what do we do? We force puny little Hong Kong to impose limits, restrictions on its exports at tariffs, in order to protect our textile workers”

Open letter to President Obama (Part 650) (Emailed to White House on July 22, 2013) President Obama c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President, I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you […]

_________

Daniel Mitchell: The bottom line is that Biden used the pandemic as an excuse to squander $1.9 trillion, even though at most only $80 billion of the money was for anything that was even vaguely related to vaccines and treatments!

Least Surprising Headline of All Time

Government spending, almost by definition, is wasteful. But it’s worth distinguishing between two types of waste.

  1. Money that is spent properly but inefficiently.
  2. Money that is diverted by crooks and scammers.

Today, we’re going to focus on the second type of waste.

I’ve previously written about widespread fraud affecting programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, disability, and the earned income credit.

Now let’s augment our previous analysis exposing how coronavirus-related spending has been a windfall for criminals.

We’ll start with a report from the Washington Post , authored by Tony Romm and Yeganeh Torbati. It contains a headline that begins with a quote that could apply to just about anything the government does.

Testifying at a little-noticed congressional hearing this spring, a top watchdog for the Labor Department estimated there could have been “at least” $163 billion in unemployment-related “overpayments,”a projection that includes wrongly paid sums as well as “significant” benefits obtained by malicious actors. …In many cases, the criminals stole the unemployment funds using real Americans’ personal information. They bombarded states with applications filed in the names of actual workers or people in prison — sometimes to such a degree that, in the case of Maryland, fraudulent claims came to outnumber real requests for help..

You won’t be surprised to learn that some bureaucrats did not want to stop the fraud.

Some of the malicious actors potentially even avoided detection, at least for a time, after the Labor Department refused to supply information needed to assist federal fraud investigations.

And you also won’t be surprised to learn that some states allowed far more fraud than other states.

In California, state officials acknowledged in October 2021 that they may have paid out more than $20 billion in undeserved unemployment payments to criminals. That included at least $810 million that had been wrongly paid to applicants whose information matched the names of people in prison.

The Wall Street Journal also opined on the topic of wasteful covid-related spending, but its editorial focused on the $1.9 trillion boondoggle that was pushed through by Biden.

…what happened to the $1.9 trillion for Covid Democrats passed last March? Most went to transfer payments, including child tax credits, enhanced unemployment benefitsand stimulus checks. About a quarter subsidized state and local budgets and schools. Democrats appropriated a mere $80 billion for public health, only $16 billion of which was available for vaccines and therapies. …Democrats skimped on vaccine and therapies in order to ladle benefits to their political constituencies.

The bottom line is that Biden used the pandemic as an excuse to squander $1.9 trillion, even though at most only $80 billion of the money was for anything that was even vaguely related to vaccines and treatments.

From an economic perspective, that legislation was a spectacular failure.

I wonder whether we’ll ever learn how much of the remaining $1.82 trillion was wasted?

I’m guessing the answer is $1.82 trillion, but we won’t know how much was lost to run-of-the-mill waste and how much was lost to outright fraud.

P.S. Don’t forget that all government spending, even the small fraction that is spent wisely and efficiently, imposes economic costs. For more information, click here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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Milton Friedman on Spending

MILTON FRIEDMAN ON SPENDING

I identified four heroes from the “Battle of Ideas” video I shared in late August – Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. Here’s one of those heroes, Milton Friedman, explaining what’s needed to control big government.

Friedman Fundamentals: How To Control Big Government

For all intents and purposes, Friedman is pointing out that there’s a “public choice” incentive for government to expand.

To counteract that disturbing trend, he explains that we need a high level of “societal capital.” In other words, we need a self-reliant and ethical populace – i.e., people who realize it’s wrong to use the coercive power of government to take from others.

Sadly, I don’t think that’s an accurate description of today’s United States.

So how, then, can we get control of government?

Since politicians are unlikely to control spending in the short run (their time horizon is always the next election), our best hope is to get them to agree to a rule that constrains what can happen in the future.

I’ve repeatedly argued in favor of a spending cap. Such a policy has a proven track record, and is far more effective than a balanced budget requirement.

That’s what should happen.

Now let’s focus on what shouldn’t happen. As Milton Friedman famously observed in 2001, tax increases are never the solution because politicians will simply spend any additional revenue (and the tax increases also will hurt the economy and cause Laffer-Curve feedback effects).

P.S. You can enjoy more wisdom from Friedman on issues such as the role of the firmspending other people’s money, and so-called Robber Barons.

P.P.S. On the issue of spending other people’s money, here’s an example of Jay Leno channeling Friedman.

ECB and IMF Studies Show Spending Caps Are the Ideal Fiscal Rule

Back in 2017, the Center for Freedom and Prosperity released this video to help explain why spending caps are the most sensible and sustainable fiscal rule.

Switzerland actually has a spending cap in its constitution, and similar fiscal rules also exist in Hong Kong and the state of Colorado.

These policies have produced very good results.

There are many reasons to support a spending cap, including the obvious observation that an expenditure limit (as it is sometimes called) directly addresses the actual problem of excessive government.

And addressing the underlying disease works better than rules that focus on symptoms, such as balanced budget requirements or anti-deficit mandates.

You’ll notice toward the end of the video that the narrator cites pro-spending cap research from international bureaucracies, which is remarkable since those institutions normally have a biasfor bigger government.

I’ve also written about that research, citing studies by the International Monetary Fund (here and here), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (here and here) and the European Central Bank (here).

Today, let’s look at more evidence from these bureaucracies.

We’ll start with a new study from the European Central Bank. Here’s some of what the authors (Nicholai Benalal, Maximilian Freier, Wim Melyn, Stefan Van Parys, and Lukas Reiss) found when comparing spending limits and anti-deficit rules.

this paper provides an in-depth assessment of two alternative measures of fiscal consolidation and expansion: the change in the structural balance (dSB) and the expenditure benchmark (EB). Both the dSB and the EB are currently used to assess compliance with the fiscal rules under the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP).The EB was introduced as an indicator in 2011, and has gained in importance relative to the dSB since the European Commission began to put more emphasis on it in 2016.A comparison of the fiscal performance of euro area countries reveals significant differences depending on whether the assessment is based on the dSB or the EB. this paper finds that the EB has advantages over the dSB as a fiscal performance indicator. …expenditure rules…provide more predictability in fiscal requirements. …Even more importantly, the EB can be shown to be less procyclical as a fiscal rule than the dSB. 

Let’s also review some 2019 research from the International Monetary Fund.

This study (authored by Kodjovi Eklou and Marcelin Joanis) looks at whether fiscal rules can constrain vote-buying politicians.

In order to increase their chances of reelection, politicians are known to undertake fiscal manipulations, especially in election years. These fiscal manipulations typically take the form of increased public expenditure… Many countries, both developed and developing, have adopted fiscal rules in recent decades as an attempt to enforce fiscal discipline. …In this paper, we employ a cross-country panel dataset in order to test whether fiscal rules adopted in developing countries have been effective in constraining political budget cycles. The dataset covers 67 developing countries over the period 1985-2007. …Our dependent variable is the general government’s final consumption expenditure as a share of GDP.

Here’s what the authors concluded about the effectiveness of spending caps.

Our empirical evidence in a sample of 67 developing countries over the period 1985-2007, shows that fiscal rules cause fiscal discipline over the electoral cycle. More specifically, in election years with fiscal rules in place, public consumption is reduced by 1.65% point of GDP as compared to election years without these rules. Furthermore, the effectiveness of these rules depends on their type… In particular, expenditure rules, rules covering the general government and rules characterized by a monitoring body outside the government dampen political budget cycles in government consumption.

Indeed, footnote 12 of the paper specifically notes the superiority of expenditure limits.

…the results show that public consumption is reduced by 2.44% points during election years with expenditure rules in place. The findings on expenditure rules are consistent with Cordes et al. (2015) who show that the compliance rate for these rules are high.

Last but not least, the fiscal experts at the Office of Management and Budget included in Trump’s final budget some very encouraging language at the end of Chapter 10 of the Analytical Perspectives.

…additional efforts to control spending are needed. Several budget process reforms should be considered, including setting spending caps… Outlay caps that are consistent with the historical average as a share of gross domestic product (GDP),post-World War II levels could be enforced with sequestration across programs similar to other budget enforcement regimes. An outlay cap on mandatory spending would complement discretionary caps, which have been in place since 2013. The Budget proposes to continue discretionary caps through 2025 at declining levels and declining levels through 2030.

Trump was a big spender, of course, but at least there were people in his administration who realized there was a problem.

And they recognized the right solution.

P.S. It’s also interesting that the authors of the IMF study found that fiscal rules work better in democracies.

…estimates focusing on the subsample of democratic elections. The effect of fiscal rules on the political budget cycle is larger… More specifically, public consumption is reduced by 2.46% point of GDP (while it is 1.65% point in the baseline).

This may not bode well for the durability of Hong Kong’s spending cap.

The authors also found that foreign aid makes it less likely that a government will follow sensible policy.

Foreign aid, which relaxes the budget constraint of the government, is negatively correlated with the probability of having fiscal rules.

Needless to say, nobody should be surprised to learn that foreign aid undermines good policy.

Yes, Starve the Beast

As part of a recent discussion with Gene Tunny in Australia, I explained why I support “Starve the Beast,” which means keeping taxes as low as possible to help achieve the goal of spending restraint.

The premise of Starve the Beast is very simple.

Politicians like to spend money and they don’t particularly care whether that spending is financed by taxes or financed by borrowing (both bad options).

As Milton Friedman sagely observed, that means they will spend every penny they collect in taxes plus as much additional spending financed by borrowing that the political system will allow.

The IMF published a study on this issue about 10 years ago. The authors (Michael Kumhof, Douglas Laxton, and Daniel Leigh) assert that there’s no way of knowing whether Starve the Beast will lead to good or bad results.

…there is no consensus regarding the macroeconomic and welfare consequences of implementing a starve-the-beast approach, henceforth referred to as STB. …it could be beneficial in the ideal case in which it results in cuts in entirely wasteful government spending. In particular, lower spending frees up resources for private consumption, and the associated lower tax rates reduce distortions in the economy. On the other hand, …lower government spending may itself entail welfare losses…if it augments the productivity of private factors of production. …the paper examines whether the principal macroeconomic variables such as GDP and consumption, both in the United States and in the rest of the world, respond positively to this policy. …In addition, the paper assesses how the welfare effects depend on the degree to which government spending directly contributes to household welfare or to productivity.

The authors don’t really push any particular conclusion. Instead, they show various economic outcomes depending on with assumptions one adopts.

Since plenty of research shows that government spending is not a net plus for the economy (even IMF economists agree on that point), and because I think a less-punitive tax system is possible (and desirable) if there’s a smaller burden of government spending, I think the findings shown in Figure 4 make the most sense.

Now let’s shift from academic analysis to policy analysis.

In a piece for National Review back in July 2020, Jim Geraghty notes that Starve the Beast has an impact on government finances at the state level.

…we’re probably not going to see a massive expansion of government at the state level in the coming year or two. …Thanks to the pandemic lockdown bringing vast swaths of the economy to a halt, state tax revenues are plummeting.…So states will have much less tax revenue, constitutional balanced-budget requirements that are not easily repealed, and a limited amount of budgetary tricks to work around it. State governments could attempt to raise taxes, but that’s going to be unpopular and hurt state economies when they’re already struggling. Add it all up and it’s a tough set of circumstances for a dramatic expansion of government, no matter how ardently progressive the governor and state legislatures are.

For what it’s worth, Geraghty warned in the article that fiscal restraint by state governments wouldn’t happen if the federal government turned on the spending spigot.

