Dr Mark Skousen’s Five Questions for President Obama

Dr. Mark Skousen’s Five Questions for President Obama and How Free-Market Thinking Can Build a Better Future

The Daily Bell is pleased to publish an exclusive interview with the distinguished free-market scholar and economist Dr. Mark Skousen

Introduction: Dr. Skousen taught economics at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business in 2004. In 2001- 02, he was president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in New York. Since 1980, Dr. Skousen has been editor in chief of Forecasts & Strategies, a popular award-winning investment newsletter published by Eagle Publishing in Washington, D.C.

Mark Skousen: He is also editor of his own website, www.mskousen.com, and editor of three trading services, Skousen Hedge Fund Trader, Skousen High Income Alert and Skousen Turnaround Trader. He earned his Ph.D. in economics and monetary history from George Washington University in 1977. Since then he has written over 20 books, including Economics on Trial (McGraw Hill, 1991), Puzzles and Paradoxes in Economics (Edward Elgar Publishers, 1997), and The Making of Modern Economics (M. E. Sharpe, 2001). Dr. Skousen is the creator and producer of Freedom Fest, an annual gathering of the freedom movement from around the world, held every July in Las Vegas (www.freedomfest.com). Mark Skousen was interviewed on Board the Ship Veendam, in Port Montt, Chile. This is his second interview with the Bell. The first can be seen here.

Daily Bell: Thanks for joining us again.

Mark Skousen: Happy to be here.

Daily Bell: You wanted to interview President Obama. Here’s you chance, before we move into more general questions.

Mark Skousen: I came up with five questions. They are what I call hardball questions. If he does not answer, I will answer for him.

Daily Bell: Sounds like you may have to.

Mark Skousen: Mr. President, do you support the repeal of the invasive requirement that all business report a 1099 of all sales of goods, services or assets of $600 or more during the calendar year?

President Obama does not answer …

Mark Skousen: All right, then. You say all the time that you are pro business, pro-small business, but how could you possibly support this part. It was added on at the last minute to what is now called the ObamaCare bill. It’s another example of pushing through legislation that nobody has read. It’s going to have a terribly retardant effect on the economy.

Daily Bell: Maybe you will have more luck with number two.

Mark Skousen: Another government agency that has run amuck is the TSA. Do you support their decision to install full body scanners and full pat downs for travelers that refuse to subject themselves to nude photographs of their body?

President Obama does not answer …

Mark Skousen: Has America come to the point where the US government is officially sanctioning sexual harassment? That question has been asked in a softball way….”well what do you think President Obama, what do you think of these scanners?” You defended it by saying that this was the only way they could capture somebody like the Christmas day bomber who had a bomb in his underpants and so now we have to subject ourselves to this kind of indignity. At what point is this going to end.

Another point is the aggressive nature of the TSA. There must be something like Murphy’s Law when it comes to government agencies that inevitably they go over board and no longer fulfill their basic function. I really feel that this is a travesty of the worst kind. I am really glad to see there is a group that’s forming a kind of Tea Party protest for this decision. It is on the web called, www.wewontfly.com, and I recommend that everybody go to that, wewontfly.com.

This is an egregious example of government run amuck and it reminds me of in the 80s when the Federal transportation agency, in order to encourage seat belt wearing, actually required a new device to be attached to the ignition of all new cars. You had to have your seat belt on before the car would start. Americans were so incensed by this, there were protests and they stopped buying cars and they started finding ways around the device and eventually the government backed off.

I am very hopeful that this will be the case but as Doug Casey says, American’s today are spineless, they are whipped dogs as he says and there are only a small minority of libertarians protesting this. I think it’s a sad. Apparently 80% of Americans supported full body scanners, it’s just a total invasion of privacy. Of course, I have been at the forefront of this battle all my life having written a book called; The Complete Guide to Financial Privacy in the early 80s.

It was a bestseller and sold over half a million copies, kind of an underground best seller. It wouldn’t make sense that it would make the New York Times list considering the topic is privacy but I feel this is very sad. We never lose our freedoms all at once, we lose them gradually. It’s like the frog in the warm water – we turn the heat up and eventually he croaks.

Daily Bell: Onto number three.

Mark Skousen: Given that you are deeply concerned about the high level of unemployment, would you favor elimination or at least reduction of the minimum wage law in order to boost employment among black male and teenagers in general?

President Obama does not answer …

Mark Skousen: Many economists believe there is a strong correlation between the rise in the federal minimum wage and teenage and minority unemployment rate in the United States. Are you aware that when the new minimum wage was imposed in the summer of 2009 during the first year of your administration, there was a significant increase of joblessness among teenage male blacks. Do you think there is any correlation? Can you deny it?

Daily Bell: The silence is deafening.

Mark Skousen: Was it really necessary to take 2,000 government employees on your recent trip to India and around the world costing tax payers millions of dollars? Is this appropriate at a time when there are record deficits and Americans suffering financial stress? Isn’t this an example of the Imperial Presidency?

President Obama does not answer …

Mark Skousen: This is how you get an image problem. You begin to be perceived as an imperial president, like one of these famous dictators, a Caesar type of person. What we need right now – in terms of attitude anyway – is a Jimmy Carter type. Carter may have been a failed president, but he understood something about humility. That seems totally lacking in your administration. It’s like the First Lady going on that expensive trip to Spain, going to all these ritzy places. It would be nice to see a president who maintained a low profile. It’s just a question of sending the wrong message at a time when Americans in general are struggling.

Daily Bell: Your points seem to be falling on the proverbial deaf ears.

Mark Skousen: We’ll give him another chance. Is it really necessary Mr. President to run a 1.3 trillion dollar deficit and threaten the bankruptcy of the United States and our AAA rating? Can’t you admit all this “stimulating” is ending up in bankruptcy rather than a healthy economy?

President Obama does not answer …

Mark Skousen: Since you went to the Chicago law school, certainly you were exposed to the great Chicago School of Economics and the free market economic perspectives of Milton Friedman, George Stigler and so forth. Are you aware Mr. President, that Friedman’s study of the Keynesian spending multiplier, in other words, the positive impact of federal deficit spending, is bound to have a multiplier of zero, in other words, no positive impact what so ever? The trillion or so you have spent on “stimulus” has been wasted. There are no shovel-ready projects, and if there were, they wouldn’t add net jobs.

