Dan Mitchell

Beating the VAT Horse Until It’s Dead

Originally published at International Liberty ~ Ed.

This is a very strange political season. Some of the Senators running for the Republican presidential nomination are among the most principled advocates of smaller government in Washington.

Yet all of them have proposed tax plans that, while theoretically far better than the current system, have features that I find troublesome. Marco Rubio, for instance, leaves the top tax rate at 35 percent, seven-percentage points higher than when Ronald Reagan left town.

Meanwhile, both Ted Cruz and Rand Paul (now out of the race) put forth plans that would subject America to value-added tax.

This has caused a kerfuffle in Washington, particularly among folks who normally are allies. To find common ground, the Heritage Foundation set up a panel to discuss this VAT controversy.

You can watch the entire hour-long program here, or you can just watch my portion below and learn why I want Senator Cruz to fix that part of his plan.

Chairmen of House and Senate Budget Committees Propose Good Budgets, Particularly Compared to Obama’s Spendthrift Plan

This was originally posted at International Liberty.

Earlier this year, President Obama proposed a budget that would impose new taxes and add a couple of trillion dollars to the burden of government spending over the next 10 years.

The Republican Chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees have now weighed in. You can read the details of the House proposal by clicking here and the Senate proposal by clicking here, but the two plans are broadly similar (though the Senate is a bit vaguer on how to implement spending restraint, as I wrote a couple of days ago).

So are any of these plans good, or at least acceptable? Do any of them satisfy my Golden Rule?

Here’s a chart showing what will happen to spending over the next 10 years, based on the House and Senate GOP plans, as well as the budget proposed by President Obama.

#IAmUnitedLiberty: Dan Mitchell is the Guardian Angel of the American Taxpayer

Full disclosure: Dan and I are both alumni of the University of Georgia (UGA) and play on a UGA alumni softball team together, so I count him as a friend. I only bring it up because he asked me during this interview if I was going to mention the UGA connection and, while I hadn’t planned on it, I suppose I should because it is how I knew him before I found out he was “kind of a big deal” as we like to say on the softball team. So, while he’s difficult to watch UGA football games with given his propensity toward pessimism — which I think is really just to get a reaction from me, usually successfully — he’s a great softball player and pitched an amazing game a few weeks ago that allowed us to beat the pants off a very solid Richmond Spiders team. So he’s not only a genius in the field of tax policy and a formidable emissary of small government — all detailed rather hilariously at his blog International Liberty — he’s a tremendous softball player and a proud Georgia Bulldog. Go DAWGS!

World renowned tax expert and Cato Institute scholar Dan Mitchell thinks of politicians as characters in old cartoons that, when faced with a decision, suddenly find they’ve an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, both handing out advice as to the right move.

He sees himself, flashing a grin that signals you shouldn’t take him too seriously, as the angel. “My job is to convince [politicians] to do what’s right for the country, not what’s right for their own political aspirations,” he says.

Defending Cato from Paul Krugman’s Inaccurate Assertions

Written by Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Writing for the New York Times, Paul Krugman has a new column promoting more government spending and additional government regulation. That’s a dog-bites-man revelation and hardly noteworthy, of course, but in this case he takes a swipe at the Cato Institute.

The financial crisis of 2008 and its painful aftermath…were a huge slap in the face for free-market fundamentalists. …analysts at right-wing think tanks like…the Cato Institute…insisted that deregulated financial markets were doing just fine, and dismissed warnings about a housing bubble as liberal whining. Then the nonexistent bubble burst, and the financial system proved dangerously fragile; only huge government bailouts prevented a total collapse.

Upon reading this, my first reaction was a perverse form of admiration. After all, Krugman explicitly advocated for a housing bubble back in 2002, so it takes a lot of chutzpah to attack other people for the consequences of that bubble.

But let’s set that aside and examine the accusation that folks at Cato had a Pollyanna view of monetary and regulatory policy. In other words, did Cato think that “deregulated markets were doing just fine”?

The 100th Anniversary of the Income Tax…and the Lesson We Should Learn from that Mistake

Written by Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

What’s the worst thing about Delaware?

No, not Joe Biden. He’s just a typical feckless politician and the butt of some good jokes.

Instead, the so-called First State is actually the Worst State because almost exactly 100 years ago, on February 3, 1913, Delaware made the personal income tax possible by ratifying the 16th Amendment.

Though, to be fair, I suppose the 35 states that already had ratified the Amendment were more despicable since they were even more anxious to enable this noxious levy.