And that, of course, is exactly what happened.

Now let’s look at the most unintentional endorsement of Stave the Beast.

A couple of years ago, Paul Krugman sort of admitted that cutting taxes was a potentially effective strategy for spending restraint.

…the same Republicans now wringing their hands over budget deficits…blew up that same deficit by enacting a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. …this has been the G.O.P.’s budget strategy for decades. First, cut taxes. Then, bemoan the deficit created by those tax cuts and demand cuts in social spending.Lather, rinse, repeat. This strategy, known as “starve the beast,” has been around since the 1970s, when Republican economists like Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman began declaring that the role of tax cuts in worsening budget deficits was a feature, not a bug. As Greenspan openly put it in 1978, the goal was to rein in spending with tax cuts that reduce revenue, then “trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.” …voters should realize that the threat to programs… Social Security and Medicare as we know them will be very much in danger.

In other words, Krugman doesn’t like Starve the Beast because he fears it is effective (just like he also acknowledges the Laffer Curve, even though he’s opposed to tax cuts).

Let’s close by looking at some very powerful real-world evidence. Over the past 50 years, there’s been a massive increase in the tax burden in Western Europe.

Did all that additional tax revenue lead to lower deficits and less debt?

Nope, the opposite happened. European politicians spent every penny of the new tax revenue (much of it from value-added taxes). And then they added even more spending financed by additional borrowing.

To be fair, one could argue that this was an argument for the view of “Don’t Feed the Beast” rather than “Starve the Beast,” but it nonetheless shows that more money in the hands of politicians simply means more spending. And more red ink.

P.S. I had a discussion last year with Gene Tunny about the issue of “state capacity libertarianism.”


Friedman & Sowell: Should Our School System Be Privatized?

Regular readers know that the two things that get me most excited are the Georgia Bulldogs and the fight against a bloated public sector that is ineffective in the best of circumstances and more often than not is a threat to our freedoms.

So you will not be surprised to know that I am delighted that former Georgia Bulldog star Fran Tarkenton (who also happened to play in the NFL) has a superb piece in the Wall Street Journal ripping apart the inherent inefficiency of government-run monopoly schools.

Here is the key passage.

Imagine the National Football League in an alternate reality. Each player’s salary is based on how long he’s been in the league. It’s about tenure, not talent. The same scale is used for every player, no matter whether he’s an All-Pro quarterback or the last man on the roster. For every year a player’s been in this NFL, he gets a bump in pay. The only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases. And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct. Let’s face the truth about this alternate reality: The on-field product would steadily decline. Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt? No matter how much money was poured into the league, it wouldn’t get better. In fact, in many ways the disincentive to play harder or to try to stand out would be even stronger with more money. Of course, a few wild-eyed reformers might suggest the whole system was broken and needed revamping to reward better results, but the players union would refuse to budge and then demonize the reform advocates: “They hate football. They hate the players. They hate the fans.” The only thing that might get done would be building bigger, more expensive stadiums and installing more state-of-the-art technology. But that just wouldn’t help.

This sounds absurd, of course, but Mr. Tarkenton goes on to explain that this is precisely how government schools operate.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the NFL in this alternate reality is the real-life American public education system. Teachers’ salaries have no relation to whether teachers are actually good at their job—excellence isn’t rewarded, and neither is extra effort. Pay is almost solely determined by how many years they’ve been teaching. That’s it. After a teacher earns tenure, which is often essentially automatic, firing him or her becomes almost impossible, no matter how bad the performance might be. And if you criticize the system, you’re demonized for hating teachers and not believing in our nation’s children. Inflation-adjusted spending per student in the United States has nearly tripled since 1970. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we spend more per student than any nation except Switzerland, with only middling results to show for it.

Actually, I will disagree with the last sentence of this excerpt. We’re not even getting “middling results.” Here’s a chart from an earlier post showing that we’ve gotten more bureaucracy and more spending but no improvement over the past 40 years.

So what’s the solution to this mess? Well, since government is the problem, it stands to reason that competition and markets are the answer.

Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands are just some of the countries that have seen good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

Watch this video to get more details.

Economics 101: School Choice Example Shows Why Government Monopolies Are Bad

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In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

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In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

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In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

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Open letter to President Obama (Part 650) “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 6 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “We are the ones who promote freedom, and free enterprise, and individual initiative, And what do we do? We force puny little Hong Kong to impose limits, restrictions on its exports at tariffs, in order to protect our textile workers”

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_________

Dan Mitchell article: Updated Assessment of Switzerland’s Spending Cap

Updated Assessment of Switzerland’s Spending Cap

Since I’m a big fan of spending caps, I’m very happy to be in Zurich as part of the Free Market Road Show.

Switzerland’s spending cap (called “the debt brake“) is probably the best system in the world. It does have an escape clause for emergencies, so the government did increase spending during the pandemic.

But as this chart illustrates, Swiss lawmakers were much more responsible than their American counterparts. Over the past few years, IMF datashows that the national debt (as a share of GDP) increased by about 3.4 percent in Switzerland compared to 12.8 percent in the United States.

Even more amazing, Switzerland is now quickly restoring spending restraint.

Indeed, as reported by Le News, Switzerland already is going to be back to fiscal balance by the end of this year.

The Covid-19 pandemic plunged Switzerland’s budget into the red in 2020 and 2021. The federal government expects to returnto normality with a balanced budget in 2022. …In 2022, the federal government expects to spend CHF 0.6 billion less than it collects. …the government is aiming for an ordinary operating surplus of CHF 1 billion. Past budget surpluses may also be applied to the accumulated deficit to bring the accounting into line with the debt brake rules.

If you want to know why there such quick progress, one of the big banks, Credit Suisse, recently analyzed the nation’s fiscal status and explained how the debt brake requires future spending restraint to compensate for the emergency spending during the pandemic.

As part of the pandemic response, the Federal Council approved fiscal measures of over 70 billion Swiss francs… As a result of the debt brake, this deficit should be offset in the immediate following years. …the Federal Council announced that it would classify the majority of the fiscal measures as extraordinary spending. Under the law, this can be paid back more slowly – specifically, within six years. Additionally, with the escape clause, the Federal Assembly has the option of extending the repayment deadline even further in special cases.

Another international bank, ING, also issued a reportabout the country’s spending cap and actually expressed concern that the level of government debt is too low.

The main cause of Switzerland’s low indebtedness is a mechanism introduced by the Confederation to stabilise the federal debt: “the debt brake”. Enabled in the Constitution since 2003, with a population approval rate of 85% in 2001, the rule has strong legitimacy and many cantons have introduced similar models.The principle: public spending should not exceed revenues over a full economic cycle. The formula allows for a deficit during a recession, offset by surpluses during an expansion period. …the implementation of this system has resulted in a significant debt reduction, rather than just stabilisation. This is because the rule is applied asymmetrically and expenditure tends to be overestimated each year, while revenue is systematically underestimated. …every budget surplus is greeted with a self-congratulatory round of applause on the sound management of public finances.

Here’s a chart from the article showing on government debt began to decline once the spending cap was implemented. By contrast, debt in other industrialized nations has continued to climb.

Keep in mind, by the way, that this chart was before the pandemic.

Given Switzerland’s more prudent approach, the gap between the two lines is even higher today.

P.S. If you want a more in-depth discussion of how Switzerland’s de facto spending cap operates, there’s a very good article in the Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics. Authored by Tobias Beljean and Alain Geier, the 2013 study has a lot of useful information.

…the success is not just visible in figures – it is also evident in the way that the budget process has changed. The debt brake has turned the budget process upside down. Previously, spending intentions were submitted by individual government offices, and it was very difficult to make changes to a large number of budget items during the short interval between the first consolidated budget plan (largely influenced by government offices) between April and the final budget proposal in June.More problematic still, the finance minister faced the potential opposition of six “spending” ministers, who were each looking for support to get their policy proposals into the budget. The budget process is now essentially a top-down process, in which targets are set at the beginning of the process and then broken down to individual ministries and offices. …One key aspect is the fact that the debt brake sets a clear target for the deficit and expenditure. …the (risk-averse) administration tends to plan its spending cautiously so as to not exceed the limit of the credit item. Hence, actual outcomes are mostly below spending limits and are not compensated for by occasional overspending and supplementary credits. The consequence for overall spending is a systematic undershooting of expenditure with respect to the budget. … This “revenue brake” and the “debt brake” taken together now result in a framework similar to an expenditure rule, as it is rather difficult to meet the requirements of the debt brake through revenue-side measures – at least in the short term.

P.P.S. You can also read a couple of good summaries (here and here) from the Swiss government’s Federal Finance Administration.

P.P.P.S. Hong Kong also has a spending cap, and Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights is a spending cap as well. You can click here to watch informative video presentations about the various spending caps.

Steve Forbes is 100 percent correct, as was Milton Friedman. Bloated and wasteful government spending is the problem, not inadequate revenue. Deficits are merely a symptom of over-spending:

The late Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once famously observed that he would prefer a federal government budget of $1 trillion (this was when a trillion bucks was real money) with a big deficit to a federal budget of $2 trillion that was balanced. His obvious point was that the bigger Washington is, the more of a burden it puts on the economy, whether it finances its spending via taxation, borrowing or printing money. So it’s not President Obama’s mind-numbing, from-here-to-eternity deficits that we should be worrying about but the increasing deadweight put on the rest of us by Washington’s burgeoning budget bloat. Senate Republicans were right to put the kibosh on the formation of a formal bipartisan deficit-fighting commission. Those things always end up increasing taxes while doing little to reduce spending. …One of the biggest economic myths since the Great Depression is that governments can ameliorate or counteract the ebbs and flows of free markets. Government spending has never worked as a trigger for sustained and vibrant economic growth. Ever. Scholarship has demonstrated that the New Deal perpetuated the Depression rather than cured it. On the eve of the Depression the U.S. had the lowest unemployment rate among developed nations. But a decade later, despite six years of FDR’s New Deal, our unemployment rate was one of the highest among developed economies. Japan’s serial stimulus programs over the past two decades have repeatedly underscored this truth. The more the government takes as a proportion of the economy, the worse equity markets do and the higher the unemployment rate.

Everything You Need to Know about the National Debt

The title of this column is an exaggeration. What we’re really going to do today is explain the main things you need to knowabout government debt.

We’ll start with this video from Kite and Key Media, which correctly observes that entitlement programs are the main cause of red ink.

I like that the video pointed out how tax-the-rich schemeswouldn’t work, though it would have been nice if they added some information on how genuine entitlement reform could solve the problem  (as you can see here and here, I’ve also nit-picked other debt-themed videos).

Which is why I humbly think this is the best video ever produced on the topic.

As you can see, I’m not an anti-debt fanatic. It was perfectly okay, for instance, to incur debt to win World War II.

But I’m very skeptical of running up the nation’s credit card for routine pork and fake stimulus.

But my main message, which I’ve shared over and over again, is that deficits and debt are merely a symptom. The underlying disease is excessive government spending.

And that spending hurts our economy whether it is financed by taxing or borrowing (or, heaven forbid, by printing money).

Now let’s look at some recent articles on the topic.

We’ll start with Eric Boehm’s column for Reason, which explains how red ink has exploded in recent years.

America’s national debt exceeded $10 trillion for the first time ever in October 2008. By mid-September 2017 the national debt had doubled to $20 trillion. …data released by the U.S. Treasury confirmed that the national debt reached a new milestone: $30 trillion.…Entitlements like Social Security and Medicare are in dire fiscal straits and will become even more costly as the average American gets older. Even without another unexpected crisis, deficits will exceed $1 trillion annually, which means the debt will continue growing, both in real terms and as a percentage of the economy. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the federal government will add another $12.2 trillion to the debt by 2031.

