North Carolina Tax Reform

The North Carolina Senate GOP recently revealed a plan for far-reaching tax reform.  This major reform will make several changes by lowering marginal income tax rates on both individuals and corporations, as well as begin to shift the burden of taxation to consumption rather than income.  These changes would be financed by a reduction in spending (long overdue) and an increase of taxes on services that are currently exempted.

This is the type of reform that is needed in a state with persistently higher unemployment than seen nationally, and a tax system that penalizes earning.

Moving a greater share of the tax burden to consumption is more efficient and more “fair” by any measure.  Critics argue that consumption taxes hurt those with lower income, yet this belief is based only on the current antiquated tax code.  Income taxes penalize all earners, and these taxes create a disincentive to earn (and for small business owners there is a disincentive in show a profit).  A system that forces any earner to hide and shelter their income is backwards.  In fact, consumption taxes are much more efficient.  They more you consume, the more tax you pay.  Thus, those who earn more income (and who also spend more of that income) will pay more in taxes.

Economists have argued for decades that consumption tax systems are more efficient because they push the individual tax burden into the future.  Younger tax payers will have more incentive to earn today, and then they will consume more in the future (especially after retirement).

Governor McCrory and the NC legislature should move forward on this reform and establish North Carolina as a national leader in tax policy change.

Runaway Spending

Despite the rhetoric espoused by both party’s during their respective conventions, the Republicans must continually challenge Mr. Obama on the fundamental problem of unsustainable government spending.  Every time a Romney-Ryan policy is criticized, the runaway freight train of Obama spending should be part of the rebuttal.

When the Obama administration claims that the Romney-Ryan Medicare plan will harm the elderly (which is a distortion because those over 55 can keep Medicare as is), the response should be “what do you plan to do about a budget that is 1 trillion dollars in the hole this year?”  Raising taxes on the wealthy is not a viable policy option to solve this spending problem.

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As the chart above demonstrates, the trend shows government borrows approximately 45 cents of every dollar it spends.  This level of imbalance is not only unprecedented historically during peacetime, but it is a problem that more tax revenue cannot solve.  Even when considering one of the most punitive tax increase proposal by the democrats in the House of Representatives, a tax on the wealthy making $1 million or more a year (both income and capital gains tax increases) would actually raise $40 billion to $50 billion a year which is only about 3% of the annual federal deficit.  This increase in revenue is barring an absence of any negative effects on economic growth, which is no certainty when taxes are raised on those who drive economic activity.

The U.S. government has a major spending problem, and both the candidates and the American people need to start acknowledging the disastrous path we are on.

Obamanomics or Reaganomics?

My newest op-ed was just published by WND.com.  In it, I discuss the ways in which government needs to “back out of the system” in order to stimulate real growth-much as Reagan did during his years of Presidency.  The op-ed is based on my latest Jesse Helms Fellows white paper  “Research on Reaganomics: Past Contributions and the Future of Economic Growth Policy.”

You can read the Obamanomics or Reaganomics op-ed at World Net Daily’s site or you can read it in its entirety below.

OBAMANOMICS OR REAGANOMICS?

Exclusive: Peter Frank advocates reversal
of ‘government is the solution’ mentality

Published: 12/16/2011 at 1:49 PM

http://www.wnd.com/2011/12/378229/print/

Economic growth is of primary concern for policymakers and the Obama administration as the president continues to tout policy designed at stimulating job creation. The mantra continues that in order to get the economy growing again, and move people into the labor force, government needs to spend more. A jobs bill, a stimulus package, a bridges bill, etc. – all that is needed is more government spending. Congress has all but forgotten, or so it seems, about the growing national debt with a $1.3 trillion budget gap this year alone. So the spending proposals continue. To what end? And has this solution proved effective in the last series of major economic challenges of the late 1970s and ’80s?

