Power & Market
Last month, the United Nations released its Human Development Index , which is a report that attempts to quantify the quality of life in world's nations in a way that looks beyond purely economic measures. According to the report:
The underlying principle of the HDI, considered pathbreaking in 1990, was elegantly simple: National development should be measured not only by income per capita, as had long been the practice, but also by health and education achievements.
Ranking countries by their HDI value trans- formed the development discourse and dethroned income per capita as the sole indicator of development progress.
The Economist sums up the method in more detail:
The index combines four simple measures: life-expectancy at birth; gross national income per person; average years of education; and expected years of school. First, each variable is normalised on a scale of zero to one; next, the two education variables are averaged; and finally, the index is calculated as the geometric mean of its three components.
In other words, the index is an attempt to answer the often-hard criticism that there's more to life than measures if income.
Of course, there's also more to life than aggregated numbers on life expectancy, education, and income, as well.
And, as Daniel Mitchell has often noted, these sorts of ranking schemes created by organizations like the UN and the OECD tend to be created in a way that looks good to the international bureaucrats who create them. And needless to say, these people aren't exactly known for a dogmatic preference for laissez-faire.
Nevertheless, if viewed with the proper skepticism, HDI is an interesting look into what UN researchers think is important, and how different countries stack up in this particular case.
When we list the top 30 countries ranked in terms of HDI, we find Norway at the top, Estonia at the bottom, and the United States close to the middle:
The only Western European countries that don't make the top 30 are Portugal and Andorra which are ranked at 41 and 35, respectively. Greece, which is an EU country, and traditionally considered to be part of "the West" is ranked at 31.
If we were to extend the list to the top fifty, we would also see Poland, Latvia, Chile, Hungary, Argentina, Croatia, and Russia, among others.
Where Does the United States Rank?
From what I can find, not a single major news outlet other than The Economist has commented on the new report. This may be in part due to the fact that the rankings don't lend themselves to any snappy observations about how the report "proves" that the United States is gravely deficient in some sort of quality-of-life indicator, and that all the US's problems will be solved if only it embraces more government intervention.
It is no doubt disappointing then, that the United States is not especially remarkable in the HDI. It ranks 13th between Canada and the United Kingdom. The US is two notches below Denmark and two notches above Finland.
France, Spain, and Italy, however, rank remarkably low, coming in at 24th, 26th, and 28th respectively.
It's conceivable, of course, that believers in the myth of the Scandinavian socialist utopia might point to this as further "evidence" that more interventionist states are "better off" than the supposed hyper-capitalist United States.
Moreover, if having a highly interventionist state is the prescription for success, why do countries like Italy, Spain, and France rank so far below the United States? Those countries all have enormous welfare states and profligate government spending. Indeed, if the Scandinavia is our model, why does the US rank above Finland, and barely below Denmark? After all, the US's HDI value is 99%the size of Denmark's. There's really not much of a difference here between the US and the supposed promised lands of northern Europe.
"Adjusting" for Inequality
If you have a habit of reading reports like this, though, you can probably guess where this is headed.
The UN's own report points toward a very high level of quality of life in the US both in terms of education, life expectancy, and income.
However, as has become popular now among agencies like the UN, the report must be "adjusted" for inequality.
(If you're interested in how they do this, see here .)
The US is quite large and diverse (in terms of geography demographics, and more) compared to every other country with a "very high HDI." Not surprisingly, then, we find more diversity in the US than elsewhere.
The UN researchers then "adjust" for this by discounting the US's HDI score in accordance with its inequality level.
Thus, the US HDI value falls from .92 down to .79. Now, rather than being near the top, this puts the USA much farther down the list near France (.80), Hong Kong (.80), Israel (.78), and South Korea (.77).
Now, instead of being ranked 13th, the US is ranked 24th.
Of course at this point, we're reaching labyrinth-like levels of aggregation and adjustment. We've reduced every country to a single number, and then we've adjusted it further to account for inequality.
In spite of this rather improbable method of reducing numerous countries of many millions of people into a single number, rankings like these nevertheless tend to pop up in international lists of "happiest" countries or "the best country to live in."
The US Is Too Big for These Comparisons
The whole endeavor strikes me as rather suspect, especially when dealing with a country as enormous as the United States. After all, the US is, by far, the largest country in the top rankings. With 320 million people, the US isn't really comparable to even the next-biggest "very high HDI" country, which is Germany with 80 million people. Other comparisons are far worse. Norway, for example, has 5 million people, and is thus 1.5% the size of the US.