Daily Bell: He’s ignoring you. Good to remind him about the Friedman study, though.

Mark Skousen: Last one. If Europe recovers with their low deficits and an expansionary monetary policy, will this not disprove the Keynesian model?

President Obama does not answer …

Mark Skousen: Europe is cutting back on government spending while engaged in monetary expansion. Here we will have a perfect natural test to see if the Friedman results will be reconfirmed. Of course, libertarians do not believe in managing the economy through central banking, but we are stuck with the system we have. Within the parameters of this system, monetary expansion is likely to be more effective than government spending, which just aggravates the problem. Don’t you understand that now after two years of failed economic policies?

Daily Bell: You were obviously over-optimistic in expecting responses.

Mark Skousen: (laughing). Somehow even if he were here, I don’t think we would have gotten any straight answers. But those are the questions he should be asked, among many others. Maybe one day at a town meeting, someone will get to ask them.

Daily Bell: OK, we’ve had our President Obama interview. Let’s turn the tables and ask you a few general questions. Quite a lot has happened since our last interview with you over a year ago. One of the most puzzling occurrences is the return in the US of discredited Keynesian economic policy – and with a vengeance. How did that happen?

Mark Skousen: Somehow President Obama chose the same policies that didn’t work in the 1930s and didn’t work in the 1970s. The United States has decided to spend its way out of recession and has adopted this typical Keynesian policy of running huge deficits. Europe is rejecting this sort of policy outright. Germany, and even the UK in its post-Brown recovery, are rejecting this notion and cutting back. My best example is Canada. In 1995, Canada had a fiscal crisis, runaway government spending of 53% of the economy and the Canadian dollar was collapsing. The Liberal Party of Canada, which got them into trouble in the first place, said enough is enough. There was a general consensus that Canada was moving in the wrong direction.

They fired a bunch of federal workers, and in two years eliminated the deficit, so the Canadian debt started declining. Then, even better, they had 11 straight years of surpluses. They also started cutting taxes; and they’ve had some pretty good success with their economy, even during a tough time worldwide. They still have some problems with their medical, single payer system but, overall, a supply side approach has proven successful in Canada. I would like to think that there are countries that are rejecting the standard Keynesian model. It’s hasn’t happened in the US, but I am hopeful that we will learn examples abroad.

Daily Bell: Let’s move to central banking and fiat money. Do you think we will ever return to a gold standard?

Mark Skousen: I have written a book called The Economics of a Pure Gold Standard. It was actually my dissertation of my PhD at George Washington University in 1977 and I was heavily under the influence of Murray Rothbard who favored a return to the gold standard.

Since then, I have argued that once you have gone off the gold standard it is very difficult to go back on it because it would cause a major redistribution of wealth to the gold holders who tend to be speculators and wealthier individuals. So there would be this redistribution problem that could be pretty serious, especially if gold has to go to $20,000 an ounce in order to really cover that.

I have often said the only way to return to a gold standard is with a major financial crisis, so you we are basically forced to do it. We may be headed in that direction but I think if we automatically did it that would create problems in itself. I like the idea of using gold as a tool. Supply-siders like using gold as an indicator of inflation; if we can control inflation and stabilize our inflation, the price of gold will come back down and that will be the best indicator that we can use. It is interesting that central bankers are net buyers of gold now rather than net sellers like they were. They are holding on because they know it’s the only asset that has any real value.

Daily Bell: What about the EU? Is it going to survive?

Mark Skousen: Robert Mundell, the free market economist, the father of the Euro, has made the case for its survival. I know there are a lot of skeptics out there but who wants to go back to all these individual currencies. It was madness and extremely inefficient when you moved from one country to another, losing money on every currency exchange. The euro has two great benefits: It encourages the free movement of goods and services and it increases competition. You can price everything in the euro and you can see what’s expensive and what’s not; that makes competition much more effective. You also have labour mobility you did not have before; you don’t require work permits, so you can work anywhere inside the EU.

England now has much better restaurants, as the French and Germans have moved there and brought palatable cuisine. You can move investments around as well. So I like the one currency, a United States of Europe concept if you like and from an economic point of view I think it is very good. It also, eventually, acts as a brake on these profligate governments. Yes, there are some problems with it right now but it’s basically sending a very strong message, you’ve got to get your act together because you are going to pay a heavy price. You can’t simply default; you are part of the European system so you can’t engage in these irresponsible spending, tax policies.

Daily Bell: Do you foresee a 3rd party in the United States ever?

Mark Skousen: A third party has never been effective in the United States. I think it is much smarter to work within the Democratic or the Republican Party to make change. All the laws favor the two party systems in the United States. They make it much more difficult for third parties to get on the ballot and really have any influence. Traditionally, third-parties have only been beneficial as a protest and forcing the major parties to make changes. If you go back to the Civil War era, the South was all Democratic because they hated the Republicans so much. Later on, that totally reversed itself; the electorate is fungible. Times change and so do opinions. I think Libertarians should infiltrate both political parties, not just the Republicans or the Tea Party.

Daily Bell: Do you think the US’s police and military will ever be turned against the people? In the current environment that is being suggested as a possibility.

Mark Skousen: It’s already happening. You have the FBI, a federal police force, virtually everywhere. It is just a monstrous agency and I speak for having been the son of an FBI Agent and the nephew of an FBI Agent; both my father and uncle were top FBI people. My father shot one of the top-ten most wanted men back in 1950. But that was back when the FBI had extremely limited roles to play. The FBI is involved with bank fraud and with almost everything else. You name it; it’s classic mission creep. It amazes me. It’s not just kidnapping and stuff like that.

And of course there is the army and now the army can come in whenever there is a natural disaster. The National Guard is called in as well. There’s so much power available, and the powers-that-be are increasingly showing a willingness to use it. It’s definitely something to be concerned about. Just take a look at the vast power the TSA has over travel. It’s beyond belief! The other thing I fear is the movement away from the fourth amendment of unreasonable searches. They have these roadblocks that they keep justifying. Every car that goes by, they can stop at these random checkpoints. They can literally just pull you over for no good reason. National ID cards are constantly being pushed as well. There are many examples of “real time” threats to the freedoms of American citizens these days.

Daily Bell: What about the US and China? Military issues in the future?