As already stated, I think the real problem is the spending and the debt is the symptom.

But it is possible, of course, that debt rises so high that investors (the people who buy government bonds) begin to lose faith that they will get repaid.

At that point, governments have to pay higher interest rates to compensate for perceived risk of default, which exacerbates the fiscal burden.

And if there’s not a credible plan to fix the problem, a country can go into a downward spiral. In other words, a debt crisis.

This is what happened to Greece. And I think it’s just a matter of time before it happens to Italy.

Heck, many European nations are vulnerable to a debt crisis. As are many developing countries. And don’t forget Japan.

Could the United States also be hit by a debt crisis? Will we reach a “tipping point” that leads to the aforementioned loss of faith?

That’s one of the possibilities mentioned in the New York Timescolumn by Peter Coy.

It’s hard to know how much to worry about the federal debt of the United States. …Either the United States can continue to run big deficits and skate along with no harm done or it’s at risk of losing investors’ confidence and having to pay higher interest rates on its debt, which would suppress economic growth. …the huge increase in federal debt incurred during and after the past two recessions — those of 2007-09 and 2020 — has used upa lot of the “fiscal space” the United States once had. In other words, the federal government is closer to the tipping point where big increases in debt finally start to become a real problem. …any given amount of debt becomes easier to sustain as long as the growth rate of the economy (and thus the growth rate of tax revenue) is higher than the interest rate on the debt. In that scenario, interest payments gradually shrink relative to tax revenue. …but it doesn’t explain how much more the debt can grow. …Past a certain point, there’s a double whammy of more dollars of debt plus higher interest costs on each dollar. …sovereign debt crises tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies: Investors get nervous about a government’s ability to pay, so they demand higher interest rates, which raise borrowing costs and produce the bad outcome they feared. It’s a dynamic that Argentines are familiar with — and that Americans had better hope they never experience.

For what it’s worth, I think other major nations will suffer fiscal crisis before the problem becomes acute in the United States.

I really this will make me sound uncharacteristically optimistic, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will finally lead politicians to adopt a spending cap so we don’t become Argentina.

P.S. The Wall Street Journal recently editorialized on the issue of government debt and made a very important point about the difference between the $30 trillion “gross debt” and the “debt held by the public,” which is about $6 trillion lower.

…the debt really isn’t $30 trillion. About $6 trillion of that is debt the government owes to itself in Social Security and other IOUs. …The debt held by the public is some $24 trillion, which is bad enough.

As I’ve noted when writing about Social Security, the IOUs in government trust funds are not real.

They’re just bookkeeping entries, as even Bill Clinton’s budget freely admitted.

Indeed, if you want to know whether some is both honest and knowledgeable about budget matters, ask them which measure of the national debt really matters.

As you can see from this exchange of tweets, competent and careful budget people (regardless of whether they favor big government or small government) focus on “debt held by the public,” which is the term for the money government actually borrows from credit markets.

If you want to know the difference between the various types of government debt – including “unfunded liabilities” – watch this video.

P.P.S. This column explains how and when debt matters. If you’re interested in how to reduce the debt, there’s very good evidence that spending restraint is the only effective approach. Even in cases where debt is enormous.

P.P.P.S. By contrast, the evidence is very clear that higher taxesactually make debt problems worse.

Yes, Starve the Beast

As part of a recent discussion with Gene Tunny in Australia, I explained why I support “Starve the Beast,” which means keeping taxes as low as possible to help achieve the goal of spending restraint.

The premise of Starve the Beast is very simple.

Politicians like to spend money and they don’t particularly care whether that spending is financed by taxes or financed by borrowing (both bad options).

As Milton Friedman sagely observed, that means they will spend every penny they collect in taxes plus as much additional spending financed by borrowing that the political system will allow.

The IMF published a study on this issue about 10 years ago. The authors (Michael Kumhof, Douglas Laxton, and Daniel Leigh) assert that there’s no way of knowing whether Starve the Beast will lead to good or bad results.

…there is no consensus regarding the macroeconomic and welfare consequences of implementing a starve-the-beast approach, henceforth referred to as STB. …it could be beneficial in the ideal case in which it results in cuts in entirely wasteful government spending. In particular, lower spending frees up resources for private consumption, and the associated lower tax rates reduce distortions in the economy. On the other hand, …lower government spending may itself entail welfare losses…if it augments the productivity of private factors of production. …the paper examines whether the principal macroeconomic variables such as GDP and consumption, both in the United States and in the rest of the world, respond positively to this policy. …In addition, the paper assesses how the welfare effects depend on the degree to which government spending directly contributes to household welfare or to productivity.

The authors don’t really push any particular conclusion. Instead, they show various economic outcomes depending on with assumptions one adopts.

Since plenty of research shows that government spending is not a net plus for the economy (even IMF economists agree on that point), and because I think a less-punitive tax system is possible (and desirable) if there’s a smaller burden of government spending, I think the findings shown in Figure 4 make the most sense.

Now let’s shift from academic analysis to policy analysis.

In a piece for National Review back in July 2020, Jim Geraghty notes that Starve the Beast has an impact on government finances at the state level.

…we’re probably not going to see a massive expansion of government at the state level in the coming year or two. …Thanks to the pandemic lockdown bringing vast swaths of the economy to a halt, state tax revenues are plummeting.…So states will have much less tax revenue, constitutional balanced-budget requirements that are not easily repealed, and a limited amount of budgetary tricks to work around it. State governments could attempt to raise taxes, but that’s going to be unpopular and hurt state economies when they’re already struggling. Add it all up and it’s a tough set of circumstances for a dramatic expansion of government, no matter how ardently progressive the governor and state legislatures are.

For what it’s worth, Geraghty warned in the article that fiscal restraint by state governments wouldn’t happen if the federal government turned on the spending spigot.

And that, of course, is exactly what happened.

Now let’s look at the most unintentional endorsement of Stave the Beast.

A couple of years ago, Paul Krugman sort of admitted that cutting taxes was a potentially effective strategy for spending restraint.

…the same Republicans now wringing their hands over budget deficits…blew up that same deficit by enacting a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. …this has been the G.O.P.’s budget strategy for decades. First, cut taxes. Then, bemoan the deficit created by those tax cuts and demand cuts in social spending.Lather, rinse, repeat. This strategy, known as “starve the beast,” has been around since the 1970s, when Republican economists like Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman began declaring that the role of tax cuts in worsening budget deficits was a feature, not a bug. As Greenspan openly put it in 1978, the goal was to rein in spending with tax cuts that reduce revenue, then “trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.” …voters should realize that the threat to programs… Social Security and Medicare as we know them will be very much in danger.

In other words, Krugman doesn’t like Starve the Beast because he fears it is effective (just like he also acknowledges the Laffer Curve, even though he’s opposed to tax cuts).

Let’s close by looking at some very powerful real-world evidence. Over the past 50 years, there’s been a massive increase in the tax burden in Western Europe.

Did all that additional tax revenue lead to lower deficits and less debt?

Nope, the opposite happened. European politicians spent every penny of the new tax revenue (much of it from value-added taxes). And then they added even more spending financed by additional borrowing.

To be fair, one could argue that this was an argument for the view of “Don’t Feed the Beast” rather than “Starve the Beast,” but it nonetheless shows that more money in the hands of politicians simply means more spending. And more red ink.

P.S. I had a discussion last year with Gene Tunny about the issue of “state capacity libertarianism.”


Friedman & Sowell: Should Our School System Be Privatized?

Regular readers know that the two things that get me most excited are the Georgia Bulldogs and the fight against a bloated public sector that is ineffective in the best of circumstances and more often than not is a threat to our freedoms.

So you will not be surprised to know that I am delighted that former Georgia Bulldog star Fran Tarkenton (who also happened to play in the NFL) has a superb piece in the Wall Street Journal ripping apart the inherent inefficiency of government-run monopoly schools.

Here is the key passage.

Imagine the National Football League in an alternate reality. Each player’s salary is based on how long he’s been in the league. It’s about tenure, not talent. The same scale is used for every player, no matter whether he’s an All-Pro quarterback or the last man on the roster. For every year a player’s been in this NFL, he gets a bump in pay. The only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases. And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct. Let’s face the truth about this alternate reality: The on-field product would steadily decline. Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt? No matter how much money was poured into the league, it wouldn’t get better. In fact, in many ways the disincentive to play harder or to try to stand out would be even stronger with more money. Of course, a few wild-eyed reformers might suggest the whole system was broken and needed revamping to reward better results, but the players union would refuse to budge and then demonize the reform advocates: “They hate football. They hate the players. They hate the fans.” The only thing that might get done would be building bigger, more expensive stadiums and installing more state-of-the-art technology. But that just wouldn’t help.

This sounds absurd, of course, but Mr. Tarkenton goes on to explain that this is precisely how government schools operate.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the NFL in this alternate reality is the real-life American public education system. Teachers’ salaries have no relation to whether teachers are actually good at their job—excellence isn’t rewarded, and neither is extra effort. Pay is almost solely determined by how many years they’ve been teaching. That’s it. After a teacher earns tenure, which is often essentially automatic, firing him or her becomes almost impossible, no matter how bad the performance might be. And if you criticize the system, you’re demonized for hating teachers and not believing in our nation’s children. Inflation-adjusted spending per student in the United States has nearly tripled since 1970. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we spend more per student than any nation except Switzerland, with only middling results to show for it.

Actually, I will disagree with the last sentence of this excerpt. We’re not even getting “middling results.” Here’s a chart from an earlier post showing that we’ve gotten more bureaucracy and more spending but no improvement over the past 40 years.

So what’s the solution to this mess? Well, since government is the problem, it stands to reason that competition and markets are the answer.

Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands are just some of the countries that have seen good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

Watch this video to get more details.

Economics 101: School Choice Example Shows Why Government Monopolies Are Bad

Related posts:

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE “The Tyranny of Control” Transcript and Video (60 Minutes)

Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE “The Tyranny of Control” Transcript and Video (60 Minutes) In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 7 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “I’m not pro business, I’m pro free enterprise, which is a very different thing, and the reason I’m pro free enterprise”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 6 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “We are the ones who promote freedom, and free enterprise, and individual initiative, And what do we do? We force puny little Hong Kong to impose limits, restrictions on its exports at tariffs, in order to protect our textile workers”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 5 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “There is no measure whatsoever that would do more to prevent private monopoly development than complete free trade”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 4 of 7 (Transcript and Video) ” What we need are constitutional restraints on the power of government to interfere with free markets in foreign exchange, in foreign trade, and in many other aspects of our lives.”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 3 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “When anyone complains about unfair competition, consumers beware, That is really a cry for special privilege always at the expense of the consumer”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 2 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “As always, economic freedom promotes human freedom”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 1 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “Adam Smith’s… key idea was that self-interest could produce an orderly society benefiting everybody, It was as though there were an invisible hand at work”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

Open letter to President Obama (Part 654) “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 7 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “I’m not pro business, I’m pro free enterprise, which is a very different thing, and the reason I’m pro free enterprise”

Open letter to President Obama (Part 654) (Emailed to White House on July 22, 2013) President Obama c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President, I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you […]

Open letter to President Obama (Part 650) “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 6 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “We are the ones who promote freedom, and free enterprise, and individual initiative, And what do we do? We force puny little Hong Kong to impose limits, restrictions on its exports at tariffs, in order to protect our textile workers”

Open letter to President Obama (Part 650) (Emailed to White House on July 22, 2013) President Obama c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President, I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you […]

_________

Dan Mitchell “The United States needs a constitutional spending cap, sort of like the “debt brake” that has been producing positive results in Switzerland for the past two decades!”