A far more meaningful ranking system would be to account for differences across political sub-units and regions, such as the US states. As we've already seen in numerous cases, such as with incomes, life expectancy, and crime, variations are quite large across states. Some US states are places where residents enjoy remarkably low crime, low mortality, and high incomes. Other states do less well.
One aggregate number of the entire US actually tells us very little.
A new record breaking skyscraper for Europe has been completed as the tallest skyscraper in Europe. Under construction for six years, the 87 story building (Lakhta Center) in St. Petersburg will become the headquarters of Russia's natural gas giant and its oil subsidiary, Gazprom. The building will not be finished on the interior and open to the public until next year.
This sets the stage for the Skyscraper Curse.
The STOXX European 600 Index, which consists of a variety of stocks from European stock markets is down 9% since September 27, about when the record was broken. HT: RB
Immigration has featured prominently in the news ever since Donald Trump first announced his presidential candidacy and inveighed against Mexican immigrants and the crime they supposedly brought with them.
However, with the recent revelation that the federal government has separated over 2,300 children from their parents, immigration has again dominated the news, and with good reason: these actions were arbitrarily cruel and unnecessary.
Reasonable people can disagree about immigration policy, and the issue as a whole is not as simple as either side would like to portray. Specifically, concerns about the impact of immigration on American culture are often not given enough consideration by many people in favor of a more open immigration system.
However, conservatives favoring restrictions because of concerns about cultural change must then explain why they are willing to abandon core conservative principles like voluntary community, and why they believe that the U.S. government should centrally plan the culture of our society.
One of the core conservative insights stressed by both Edmund Burke and Friedrich Hayek is, in the words of political theorist Linda Raeder , that “social order appears as a product of the interplay of historically evolved institutions, habit and custom, objective law, and impersonal social forces.” In their time, both Burke and Hayek opposed efforts to reengineer society through central planning, whether by French Jacobins, Russian communists, or American and European democratic socialists, precisely because such efforts necessarily suffered from an inability to take into account the vast amount of local knowledge required for successful planning.
Hayek called this the knowledge problem, and wrote that
this is not a dispute about whether planning is to be done or not. It is a dispute as to whether planning is to be done centrally, by one authority for the whole economic system, or is to be divided among many individuals.
A core component of conservatism is the rejection of central planning. As conservative luminary Russell Kirk’s eighth principle of conservatism says “conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.” Conservatives, especially those concerned with the cultural effects of immigration, should explore and embrace ways of decentralizing the power of immigration away from the federal government to the state, or, even more ideally, the county level.
With over 320 million people in the U.S., it is nonsensical to think that one uniform immigration policy is sufficient to address the circumstances and needs of everyone in every place. Decentralizing the issue allows for every state to experiment to see what works best for them.
While such a radical idea may seem untenable in our current political climate, it is not infeasible in the long run, and it provides a ripe opportunity for conservative scholarship on the issue on many fronts.
On the judicial front, some legal scholars contest the idea that the federal government even has any legitimate authority over immigration at all. This is a view, which, if widely adopted, would certainly make implementing plans for decentralization much easier. Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano, the network’s senior judicial analyst, has said that “the Constitution itself — from which all federal powers derive — does not delegate to the federal government power over immigration, only over naturalization.”
Similarly, George Mason law professor Ilya Somin has argued that “the Naturalization Clause does not create a power to prevent foreigners from entering the country. It merely allows Congress to set conditions for the grant of citizenship.” Elsewhere he has contested the idea that Article I, Section 8, Clause 10 of the Constitution permits federal regulation of immigration under the auspices of the concept of The Laws of Nations. While such views are not currently widespread, merely discussing them helps to move the ball forward.
On the level of practical implementation, the Cato Institute has a white paper exploring the possibility of establishing a state-based visa system modeled on similar systems currently in place in both Canada and Australia. The proposed system would have the benefit of allowing labor to flow into those parts of the countries where it is needed and kept away from parts without a labor shortage or that don’t desire immigrants, as well as allowing for states to implement their own policies concerning welfare eligibility. This system would also create incentives so that immigrants stay in their sponsoring states by making it part of their legal residency requirements, which would alleviate fears that immigrants in New York would immediately start to flood into Pennsylvania, or vice versa.
It is my own view that some kind of sponsorship system, in which citizens post a bond or surety and are liable for the good conduct of the immigrants they sponsor, is a good way of aligning incentives for all parties concerned. As writer Chris Calton has pointed out , blanket immigration restrictions not only affect foreigners, but also affect American citizens who wish to interact in both economic and social ways with these potential immigrants. If people want more immigrants, then it makes sense that they should be willing to internalize any potential externalities, whether it be potential welfare dependence or crime.