Mark Skousen: The Chinese are currently building up a huge military complex; I think they have 3 million troops or something. It’s a huge number; we’ll never know the exact number. But, certainly, they are increasing their technology capability and they are going to flex their muscles, much more so than North Korea or Iran. I think China is the elephant in the room as far as the military is concerned. They haven’t really gone after Taiwan, yet. It’s all saber rattling but that doesn’t mean it can’t turn into something more.

Have you ever seen the picture of how much water is surrounding the China sea and how much they consider is theirs? It’s not 200 miles – it just keeps going and going. I think there is some imperialism there. I think, in fact, it’s a very dangerous situation. The industrial sector has grown and it’s allowing them to spend more and more on their military objectives. There’s the potential for real conflict there.

Daily Bell: Strange times. What advice would you offer for the people to protect themselves financially?

Mark Skousen: I do think we should play the trends and when the market recovers we should take full advantage of that, I certainly have. In my newsletter I have taken advantage of the good times, the recovery that you see from time to time. A lot of the doomsday, gold bugs completely missed their recovery in the stock market. I like to play that because a lot of investors feel more comfortable with stocks I don’t recommend investing too much in commodities, which is a non-traditional investment area.

So my subscribers tend to be more traditional investors. What I try to do is introduce to them investing in commodities, gold and silver and so on, but only a 10% position, it’s an insurance policy against bad times, so that includes gold and silver. So I am always educating people that way. I encourage them to buy gold and silver coins and to aware of the bad news that can come down the road. But the majority of my investments are in foreign markets or in US markets and in dividend paying stocks and income producing investments and so forth.

We have had a very good track record the last few years with beating the market and doing well for them. But the tide can change and right now we are seeing a lot of problems developing. It’s funny how everybody feared that September and October which are traditionally tough months in the market and those did really well and now we are heading into December and now seeing all kinds of problems surface – the Irish debt situation, China raising interest rates, the North Koreans fighting the South Koreans; there’s a lot of geo-political events which are keeping the markets from going higher, despite the Federal Reserve’s efforts to inject all this liquidity.

So, I have always believed in that old biblical refrain: know the signs of the times. I’ve tried to follow that advice in my newsletter called “Forecasts and Strategies.” My philosophy basically is that problems come and go, but I have always been more of an optimist rather than not. There is an old saying on Wall Street: “bears make headlines and bulls make money.” The majority of time Americans are problem solvers; the sun eventually comes out again. Traditional bond and stock markets perform better. It would be sad commentary if we didn’t have that kind of situation. It would be like being a millionaire on a sinking ship. Who wants to be a millionaire on the Titanic? So, I am optimistic that we will get new leadership, reasonable policies and sound economics. It has happened in the past, as I mentioned. Canada is the most recent example and I would hope that it can happen again.

Daily Bell: That sounds like your book Econopower, do you want to talk about it?

Mark Skousen: Yes, the Korean edition. They paid me $100,000 in advance for Econopower. That book was about solving problems. Whatever problems are out there, economists can add to the solution. The South Koreans are very strong on economics and how to use them to their advantage. I have a chapter in the back that Robert Shiller of Yale University really liked and it’s called “Is US Economy Depression Proof?” I wrote this right before the financial crisis of 2008, in which I argued that it’s not depression proof and that we are vulnerable. We have a monetary system that is broken and it’s not really a good one and it needs to be fixed. Sure enough we had a financial crisis and the whole system came close to collapsing. The only thing that kept it from total collapse was massive government intervention again. The establishment had always argued that we were depression proof; that the system was the best of all worlds. Doesn’t seem to be the case, obviously.

Daily Bell: What else have you written lately?

Mark Skousen: I’ve written a textbook called Economic Logic. It’s always my hope that the US will get leaders with an understanding of real economics. President Obama needs a course on free market economics. Economic Logic takes a logical approach; it mixes business with economics. It starts with an income statement, a profit and loss statement, and then develops into supply and demand analysis.

I use the best of Austrian and Chicago economics and now it’s being used in a number of colleges and universities around the country. It’s encouraging. You will not change the politicians until you educate the people who elect them. It’s kind of my anti-Samuelson textbook. Samuelson was this Keynesian economist at MIT, who at the end of WWII wrote his economic text book that introduced Keynesian economics and this anti-savings mentality – this pro big government, welfare state, pro-progressive taxation kind of zeitgeist from which we still suffer. So we need a new textbook for the 21st century to reverse that trend and get us back to sound economics. The reality is free-market economics is not taught to children or even to older students. We need to start somewhere.

Daily Bell: What is out there for students who want to get a general idea about economics besides college text books?

Mark Skousen: There is a website run by Steve Marriotti called Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). They teach entrepreneurship and how to create your own businesses and business models. They have a text book that’s geared toward minorities. It’s a great program. I am hoping this can be another area where we can spread the word to students.

Daily Bell: Closing words?

Mark Skousen: Do not despair. Do not think that our current mess is irreversible, that our economy is headed for total destruction, which is a constant message from gold bugs and doomsayers. I am trying to counter that view and I am trying to do something through education. As you know, we have created FreedomFest and it’s not my conference alone, though I created it. It’s the “movement’s” conference. You bring together all the best and the brightest in Las Vegas, the world’s greatest libertarian city. We have this great celebration and learn from each other; we celebrate liberty; we warn each other about the dangers to liberty and we do business and make deals and walk away and say WOW, we can make a difference. So, come on down! It’s an open forum. We like new people and new speakers. We have Steve Forbes (Forbes Magazine) and John Mackey (CEO of Whole Foods) who both work tirelessly to spread the word. It’s a great opportunity to meet and greet and there are others out there who feel the same. So, go to www.FreedomFest.com and learn more. Hope to see you there.

Daily Bell: On that note, now would be an appropriate time to announce our first conference, scheduled for the last weekend in April in the Appenzell region of Switzerland. The conference is the being hosted by The Foundation for the Advancement of Free-Market Thinking and has several Platinum level sponsors, of which Appenzeller Business Press AG (publisher of the Daily Bell) is one. It will be a great European-based opportunity to provide similar opportunities for like-minded folks to gather with a view to seeking private solutions to the more egregious public problems facing us all. To date, several top thinkers have committed to speaking and we would like to include you in that group. Can we count on your support with our conference efforts and would you travel to Switzerland to share your views at the event?