But let’s not get bogged down in details. The purpose of this post is not to re-hash history, but to instead ask what lessons we can learn from the adoption of the income tax.

The most obvious lesson is that politicians can’t be trusted with additional powers. The first income tax had a top tax rate of just 7 percent and the entire tax code was 400 pages long. Now we have a top tax rate of 39.6 percent (even higher if you include additional levies for Medicare and Obamacare) and the tax code has become a 72,000-page monstrosity.

But the main lesson I want to discuss today is that giving politicians a new source of money inevitably leads to much higher spending.

The Sequester May Not Be ‘Fair,’ but It’s Real and It Would Slow the Growth of Government

Written by Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Much to the horror of various interest groups, it appears that there will be a “sequester” on March 1.

This means an automatic reduction in spending authority for selected programs (interest payments are exempt, as are most entitlement outlays).

Just about everybody in Washington is frantic about the sequester, which supposedly will mean “savage” and “draconian” budget cuts.

If only. That would be like porn for libertarians.

In reality, the sequester merely means a reduction in the growth of federal spending. Even if we have the sequester, the burden of government spending will still be about $2 trillion higher in 10 years.

The other common argument against the sequester is that it represents an unthinking “meat-ax” approach to the federal budget.

But a former congressional staffer and White House appointee says this is much better than doing nothing.

Here’s some of what Professor Jeff Bergner wrote for today’s Wall Street Journal:

Is Anybody Surprised that Krugman Was Wrong about U.K. Fiscal Policy?

Written by Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Just like in the United States, politicians in the United Kingdom use the deceptive practice of “baseline budgeting” as part of fiscal policy.

This means the politicians can increase spending, but simultaneously claim they are cutting spending because the budget could have expanded at an even faster pace.

Sort of like saying your diet is successful because you’re only gaining two pounds a week rather than five pounds.

Anyhow, some people get deluded by this chicanery. Paul Krugman, for instance, complained in 2011 that “the government of Prime Minister David Cameron chose instead to move to immediate, unforced austerity, in the belief that private spending would more than make up for the government’s pullback.”

Obama’s Dismal Record on Jobs, Captured in a Single Chart and Explained with Common Sense

Written by Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Economists may not agree on much, but we all agree that economic output is a function of capital and labor. Ask a Keynesian, a Marxist, an Austrian, a monetarist, or any economist, and they’ll all agree that living standards are determined by the quality and quantity of these two factors of production.

So it should be very worrisome that there has been a big drop in the share of the population that is employed. Here’s a chart produced from Bureau of Labor Statistics data, showing labor force participation during the 21st Century.

Employment Population Ratio, 2001-2012

There was a big drop during the recession. That’s the usual pattern, and it definitely isn’t something that can be blamed on President Obama since the downturn began before he took office.

Exposing Washington’s Dishonest Budget Math

Written by Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

I’ve repeatedly tried to expose pervasive fiscal dishonesty in Washington.

In these John Stossel and Judge Napolitano interviews, for instance, I explain that the crooks in DC have created a system that allows them to claim they’re cutting the budget when the burden of government spending actually is rising.

This sleazy system is designed in part to deceive the American people, and the current squabbling over the fiscal cliff is a good example. The President claims he has a “balanced approach” that involves budget cuts, but look at the second chart at this link and you will see that he’s really proposing bigger government.

This dishonest approach also was used by the President’s Fiscal Commission and last year’s crummy debt limit deal was based on this form of fiscal prevarication.

A Laffer Curve Warning about the Economy and Tax Revenue for President Obama and other Class Warriors

Written by Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Being a thoughtful and kind person, I offered some advice last year to Barack Obama. I cited some powerful IRS data from the 1980s to demonstrate that there is not a simplistic linear relationship between tax rates and tax revenue.

In other words, just as a restaurant owner knows that a 20-percent increase in prices doesn’t translate into a 20-percent increase in revenue because of lost sales, politicians should understand that higher tax rates don’t mean an automatic and concomitant increase in tax revenue.

This is the infamous Laffer Curve, and it’s simply the common-sense recognition that you should include changes in taxable income in your calculations when trying to measure the impact of higher or lower tax rates on tax revenues.

No, it doesn’t mean lower tax rates “pay for themselves” or that higher tax rates lead to less revenue. That only happens in unusual circumstances. But it does mean that lawmakers should exercise some prudence and judgment when deciding tax policy.


The views and opinions expressed by individual authors are not necessarily those of other authors, advertisers, developers or editors at United Liberty.