Such an incentive structure offers a compromise between those who are enthusiastic about immigration and those opposed. Sponsorship programs in one form or another have been suggested by people across the political spectrum, such as Matthew La Corte and David Bier at the Niskanen Center, law professor Eric Posner and economist Glen Weyl , and Arc contributor and Mises Institute writer Tho Bishop .
Developing a decentralized framework should be a starting point for any view of immigration policy that takes essential conservative views about the fundamental nature of society seriously. Any true conservative would be up in arms over the idea that the government can somehow centrally plan widget production, yet many are willing to cede the idea that the government can somehow successfully centrally plan the makeup of society itself, which is much more complex than any industry.
It is time to take conservative principles seriously and begin the development of a truly decentralized approach to immigration.
The Accad and Koka Report, hosted by two MDs, focuses on free-market approaches to medicine and health.
Drs. Michel Accad and Anish Koka recently hosted Mises Institute president Jeff Deist for a no-holds barred look at how Congress, the medical establishment, and lobbyists work together to make healthcare anything but free. Watch the interview here.
Advocates for marijuana legalization won another victory this year as voters in Michigan voted to approve legalization of recreational marijuana in last week's election.
This comes only a month after Canada finalized its legalization of recreational marijuana, making it only the second country where the national government has legalized nationwide recreational use.
Nevertheless, with the addition of Michigan to the eight other states that have legalized recreational marijuana (not counting the District of Columbia), 78 million Americans now live in jurisdictions where it's been legalized.
Were these states to form their own country, it would be the nineteenth largest country in the world — larger than the United Kingdom and France.
This new reality has already made itself felt in federal policy.
In 2017, Congress voted to deny the Justice Department funds to enforce federal laws against medicinal marijuana.
And when now-outgoing US Attorney General Sessions announced plans to crack down on marijuana use that had already been legalized at the state level, he received bipartisan opposition in Congress. Not even republicans in Congress from pro-legalization states want anything to do with a ratcheting up of the Drug War.
Also pending in Washington is the "Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act" which, is essentially a "states' rights" bill supported by both parties in the name of reining in the drug war. Its purpose is to recognize what the Tenth Amendment already makes clear: that the federal government has no authority to dictate to states as to what people can eat or smoke.
One shouldn't expect many politicians to apply this philosophy across the board, although recognizing the importance of decentralization in the Drug War is a good first step.
Trump has suggested he will support the bill.
Illinois and New Hampshire may be next on the list for legalization, perhaps in 2020.
Prime Minister May says that she has reached an agreement with the European Union.
The agreement is 585 pages long. Every time politicians vote to implement a 600-page document that was written by high-level bureaucrats, the liberties of the citizens of that nation decline. The devil is in the details, and there are a lot of details for the devil to get into.
She got it through her cabinet. Now she has to get it through Parliament, which is going to be a challenge. The pro-Brexit people hate conciliation, and the Remainers don't want to agree to anything remotely like Brexit.
She was never a big fan of Brexit. She is going along with the whole thing grudgingly. She has stalled an agreement for almost 2 years.
If Parliament won't vote for her agreement, then Britain will depart from the EU on March 29. It's automatic.
I have a solution. Parliament does not have to accept any agreement. No agreement is necessary.
Here is my Brexit solution. Parliament votes for this law.
Her Majesty's government adopts a policy of zero tariffs and zero import quotas, beginning tomorrow.
That's it? That's it!
There would be no negotiations with foreign countries. There would be nothing to negotiate.
If exporters located in EU countries want to sell something to the Brits, good for them. If there are Brits who like the products and accept them, good for them.
Tariffs are simply sales taxes on imported goods. Anytime a government cuts taxes, that is positive.
Revenues to the government would fall. This is also good.
Import quotas don't generate any revenues. There shouldn't be any import quotas.
Would trade go up between buyers in Great Britain and sellers in the European Union? You bet it would. Everybody likes to be able to sell at a discount, and, overnight, exporters to Great Britain would find that their goods now sell at a discount. No sales taxes are tacked onto the goods.
Would this be good for British buyers? Of course. Who wants to pay sales taxes?
Would financial companies leave Great Britain? No. Why should they? All of a sudden, the whole world would want to sell goods to residents of Great Britain. The doors would be open wide. If it's good for trade, it's good for finance.
If Great Britain did this, its economy would not sink. Other countries in the European Union would figure out that the benefits of staying inside the EU don't compensate for the liabilities associated with the surrender of national sovereignty. Anyway, a substantial minority of voters in those countries would figure this out. All it would take would be a policy of zero tariffs. In other words, all it would take would be a reduction of taxes. "We're outta here!"