The Obama administration recently approved a half-billion-dollar federal loan guarantee to an electric-car company that has decided to manufacture its first line of automobiles in Finland. Is this the path to growth and continued prosperity for Americans? The problem here is not a question of intentions. Surely all legislators and the president desire to put Americans back to work. The problem resides in the basic limitations of government. There is no agency, politician, or bureaucrat that has enough information to efficiently direct resources in order to ensure a particular outcome. Decision-making by market participants informed by the specific knowledge of their complex circumstances is the only way forward. Washington lawmakers are unable to predict U.S. tax dollars fleeing to Finland and employing Finish autoworkers.

Instead of pushing spending bills and stimulus packages, instead of inciting protesters to blame American firms for all the evils in the world, the president should shift his focus to policy of which government can actually predict the beneficial outcome. Tax reform is the solution. Ronald Reagan demonstrated in the 1980s that when government gets off the backs of the people economic change will follow. Reagan pursued radical tax reform for two primary reasons: to lessen the burden of government while promoting the founding ideals of economic and political freedom, and to promote incentives that generate economic growth.

Optimal tax policy is not that which maximizes revenue to the federal government. Government has a limited function to perform, primarily a protective one, yet it is clear that for too many in Washington that the reach of government should have no bounds. Thus, when policymakers view government as the first solution to all economic problems, spending decisions are made irrespective of revenue – which leads to the massive deficits.

In addition to promoting liberty, the unprecedented tax reform ushered in by Reagan set a course for economic growth that was unparalleled in U.S. history. Cutting marginal tax rates for all wage earners and for the highest earners by 42 percent in six years, Reagan changed the incentive to work and earn and thus unleashed frenetic economic activity. This type of leadership and this scale of reform is what America needs today.

The solutions offered by the Obama administration to the economic stagnation that persists in the U.S. economy all reside in a failed ideology. Unlike during the 1980s, the belief in Washington today is that government is the solution and the real problem is tax policy that fails to generate enough revenue for the government to spend. Pulling dollars out of the market economy for government to spend on stimulating the market economy is backwards, yet this is exactly what the president is pushing for.

The time has come for politicians in Washington to pursue radical tax reform in the model of Reagan 30 years ago. Incremental changes in marginal tax rates will not provide the stimulus needed to jump start a sluggish economy, and raising rates on any level of income will only increase (albeit temporarily) the ability for government to spend more using the failed approach of “more spending” as the only solution. A complete change of the tax code will usher in a new decade of prosperity as occurred in the 1980s, but this will only happen if new leadership in Washington governs with the conviction that less government will lead to more “public” prosperity.

Markets and Uncertainty: The Uneasy Union of Policy and Free Enterprise

Coming off the heels of the vote to raise the debt ceiling, the U.S. bond rating downgrade and the market volatility that resulted, it’s a wonder investors can keep up with the constant frenetic activity happening on Wall Street.  As result of these uneasy economic times, President Obama has attempted quell jittery investors by claiming the historic strengths of the economy are still intact.  “The United States is still a AAA nation,” argues the President which appears, from the standpoint of investors, to be nothing more than a simple ploy at rhetoric to boost confidence in the market.  The problem is, all President Obama’s talk flies in the face of reality.  The market, made of the millions of daily decisions of individual investors, does not trust the actions of the President’s regime.

As a result, the Federal Reserve stepped in and tried to ease this uncertainty in the market (and lack of trust in the President’s policies) by announcing a two-year rate freeze keeping its key interest rate at near zero until 2013.  The goal: provide the market with the stability it desires in the face of Schizophrenic government policy.  Regime uncertainty is the core problem which destabilizes the market.  When market actors are uncertain in how to plan for the future; business, firms, and individual market participants pull back and act very cautiously.  They simply do not invest in any long-term projects for fear of the unknown and this includes both capital investment (machines, buildings, etc.) and labor investment (they fail to hire).  The Obama administration has firms guessing, which forces the engine of economic growth (the private sector) to take few risks and pull back.  The President’s healthcare legislation is a perfect example of policy that creates this uncertainty, and thus causes businesses to pull back for fear of how policy will impact the future.