Another Reason for Spending Caps

The United States needs a constitutional spending cap, sort of like the “debt brake” that has been producing positive results in Switzerland for the past two decades.

Imposing a limit on annual spending increases would be a much-needed way of stopping politicians from saddling the nation with “Goldfish Government.”

The best-case scenario is that a spending cap is very stringent (say, limiting annual spending increases to 2 percent annually). This level of fiscal restraint reduces the burden of government spending compared to the private sector (i.e., it fulfills fiscal policy’s Golden Rule).

The avoid-harm scenario is that a spending cap prevents government from becoming a bigger burden. Given dismal long-run fiscal forecasts (a consequence of demographic change and poorly designed entitlement programs), this actually would be an impressive achievement.

There are also some auxiliary benefits of a spending cap.

A new working paper from Italy’s central bank, authored by Anna Laura Mancini and Pietro Tommasino, considers whether spending caps can mitigate the problem of dishonest budgeting by politicians.

…policy-makers have an incentive to “plan to cheat”. That is, they promise an amount of expenditures higher than what they will actually deliver, because this allows them to cater to the demands of the various groups of voters, and at the same time they present overoptimistic revenue forecasts, in order to preserve the appearance of fiscal discipline. Once the extra revenues hoped for by the government fail to materialize, budgeted investment expenditures are downsized or abandoned altogether. In this context, caps on realized spending can contribute to more realistic ex ante spending plans. Indeed, politicians have less room to inflate planned expenditures, once there is a legal ceiling in place.

The authors crunch the numbers and conclude that spending caps result in a greater level of fiscal honesty.

In this paper, we provide evidence in favour of this theoretical intuition, exploiting a unique dataset including the ex-ante budget plans as well as ex-post budget outcomes of…a rule that constrains capital expenditures in municipalities with more than 5,000 residents. …Our analysis show that the municipalities subject to the new capital-spending rule significantly reduced their over-optimism in expenditure projections… Furthermore, in the new regime revenue projections are also more accurate (less over-optimistic). …The reform reduced the forecast error concerning capital expenditures… The effects is significant both statistically and in economic terms. …the introduction of the cap on investment reduced the forecast error on investment expenditures by almost €1 mln, or 35% of the pre-reform average error.

For wonky readers, Figure 1 shows some of relevant data.

For what it’s worth, we seem to have a different problem in the United States.

Rather than exaggerate potential spending on so-called public investment, as seems to have been the case in Italy, American politicians generally low-ball cost estimates for infrastructure projects.

And then, once the projects get started, we get absurd cost overruns (with the high-speed rail project in California being an especially absurd example).

The good news is that a spending cap solves both the Italian version of the problem and the American version of the problem.

As the authors found in their research, it removes the incentive for dishonest budgeting in Italy. And, if adopted in the United States, politicians would learn that it doesn’t help to produce laughably low cost estimates if a spending cap means there is no way of financing cost overruns in the future.

P.S. There is a spending limit in Hong Kong’s constitution, and it has generated very positive results. Given China’s increasing control, it’s unclear how effective it will be in the future.

P.P.S. There’s also a spending limit in Colorado’s constitution, known as the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. It has been very successful.

P.P.P.S. Last month, I wrote about research from both the IMF and the ECB about the benefits of spending caps.

Steve Forbes is 100 percent correct, as was Milton Friedman. Bloated and wasteful government spending is the problem, not inadequate revenue. Deficits are merely a symptom of over-spending:

The late Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once famously observed that he would prefer a federal government budget of $1 trillion (this was when a trillion bucks was real money) with a big deficit to a federal budget of $2 trillion that was balanced. His obvious point was that the bigger Washington is, the more of a burden it puts on the economy, whether it finances its spending via taxation, borrowing or printing money. So it’s not President Obama’s mind-numbing, from-here-to-eternity deficits that we should be worrying about but the increasing deadweight put on the rest of us by Washington’s burgeoning budget bloat. Senate Republicans were right to put the kibosh on the formation of a formal bipartisan deficit-fighting commission. Those things always end up increasing taxes while doing little to reduce spending. …One of the biggest economic myths since the Great Depression is that governments can ameliorate or counteract the ebbs and flows of free markets. Government spending has never worked as a trigger for sustained and vibrant economic growth. Ever. Scholarship has demonstrated that the New Deal perpetuated the Depression rather than cured it. On the eve of the Depression the U.S. had the lowest unemployment rate among developed nations. But a decade later, despite six years of FDR’s New Deal, our unemployment rate was one of the highest among developed economies. Japan’s serial stimulus programs over the past two decades have repeatedly underscored this truth. The more the government takes as a proportion of the economy, the worse equity markets do and the higher the unemployment rate.

Everything You Need to Know about the National Debt

The title of this column is an exaggeration. What we’re really going to do today is explain the main things you need to knowabout government debt.

We’ll start with this video from Kite and Key Media, which correctly observes that entitlement programs are the main cause of red ink.

I like that the video pointed out how tax-the-rich schemeswouldn’t work, though it would have been nice if they added some information on how genuine entitlement reform could solve the problem  (as you can see here and here, I’ve also nit-picked other debt-themed videos).

Which is why I humbly think this is the best video ever produced on the topic.

As you can see, I’m not an anti-debt fanatic. It was perfectly okay, for instance, to incur debt to win World War II.

But I’m very skeptical of running up the nation’s credit card for routine pork and fake stimulus.

But my main message, which I’ve shared over and over again, is that deficits and debt are merely a symptom. The underlying disease is excessive government spending.

And that spending hurts our economy whether it is financed by taxing or borrowing (or, heaven forbid, by printing money).

Now let’s look at some recent articles on the topic.

We’ll start with Eric Boehm’s column for Reason, which explains how red ink has exploded in recent years.

America’s national debt exceeded $10 trillion for the first time ever in October 2008. By mid-September 2017 the national debt had doubled to $20 trillion. …data released by the U.S. Treasury confirmed that the national debt reached a new milestone: $30 trillion.…Entitlements like Social Security and Medicare are in dire fiscal straits and will become even more costly as the average American gets older. Even without another unexpected crisis, deficits will exceed $1 trillion annually, which means the debt will continue growing, both in real terms and as a percentage of the economy. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the federal government will add another $12.2 trillion to the debt by 2031.

As already stated, I think the real problem is the spending and the debt is the symptom.

But it is possible, of course, that debt rises so high that investors (the people who buy government bonds) begin to lose faith that they will get repaid.

At that point, governments have to pay higher interest rates to compensate for perceived risk of default, which exacerbates the fiscal burden.

And if there’s not a credible plan to fix the problem, a country can go into a downward spiral. In other words, a debt crisis.

This is what happened to Greece. And I think it’s just a matter of time before it happens to Italy.

Heck, many European nations are vulnerable to a debt crisis. As are many developing countries. And don’t forget Japan.

Could the United States also be hit by a debt crisis? Will we reach a “tipping point” that leads to the aforementioned loss of faith?

That’s one of the possibilities mentioned in the New York Timescolumn by Peter Coy.

It’s hard to know how much to worry about the federal debt of the United States. …Either the United States can continue to run big deficits and skate along with no harm done or it’s at risk of losing investors’ confidence and having to pay higher interest rates on its debt, which would suppress economic growth. …the huge increase in federal debt incurred during and after the past two recessions — those of 2007-09 and 2020 — has used upa lot of the “fiscal space” the United States once had. In other words, the federal government is closer to the tipping point where big increases in debt finally start to become a real problem. …any given amount of debt becomes easier to sustain as long as the growth rate of the economy (and thus the growth rate of tax revenue) is higher than the interest rate on the debt. In that scenario, interest payments gradually shrink relative to tax revenue. …but it doesn’t explain how much more the debt can grow. …Past a certain point, there’s a double whammy of more dollars of debt plus higher interest costs on each dollar. …sovereign debt crises tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies: Investors get nervous about a government’s ability to pay, so they demand higher interest rates, which raise borrowing costs and produce the bad outcome they feared. It’s a dynamic that Argentines are familiar with — and that Americans had better hope they never experience.

For what it’s worth, I think other major nations will suffer fiscal crisis before the problem becomes acute in the United States.

I really this will make me sound uncharacteristically optimistic, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will finally lead politicians to adopt a spending cap so we don’t become Argentina.

P.S. The Wall Street Journal recently editorialized on the issue of government debt and made a very important point about the difference between the $30 trillion “gross debt” and the “debt held by the public,” which is about $6 trillion lower.

…the debt really isn’t $30 trillion. About $6 trillion of that is debt the government owes to itself in Social Security and other IOUs. …The debt held by the public is some $24 trillion, which is bad enough.

As I’ve noted when writing about Social Security, the IOUs in government trust funds are not real.

They’re just bookkeeping entries, as even Bill Clinton’s budget freely admitted.

Indeed, if you want to know whether some is both honest and knowledgeable about budget matters, ask them which measure of the national debt really matters.

As you can see from this exchange of tweets, competent and careful budget people (regardless of whether they favor big government or small government) focus on “debt held by the public,” which is the term for the money government actually borrows from credit markets.

If you want to know the difference between the various types of government debt – including “unfunded liabilities” – watch this video.

P.P.S. This column explains how and when debt matters. If you’re interested in how to reduce the debt, there’s very good evidence that spending restraint is the only effective approach. Even in cases where debt is enormous.

P.P.P.S. By contrast, the evidence is very clear that higher taxesactually make debt problems worse.

Yes, Starve the Beast

As part of a recent discussion with Gene Tunny in Australia, I explained why I support “Starve the Beast,” which means keeping taxes as low as possible to help achieve the goal of spending restraint.

The premise of Starve the Beast is very simple.

Politicians like to spend money and they don’t particularly care whether that spending is financed by taxes or financed by borrowing (both bad options).

As Milton Friedman sagely observed, that means they will spend every penny they collect in taxes plus as much additional spending financed by borrowing that the political system will allow.

The IMF published a study on this issue about 10 years ago. The authors (Michael Kumhof, Douglas Laxton, and Daniel Leigh) assert that there’s no way of knowing whether Starve the Beast will lead to good or bad results.

…there is no consensus regarding the macroeconomic and welfare consequences of implementing a starve-the-beast approach, henceforth referred to as STB. …it could be beneficial in the ideal case in which it results in cuts in entirely wasteful government spending. In particular, lower spending frees up resources for private consumption, and the associated lower tax rates reduce distortions in the economy. On the other hand, …lower government spending may itself entail welfare losses…if it augments the productivity of private factors of production. …the paper examines whether the principal macroeconomic variables such as GDP and consumption, both in the United States and in the rest of the world, respond positively to this policy. …In addition, the paper assesses how the welfare effects depend on the degree to which government spending directly contributes to household welfare or to productivity.

The authors don’t really push any particular conclusion. Instead, they show various economic outcomes depending on with assumptions one adopts.

Since plenty of research shows that government spending is not a net plus for the economy (even IMF economists agree on that point), and because I think a less-punitive tax system is possible (and desirable) if there’s a smaller burden of government spending, I think the findings shown in Figure 4 make the most sense.

Now let’s shift from academic analysis to policy analysis.

In a piece for National Review back in July 2020, Jim Geraghty notes that Starve the Beast has an impact on government finances at the state level.

…we’re probably not going to see a massive expansion of government at the state level in the coming year or two. …Thanks to the pandemic lockdown bringing vast swaths of the economy to a halt, state tax revenues are plummeting.…So states will have much less tax revenue, constitutional balanced-budget requirements that are not easily repealed, and a limited amount of budgetary tricks to work around it. State governments could attempt to raise taxes, but that’s going to be unpopular and hurt state economies when they’re already struggling. Add it all up and it’s a tough set of circumstances for a dramatic expansion of government, no matter how ardently progressive the governor and state legislatures are.