No nation needs to sign a 500-page agreement in order to leave the EU profitably. It simply leaves the EU, abolishes tariffs and quotas, and starts trading.
Come one, come all! Let's make a deal!
This article originally appeared here at GaryNorth.com.
Instead, with the Democrats now controlling the House of Representatives, I’m more worried about Donald Trump getting tricked into a “budget summit” that inevitably would produce a deal with higher taxes and more spending. Just in case you think I’m being paranoid, here are some excerpts from a recent Politico report.
The dust has barely settled on the midterm elections, yet tax talk is already in the air thanks to President Donald Trump signaling openness to higher taxes, at least for some. …Trump said he’d be open to making an “adjustment” to recent corporate and upper-income tax cuts… Those off-the-cuff comments are sure to spark concerns among Republican leaders… Trump also suggested he could find common ground with Democrats on health care and infrastructure.
To be fair, Trump was only talking about higher taxes as an offset to a new middle-class tax package, but Democrats realize that getting Trump to acquiesce to a net tax hike would be of great political value.
And I fear they will be successful in any fiscal negotiations. Just look at how Trump got rolled on spending earlier this year (and that orgy of new spending took place when Democrats were in the minority).
I fear a deal in part because I object to higher taxes. But also because it’s quite likely that we’ll get the worst kind of tax hikes – i.e., class-warfare increases in tax rates on work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship.
The political dynamic of budget deals is rather straightforward. So long as the debate is whether to raise taxes or not, the anti-tax crowd has the advantage since most Americans don’t want to give more of their money to politicians.
But if both parties agree with the notion that taxes should increase, then most Americans will — for reasons of self defense — want higher taxes on the rich (with “rich” defined as “making more money than me”). And those are the tax increases that do the most damage.
Interestingly, even economists from the International Monetary Fund agree with me about the negative consequences of higher tax rates. Here’s the abstract of a recent study.
This paper examines the macroeconomic effects of tax changes during fiscal consolidations. We build a new narrative dataset of tax changes during fiscal consolidation years, containing detailed information on the expected revenue impact, motivation, and announcement and implementation dates of nearly 2,500 tax measures across 10 OECD countries. We analyze the macroeconomic impact of tax changes, distinguishing between tax rate and tax base changes, and further separating between changes in personal income, corporate income, and value added tax. Our results suggest that base broadening during fiscal consolidations leads to smaller output and employment declines compared to rate hikes, even when distinguishing between tax types.
Here’s a bit of the theory from the report.
Tax-based fiscal consolidations are generally associated with large output declines, but their composition can matter. In particular, policy advice often assumes that measures to broaden the tax base by reducing exemptions and deductions are less harmful to economic activity during austerity. …base broadening often tends to make taxation across sectors, firms, or activities more homogeneous, contrary to rate increases. This helps re-allocate resources to those projects with the highest pre-tax return, thereby improving economic efficiency.
By the way, “base broadening” is the term for when politicians collect more revenue by repealing or limiting deductions, exemptions, exclusions, credits, and other tax preferences (“tax reform” is the term for when politicians repeal or limit preferences and use the money to finance lower tax rates).
Anyhow, here are some of the findings from the IMF study on the overall impact of tax increases.
The chart on the right shows that higher taxes lead to less economic output, which certainly is consistent with academic research.
But the main purpose of the study is to review the impact of different types of tax increases. Here’s what the authors found.
Our key finding is that tax base changes during consolidations appear to have a smaller impact on output and employment than tax rate changes of a similar size. We find a statistically significant one-year cumulative tax rate multiplier of about 1.2, rising to about 1.6 after two years. By contrast, the cumulative tax base multiplier is only 0.3 after one year, and 0.4 after two years, and these estimates are not statistically significant.
And here’s the chart comparing the very harmful impact of higher rates (on the left) with the relatively benign effect of base changes (on the right).
For what it’s worth, the economic people in the Trump administration almost certainly understand that there shouldn’t be any tax increases. Moreover, they almost certainly agree with the findings from the IMF report that class-warfare-style tax increases do the most damage.
Sadly, politicians generally ignore advice from economists. So I fear that Trump’s spending splurge has set the stage for tax hikes. And I fear that he will acquiesce to very damaging tax hikes.
All of which will lead to predictably bad results.
P.S. A columnist for the New York Times accidentally admitted that the only budget summit that actually led to a balanced budget was the 1997 that lowered taxes.