So, has the Federal Reserve solved the problem?  Does the certainty of low interest rates provide the stability necessary for the market to flourish?  The answer to these questions is twofold; maybe in the short run but with a significant cost.  Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, appears to have a very short memory.  His decision to lock in the Feds key interest rate for two years is one that looks an awful lot like typical public policy.  That is, a focus on short-term impact with a “let’s hope for the best” in the long-run.  The policy process encourages a myopic view of the world because it is so often driven by election cycles.  Hence President Obama’s push for a “Big Deal” in the debt ceiling debate in order to get issue off the table for his 2012 Presidential campaign.

Yet, Fed policy should focus much more on the long-run.  The Federal Reserve is, in theory, insulated from the political process as the chairman serves a 14-year term.  Mr. Bernanke does not have to worry about the economic climate during the 2012 election, yet the move to lock in a two-year interest rate is bound to result in short-run stability but with a serious long-term cost.  One need not go back further than the economic boom of 2003-2007 to see the severe consequences of artificially low interest rates.  The housing bubble which burst to usher in the recent recession and economic downturn was caused in large measure by interest rates that were kept too low by the Fed.  Money was too cheap, lending standards were too generous (also a result of government policy), and economic collapse resulted.  Why does Mr. Bernanke want to put in place similar economic conditions that led to this collapse?

The answer here is the same as what has plagued the uneasy relationship between markets and government for centuries.  The belief is simple, we must do something.  The government must do something, or as Keynes argued decades ago, “In the long-run we are all dead.”  So, use any policy tools available to intervene in the market to ward off calamity.  Thus, the Americans and Europeans are scrambling to use policy in order to stabilize the market.  The reality is all these policy tools have short-run effects and huge long-run costs.  Is the Fed setting up the U.S. economy for another bubble?  It appears that this is a very real cost to the two-year interest rate lock.  Bubbles eventually burst, and when the price of money is artificially lowered an economic bust always follows.

Why Democrats Hate a Balanced Budget Amendment

My latest piece, “Why Democrats Hate a Balanced Budget Amendment” was just published at BigGovernment.com.  You can read my piece about the struggle for a Balanced Budget Amendment at their site or you can read it in its entirety below:

WHY DEMOCRATS HATE A BALANCED BUDGET AMENDMENT

By Peter Frank

http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2011/07/26/Why-Democrats-Hate-a-Balanced-Budget-Amendment

With Sen. Harry Reid (D.-Nv.) leading the charge that killed the Cut, Cap and Balance Act(it apparently was the “worst piece of legislation” he’d ever seen), and a new deal to break the impasse over raising the debt ceiling looming, it’s appropriate to ask why Democrats hate the idea of a balanced budget amendment.

Americans are forced each day to live with a balanced budget – families can only spend more than their income for a short time without ultimately going into default. Firms in a private market must live with a balanced budget or they’ll quickly exit industry.

So, why do Democrats hate the idea of a balanced budget amendment? Such an amendment would force Congress to spend within its means. What’s the problem with forcing expenses and revenue to equal each other? It seems to make sense in the absence of some mechanism (like profits and losses in the private market) to incentivize a prudent use of resources, that politicians should be bound to spend within their means.

It’s not that Democrats don’t believe in fiscal discretion or think there are no consequences to amassing a massive debt for future generations to pay. President Obama has repeatedly stated that deficit reduction is a priority, and he favors a “big deal” to both raise the debt limit and reduce spending by billions. Democrats in Congress have supported these goals of working hard to reduce the deficit over the next decade. Listening to lawmakers speak about their desire to cut spending, one would expect wide-spread bipartisan support for a balanced budget amendment.

Not so fast.