Mark Skousen: I would be pleased to support your efforts and you can pencil me in to speak at your conference. Thank you for considering me.

Daily Bell: Thank you Mark, it has been a pleasure as always and we look forward to seeing you in April.

Mark Skousen: Thanks, same here.

The Naked Truth About Porno-Scanners

(See this article in its original publication here)

The Naked Truth About “Porno” Scanners

“Those who give up essential liberty to purchase a little security deserve neither liberty nor security.”
—Benjamin Franklin

There must be a law like Murphy’s Law that states that government agencies with excessive authority inevitably go overboard in their regulations.  Remember the year in the 1980s when the Federal Transportation Agency imposed an ignition device on new cars so that the engine wouldn’t start unless the driver wore his seat belt?

Citizens objected so vociferously that the government quickly reversed itself.

Let’s hope the same thing occurs with the Obama administration’s decision to install invasive “full body” scanners at airports in the United States, and to impose invasive pat-downs for those who uphold their Fourth Amendment rights against “unreasonable searches.”  Americans need to stand up and say, “Enough is enough.”

As long-time subscribers know, I’ve been in the forefront of defending the right to personal and financial privacy, having written “The Complete Guide to Financial Privacy” in the early 1980s.

I find it appalling that the government, after pushing through numerous laws against sexual harassment, has adopted an official policy of sexual harassment against its citizens with the introduction of “full body” scanners and pat-downs that are patently offensive.  The whole process is now appropriately referred to the use of “porno” scanners.

Sadly, the majority of Americans seem to support this new attack on privacy.  A recent poll found that 80% of citizens go along with the “full body” searches, a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment (no matter what the courts decide).  In this regard, I’m reminded of Doug Casey’s reference to today’s spineless Americans:  “You’re all a bunch of whipped dogs.”  Ben Franklin’s warning could apply here: “Those who give up essential liberty to purchase a little security deserve neither liberty nor security.”

I salute the freedom fighters who recognized that this latest action is just one more example in the gradual loss of our freedoms.   ”Freedom is never lost all at once,” stated Edmund Burke.  Indeed.  If we don’t stand up now, when will we?

To see how you can help protest this attack on liberty, go to www.wewontfly.com.  Tea partiers, unite!

Finally, it is a sad commentary that TSA agents and government officials are supportive in this attack on fellow citizens.  I was shocked to read that a federal security director instructed his agents as follows:  “I want them to think Abdulmutallab [the Christmas Day bomber who was thwarted from blowing up a Detroit-bound airplane] with every pat-down.”  Tell that to the elderly and kids getting pat-downs.

For those TSA agents who say, “It’s my job,” remind them of these words from the great libertarian film “Cool Hand Luke”:  “Just because it’s your job doesn’t make it right.”

Next up:  TSA is now pushing for the random “secondary screening,” in which you are taken to “the cage” and subjected to even further invasions of privacy.  When will this idiocy end?

Who’s to Blame for ObamaCare? Two Conservatives!

I wrote the following article for Human Events, but apparently it was too controversial and was removed after about 100 e-letters of commentary, both favorable and critical. Read here’s the original op-ed, uncensured.)

by Mark Skousen

This week the Senate grinches stole Christmas. The Obama Nation is getting Obama Care.

It’s easy to blame the sixty Democrats, as the Wall Street Journal does, for “the worse bill ever.” It solemnly declares: “These 60 Democrats are creating a future of epic increases in spending, taxes and command–and control regulation.”

True enough. But what’s the root cause of this disaster?

Sorry, friends, it’s not the Democrats, nor the American people who elected them.

The real culprits are two “conservative” Republicans who ran the show the previous eight years: George W. Bush, and his “master political strategist” Karl Rove. If it weren’t for these two fools in the White House, the Democrats wouldn’t have sixty Senators, including a professional comedian from Minnesota, to close off debate and ram down our throats a bill worse than Hillary Care.

The fact is that the Bush & Rove comedy act pushed through a litany of ruinous government policies that led to the lowest approval numbers in history:

–the undeclared and costly War in Iraq and its stepchild the unconstitutional Patriot Act.
–the monstrous No Child Left Behind Act that dramatically increased federal intervention in private education.
–the Prescription Drug Act that gave the American people another benefit-corrupted entitlement and unfunded liability.
–large and growing deficits and national debt (according to the Cato Institute, George W. Bush was the biggest spender since LBJ: http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2009/12/19/george-w-bush-biggest-spender-since-lbj/)
–the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, largely due to their failure to reform government-sponsored agencies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

The supply-side tax cuts were probably the only major piece of economic legislation that Bush/Rove deserve credit for, but even then, they blundered in not making the tax cuts permanent. So now even if the Republicans take back Capitol Hill in the 2010 elections, all President Obama has to do is veto an extension of the Bush tax cuts, a voila, taxes will increase automatically.

In short, we are paying a heavy price for the “compassionate conservativism” of Bush/Rove.

Once Obama Care becomes law, like Medicare and other “Great Society” programs, it will never end. We will be stuck with national health care for the rest of our lives.

And how are Bush and Rove rewarded? Fortunately, we aren’t seeing much of George Bush, who is quietly in retirement in Texas.

The tragedy is Karl Rove, who has been rewarded by conservatives. He’s treated like a triumphant general on Fox News almost every night, and was signed on as a regular columnist in the prestigious Wall Street Journal.

Shame.

In liberty, AEIOU,
Mark Skousen

Free Market Health Care Is The Answer

“Capitalism is turning luxuries into necessities.” — Andrew Carnegie

Watching the shouting matches occurring at the town hall meetings across America, do you ever wonder why nobody holds town hall meetings or writes complaining letters to Congress about food and housing?

After all, food and housing are even more important than medical help.  Most Americans don’t need to go to the doctor every day, but you do need to eat every day and live under a roof.

Read the entire article on Human Events Online.

Start Your Own Tax Revolt — Without Getting In Trouble

From Human Events

“A virtuous and industrious people may be cheaply governed.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

“Little else is required to carry a state to the highest level of opulence but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice.” ~ Adam Smith

Today, on April 15 Tax Day, hundreds of thousands of citizens are protesting out of control government spending and taxes at Tea Parties across America.

Should we complain?