For what it’s worth, Geraghty warned in the article that fiscal restraint by state governments wouldn’t happen if the federal government turned on the spending spigot.

And that, of course, is exactly what happened.

Now let’s look at the most unintentional endorsement of Stave the Beast.

A couple of years ago, Paul Krugman sort of admitted that cutting taxes was a potentially effective strategy for spending restraint.

…the same Republicans now wringing their hands over budget deficits…blew up that same deficit by enacting a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. …this has been the G.O.P.’s budget strategy for decades. First, cut taxes. Then, bemoan the deficit created by those tax cuts and demand cuts in social spending.Lather, rinse, repeat. This strategy, known as “starve the beast,” has been around since the 1970s, when Republican economists like Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman began declaring that the role of tax cuts in worsening budget deficits was a feature, not a bug. As Greenspan openly put it in 1978, the goal was to rein in spending with tax cuts that reduce revenue, then “trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.” …voters should realize that the threat to programs… Social Security and Medicare as we know them will be very much in danger.

In other words, Krugman doesn’t like Starve the Beast because he fears it is effective (just like he also acknowledges the Laffer Curve, even though he’s opposed to tax cuts).

Let’s close by looking at some very powerful real-world evidence. Over the past 50 years, there’s been a massive increase in the tax burden in Western Europe.

Did all that additional tax revenue lead to lower deficits and less debt?

Nope, the opposite happened. European politicians spent every penny of the new tax revenue (much of it from value-added taxes). And then they added even more spending financed by additional borrowing.

To be fair, one could argue that this was an argument for the view of “Don’t Feed the Beast” rather than “Starve the Beast,” but it nonetheless shows that more money in the hands of politicians simply means more spending. And more red ink.

P.S. I had a discussion last year with Gene Tunny about the issue of “state capacity libertarianism.”


Friedman & Sowell: Should Our School System Be Privatized?

Regular readers know that the two things that get me most excited are the Georgia Bulldogs and the fight against a bloated public sector that is ineffective in the best of circumstances and more often than not is a threat to our freedoms.

So you will not be surprised to know that I am delighted that former Georgia Bulldog star Fran Tarkenton (who also happened to play in the NFL) has a superb piece in the Wall Street Journal ripping apart the inherent inefficiency of government-run monopoly schools.

Here is the key passage.

Imagine the National Football League in an alternate reality. Each player’s salary is based on how long he’s been in the league. It’s about tenure, not talent. The same scale is used for every player, no matter whether he’s an All-Pro quarterback or the last man on the roster. For every year a player’s been in this NFL, he gets a bump in pay. The only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases. And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct. Let’s face the truth about this alternate reality: The on-field product would steadily decline. Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt? No matter how much money was poured into the league, it wouldn’t get better. In fact, in many ways the disincentive to play harder or to try to stand out would be even stronger with more money. Of course, a few wild-eyed reformers might suggest the whole system was broken and needed revamping to reward better results, but the players union would refuse to budge and then demonize the reform advocates: “They hate football. They hate the players. They hate the fans.” The only thing that might get done would be building bigger, more expensive stadiums and installing more state-of-the-art technology. But that just wouldn’t help.

This sounds absurd, of course, but Mr. Tarkenton goes on to explain that this is precisely how government schools operate.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the NFL in this alternate reality is the real-life American public education system. Teachers’ salaries have no relation to whether teachers are actually good at their job—excellence isn’t rewarded, and neither is extra effort. Pay is almost solely determined by how many years they’ve been teaching. That’s it. After a teacher earns tenure, which is often essentially automatic, firing him or her becomes almost impossible, no matter how bad the performance might be. And if you criticize the system, you’re demonized for hating teachers and not believing in our nation’s children. Inflation-adjusted spending per student in the United States has nearly tripled since 1970. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we spend more per student than any nation except Switzerland, with only middling results to show for it.

Actually, I will disagree with the last sentence of this excerpt. We’re not even getting “middling results.” Here’s a chart from an earlier post showing that we’ve gotten more bureaucracy and more spending but no improvement over the past 40 years.

So what’s the solution to this mess? Well, since government is the problem, it stands to reason that competition and markets are the answer.

Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands are just some of the countries that have seen good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

Watch this video to get more details.

Economics 101: School Choice Example Shows Why Government Monopolies Are Bad

Related posts:

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE “The Tyranny of Control” Transcript and Video (60 Minutes)

Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE “The Tyranny of Control” Transcript and Video (60 Minutes) In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 7 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “I’m not pro business, I’m pro free enterprise, which is a very different thing, and the reason I’m pro free enterprise”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 6 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “We are the ones who promote freedom, and free enterprise, and individual initiative, And what do we do? We force puny little Hong Kong to impose limits, restrictions on its exports at tariffs, in order to protect our textile workers”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 5 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “There is no measure whatsoever that would do more to prevent private monopoly development than complete free trade”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 4 of 7 (Transcript and Video) ” What we need are constitutional restraints on the power of government to interfere with free markets in foreign exchange, in foreign trade, and in many other aspects of our lives.”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 3 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “When anyone complains about unfair competition, consumers beware, That is really a cry for special privilege always at the expense of the consumer”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 2 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “As always, economic freedom promotes human freedom”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 1 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “Adam Smith’s… key idea was that self-interest could produce an orderly society benefiting everybody, It was as though there were an invisible hand at work”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

Open letter to President Obama (Part 654) “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 7 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “I’m not pro business, I’m pro free enterprise, which is a very different thing, and the reason I’m pro free enterprise”

Open letter to President Obama (Part 654) (Emailed to White House on July 22, 2013) President Obama c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President, I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you […]

Open letter to President Obama (Part 650) “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 6 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “We are the ones who promote freedom, and free enterprise, and individual initiative, And what do we do? We force puny little Hong Kong to impose limits, restrictions on its exports at tariffs, in order to protect our textile workers”

Open letter to President Obama (Part 650) (Emailed to White House on July 22, 2013) President Obama c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President, I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you […]

_________

The late Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once famously observed that he would prefer a federal government budget of $1 trillion (this was when a trillion bucks was real money) with a big deficit to a federal budget of $2 trillion that was balanced. His obvious point was that the bigger Washington is, the more of a burden it puts on the economy, whether it finances its spending via taxation, borrowing or printing money!

Steve Forbes is 100 percent correct, as was Milton Friedman. Bloated and wasteful government spending is the problem, not inadequate revenue. Deficits are merely a symptom of over-spending:

The late Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once famously observed that he would prefer a federal government budget of $1 trillion (this was when a trillion bucks was real money) with a big deficit to a federal budget of $2 trillion that was balanced. His obvious point was that the bigger Washington is, the more of a burden it puts on the economy, whether it finances its spending via taxation, borrowing or printing money. So it’s not President Obama’s mind-numbing, from-here-to-eternity deficits that we should be worrying about but the increasing deadweight put on the rest of us by Washington’s burgeoning budget bloat. Senate Republicans were right to put the kibosh on the formation of a formal bipartisan deficit-fighting commission. Those things always end up increasing taxes while doing little to reduce spending. …One of the biggest economic myths since the Great Depression is that governments can ameliorate or counteract the ebbs and flows of free markets. Government spending has never worked as a trigger for sustained and vibrant economic growth. Ever. Scholarship has demonstrated that the New Deal perpetuated the Depression rather than cured it. On the eve of the Depression the U.S. had the lowest unemployment rate among developed nations. But a decade later, despite six years of FDR’s New Deal, our unemployment rate was one of the highest among developed economies. Japan’s serial stimulus programs over the past two decades have repeatedly underscored this truth. The more the government takes as a proportion of the economy, the worse equity markets do and the higher the unemployment rate.

Everything You Need to Know about the National Debt

The title of this column is an exaggeration. What we’re really going to do today is explain the main things you need to knowabout government debt.

We’ll start with this video from Kite and Key Media, which correctly observes that entitlement programs are the main cause of red ink.

I like that the video pointed out how tax-the-rich schemeswouldn’t work, though it would have been nice if they added some information on how genuine entitlement reform could solve the problem  (as you can see here and here, I’ve also nit-picked other debt-themed videos).

Which is why I humbly think this is the best video ever produced on the topic.

As you can see, I’m not an anti-debt fanatic. It was perfectly okay, for instance, to incur debt to win World War II.

But I’m very skeptical of running up the nation’s credit card for routine pork and fake stimulus.

But my main message, which I’ve shared over and over again, is that deficits and debt are merely a symptom. The underlying disease is excessive government spending.

And that spending hurts our economy whether it is financed by taxing or borrowing (or, heaven forbid, by printing money).

Now let’s look at some recent articles on the topic.

We’ll start with Eric Boehm’s column for Reason, which explains how red ink has exploded in recent years.

America’s national debt exceeded $10 trillion for the first time ever in October 2008. By mid-September 2017 the national debt had doubled to $20 trillion. …data released by the U.S. Treasury confirmed that the national debt reached a new milestone: $30 trillion.…Entitlements like Social Security and Medicare are in dire fiscal straits and will become even more costly as the average American gets older. Even without another unexpected crisis, deficits will exceed $1 trillion annually, which means the debt will continue growing, both in real terms and as a percentage of the economy. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the federal government will add another $12.2 trillion to the debt by 2031.

As already stated, I think the real problem is the spending and the debt is the symptom.

But it is possible, of course, that debt rises so high that investors (the people who buy government bonds) begin to lose faith that they will get repaid.

At that point, governments have to pay higher interest rates to compensate for perceived risk of default, which exacerbates the fiscal burden.

And if there’s not a credible plan to fix the problem, a country can go into a downward spiral. In other words, a debt crisis.

This is what happened to Greece. And I think it’s just a matter of time before it happens to Italy.

Heck, many European nations are vulnerable to a debt crisis. As are many developing countries. And don’t forget Japan.

Could the United States also be hit by a debt crisis? Will we reach a “tipping point” that leads to the aforementioned loss of faith?

That’s one of the possibilities mentioned in the New York Timescolumn by Peter Coy.

It’s hard to know how much to worry about the federal debt of the United States. …Either the United States can continue to run big deficits and skate along with no harm done or it’s at risk of losing investors’ confidence and having to pay higher interest rates on its debt, which would suppress economic growth. …the huge increase in federal debt incurred during and after the past two recessions — those of 2007-09 and 2020 — has used upa lot of the “fiscal space” the United States once had. In other words, the federal government is closer to the tipping point where big increases in debt finally start to become a real problem. …any given amount of debt becomes easier to sustain as long as the growth rate of the economy (and thus the growth rate of tax revenue) is higher than the interest rate on the debt. In that scenario, interest payments gradually shrink relative to tax revenue. …but it doesn’t explain how much more the debt can grow. …Past a certain point, there’s a double whammy of more dollars of debt plus higher interest costs on each dollar. …sovereign debt crises tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies: Investors get nervous about a government’s ability to pay, so they demand higher interest rates, which raise borrowing costs and produce the bad outcome they feared. It’s a dynamic that Argentines are familiar with — and that Americans had better hope they never experience.

For what it’s worth, I think other major nations will suffer fiscal crisis before the problem becomes acute in the United States.

I really this will make me sound uncharacteristically optimistic, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will finally lead politicians to adopt a spending cap so we don’t become Argentina.

P.S. The Wall Street Journal recently editorialized on the issue of government debt and made a very important point about the difference between the $30 trillion “gross debt” and the “debt held by the public,” which is about $6 trillion lower.