The bottom line for Democrats is that a constitutional law forcing spending and revenue to equate signifies a massive loss of political power. Democrats in Congress claim that a balanced budget will devastate the economy because they will not have the ability to spend discretionary dollars whenever they see fit (i.e. when they deem it necessary for the economy). House minority whip Steny Hoyer (D.-Md.) said they he wouldn’t support it because it would “make it virtually impossible to raise revenue” (i.e. taxes). I’ll let Michelle Malkin handle the fallacies in Hoyer’s reasoning.

Democrats refuse, no matter how fiscally wise, to give up the substantial power that comes with spending taxpayer (and borrowed) dollars. The President and Congressional Democrats want to solve the deficit problem by cutting future program spending while raising the debt ceiling in order to save America from default. Imagine trying to encourage a teenager to pay off his first credit card by increasing the loan limit and telling him that in the future he’ll have to buy fewer clothes. It just doesn’t make sense.

The problem with the Democrats approach is that it fails to force future lawmakers to live within a budget and to provide any long-term incentive to align spending with revenue. The answer is a balanced budget amendment, yet Democrats are unwilling to cede their unmitigated spending power. They’d rather raise the debt ceiling to keep their power safe. The recent financial crisis and the subsequent economic downturn shows exactly how billions of dollars are spent based on congressional “insight,” with little effect.

The problem of knowing where to spend, when to spend, and how much to spend is a problem that is appears unsolvable inside the halls of the U.S. Capitol.

We can expect the many newly elected Republicans in the House to continue trying to limit the power of government (and their power to spend). Limiting power is a tough sell in Washington today, especially when Democrats are looking to swing the election victory pendulum back in their corner.

Is It Time to Make a Deal?

With the debate intensifying over raising the debt limit and cutting federal spending, all eyes are on the GOP.  Many conservatives are arguing that Republicans must give in to President Obama’s desire for elimination of tax loopholes on corporate taxpayers and other reforms that could raise taxes on the American people.  The mantra of the Republications is quite simple: spending is the problem and there is no need for revenue increases (read tax hikes).

Democrats on the other hand claim that certain programs are untouchable such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  Thus, the proposals outlined to cut $2-4 trillion from the Federal budget over the next decade must leave these entitlements alone.  These conflicting philosophical positions continue to arise: cutting spending and the size of government alone or continue the course by raising more revenue?  Should Congress agree to spending cuts AND tax increases in order to make a deal and act before the August 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling?  David Brooks of the New York Times  recently wrote cutting a deal is the “mother of all no-brainers.”  Others are claiming that certainly the wealthiest Americans can afford tax increases (yet these increases are always couched as “allowing the Bush tax cuts expire”).  Consequently, the debate ensues and each side, Republicans and Democrats alike, are blaming each other for the pending default if a deal on the debt ceiling is not reached.

Again Americans are experiencing the tension between politics and economics that is as familiar as a thunderstorm on a hot summer evening.  The political process creates incentives for spending and compromise while the economics reflects an unsustainable budget shortfall that has implications that are not fully known.  The easy solution is to make a deal, raise the debt limit, and spend tax payer and borrowed dollars to oblivion.  Thus, the debate is one of principles that are on very different poles: limited government and incentives push to market participants versus government solutions to basic economic problems with little to discipline political actors.

The debt ceiling is the only tool left that provides for the possibility of fiscal discipline by politicians.  In the past, raising the debt ceiling has been a relatively simple policy option for a spendthrift Congress.  Yet, with the election of conservative Republicans in November 2010 there is a new push toward actually maintaining a principled position regardless of the political cost.  Many Republicans see this issue as that is, spending billions over budget, controlled by special interests, and taking control of the very market incentives that drive economic growth.  Why should high income earners pay higher tax rates (either via marginal rate increases or lost deductions) simply to fund programs that are inefficiently administered via the federal government?  Or to put it more clearly, why are Democrats set on maintaining or growing the current federal budget?