The good news is that marginal tax rates have gradually declined since the 1950s, when the rate on income was 90%. And taxes on long-term capital gains and dividends are now at 15%. Long live supply-side Reaganomics tax cuts.

The bad news is that prior to the 1980s, there were plenty of loopholes to escape onerous 90% tax rates. Those tax shelters are largely gone.

The good news is that Tax Freedom Day (the amount of days you have to work to pay Uncle Sam) arrived two days ago, on April 13, according to the Tax Foundation. This is eight days earlier than in 2008, and a full two weeks earlier than in 2007, due to the recession, and the large temporary tax cuts for 2009 and 2010.

The bad news is that Americans will pay more in taxes than they will spend on food, clothing and housing combined! (Source: http://mjperry.blogspot.com/)

Moreover, if you add in the federal budget deficit to total taxes collected, the real Tax Freedom Day is May 29, the worst since World War II.

But there’s more bad news: For American business, the corporate tax rate is 40% in the United States, 50% higher than the average size of other industrial countries. The average corporate tax rate in OECD countries has been falling over the past 20 years, but not in the U.S.

In addition, legislators have discovered ingenious ways to taxing its citizens — through import duties, levies, and fees of various sorts. Today the federal “excise” tax is taking its toll on gasoline, tobacco, telephone and utility bills.

And sales taxes are inevitably rising in state after state, and I know of no state that has cut sales taxes. After every recession, the governor “temporarily” raises the sales tax by a penny, but then never rescinds it. Moreover, the state legislators are always finding ways to expand the tax base. When I was in Florida recently, the state imposed its 6% sales tax on hotel parking fees!

The few sales tax exemptions left, such as out-of-state and online purchases, are gradually disappearing.

Not surprisingly, taxes at the federal, state and local level are at an all-time high as a percentage of GDP. And under President Obama’s tax increases on the wealthy and on average citizens through his “cap and trade” energy tax (which will raise substantially the price of gasoline and utility bills), the percentage is expected to reach 27%.

Now more than ever, we need a stable, sound, low tax system that individuals and businesses can depend on for long term planning. Unfortunately, we change the tax law practically every year.

Countries like Hong Kong do it right. For the past fifty years, they have not changed their tax code hardly at all. They have a flat tax of 18% on individuals and corporations, and no tax on interest, dividends and capital gains. And they live within their means. No wonder the Economic Freedom Index ranks Hong Kong #1 in the world in terms of economic freedom and economic growth. We could learn a lot from Hong Kong.

I say, it’s time for a tax revolt. I favor a flat tax like the one advocated by Steve Forbes. It’s better than the so-called “fair tax” on consumption because it will create a new bureaucracy and will inevitably result in the U.S. having both a national sales tax and income tax.

But why wait for Congress to change the rules again and again? I say, wage your own tax revolt. But remember, some methods are effective, others are downright dangerous and could land you in jail. Here’s some do’s and don’t:

1. Take advantage of all legitimate tax-advantaged strategies. The two best ones right now are (a) a Sub S corporate business, and (b) investing in real estate, including your own home. Both offer ways to minimize FICA and income taxes; both can benefit from tax credits. In fact, it’s the best “buyers” market in real estate I’ve seen in decades.

2. Do consider moving to low-tax states, including ones that don’t impose an income tax (Florida, Texas, Nevada, Tennessee, Alaska, Washington, Wyoming, and New Hampshire). You might also consider living in a border state to avoid both the income and sales tax, such as Vancouver, Washington (by living in Washington state, you are exempt from the state income tax; by shopping in Oregon, you avoid the sales tax.)

3. Do consider working abroad and taking advantage of the foreign earned income exemption for Americans. My wife and I lived and worked two years in the Bahamas in the 1980s and saved so much in taxes that we bought a second home in London.

4. Do NOT get involved in tax protest movements involving the refusal to file tax returns on Constitutional grounds, or suspicious offshore tax haven deals. You’ll end up losing money and perhaps going to jail.

5. Do NOT renounce your citizenship and move abroad. Recent tax legislation forces ex-patriates to pay taxes on the next 10 years of income. It also limits severely how much time you can spend in the United States.

Finally, do NOT make business or investment decisions solely on the basis of avoiding taxes. There’s more to life than avoiding the tax man. Protest all your want today, but don’t make foolish financial decisions.

Will we survive Obamanomics?

From the Gilroy Dispatch

Officially, President Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget is titled “A New Era of Responsibility.”

That’s false on two counts. It’s an era – not of responsibility, but of big-government taxation, spending, and regulation. And it’s not new. History is full of attempts to inflate the state to grow the economy. Virtually all have ended badly. As the recent sell-off reminds us, Wall Street’s verdict on Obamanomics has been quick and sharp.

The president’s budget is right in castigating the “troubled past” of the Bush administration, which spent money like a drunken sailor on education, healthcare, bailouts, and two seemingly endless wars in the greater Middle East, with virtually no regard for how to pay for a rapidly growing national debt.

But now we must confront the troubled future. Obama has adopted the big-spending policies of George W. Bush, with trillions more proposed for education, bailouts, and healthcare. He wants to sharply reduce (but not end) the American presence in Iraq. At the same time, he plans to deploy an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, which may lead to an expanded quagmire there.

Hasn’t Obama read the bestseller “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time,” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin? A Pakistani general who talked with Mr. Mortenson aptly identified the real problem in Afghanistan: “The enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever.”

In some ways, Obama’s plans are more grandiose than Bush’s. He wants to encourage green technology and energy independence, and move toward national healthcare. The cost is enormous. The deficit for this year alone is expected to reach $1.7 trillion.

To help pay for this, Obama proposes the largest tax increase in history. Some of this, such as new taxes on oil and gas companies, is explicit. Some of it, such as the new cap and trade program, is quite subtle. And some of it will “merely” repeal the Bush tax rates on high incomes. But all of it represents a tremendous muzzle on the economy at a time when it needs to be unleashed.

Even these huge tax hikes won’t be nearly sufficient to pay for the outlays. In fact, to pay for it in full, The Wall Street Journal pointed out, Uncle Sam would have to confiscate every penny earned by Americans making at least $75,000 a year.

What’s the future for Obamanomics? The stock market’s reaction doesn’t bode well. The Dow has fallen more than 18 percent since the last trading day of Bush’s term. Clearly, Wall Street thinks that Obama’s tax, spend, and regulate policies will be a disaster.