…the debt really isn’t $30 trillion. About $6 trillion of that is debt the government owes to itself in Social Security and other IOUs. …The debt held by the public is some $24 trillion, which is bad enough.

As I’ve noted when writing about Social Security, the IOUs in government trust funds are not real.

They’re just bookkeeping entries, as even Bill Clinton’s budget freely admitted.

Indeed, if you want to know whether some is both honest and knowledgeable about budget matters, ask them which measure of the national debt really matters.

As you can see from this exchange of tweets, competent and careful budget people (regardless of whether they favor big government or small government) focus on “debt held by the public,” which is the term for the money government actually borrows from credit markets.

If you want to know the difference between the various types of government debt – including “unfunded liabilities” – watch this video.

P.P.S. This column explains how and when debt matters. If you’re interested in how to reduce the debt, there’s very good evidence that spending restraint is the only effective approach. Even in cases where debt is enormous.

P.P.P.S. By contrast, the evidence is very clear that higher taxesactually make debt problems worse.

Yes, Starve the Beast

As part of a recent discussion with Gene Tunny in Australia, I explained why I support “Starve the Beast,” which means keeping taxes as low as possible to help achieve the goal of spending restraint.

The premise of Starve the Beast is very simple.

Politicians like to spend money and they don’t particularly care whether that spending is financed by taxes or financed by borrowing (both bad options).

As Milton Friedman sagely observed, that means they will spend every penny they collect in taxes plus as much additional spending financed by borrowing that the political system will allow.

The IMF published a study on this issue about 10 years ago. The authors (Michael Kumhof, Douglas Laxton, and Daniel Leigh) assert that there’s no way of knowing whether Starve the Beast will lead to good or bad results.

…there is no consensus regarding the macroeconomic and welfare consequences of implementing a starve-the-beast approach, henceforth referred to as STB. …it could be beneficial in the ideal case in which it results in cuts in entirely wasteful government spending. In particular, lower spending frees up resources for private consumption, and the associated lower tax rates reduce distortions in the economy. On the other hand, …lower government spending may itself entail welfare losses…if it augments the productivity of private factors of production. …the paper examines whether the principal macroeconomic variables such as GDP and consumption, both in the United States and in the rest of the world, respond positively to this policy. …In addition, the paper assesses how the welfare effects depend on the degree to which government spending directly contributes to household welfare or to productivity.

The authors don’t really push any particular conclusion. Instead, they show various economic outcomes depending on with assumptions one adopts.

Since plenty of research shows that government spending is not a net plus for the economy (even IMF economists agree on that point), and because I think a less-punitive tax system is possible (and desirable) if there’s a smaller burden of government spending, I think the findings shown in Figure 4 make the most sense.

Now let’s shift from academic analysis to policy analysis.

In a piece for National Review back in July 2020, Jim Geraghty notes that Starve the Beast has an impact on government finances at the state level.

…we’re probably not going to see a massive expansion of government at the state level in the coming year or two. …Thanks to the pandemic lockdown bringing vast swaths of the economy to a halt, state tax revenues are plummeting.…So states will have much less tax revenue, constitutional balanced-budget requirements that are not easily repealed, and a limited amount of budgetary tricks to work around it. State governments could attempt to raise taxes, but that’s going to be unpopular and hurt state economies when they’re already struggling. Add it all up and it’s a tough set of circumstances for a dramatic expansion of government, no matter how ardently progressive the governor and state legislatures are.

For what it’s worth, Geraghty warned in the article that fiscal restraint by state governments wouldn’t happen if the federal government turned on the spending spigot.

And that, of course, is exactly what happened.

Now let’s look at the most unintentional endorsement of Stave the Beast.

A couple of years ago, Paul Krugman sort of admitted that cutting taxes was a potentially effective strategy for spending restraint.

…the same Republicans now wringing their hands over budget deficits…blew up that same deficit by enacting a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. …this has been the G.O.P.’s budget strategy for decades. First, cut taxes. Then, bemoan the deficit created by those tax cuts and demand cuts in social spending.Lather, rinse, repeat. This strategy, known as “starve the beast,” has been around since the 1970s, when Republican economists like Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman began declaring that the role of tax cuts in worsening budget deficits was a feature, not a bug. As Greenspan openly put it in 1978, the goal was to rein in spending with tax cuts that reduce revenue, then “trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.” …voters should realize that the threat to programs… Social Security and Medicare as we know them will be very much in danger.

In other words, Krugman doesn’t like Starve the Beast because he fears it is effective (just like he also acknowledges the Laffer Curve, even though he’s opposed to tax cuts).

Let’s close by looking at some very powerful real-world evidence. Over the past 50 years, there’s been a massive increase in the tax burden in Western Europe.

Did all that additional tax revenue lead to lower deficits and less debt?

Nope, the opposite happened. European politicians spent every penny of the new tax revenue (much of it from value-added taxes). And then they added even more spending financed by additional borrowing.

To be fair, one could argue that this was an argument for the view of “Don’t Feed the Beast” rather than “Starve the Beast,” but it nonetheless shows that more money in the hands of politicians simply means more spending. And more red ink.

P.S. I had a discussion last year with Gene Tunny about the issue of “state capacity libertarianism.”


Friedman & Sowell: Should Our School System Be Privatized?

Regular readers know that the two things that get me most excited are the Georgia Bulldogs and the fight against a bloated public sector that is ineffective in the best of circumstances and more often than not is a threat to our freedoms.

So you will not be surprised to know that I am delighted that former Georgia Bulldog star Fran Tarkenton (who also happened to play in the NFL) has a superb piece in the Wall Street Journal ripping apart the inherent inefficiency of government-run monopoly schools.

Here is the key passage.

Imagine the National Football League in an alternate reality. Each player’s salary is based on how long he’s been in the league. It’s about tenure, not talent. The same scale is used for every player, no matter whether he’s an All-Pro quarterback or the last man on the roster. For every year a player’s been in this NFL, he gets a bump in pay. The only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases. And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct. Let’s face the truth about this alternate reality: The on-field product would steadily decline. Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt? No matter how much money was poured into the league, it wouldn’t get better. In fact, in many ways the disincentive to play harder or to try to stand out would be even stronger with more money. Of course, a few wild-eyed reformers might suggest the whole system was broken and needed revamping to reward better results, but the players union would refuse to budge and then demonize the reform advocates: “They hate football. They hate the players. They hate the fans.” The only thing that might get done would be building bigger, more expensive stadiums and installing more state-of-the-art technology. But that just wouldn’t help.

This sounds absurd, of course, but Mr. Tarkenton goes on to explain that this is precisely how government schools operate.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the NFL in this alternate reality is the real-life American public education system. Teachers’ salaries have no relation to whether teachers are actually good at their job—excellence isn’t rewarded, and neither is extra effort. Pay is almost solely determined by how many years they’ve been teaching. That’s it. After a teacher earns tenure, which is often essentially automatic, firing him or her becomes almost impossible, no matter how bad the performance might be. And if you criticize the system, you’re demonized for hating teachers and not believing in our nation’s children. Inflation-adjusted spending per student in the United States has nearly tripled since 1970. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we spend more per student than any nation except Switzerland, with only middling results to show for it.

Actually, I will disagree with the last sentence of this excerpt. We’re not even getting “middling results.” Here’s a chart from an earlier post showing that we’ve gotten more bureaucracy and more spending but no improvement over the past 40 years.

So what’s the solution to this mess? Well, since government is the problem, it stands to reason that competition and markets are the answer.

Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands are just some of the countries that have seen good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

Watch this video to get more details.

Economics 101: School Choice Example Shows Why Government Monopolies Are Bad

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MILTON FRIEDMAN ON SPENDING 

Milton Friedman on Spending

MILTON FRIEDMAN ON SPENDING

I identified four heroes from the “Battle of Ideas” video I shared in late August – Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. Here’s one of those heroes, Milton Friedman, explaining what’s needed to control big government.

Friedman Fundamentals: How To Control Big Government

For all intents and purposes, Friedman is pointing out that there’s a “public choice” incentive for government to expand.

To counteract that disturbing trend, he explains that we need a high level of “societal capital.” In other words, we need a self-reliant and ethical populace – i.e., people who realize it’s wrong to use the coercive power of government to take from others.

Sadly, I don’t think that’s an accurate description of today’s United States.

So how, then, can we get control of government?

Since politicians are unlikely to control spending in the short run (their time horizon is always the next election), our best hope is to get them to agree to a rule that constrains what can happen in the future.

I’ve repeatedly argued in favor of a spending cap. Such a policy has a proven track record, and is far more effective than a balanced budget requirement.

That’s what should happen.

Now let’s focus on what shouldn’t happen. As Milton Friedman famously observed in 2001, tax increases are never the solution because politicians will simply spend any additional revenue (and the tax increases also will hurt the economy and cause Laffer-Curve feedback effects).

P.S. You can enjoy more wisdom from Friedman on issues such as the role of the firmspending other people’s money, and so-called Robber Barons.

P.P.S. On the issue of spending other people’s money, here’s an example of Jay Leno channeling Friedman.

ECB and IMF Studies Show Spending Caps Are the Ideal Fiscal Rule

Back in 2017, the Center for Freedom and Prosperity released this video to help explain why spending caps are the most sensible and sustainable fiscal rule.

Switzerland actually has a spending cap in its constitution, and similar fiscal rules also exist in Hong Kong and the state of Colorado.

These policies have produced very good results.

There are many reasons to support a spending cap, including the obvious observation that an expenditure limit (as it is sometimes called) directly addresses the actual problem of excessive government.

And addressing the underlying disease works better than rules that focus on symptoms, such as balanced budget requirements or anti-deficit mandates.

You’ll notice toward the end of the video that the narrator cites pro-spending cap research from international bureaucracies, which is remarkable since those institutions normally have a biasfor bigger government.

I’ve also written about that research, citing studies by the International Monetary Fund (here and here), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (here and here) and the European Central Bank (here).

Today, let’s look at more evidence from these bureaucracies.

We’ll start with a new study from the European Central Bank. Here’s some of what the authors (Nicholai Benalal, Maximilian Freier, Wim Melyn, Stefan Van Parys, and Lukas Reiss) found when comparing spending limits and anti-deficit rules.

this paper provides an in-depth assessment of two alternative measures of fiscal consolidation and expansion: the change in the structural balance (dSB) and the expenditure benchmark (EB). Both the dSB and the EB are currently used to assess compliance with the fiscal rules under the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP).The EB was introduced as an indicator in 2011, and has gained in importance relative to the dSB since the European Commission began to put more emphasis on it in 2016.A comparison of the fiscal performance of euro area countries reveals significant differences depending on whether the assessment is based on the dSB or the EB. this paper finds that the EB has advantages over the dSB as a fiscal performance indicator. …expenditure rules…provide more predictability in fiscal requirements. …Even more importantly, the EB can be shown to be less procyclical as a fiscal rule than the dSB. 

Let’s also review some 2019 research from the International Monetary Fund.

This study (authored by Kodjovi Eklou and Marcelin Joanis) looks at whether fiscal rules can constrain vote-buying politicians.

In order to increase their chances of reelection, politicians are known to undertake fiscal manipulations, especially in election years. These fiscal manipulations typically take the form of increased public expenditure… Many countries, both developed and developing, have adopted fiscal rules in recent decades as an attempt to enforce fiscal discipline. …In this paper, we employ a cross-country panel dataset in order to test whether fiscal rules adopted in developing countries have been effective in constraining political budget cycles. The dataset covers 67 developing countries over the period 1985-2007. …Our dependent variable is the general government’s final consumption expenditure as a share of GDP.