These are the questions that must be asked long before the question of “should the Republicans make a deal?”  According to those close to the debate, the big concern is that failing to raise the debt ceiling could likely lead to skyrocketing interest rates and a plummeting dollar.  Hence, the President and his party are characterizing the Republicans as willing to sacrifice economic stability for wealthy tax breaks.  Once again, this myopic view of the economy is endemic within the political process.  Obama is looking to the 2012 campaign and many in Congress are doing the same, yet the discussion of core principles must remain in this debate.  Any compromise at this point, as obvious as it may seem to some, is tantamount to once again throwing away all the economics for politics alone.  In congressional districts throughout the county, a majority of voters spoke loudly last November saying that they wanted a principled position on tax and spend policies to re-enter the political process.  Many Americans are tired of the bickering over billions when they have made significant cuts in their own budgets.  It is time for Congress to stop pandering to the few and start worrying about spending less for the entire country.

Public Sector Unions Are Bargaining For Your Salary

Check out my latest piece at Carolina Journal: http://www.carolinajournal.com/articles/display_story.html?id=7502  or read the entire piece below!

Public Sector Unions Are Bargaining for Your Salary
By Peter Frank
Mar. 10th, 2011

WINGATE — As Wisconsin and other states come to grips with massive budget shortfalls, and protesters seek a voice in the
painful process of spending cuts, we find ourselves questioning the role of public sector unions today.
Look at the basic structure of public vs. private unions. At the core of their collective goals, unions are trying to advocate for the
rights of their members, but this is where the similarity ends. Public sector unions are bargaining over tax dollars, so there is
little discipline or limitation for what they can bargain. Private unions are faced with a very different situation. They are simply
trying to attain a share of the corporate profits, and their bargaining power exists only if they produce a product that consumers
want. Public unions negotiate with those who they help elect to ensure they receive above average pay compared to the private
sector.

Take the current bargaining dispute between the NFL players and owners. Each party walks a fine line because if consumers
get fed up with their haggling, and stop purchasing tickets and merchandise, neither side will get a slice of the $9 billion
industry. Or consider the United Auto Workers in Ohio and Michigan who are no longer employed because General Motors had
to restructure and close over 14 production facilities.

Public sector unions try to explain their plight in terms of basic rights. Yet there is no basic right to negotiate with monopoly
power extracting resources from a democratically elected government. For the teacher union in Wisconsin, collective bargaining
means that those who supply their labor to the public school system essentially can fix their wages and benefits and force all
workers to join the union (or pay not to join). As one commentator put it, it’s equivalent to all airline companies meeting to fix
ticket prices and capacity — obviously a practice that would swiftly be stopped under antitrust law.

These unions essentially are claiming they have an unqualified right to bargain for more taxpayer funds. In Wisconsin, the
average public school teacher earns approximately one-and-a-half times what the average American worker earns. Should they
have the right to bargain for higher wages, improved pension programs, and additional worker benefits without any market
discipline? The problem is there is no “fair” way to set up a public sector union to incorporate a mechanism for compensating
workers without appealing to political patronage. The recent headlines in Wisconsin are a prime example of this problem.

Public sector employee unions should not have an unchecked ability to extract tax dollars from the state budget for their own
well-being. They simply shouldn’t have the right to bargain for more taxpayer dollars without any accountability.
Liberal legislators who are “fighting for working families” clearly don’t see this side of the argument. The transactions costs would be high, but why not put a salary or pension increase to the voters each time a public sector employee asks for more funds? No one is hoping for this outcome, but it does reveal the absurdity of unmitigated bargaining power. How manyAmericans have the ability to negotiate for the salary they desire, and the ability to bind their employer with unqualified monopoly power on the supply of their labor?

At its core, the debate over public sector union power is a debate over the public vs. private provision of goods and services.
The matter doesn’t center on some opposing moral issue of giving workers what they deserve vs. stripping school teachers of
a dignifying wage.

Americans must come to grips with an imperfect system of deciding what government workers rightfully earn as they educate
children and police our streets, while public sector unions must consider the reality that most of us rely on market forces and
the desires of consumers to determine our bargaining power.