Despite the dire headlines, the world is not coming to an end, we are not headed into another Great Depression, and free-market capitalism has not breathed its last breath.

In my book, “The Big Three in Economics,” I found that the press has frequently and prematurely written the obituary of Adam Smith and his free-market philosophy, only to see a new and more vibrant global marketplace reemerge after being savagely attacked by Keynesians, Marxists, and assorted socialists. Market capitalism survived and prospered after the boom-bust industrial revolution of the 19th century, and the Great Depression and world wars of the 20th century. It will recover from the financial panic of 2008-09 and Obamanomics.

Adam Smith, the supreme defender of market capitalism, expressed this optimism well in 1776 when he wrote in “The Wealth of Nations”:

“The uniform, constant, and uninterrupted effort of every man to better his condition … is frequently powerful enough to maintain the natural progress of things toward improvement, in spite both of the extravagance of government, and of the greatest errors of administration.”

The ideas of Adam Smith and his modern followers will make a comeback. Already, pro-market forces are gathering in Congress to defeat Obama’s ambitious and highly socialistic agenda. Charities and nonprofits are already up in arms about the proposed limits on tax deductions for wealthy donations for good causes.

I’m doing my part by holding the world’s largest gathering of free minds at FreedomFest, July 9-11, 2009, in Las Vegas.

Details: www.freedomfest.com.

Proof Is in the Dow

“The Obama budget is nothing less than an attempt to end the ideas of Ronald Reagan.” — New York Times

Adam Smith, the father of free-market economics, once stated, “There is much ruin in a nation.”  President Obama is out to prove it in his Newspeak program he calls “A New Era of Responsibility.”  It should be called “A New Era of Irresponsibility.”

And there’s no better proof than the stock market’s reaction to Obamanomics, which is big-government Keynesianism at its worst.  Since Obama took office, the Dow is down a whooping 15% — and that’s after the huge sell off in the market in 2008 by more than 30%.

And the market has continued to drop precipitously since Obama addressed Congress and announced his obscene $3.6 trillion budget for fiscal year 2010.  This budget includes:

the largest tax increase in history, including a monstrous tax on oil & gas (cap and trade) and the repeal of the Bush tax rates on incomes higher than $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.  Contrary to Obama’s claim, over 65% of tax filers in this category are small business owners and investors.

the highest level of federal spending since 1945, from today’s 21% of GDP to a whooping 27.7%.  This includes new entitlements in health care and energy.

Clearly Wall Street has spoken:  Obama’s tax, spend and regulate policies are a disaster for the nation.

And sadly Obama doesn’t get it.

What should investors do?  Play it conservative.  Be well-diversified in global stocks.  Maintain a high cash position, look for bargain opportunities, and keep squirreling away gold and silver coins.

And do not despair.  It is not time to head for the hills, although some wealthy friends are talking about moving to New Zealand, or the Bahamas.  (One friend of mine has already taken the extreme step of renouncing his US citizenship!)

In writing “The Big Three in Economics” (click here to order), I found that Adam Smith and his “system of natural liberty” have come under attack on many occasions by his sworn enemies Keynesians, Marxists and socialists, and has often been left for dead, but always makes a comeback.

As Adam Smith declared in his 1776 classic “The Wealth of Nations,”

“The uniform, constant, and uninterrupted effort of every man to better his condition . . . is frequently powerful enough to maintain the natural progress of things toward improvement, in spite both of the extravagance of government, and of the greatest errors of administration.”

In sum, the ideas of Adam Smith, and his modern followers, including Ronald Reagan, are far from dead.  They are only in hibernation.  The free-market giant will soon be awakened by our dire situation.

Hopefully pro-market forces in Congress (both Republicans and Democrats)  will filibuster the Obama tax increases and budget excesses.  Charities and non-profits are already up in arms about the proposed limits on tax deductions for wealthy donations for good causes.

I’m doing my part by holding the world’s largest gathering of free minds at FreedomFest, July 9-11, 2009, in Las Vegas, the focal point of liberty.  For details, go to www.freedomfest.com.  I hope you will join us.

I know I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.

Obamanomics Is Making Matters Worse

Unfortunately, the [Keynesian] balance week is unbalanced. ~ Milton Friedman

We have outlived the short-run and are suffering from the long-run consequences of [Keynesian] policies. ~ Ludwig von Mises

Last week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced another solution to the financial crisis — his new “Financial Stability Plan.” Since the announcement, Citigroup has fallen 51 percent, Bank of America is down 46 percent, and Wall Street had its worst week in 2009.

So much for the Financial “Stability” Plan.

As John Adams once said, “Facts are a stubborn thing.”  The Obama model of Keynesian-style bailouts and massive deficits is simply failing to cure the growing financial crisis.

Despite all the bailouts President Obama has put forth — for the banks, the big 3 auto companies, and homeowners — the global economy is still reeling.

In fact, I would argue that Obamanomics (Keynesian economics in disguise) is counterproductive and making matters worse.  That’s because business and Wall Street recognize that there is no free lunch — government spending is piling up huge debts that will need to be paid back, probably through the printing presses.  And inflation — another evil — will come back with a vengeance.

Keynes is famous for the line, “In the long run, we are all dead.”  And that’s what Wall Street fears — that financially we are all going to be killed by excessive debt.

Lack of confidence in Obama, Geitner and Bernanke is why gold is going through the roof now, and is approaching $1,000 an ounce. The U.S. Mint is having a hard time keeping up with demand for American eagle gold and silver coins.

The problem is Keynesian-style policy, the darling of the establishment politicos and media giants.  Keynes has suddenly trumped Adam Smith.  And that’s dangerous.

One day last week, I walked into the largest Barnes & Noble bookstore in New York and saw a big display table up front with all kinds of books on John Maynard Keynes and Keynesian economics.  One book, The Return of Depression Economics, was written by Paul Krugman, the caustic New York Times columnist who just won the Nobel Prize.

Another book was called The Case for Big Government by Jeff Madrick, the editor of Challenge magazine.  I can understand writing a book in support of good, efficient, strong, and productive government, but “big” alone?  Most Americans prefer the motto “cheaper and better.”

The biggest surprise at Barnes & Noble was to see my own book, The Big Three in Economics, prominently displayed along side all the Keynesian and Marxist books.  It has suddenly become my most successful book.