Here’s what the authors concluded about the effectiveness of spending caps.

Our empirical evidence in a sample of 67 developing countries over the period 1985-2007, shows that fiscal rules cause fiscal discipline over the electoral cycle. More specifically, in election years with fiscal rules in place, public consumption is reduced by 1.65% point of GDP as compared to election years without these rules. Furthermore, the effectiveness of these rules depends on their type… In particular, expenditure rules, rules covering the general government and rules characterized by a monitoring body outside the government dampen political budget cycles in government consumption.

Indeed, footnote 12 of the paper specifically notes the superiority of expenditure limits.

…the results show that public consumption is reduced by 2.44% points during election years with expenditure rules in place. The findings on expenditure rules are consistent with Cordes et al. (2015) who show that the compliance rate for these rules are high.

Last but not least, the fiscal experts at the Office of Management and Budget included in Trump’s final budget some very encouraging language at the end of Chapter 10 of the Analytical Perspectives.

…additional efforts to control spending are needed. Several budget process reforms should be considered, including setting spending caps… Outlay caps that are consistent with the historical average as a share of gross domestic product (GDP),post-World War II levels could be enforced with sequestration across programs similar to other budget enforcement regimes. An outlay cap on mandatory spending would complement discretionary caps, which have been in place since 2013. The Budget proposes to continue discretionary caps through 2025 at declining levels and declining levels through 2030.

Trump was a big spender, of course, but at least there were people in his administration who realized there was a problem.

And they recognized the right solution.

P.S. It’s also interesting that the authors of the IMF study found that fiscal rules work better in democracies.

…estimates focusing on the subsample of democratic elections. The effect of fiscal rules on the political budget cycle is larger… More specifically, public consumption is reduced by 2.46% point of GDP (while it is 1.65% point in the baseline).

This may not bode well for the durability of Hong Kong’s spending cap.

The authors also found that foreign aid makes it less likely that a government will follow sensible policy.

Foreign aid, which relaxes the budget constraint of the government, is negatively correlated with the probability of having fiscal rules.

Needless to say, nobody should be surprised to learn that foreign aid undermines good policy.

Yes, Starve the Beast

As part of a recent discussion with Gene Tunny in Australia, I explained why I support “Starve the Beast,” which means keeping taxes as low as possible to help achieve the goal of spending restraint.

The premise of Starve the Beast is very simple.

Politicians like to spend money and they don’t particularly care whether that spending is financed by taxes or financed by borrowing (both bad options).

As Milton Friedman sagely observed, that means they will spend every penny they collect in taxes plus as much additional spending financed by borrowing that the political system will allow.

The IMF published a study on this issue about 10 years ago. The authors (Michael Kumhof, Douglas Laxton, and Daniel Leigh) assert that there’s no way of knowing whether Starve the Beast will lead to good or bad results.

…there is no consensus regarding the macroeconomic and welfare consequences of implementing a starve-the-beast approach, henceforth referred to as STB. …it could be beneficial in the ideal case in which it results in cuts in entirely wasteful government spending. In particular, lower spending frees up resources for private consumption, and the associated lower tax rates reduce distortions in the economy. On the other hand, …lower government spending may itself entail welfare losses…if it augments the productivity of private factors of production. …the paper examines whether the principal macroeconomic variables such as GDP and consumption, both in the United States and in the rest of the world, respond positively to this policy. …In addition, the paper assesses how the welfare effects depend on the degree to which government spending directly contributes to household welfare or to productivity.

The authors don’t really push any particular conclusion. Instead, they show various economic outcomes depending on with assumptions one adopts.

Since plenty of research shows that government spending is not a net plus for the economy (even IMF economists agree on that point), and because I think a less-punitive tax system is possible (and desirable) if there’s a smaller burden of government spending, I think the findings shown in Figure 4 make the most sense.

Now let’s shift from academic analysis to policy analysis.

In a piece for National Review back in July 2020, Jim Geraghty notes that Starve the Beast has an impact on government finances at the state level.

…we’re probably not going to see a massive expansion of government at the state level in the coming year or two. …Thanks to the pandemic lockdown bringing vast swaths of the economy to a halt, state tax revenues are plummeting.…So states will have much less tax revenue, constitutional balanced-budget requirements that are not easily repealed, and a limited amount of budgetary tricks to work around it. State governments could attempt to raise taxes, but that’s going to be unpopular and hurt state economies when they’re already struggling. Add it all up and it’s a tough set of circumstances for a dramatic expansion of government, no matter how ardently progressive the governor and state legislatures are.

For what it’s worth, Geraghty warned in the article that fiscal restraint by state governments wouldn’t happen if the federal government turned on the spending spigot.

And that, of course, is exactly what happened.

Now let’s look at the most unintentional endorsement of Stave the Beast.

A couple of years ago, Paul Krugman sort of admitted that cutting taxes was a potentially effective strategy for spending restraint.

…the same Republicans now wringing their hands over budget deficits…blew up that same deficit by enacting a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. …this has been the G.O.P.’s budget strategy for decades. First, cut taxes. Then, bemoan the deficit created by those tax cuts and demand cuts in social spending.Lather, rinse, repeat. This strategy, known as “starve the beast,” has been around since the 1970s, when Republican economists like Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman began declaring that the role of tax cuts in worsening budget deficits was a feature, not a bug. As Greenspan openly put it in 1978, the goal was to rein in spending with tax cuts that reduce revenue, then “trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.” …voters should realize that the threat to programs… Social Security and Medicare as we know them will be very much in danger.

In other words, Krugman doesn’t like Starve the Beast because he fears it is effective (just like he also acknowledges the Laffer Curve, even though he’s opposed to tax cuts).

Let’s close by looking at some very powerful real-world evidence. Over the past 50 years, there’s been a massive increase in the tax burden in Western Europe.

Did all that additional tax revenue lead to lower deficits and less debt?

Nope, the opposite happened. European politicians spent every penny of the new tax revenue (much of it from value-added taxes). And then they added even more spending financed by additional borrowing.

To be fair, one could argue that this was an argument for the view of “Don’t Feed the Beast” rather than “Starve the Beast,” but it nonetheless shows that more money in the hands of politicians simply means more spending. And more red ink.

P.S. I had a discussion last year with Gene Tunny about the issue of “state capacity libertarianism.”


Friedman & Sowell: Should Our School System Be Privatized?

Regular readers know that the two things that get me most excited are the Georgia Bulldogs and the fight against a bloated public sector that is ineffective in the best of circumstances and more often than not is a threat to our freedoms.

So you will not be surprised to know that I am delighted that former Georgia Bulldog star Fran Tarkenton (who also happened to play in the NFL) has a superb piece in the Wall Street Journal ripping apart the inherent inefficiency of government-run monopoly schools.

Here is the key passage.

Imagine the National Football League in an alternate reality. Each player’s salary is based on how long he’s been in the league. It’s about tenure, not talent. The same scale is used for every player, no matter whether he’s an All-Pro quarterback or the last man on the roster. For every year a player’s been in this NFL, he gets a bump in pay. The only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases. And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct. Let’s face the truth about this alternate reality: The on-field product would steadily decline. Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt? No matter how much money was poured into the league, it wouldn’t get better. In fact, in many ways the disincentive to play harder or to try to stand out would be even stronger with more money. Of course, a few wild-eyed reformers might suggest the whole system was broken and needed revamping to reward better results, but the players union would refuse to budge and then demonize the reform advocates: “They hate football. They hate the players. They hate the fans.” The only thing that might get done would be building bigger, more expensive stadiums and installing more state-of-the-art technology. But that just wouldn’t help.

This sounds absurd, of course, but Mr. Tarkenton goes on to explain that this is precisely how government schools operate.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the NFL in this alternate reality is the real-life American public education system. Teachers’ salaries have no relation to whether teachers are actually good at their job—excellence isn’t rewarded, and neither is extra effort. Pay is almost solely determined by how many years they’ve been teaching. That’s it. After a teacher earns tenure, which is often essentially automatic, firing him or her becomes almost impossible, no matter how bad the performance might be. And if you criticize the system, you’re demonized for hating teachers and not believing in our nation’s children. Inflation-adjusted spending per student in the United States has nearly tripled since 1970. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we spend more per student than any nation except Switzerland, with only middling results to show for it.

Actually, I will disagree with the last sentence of this excerpt. We’re not even getting “middling results.” Here’s a chart from an earlier post showing that we’ve gotten more bureaucracy and more spending but no improvement over the past 40 years.

So what’s the solution to this mess? Well, since government is the problem, it stands to reason that competition and markets are the answer.

Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands are just some of the countries that have seen good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

Watch this video to get more details.

Economics 101: School Choice Example Shows Why Government Monopolies Are Bad

Related posts:

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE “The Tyranny of Control” Transcript and Video (60 Minutes)

Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE “The Tyranny of Control” Transcript and Video (60 Minutes) In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 7 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “I’m not pro business, I’m pro free enterprise, which is a very different thing, and the reason I’m pro free enterprise”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 6 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “We are the ones who promote freedom, and free enterprise, and individual initiative, And what do we do? We force puny little Hong Kong to impose limits, restrictions on its exports at tariffs, in order to protect our textile workers”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 5 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “There is no measure whatsoever that would do more to prevent private monopoly development than complete free trade”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 4 of 7 (Transcript and Video) ” What we need are constitutional restraints on the power of government to interfere with free markets in foreign exchange, in foreign trade, and in many other aspects of our lives.”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 3 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “When anyone complains about unfair competition, consumers beware, That is really a cry for special privilege always at the expense of the consumer”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 2 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “As always, economic freedom promotes human freedom”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 1 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “Adam Smith’s… key idea was that self-interest could produce an orderly society benefiting everybody, It was as though there were an invisible hand at work”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

Open letter to President Obama (Part 654) “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 7 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “I’m not pro business, I’m pro free enterprise, which is a very different thing, and the reason I’m pro free enterprise”

Open letter to President Obama (Part 654) (Emailed to White House on July 22, 2013) President Obama c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President, I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you […]

Open letter to President Obama (Part 650) “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 6 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “We are the ones who promote freedom, and free enterprise, and individual initiative, And what do we do? We force puny little Hong Kong to impose limits, restrictions on its exports at tariffs, in order to protect our textile workers”

Open letter to President Obama (Part 650) (Emailed to White House on July 22, 2013) President Obama c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President, I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you […]

_________

Dan Mitchell: “Milton Friedman noted History shows that over a long period of time government will spend whatever the tax system raises plus as much more as it can get away with” (with video from Milton Friedman)

Yes, Starve the Beast

As part of a recent discussion with Gene Tunny in Australia, I explained why I support “Starve the Beast,” which means keeping taxes as low as possible to help achieve the goal of spending restraint.

The premise of Starve the Beast is very simple.

Politicians like to spend money and they don’t particularly care whether that spending is financed by taxes or financed by borrowing (both bad options).

As Milton Friedman sagely observed, that means they will spend every penny they collect in taxes plus as much additional spending financed by borrowing that the political system will allow.

The IMF published a study on this issue about 10 years ago. The authors (Michael Kumhof, Douglas Laxton, and Daniel Leigh) assert that there’s no way of knowing whether Starve the Beast will lead to good or bad results.

…there is no consensus regarding the macroeconomic and welfare consequences of implementing a starve-the-beast approach, henceforth referred to as STB. …it could be beneficial in the ideal case in which it results in cuts in entirely wasteful government spending. In particular, lower spending frees up resources for private consumption, and the associated lower tax rates reduce distortions in the economy. On the other hand, …lower government spending may itself entail welfare losses…if it augments the productivity of private factors of production. …the paper examines whether the principal macroeconomic variables such as GDP and consumption, both in the United States and in the rest of the world, respond positively to this policy. …In addition, the paper assesses how the welfare effects depend on the degree to which government spending directly contributes to household welfare or to productivity.

