December 11, 2018

The Best Argument Against Minimum Wage Laws: You Don’t Own Other People

min wage article picWith Democrats about to take control of the House, it is likely we will see an increase in the federal minimum wage pass the lower chamber, even if it has no chance of becoming a law. We will just as surely hear opponents making completely sound economic arguments against minimum wage laws.

Minimum wage laws cause unemployment, these opponents say, because they price those workers whose skills don’t justify the minimum wage out of the market completely. If a worker only has the skills to produce $14/hour worth of benefits to an employer, the employer is better off not employing that person rather than losing $1 dollar/hour doing so, if the minimum wage is $15/hour. And regardless of where the minimum wage is presently, any increase in the price of labor will result in less demand for labor, all other things being equal.

That’s basic economic reasoning and wasn’t even controversial until recently when, for political reasons, economists like Paul Krugman began contradicting their own earlier writing on the same subject. But as economically sound as the unemployment argument against minimum wages may be, it ignores a previous and much more important one: you don’t own other people.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Tucker Carlson Feeling the Bern Illustrates Conservatism’s Hostility to Free Markets

screenshot-2018-08-31-at-92959-amTucker Carlson is feeling the Bern on at least one well-established left-wing narrative: that corporations are robbing everyday Americans by paying their workers so little that many of them qualify for food stamps or other welfare benefits. Thus, the founders of Amazon, Uber, Walmart, and other corporate behemoths get richer while taxpayers are forced to pay part of their labor costs.

Carlson appears honestly surprised to be saying “Bernie is right,” referring to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who plans to introduce legislation forcing corporations to “pay back” the government by taxing corporations at 100 percent of all food stamps, public housing, Medicaid, and other federal assistance paid to their employees.

He shouldn’t be.

Conservatism shares the same hostility to laissez-faire markets as modern liberalism. Both are ultimately collectivist philosophies, hostile to liberty in general, albeit for slightly different reasons, and prone to economic fallacy to rationalize that hostility.

First, to the economic errors. It’s hard to believe Carlson could get so many things wrong in under five minutes, starting with his general premise. He and Bernie argue the problem is the corporations not paying enough, resulting in taxpayers having to pick up the slack. But business enterprises in a free market are supposed to seek the lowest prices they can find for labor and other inputs. That’s how market economies drive down the costs of consumer goods and make all members of society richer.

The problem isn’t businesses acting in their economic self-interest; it’s the existence of the welfare programs themselves. They are an intervention in the market that distorts the price of labor. If they did not exist, the market would naturally set labor prices higher because employees wouldn’t accept jobs that didn’t pay them enough to cover the necessities currently subsidized by the programs.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Society is in every state a blessing, but government…

DENVER, CO - JUNE 16: The TSA security lines in the main terminal are crowded with vacation travelers on June 16, 2013, in Denver, Colorado. Located 25 miles from downtown, Denver International Airport is the largest airport in the United States. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

DENVER, CO – JUNE 16: The TSA security lines in the main terminal are crowded with vacation travelers on June 16, 2013, in Denver, Colorado. Located 25 miles from downtown, Denver International Airport is the largest airport in the United States. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

This thing we call “society,” which Thomas Paine correctly observed is separate and distinct from government, is basically an economic arrangement. The basis of and primary reason for society is people exchanging their various goods and services with each other.

I wonder how many hundreds or thousands of years more it will take for people to realize what should be blatantly obvious: that every set of exchanges in which government is heavily involved, by either subsidizing, regulating (aka “protecting established firms from new competition”), or downright monopolizing it, is painful. All these sectors (education, health care, air travel, etc) share the same characteristics: poor service, no accountability, high prices, incredibly outdated, bureaucratic procedures (paper forms, long lines, etc), and lack of choices or options, just to name a few.

Conversely, every industry in which government has low or zero involvement has precisely the opposite characteristics: constantly lower prices, better and always improving service, absolute accountability (you go to a competitor if you’re not happy), cutting edge technology (phone apps, automated texts, etc) and constantly improving ease of use and convenience.

Anyone not completely blinded by their emotions (mostly envy) can see glaringly obvious cause/effect relationships that lead inevitably to one conclusion:

All advancement in human happiness results from markets and other voluntary cooperation and virtually all human misery is rooted in government.

One would think a light bulb would go on sooner or later for most people and government would be banished from most or all human interaction.

Instead, it’s “Thank you sir, may I have another!” ad infinitum.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

 

The Jobs and GDP Growth Aren’t There Because Taxes Weren’t Really Cut

s and p one year triangleU.S. stock markets remain volatile and their direction uncertain, although the S&P 500 may have broken out of what technical traders would call a “bullish triangle,” which began forming after the market fell approximately 12 percent in early February from a high of 2,872 the previous month. However, traders will also tell you every technical pattern can tell at least two stories. One must look to the fundamentals for confirmation, and they have been anything but unanimous on the underlying economy.

Stagnant Growth

Corporate earnings have been strong, but that may not be a real indicator of economic growth as much of the earnings per share increases are due to stock buybacks rather than organically increasing profits. And jobs numbers continue to disappoint. Not only did April’s number come in lower than expectations, January’s number was adjusted down by a whopping 63,000 jobs.