Mark Skousen with the Totem Pole of Economics

But mine was the only book there that took a dim view of Keynes and Marx and their solutions to the financial crisis (always more government, more taxes, and more regulations).  For my money, Adam Smith and his followers (Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard) deserve to be on top of the Totem Pole of Economics.

Unfortunately, Keynes is all the rage now.  The British economist became famous in the 1930s for advocating going off the gold standard, running deficits and bailing out troubled banks with easy money as a way to end the Great Depression.
Today’s politicians, from George Bush to Barack Obama, have suddenly become Keynesians during this financial crisis, spending money they don’t have in a vain effort to right the ship.  Even Newsweek has gone so far to say, “We are all socialists now.”  Alan Greenspan, the ex-student of Ayn Rand, now favors nationalization of the big American banks Citibank and Bank of America.

Every investor and gold bug should know the enemy: Keynes, the advocate of big government and the welfare state, and Karl Marx, the radical who advocated outright state socialism and total central control of the means of production.
After World War I, Randolph Bourne observed, “War is the health of the state.”  Today he might say, “A financial crisis is the health of the state.”

It looks like modern-day statists are getting their wish.  We’re getting big government, good and hard.  Adam Smith and Milton Friedman are out of favor, while John Maynard Keynes, the patron saint of bailouts, inflation, and the welfare state, is making a comeback with a vengeance.

The tentacles of the leviathan state are growing by leaps and bounds.  In 2009, global governments will be the largest shareholders in commercial banks, reversing 20 years of retreat by the state.  The costs of entitlements are exploding upwards, and Congress hasn’t had the courage to address future liabilities.  Social Security and Medicare are government-sponsored Ponzi schemes that will make Bernie Madoff’s embezzlement look like a picnic.

The late management guru Peter Drucker said, “Government is better at creating problems than solving them.” In fact, wrote a cynical Ducker, government has gotten bigger, not stronger, and can only do three things well — taxation, inflation, and making war.  According to Drucker, the state has become a “swollen monstrosity….Indeed, government is sick — and just at a time when we need a strong, healthy, and vigorous government.”  (He said all this in 1969.)  If you want to solve problems, he counseled, you must turn to business and the private sector.

But where does one get the straight scoop on Keynes, Marx, and their nemesis, Adam Smith and the followers of free-market capitalism?

I have no apologies for where I stand on the issue.  In writing The Big Three, I commissioned a Florida woodcarver, James Sagui, to create “The Totem Pole of Economics.”  (The Tolem Pole of Economics is shown on the back cover of the book.)  Clearly, my hero is Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, a declaration of economic independence.

Adam Smith, the 18th century philosopher, is on top of the Totem Pole for his advocacy of a revolutionary new doctrine which he called a “system of natural liberty,” what we might call laissez faire or free-market capitalism.  He used the “invisible hand” to symbolized how the private actions of individual entrepreneurs would lead to the public good.

Today’s advocates of Smithian economics have real solutions to the crisis, as I’ve outlined in previous HUMAN EVENTS columns:  suspend “mark to market” accounting rules, make the Bush tax cuts permanent, slash the corporate tax rate, and mostly importantly “do no harm.”  Also, it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at the Canadian banking system, ranked #1 in the world in soundness (US is #40) for its conservative reserve requirements and nationwide branching.  (Not a single Canadian bank has failed in either the Great Depression or now.)

Keynes is ranked below Adam Smith, because he supported big government and the welfare state as a way to stabilize the crisis-prone capitalist economy, the “middle ground” between laissez faire and totalitarian socialism.  But as we have seen, Keynesian activism has led to much mischief in the world today, and countries that have adopted his bureaucratic, regulated mindset have witnessed “slow growth” and “stagflation” style economies.

And Marx is the “low man” on the Totem Pole.  His radical solution, government ownership and control of the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, would be, as Hayek says, “the road to serfdom.”

Adam Smith and his “system of natural liberty” have come under attack many times by his arch enemies, the Marxists and Keynesians.  But Smithian economics has nine lives, and has always managed a comeback.  With your help, Adam Smith will return.

Click here for a copy of The Big Three in Economics.

The Necessary Evil

Suggestion – Liberty Magazine
The Necessary Evil
by Mark Skousen

Today libertarians spend most of their time lamenting the consequences of big government. And rightly so. Today government is less a defender of freedom and more a Hobbesian leviathan that undermines prosperity. When we do talk about limited government, it is often seen solely as “a necessary evil.”1 Too much government and the economy chokes. Too little, and it cannot function. Is there a Golden Mean?

George Washington best summarized the libertarian view: “Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”2 So it is with some trepidation that I suggest that societies or countries may not have enough good or legitimate government. In the never-ending battle against big government, it might be well to consider what constitutes “good government” to see how far we have strayed from the proper role of the state.

Each year the Fraser Institute publishes their Economic Freedom of the World Index (see www.fraserinstitute.org), which measures five major areas of government activity in more than 100 countries: size of government, legal structure, sound money, trade, and regulation. The most surprising thing about the study, according to its author James Gwartney, a professor of economics at Florida State University, is the importance of legal structure as the key to maximum performance for an economy. “It turns out,” he told me in a recent interview, “that the legal system — the rule of law, security of property rights, an independent judiciary, and an impartial court system — is the most important function of government, and the central element of both economic freedom and a civil society, and is far more statistically significant than the other variables.”

Gwartney pointed to a number of countries that lack a decent legal system, and as a result suffer from corruption,insecure property rights, poorly enforced contracts, and inconsistent regulatory environments, particularly in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. “The enormous benefits of the market network — gains from trade, specialization, expansion of the market, and mass production techniques — cannot be achieved without a sound legal system.” 3

The Proper Role of the State

Milton Friedman identifies the legitimate roles of the state: “The scope of government must be limited. Its major function must be to protect our freedom both from the enemies outside our gates and from our fellow- citizens: to preserve law and order, to enforce private contracts, to foster competitive markets. Beyond this major function, government may enable us at times to accomplish jointly what we would find it more difficult or expensive to accomplish severally.” 4

Adam Smith suggests that this “system of natural liberty” will lead to a free and prosperous society. As Smith declares, “Little else is required to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest level of barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice.”5

The division between the positive and negative role of government can be represented visually. In the diagram on the next page, we have on the vertical axis “socio-economic well-being”: some general measure of the quality of life in a free and civil society. For empirical studies, economists might want to use changes in real per capita income, but this may be too confining. On the horizontal axis we have “government activity.” At point O, we have zero government, and as we move along the horizontal axis, the size and scope of government activity increase. The ultimate extreme is the totalitarian regime, which institutes “total government,” though I would hesitate to label this “100% government,” since no government can control all activity.

