Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Taxing Incomes & Estates

Ludwig von Mises:
If the present American methods of taxing incomes and estates had been adopted fifty years ago, most of those new things which no American would like to do without today would not have been developed at all or, if they had, would have been inaccessible to the greater part of the nation. (Theory and History, p. 238)

Friday, May 07, 2010

Economics: The Primary Civic Duty

In Human Action Ludwig von Mises writes:
". . . As conditions are today, nothing can be more important to every intelligent man than economics. His own fate and that of his progeny is at stake.

Very few are capable of contributing any consequential idea to the body of economic thought. But all reasonable men are called upon to familiarize themselves with the teachings of economics. This is, in our age, the primary civic duty.

Whether we like it or not, it is a fact that economics cannot remain an esoteric branch of knowledge accessible only to small groups of scholars and specialists. Economics deals with society's fundamental problems; it concerns everyone and belongs to all. It is the main and proper study of every citizen." (p. 875)
Of course, this is a pretty easy thing for an economist to believe. I wonder how many others, economists and non-economists, agree with Mises?

Big Brother Is Green?

Washington Examiner:
"Alexandria residents soon will have to pay for larger home recycling bins featuring built-in monitoring devices.

The City Council added a mandatory $9 charge to its residents' annual waste collection fee.

That cash -- roughly $180,000 collected from 19,000 residents-- will pay for new larger recycling carts equipped with computer microchips, which will allow the city to keep tabs on its bins and track resident participation in the city's recycling program.

'If you know who's participating in the programs, you can focus your education and outreach to those who are not participating,' said Stacy Herring, Alexandria's recycling coordinator."
I suppose this is just like our parents when we were kids -- our paternal governors are just making sure we take out the trash, eh?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Constitution & The Supreme Court

Senator Hatch offers some thoughts about how the Constitution is supposed to constrain all 3 branches of government, even the Supreme Court.

Federal Spending 2020

The Congressional Budget Office makes this projection. The CBO is projecting then, that in 2020 the federal government will be spending 47 cents of every dollar it spends on social security, medicare, and medicaid combined.

From a constitutional perspective, isn't this rather remarkable? After all, Congress is supposed to have only those powers explicitly enumerated in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution, and not one of these three programs is thus enumerated.

With respect to social security, the projection is that in 2020 22 cents of every dollar the national government spends will involve the redistribution of income from those who are working in 2020 to people who are among the retired.

I think we can consider social security, medicare, and medicaid as redistribution programs. If so, then this projection is that about 1/2 of every government dollar spent in 2020 will involve redistribution. Again, constitutionally remarkable since the Constitution seems to me to have created a limited government, mostly a "protective state" government, not a "redistributive state" government.

My son is not yet old enough to vote, but he will be in 2020. He may or may not be paying income taxes to the federal government then, both because he may be in college instead of the workforce and because a large percentage of people pay no taxes to the federal government today (I expect the same in the future). But, if he is paying income taxes then, note that 14 cents of every dollar spent by the national government will amount to him being required to make payments for loans taken out by others now and in the past. Assuming he is working, then 22 cents on the dollar will represent taking money from his paycheck to give to people who are retired and no longer a member of the workforce. Perhaps we can toss medicare and medicaid in with respect to these sorts of considerations as well. In any case, his income and productive abilities in the year 2020 as well as the years beyond have already been encumbered by federal government policies and programs, and he cannot yet vote.

As Hayek wrote, it seems to me the case that "the basic principles on which this civilization was built have been falling into increasing disregard and oblivion." The government I know today, and the government projected in the CBO's picture, seems impossibly different from the government I read about in the words of the Constitution.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Profit & Loss

Ludwig von Mises:
“Profit is the difference between the higher value of the good obtained and the lower value of the good sacrificed for its obtainment. If the action, due to bungling, error, and unanticipated change in conditions, or to other circumstances, results in obtaining something to which the actor attaches a lower value than to the price paid, the action generates a loss. Since action invariably aims to substitute a state of affairs which the actor considers as more satisfactory for a state which he considers less satisfactory, action always aims at profit and never at loss. This is valid not only for the actions of individuals in a market economy but no less for the actions of the economic director of a socialist society.” (Theory and History, p. 210)
Here is President Obama commenting on profits for Wall Street businesses.

It seems to me that the best way to think about "profit" is the way Mises explains, and of course this view of profit does not support the President's view. It is always a time to profit, or to make profit, and never a welcome time when loss is made instead.

The President seems to believe that in a time of recession businesses should not be earning profits. The implication of this is that instead, in a time of recession, businesses should earning losses, because profit and loss are terms that characterize the opposite results of human actions. But this is a perverse view isn't it? After all, businesses can only earn profits if their efforts to produce and sell goods and services sufficiently predict consumer desires in the future.

Mises's view of profit and loss is also informative about the President's actions in encouraging us to believe that now is not the time for Wall Street businesses to earn profits. The President's actions in politics can either serve to gain a state of affairs he regards as more satisfactory (profit) or a state of affairs he regards as less satisfactory (loss). Thus the President is acting as though he believes he will personally profit by castigating the efforts made by others to profit themselves by supplying consumers with goods and services they want. Oh, and incidentally, when consumers are able to buy goods and services they want, the consumers gain profit for themselves as well.

In the freedom of voluntary market exchange, the actions of businesses and consumers to profit themselves is positive sum. It is indeed possible for buyers and sellers to choose well their personal courses of action in face of an uncertain future, and both buyers and sellers can profit from exchange.

The President seems to see the situation as zero sum. He seems to be suggesting that profits for Wall Street businesses necessarily mean losses for consumers. But, while a business or a consumer need not choose well and thus profit from their choices, on the whole the realm of free and voluntary exchange is positive sum. It is in the President's world, the world of politics in which the struggle between competitors is over which will win the opportunity to determine the way that force will be used in the lives of others, that we should be prepared to expect to find a zero sum (even a negative sum) world. So, it seems, the President is apparently thinking that he will personally profit by encouraging his listeners to believe that they will also profit if there is greater reliance of the zero sum realm of politics instead of the positive sum realm of market exchange.

I'm pretty sure the view the President encourages will not profit me, but I also fear that because of the nature of politics it may well profit him.