Job growth for the first four months of 2018 is still ahead of 2017, but by a lot less than previously thought and we don’t know if March and April numbers will be adjusted downward. Consumer spending remains weak, and surging energy prices, especially gasoline, may continue to eat up what would otherwise be discretionary spending dollars for average households. While unemployment is at or near record lows, so is workforce participation, a statistic conservatives seem to have completely forgotten about since President Trump was inaugurated.

GDP growth slightly beat expectations at 2.3 percent but is far below the 5.4 percent predicted by the Atlanta Federal Reserve just two months ago. Despite missing the real number by a country mile, the same institution isnow predicting 4.0 percent growth for Q2. Why should anyone expect this “irrational exuberance” to be any more accurate than last quarter’s?

Tax Cuts?

The trump card (pun intended) is supposed to be tax cuts. Although they obviously haven’t delivered the jobs or growth promised to date, sooner or later the supposedly smaller slice the government is taking must result in more domestic investment, jobs, production, and growth.

The problem is taxes haven’t really been cut. They’ve simply been deferred. The federal government is going to spend more this year, and every year for the foreseeable future, than in any year in U.S. history. That spending is ultimately going to be paid with taxes, either now or in the future.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Why the Bull Market May Be a Jedi Mind Trick

Publication1The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that over 300,000 jobs were created in February, making it the best single-month total since July 2016. And unless you’ve been exploring the Arctic Circle or were kicked off Twitter for expressing politically incorrect views, you know that’s just the latest “great” news about the booming economy, bull market in stocks, and, best of all, the significant new job creation since Donald Trump became president.

Certainly, there is no denying that the stock market has continued to rise, with the S&P 500 up over 27 percent since 11/7/2016, as of this writing. But as for the overall economy and, specifically, job creation, even the Trump-hating liberal media seems to have fallen for an economic Jedi mind trick. Regardless of single-month spikes like the one that occurred last month, it only takes one click of the mouse to see that job creation continued to fallin 2017, as it had the previous two years. Looking at yearly totals over the past ten years, job creation looks a lot more like a protracted version of the last business cycle leading up to the 2008 crash.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Economics Was Invented to Refute Trump’s Tariff Arguments

twoboatsWhen Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations, it wasn’t to refute the “godless socialists” 21st-century Republican voters believe are taking over the world. It was to refute the kinds of protectionist ideas championed by conservatives like Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton in Smith’s day, Abraham Lincoln eighty years later, and Trump today.

Bastiat remade Smith’s case in 1848. Henry Hazlitt did so again in 1946. Still, these economic fallacies persist because they offer the victims of other bad economic policies villains they can blame for largely self-inflicted wounds.

The Broken Window Fallacy

Every time a Trump supporter sees “Made in China” on a pair of sneakers, he throws up his hands and says, “Do you see that? They’re stealing our manufacturing jobs.” He then repeats a version of Bastiat’s broken windowfallacy. It goes something like this:

China puts tariffs on our products so our exports can’t compete in its markets. But we don’t put tariffs on China’s exports, making their sneakers cheaper than we can make them here. American sneaker manufacturing jobs go to China, but no Chinese manufacturing jobs come to the United States.

Not only do millions of Americans lose their jobs, say the protectionists, but all of the money they would have spent domestically is instead spent in China. This causes other American businesses to fail, cut production, or not expand as much as they otherwise would. The unemployed American factory worker doesn’t eat out at the local restaurant. The restaurant needs fewer wait staff and cooks, who in turn don’t have money to spend on new clothing, etc.

As Bastiat would say, this is “what is seen.” But their argument ignores what is unseen.

What is unseen is the money American consumers no longer have when the tariffs are put in place. For example, the tariff may result in them paying $200 for the same pair of sneakers they previously paid $100 for. That means they no longer have $100 they previously had after buying the sneakers, which they could spend on other products. Whatever jobs they were supporting with that $100 are now lost.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Trump and His Supporters Make the Bubble Economy Great Again

blowingbubbles“Well, you know, the participation rate is going to go down over time because all these boomers are retiring,” said Jon Hilsenrath on Fox Business’ “Mornings with Maria” Friday. Hilsenrath, a frequent guest, was referring to the labor participation rate, which measures the overall percentage of workers who are presently employed. It differs from the unemployment rate in that the latter only counts those actively looking for work.

The Participation Rate

Hilsenrath’s statement would have been rather uncontroversial if it weren’t for the previous, eight-year cacophony from conservatives on how falling unemployment numbers were misleading. After every jobs report during Obama’s presidency, Republicans would, without fail, point out falling participation rate numbers, concluding, “People aren’t going back to work; they’re just giving up looking for work.”

While there undoubtedly were some conservatives who acknowledged that some part of the participation rate decline represented people who were just retiring (perhaps even Hilsenrath himself), this writer never heard it mentioned on a conservative program once. Not a single time in eight years.

Perhaps aware of the context, Hilsenrath went on to say, “The fact that it’s held steady is a sign that people that aren’t aging, you know, older people, are coming back into the labor force and that’s a good sign. I’m watching the unemployment rate today. We talked about this earlier. If it goes below four percent, then that shows me an economy on fire.”