Too Little vs. Too Much Government

My thesis is that as a society moves from zero government to point P, economic well-being increases to peak performance. Then, as it adopts a larger and less necessary government, its growth diminishes, and can even turn negative if government becomes too burdensome and controlling. Looking at the left side of the mountain, point O (zero government) to P (optimal government) constitutes “too little” government. For example, a nation may spend too few of its resources on personal protection, property control, and government administration. Here we see how increasing the size and scope of government activity initially leads to increased well-being, as measured by individual freedom and prosperity. Point P represents the right amount of government and the optimal amount of expenditure necessary to fulfill its legitimate functions.

This is the ideal of the minimalist state. Any point to the right of P represents too much government, when the central authority becomes a burden rather than a blessing. I’ve drawn it as a gradual downward slope, so that the more bad government a country adopts, the greater the decline in performance, even to the point X where government is so large and so intrusive that it results in the destruction of economic and social well-being, which is probably worse than the costs of anarchy.

Quantifying the Right Amount of Government

Can we quantify P, the optimal size of government? Several economists have attempted to determine the ideal level of government spending as a percentage of GDP. In the1940s, Australian economist Colin Clark said that the maximum size of government should not exceed 25% of GDP. Anything higher would hurt economic growth.6 Professor Gerald W. Scully, of the University of Texas at Dallas suggests that the tax rate ought not to exceed 23%.7 World Bank economists Vito Tanzi and Ludger Schuknecht analyzed 17 countries during the period 1870 to 1990 and concluded that public spending in newly industrialized countries should not exceed 20% and in industrialized countries not more than 30%.8 Is optimal government (point P) the same for every country?

This would make an interesting study, but I suspect that differences in culture and socio-economic circumstances suggest that some nations require more government than others. As Benjamin Franklin states, “A virtuous and laborious [industrious] people may be cheaply governed.”9 And a lazy, dishonest people must be expensively governed.

Graph

Optimistically, I would think that if all nations were featured together on the diagram above, the various points P would constitute a fairly narrow mountain range. Almost every country in the world today is to the right of Point P, and could grow faster and enjoy a higher quality of life by reducing the size and scope of government. Countries from China to Ireland to Chile have demonstrated how dramatically the economy can improve by cutting back the state. I’m sure even Hong Kong, #1 in the Fraser Institute’s study in terms of performance and freedom, could benefit from some improvements by scaling back some types of government services.

According to the latest surveys of economic freedom by the Fraser Institute and Heritage Foundation, countries on average are becoming more free, and not surprisingly, the world’s economic growth rate is rising.10 After noting that government represents 40–50% of GDP in most developed nations, Tanzi and Schuknecht conclude, “we have argued that most of the important social and economic gains can be achieved with a drastically lower level of public spending than what prevails today.”11

Two Case Studies in Little or No Government

Are there any examples of countries to the left of point P, that have too little government? The United States suffered from too little government under the Articles of Confederation, which was the basic law of the land from its adoption in 1781 until 1789, when they were replaced by the Constitution. The Articles limited the federal government to conducting foreign affairs, making treaties, declaring war, maintaining an army and navy, coining money, and establishing post offices. But it could not collect taxes, it had no control over foreign or interstate commerce, it could not force states to comply with its laws, and it was unable to payoff the massive debts incurred during the Revolutionary War. States were already putting up trade barriers, striking a serious blow to free trade, and the economy struggled. After the Constitution became law, the United States flourished because of improved government finances, protection of legal rights, and free trade among the 13 states.

A modern-day example of too little government is Somalia, located east of Ethiopia and Kenya, where life has been difficult and often dangerous without any central authority since 1991. For example, drivers pass seven checkpoints, each run by a different militia, on their way to the capital. At each of these “border crossings” all vehicles must pay an “entry fee” ranging from $3 to $300, depending on the value of goods being transported. Competing warlords vie for control of the countryside, which has frequently collapsed into civil war. Only an estimated 15% of children go to school, compared to 75% in neighboring states. However, a recent report by the World Bank indicates that an innovative private sector is flourishing in Somalia. This vindicates the Coase theorem, named for economist Ronald Coase, which argues that in the absence of government authority, the private sector will step in to provide alternative services, depending on the transaction costs.12 The central market in Bakara is thriving: all kinds of consumer goods, from bananas to AK-47s, are readily sold; mobile phones proliferate and internet cafes prosper. But with no public spending, the roads and utilities are deteriorating. Private companies have yet to appear to build roads — the transaction costs are apparently too prohibitive. Public water is limited to urban areas, and is not considered safe, but a private system extends to all parts of the country as entrepreneurs have built cement catchments, drilled private boreholes, or shipped water from public systems in the city.

There are now 15 airline companies providing service to six international destinations, and airplane safety can be checked at foreign airports. After the public court system collapsed, disputes have been settled at the clan level by traditional systems run by elders, with the clan collecting damages. But there is still no contract law, company law, or commercial law in Somalia. Sharp inflation in 1994–96 and 2000–01 destroyed confidence in the three local currencies, and the U.S. dollar is now commonly used. Because of a lack of reliable data, neither the Fraser Institute nor the Heritage Foundation’s economic freedom indexes rank Somalia. The World Bank concludes, “The achievements of the Somali private sector form a surprisingly long list. Where the private sector has failed — the list is long here too — there is a clear role for government intervention. But most such interventions appear to be failing. Government schools are of lower quality than private schools. Subsidized power isbeing supplied not to the rural areas that need it but to urban areas, hurting a well-functioning private industry. Road tolls are not spent on roads. Judges seem more interested in grabbing power than in developing laws and courts. Conclusion: A more productive role for government would be to build on the strengths of the private sector.”13

In short, most countries could use less government, but a few countries could use more of the right kind of authority. There is an optimal size and structure of government, and when it is reached, the result is, in the words of Adam Smith, “universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people.”14