The authors don’t really push any particular conclusion. Instead, they show various economic outcomes depending on with assumptions one adopts.

Since plenty of research shows that government spending is not a net plus for the economy (even IMF economists agree on that point), and because I think a less-punitive tax system is possible (and desirable) if there’s a smaller burden of government spending, I think the findings shown in Figure 4 make the most sense.

Now let’s shift from academic analysis to policy analysis.

In a piece for National Review back in July 2020, Jim Geraghty notes that Starve the Beast has an impact on government finances at the state level.

…we’re probably not going to see a massive expansion of government at the state level in the coming year or two. …Thanks to the pandemic lockdown bringing vast swaths of the economy to a halt, state tax revenues are plummeting.…So states will have much less tax revenue, constitutional balanced-budget requirements that are not easily repealed, and a limited amount of budgetary tricks to work around it. State governments could attempt to raise taxes, but that’s going to be unpopular and hurt state economies when they’re already struggling. Add it all up and it’s a tough set of circumstances for a dramatic expansion of government, no matter how ardently progressive the governor and state legislatures are.

For what it’s worth, Geraghty warned in the article that fiscal restraint by state governments wouldn’t happen if the federal government turned on the spending spigot.

And that, of course, is exactly what happened.

Now let’s look at the most unintentional endorsement of Stave the Beast.

A couple of years ago, Paul Krugman sort of admitted that cutting taxes was a potentially effective strategy for spending restraint.

…the same Republicans now wringing their hands over budget deficits…blew up that same deficit by enacting a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. …this has been the G.O.P.’s budget strategy for decades. First, cut taxes. Then, bemoan the deficit created by those tax cuts and demand cuts in social spending.Lather, rinse, repeat. This strategy, known as “starve the beast,” has been around since the 1970s, when Republican economists like Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman began declaring that the role of tax cuts in worsening budget deficits was a feature, not a bug. As Greenspan openly put it in 1978, the goal was to rein in spending with tax cuts that reduce revenue, then “trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.” …voters should realize that the threat to programs… Social Security and Medicare as we know them will be very much in danger.

In other words, Krugman doesn’t like Starve the Beast because he fears it is effective (just like he also acknowledges the Laffer Curve, even though he’s opposed to tax cuts).

Let’s close by looking at some very powerful real-world evidence. Over the past 50 years, there’s been a massive increase in the tax burden in Western Europe.

Did all that additional tax revenue lead to lower deficits and less debt?

Nope, the opposite happened. European politicians spent every penny of the new tax revenue (much of it from value-added taxes). And then they added even more spending financed by additional borrowing.

To be fair, one could argue that this was an argument for the view of “Don’t Feed the Beast” rather than “Starve the Beast,” but it nonetheless shows that more money in the hands of politicians simply means more spending. And more red ink.

P.S. I had a discussion last year with Gene Tunny about the issue of “state capacity libertarianism.”


Friedman & Sowell: Should Our School System Be Privatized?

Regular readers know that the two things that get me most excited are the Georgia Bulldogs and the fight against a bloated public sector that is ineffective in the best of circumstances and more often than not is a threat to our freedoms.

So you will not be surprised to know that I am delighted that former Georgia Bulldog star Fran Tarkenton (who also happened to play in the NFL) has a superb piece in the Wall Street Journal ripping apart the inherent inefficiency of government-run monopoly schools.

Here is the key passage.

Imagine the National Football League in an alternate reality. Each player’s salary is based on how long he’s been in the league. It’s about tenure, not talent. The same scale is used for every player, no matter whether he’s an All-Pro quarterback or the last man on the roster. For every year a player’s been in this NFL, he gets a bump in pay. The only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases. And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct. Let’s face the truth about this alternate reality: The on-field product would steadily decline. Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt? No matter how much money was poured into the league, it wouldn’t get better. In fact, in many ways the disincentive to play harder or to try to stand out would be even stronger with more money. Of course, a few wild-eyed reformers might suggest the whole system was broken and needed revamping to reward better results, but the players union would refuse to budge and then demonize the reform advocates: “They hate football. They hate the players. They hate the fans.” The only thing that might get done would be building bigger, more expensive stadiums and installing more state-of-the-art technology. But that just wouldn’t help.

This sounds absurd, of course, but Mr. Tarkenton goes on to explain that this is precisely how government schools operate.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the NFL in this alternate reality is the real-life American public education system. Teachers’ salaries have no relation to whether teachers are actually good at their job—excellence isn’t rewarded, and neither is extra effort. Pay is almost solely determined by how many years they’ve been teaching. That’s it. After a teacher earns tenure, which is often essentially automatic, firing him or her becomes almost impossible, no matter how bad the performance might be. And if you criticize the system, you’re demonized for hating teachers and not believing in our nation’s children. Inflation-adjusted spending per student in the United States has nearly tripled since 1970. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we spend more per student than any nation except Switzerland, with only middling results to show for it.

Actually, I will disagree with the last sentence of this excerpt. We’re not even getting “middling results.” Here’s a chart from an earlier post showing that we’ve gotten more bureaucracy and more spending but no improvement over the past 40 years.

So what’s the solution to this mess? Well, since government is the problem, it stands to reason that competition and markets are the answer.

Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands are just some of the countries that have seen good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

Watch this video to get more details.

Economics 101: School Choice Example Shows Why Government Monopolies Are Bad

Related posts:

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE “The Tyranny of Control” Transcript and Video (60 Minutes)

Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE “The Tyranny of Control” Transcript and Video (60 Minutes) In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 7 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “I’m not pro business, I’m pro free enterprise, which is a very different thing, and the reason I’m pro free enterprise”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 6 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “We are the ones who promote freedom, and free enterprise, and individual initiative, And what do we do? We force puny little Hong Kong to impose limits, restrictions on its exports at tariffs, in order to protect our textile workers”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 5 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “There is no measure whatsoever that would do more to prevent private monopoly development than complete free trade”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 4 of 7 (Transcript and Video) ” What we need are constitutional restraints on the power of government to interfere with free markets in foreign exchange, in foreign trade, and in many other aspects of our lives.”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 3 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “When anyone complains about unfair competition, consumers beware, That is really a cry for special privilege always at the expense of the consumer”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 2 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “As always, economic freedom promotes human freedom”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 1 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “Adam Smith’s… key idea was that self-interest could produce an orderly society benefiting everybody, It was as though there were an invisible hand at work”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

Open letter to President Obama (Part 654) “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 7 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “I’m not pro business, I’m pro free enterprise, which is a very different thing, and the reason I’m pro free enterprise”

Open letter to President Obama (Part 654) (Emailed to White House on July 22, 2013) President Obama c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President, I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you […]

Open letter to President Obama (Part 650) “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 6 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “We are the ones who promote freedom, and free enterprise, and individual initiative, And what do we do? We force puny little Hong Kong to impose limits, restrictions on its exports at tariffs, in order to protect our textile workers”

Open letter to President Obama (Part 650) (Emailed to White House on July 22, 2013) President Obama c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President, I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you […]

_________

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY What if the NFL Was Run Like the Government School System? October 4, 2011 by Dan Mitchell (with video from Milton Friedman)

Friedman & Sowell: Should Our School System Be Privatized?

Regular readers know that the two things that get me most excited are the Georgia Bulldogs and the fight against a bloated public sector that is ineffective in the best of circumstances and more often than not is a threat to our freedoms.

So you will not be surprised to know that I am delighted that former Georgia Bulldog star Fran Tarkenton (who also happened to play in the NFL) has a superb piece in the Wall Street Journal ripping apart the inherent inefficiency of government-run monopoly schools.

Here is the key passage.

Imagine the National Football League in an alternate reality. Each player’s salary is based on how long he’s been in the league. It’s about tenure, not talent. The same scale is used for every player, no matter whether he’s an All-Pro quarterback or the last man on the roster. For every year a player’s been in this NFL, he gets a bump in pay. The only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases. And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct. Let’s face the truth about this alternate reality: The on-field product would steadily decline. Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt? No matter how much money was poured into the league, it wouldn’t get better. In fact, in many ways the disincentive to play harder or to try to stand out would be even stronger with more money. Of course, a few wild-eyed reformers might suggest the whole system was broken and needed revamping to reward better results, but the players union would refuse to budge and then demonize the reform advocates: “They hate football. They hate the players. They hate the fans.” The only thing that might get done would be building bigger, more expensive stadiums and installing more state-of-the-art technology. But that just wouldn’t help.

This sounds absurd, of course, but Mr. Tarkenton goes on to explain that this is precisely how government schools operate.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the NFL in this alternate reality is the real-life American public education system. Teachers’ salaries have no relation to whether teachers are actually good at their job—excellence isn’t rewarded, and neither is extra effort. Pay is almost solely determined by how many years they’ve been teaching. That’s it. After a teacher earns tenure, which is often essentially automatic, firing him or her becomes almost impossible, no matter how bad the performance might be. And if you criticize the system, you’re demonized for hating teachers and not believing in our nation’s children. Inflation-adjusted spending per student in the United States has nearly tripled since 1970. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we spend more per student than any nation except Switzerland, with only middling results to show for it.

Actually, I will disagree with the last sentence of this excerpt. We’re not even getting “middling results.” Here’s a chart from an earlier post showing that we’ve gotten more bureaucracy and more spending but no improvement over the past 40 years.

So what’s the solution to this mess? Well, since government is the problem, it stands to reason that competition and markets are the answer.

Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands are just some of the countries that have seen good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

Watch this video to get more details.

Economics 101: School Choice Example Shows Why Government Monopolies Are Bad

 

Related posts:

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE “The Tyranny of Control” Transcript and Video (60 Minutes)

Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE “The Tyranny of Control” Transcript and Video (60 Minutes) In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 7 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “I’m not pro business, I’m pro free enterprise, which is a very different thing, and the reason I’m pro free enterprise”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 6 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “We are the ones who promote freedom, and free enterprise, and individual initiative, And what do we do? We force puny little Hong Kong to impose limits, restrictions on its exports at tariffs, in order to protect our textile workers”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 5 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “There is no measure whatsoever that would do more to prevent private monopoly development than complete free trade”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 4 of 7 (Transcript and Video) ” What we need are constitutional restraints on the power of government to interfere with free markets in foreign exchange, in foreign trade, and in many other aspects of our lives.”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 3 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “When anyone complains about unfair competition, consumers beware, That is really a cry for special privilege always at the expense of the consumer”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 2 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “As always, economic freedom promotes human freedom”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

FRIEDMAN FRIDAY “The Tyranny of Control” Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 1 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “Adam Smith’s… key idea was that self-interest could produce an orderly society benefiting everybody, It was as though there were an invisible hand at work”

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, […]

Open letter to President Obama (Part 654) “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 7 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “I’m not pro business, I’m pro free enterprise, which is a very different thing, and the reason I’m pro free enterprise”

Open letter to President Obama (Part 654) (Emailed to White House on July 22, 2013) President Obama c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President, I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you […]

Open letter to President Obama (Part 650) “The Tyranny of Control” in Milton Friedman’s FREE TO CHOOSE Part 6 of 7 (Transcript and Video) “We are the ones who promote freedom, and free enterprise, and individual initiative, And what do we do? We force puny little Hong Kong to impose limits, restrictions on its exports at tariffs, in order to protect our textile workers”

Open letter to President Obama (Part 650) (Emailed to White House on July 22, 2013) President Obama c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President, I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you […]

_________