Not to pile on, but even the participation rate “holding steady” began during Obama’s presidency, the last dip below 63 percent coming in 2015, followed by a recovery to 63 percent in early 2016 that has held steady ever since.

The President Doesn’t Really Matter

This is not meant as an endorsement of Obama’s economic policies nor necessarily criticism of President Trump’s. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that long-term trends in these metrics haven’t really changed since 2010, other than a leveling off in the labor participation rate, and neither president has had much to do with them, regardless of what they or their supporters would like you to think.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

You Deserve a Tax Break and Your Boss Does Too

taxbreak_mini 3Republicans during the Reagan and Bush administrations had a pretty straightforward fiscal policy: increase federal spending dramatically and cut marginal income tax rates modestly, predicting the resulting economic growth would eventually balance the budget. Both administrations increased spending roughly 80-100 percent, depending upon where you draw the start and end lines, given the government’s fiscal year running October 1 – September 30. Predictably, federal debt exploded during both administrations.

This time around, some things are the same, but some are different. The predictable (and predicted) growth of entitlements and the quasi-religious belief military spending must always increase (the military must be “rebuilt!”) has produced what should be a frightening result: federal debt doubled during a Democratic administration under which federal spending increased a mere 28-33 percent, again depending on where you draw the lines.

It’s All Class Warfare

So, the usual Republican modus operandi is not going to fly this time around. Not only have Republicans run on making government smaller, before again blowing up spending once they got in power, but they’ve railed for eight years against Obama’s debt legacy.

They can’t just ignore deficits as they have in the past and expect to win again in future elections, so they’re left with only one choice: “reform” the tax code so it collects the same or more revenue and sell it as a tax cut.

That’s not to say it’s going to work. Federal tax revenue will likely decrease overall under their plan, despite their efforts to raise taxes on some people while cutting them for others. But Republicans can ignore reality as well as Democrats when they need to. If you doubt that, ask any ten Republicans at random if the government got bigger or smaller while Reagan was president.

Republicans are also virtually identical to Democrats in their Marxist view of society.For Republicans, just like Democrats and communists, it is made up of different “classes” of people, competing with each other in a zero-sum game for pieces of a static, finite “pie.” This is explicit in their rhetoric about “tax cuts for the middle class” or the sublimely obtuse “working class” (doesn’t anyone generating an income, large or small, work?)

While it’s true the idea of classes in society predates Marx, it is his vision which dominates the tax code, most strikingly in its assumption there is some fundamental difference between employees of going concerns and owners.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

An Extended Tax Reform Debate Will Subject Us to the Usual Absurdities

liarJohn McCain’s confirmation he’d vote against the House tax reform bill as currently proposed means Republicans won’t be able to lower taxes – for some people – nearly as quickly as most of them want to. In all, three Republican senators have indicated their unwillingness to vote for the plan, meaning Republicans would need Democratic votes to get it through.

As Democratic support is unlikely, the American public will have to endure several weeks or months of grandstanding, proposed amendments, and further neutering of any real benefit to taxpayers. The worst thing about these rituals is they are always largely a debate over absurdities. Here are just a few of the perennial favorites.

Over Ten Years

Both sides of any tax and spending debate use the “over ten years” canard. Those politicians claiming their plan will “balance the budget” claim their bill will do so in ten years, always after increasing spending this year. Those opposing the same plan will pick out spending lines they don’t like, whether increases, decreases, or new spending, and use the ten-year canard to make the impact seem bigger than it is.

For example, if Republicans proposed cutting $100 billion from domestic spending (a mere 2.5% of the overall federal budget), Democrats would wail Republicans were depriving the public of $1 trillion of desperately needed services. Republicans would claim they were saving taxpayers $1 trillion. Neither side would acknowledge the $1 trillion is a rather small percentage of the ten-year federal budget.

In reality, Congress has no power to pass any bill that can’t be changed in as little as two years. Spending bills are debated every year. So, anything politicians say and the media parrot regarding a spending bill’s effects over the next ten years is largely hot air. All that really matters is what their proposals will do next year. And that news is virtually never good.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Trump’s Embargo on North Korea Is the Precursor to a War

170403091619-kim-jong-un-donald-trump-split-0403-exlarge-169

Not even President Trump’s harshest critics blame him for creating the North Korean problem. The Kim Jong-Un regime’s nuclear weapons capabilities and willingness to brandish them goes back over a decade, to when Kim’s father was still the ruler.

And while each successive U.S. administration has approached North Korea slightly differently, one thing has remained constant: tens of thousands of U.S. troops on North Korea’s border, maintaining a standoff that just passed its sixty-fourth year.

The other constant, since North Korea’s first nuclear weapons test in 2006, has been economic sanctions imposed on the regime under the auspices of the U.N. Security Council. These sanctions began strictly limited to trade directly related to the regime’s nuclear program and gradually widened to include financial and other trade categories.

One need only read this morning’s headlines to judge their effectiveness.

But over the weekend, President Trump saw every president before him and raised them with this tweet:

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

 Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.