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Just like former President Jimmy Carter, President Obama is doing his best to gift the White House to the Republicans through misguided economic and foreign policies. Nothing from his State of the Union speech signals substantive change for the country.

An economy can grow through either increased productivity or increased government spending fueled by borrowed money. Since 2007, productivity in the U.S. has been growing at half of its historical rate. That means the modest economic gains we’ve experienced were fueled largely by an unprecedented increase in Federal government borrowing and by the printing of money by the Federal Reserve. And the piper will have to be paid in 2016.

Since 2007, the Federal government debt has increased 110% to almost $19 trillion. The debt outstanding has soared from 63% of GDP to 105%. Annually, the Federal government is currently spending around $1 trillion more than it takes in. The U.S. now ranks 11th highest in government debt to output among all the nations in the world.

The fiscal gap, the difference between the present value of all the Federal government’s projected financial obligations and its future tax receipts, now totals $230 trillion…or $721,000 per citizen. The fiscal gap includes such unfunded future obligations as Social Security, Medicare, and the food stamp program (now the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program). The fiscal gap is twelve times the national debt and to close the gap we would have to have either a 60% increase in Federal taxes or a permanent 40% cut in transfer payments.
Major nations are now dis-investing in U.S. government debt. So how has the debt spending been sustained? The U.S. treasury securities held by the Federal Reserve have gone from $800 billion in 2007 to $2.5 trillion today. The Federal Reserve has been printing money faster than a third-world dictator.

Where is the economy today?

Inflation adjusted median household and family income is down at least 8% from 2007, and more for blacks and Latinos. The individual poverty rate has climbed by 20% and household income inequality is growing nearly 40% faster since 2007 then in the preceding 7 years.

Transfer payments such as Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps and other welfare benefits are the fastest growing component of personal income. Half of the gain in personal consumption expenditures since 2007 has been funded by deficit-financed transfer payments.
The growth rates in both real per capita personal income and real GDP have fallen more than one-third since 2007.

The stock market has peaked and cracks are appearing. The margin debt is at an all-time high despite a rock-bottom volume of trading. The Schilling PE ratio is nearly 70% above normal and rising interest rates will stop companies from buying back their stock to inflate its value.
Labor force participation is falling and the number of discouraged workers rising. Real hourly wages have been flat since 2007. Home ownership has dropped to its lowest rate since 1965 and rising mortgage rates will do little to change this.

Rising interest rates, falling exports due to a strong dollar, weakening markets for Federal debt, deflating of commodity markets, and a stock market decline add up to a shaky U.S. economy going into the November elections.

The President offers no substantive answers to these challenges.
Dr. John E. Stapleford
Director,   CEPA

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AEI interviewed University of Chicago economist Steven Kaplan about income inequality and the perception of unfairness in American’s economy. Below is a portion of the interview.

JP: I want to start off with a quote from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. He gave a big speech recently on democratic socialism and what it means. And here’s just a few sentences of what he said.

Democratic socialism means that in a democratic, civilized society the wealthiest people and the largest corporations must pay their fair share of taxes. Yes, innovation, entrepreneurship, and business success should be rewarded. But greed for the sake of greed is not something that public policy should support. It’s not acceptable that in a rigged economy in the last two years, the wealthiest 15 Americans saw their wealth increase by $170 billion, more wealth than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans.

But let’s not forget what Pope Francis has stated. We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.

So from your research, what do we really know about income inequality and what’s driving it in the United States today?      

SK: There is, I think, some truth in what he’s saying and then some real problems in what he’s saying. So here is my view of what’s happened in the last really 30-35 years. We’ve had a huge amount of technological change. And that has coincided with globalization. And they’re related. Technology allows you to do a lot of things overseas that you couldn’t do before. And so the combination of technological change and globalization has put pressure on the middle class and particularly the less skilled in the developed countries. So it’s the U.S. and Western Europe.

And I think there’s some anxiety and clearly anger about that happening. And at the same time, the people at the top have done very well in the United States. So that’s, I think, the problem that Bernie Sanders has stated. Now what he doesn’t state, and I think is extremely important to recognize is that the world is hugely better off – hugely. And Angus Deaton, who recently won the Nobel Prize in economics and is, you know, archconservative, wrote a book called “The Great Escape.” And that book starts by saying, and I quote, “Life is better now than at almost any time in history. More people are richer and fewer people live in dire poverty. Lives are longer and parents no longer routinely watch a quarter of their children die.”

So the system and capitalism in particular, around the world, has been spectacularly successful over the last 30 or 35 years. The number of people who are living above the poverty level – actually, take the number of people living below the poverty level – has declined in absolute terms and has declined hugely in relative terms.

The world is so much better off. And I think for Sanders and politicians to say that that’s terrible is really just morally abhorrent. … So now the question is, okay, we have this – so it’s great. Around the world, I would not give this up. This has been spectacular. Now, you do have the issue of what do you do in the United States and Western Europe, where you have had – it has been uneven in how the benefits have been distributed.

Folks on the left, they don’t much talk about the role of capitalism bringing  hundreds of millions of people in Asia out of really deep, extreme poverty. They focus really more on the U.S. story and they’ll even concede that there’s been economic growth. But they also that it really hasn’t helped the vast majority of the middle class for 30 or 40 years. They talk about stagnant wages. If the median person, the average person, they’re not getting richer, what’s the point of it?

So the median person in the world is much better off. Let’s be clear. So now, let’s go to the median person in the US and try to figure out what to do about him or her.

So first of all, the after-tax numbers are much better than the pre-tax numbers. And this is also, you know, kind of ignored to some extent, is that if you look at – I think these are Congressional Budget Office numbers or they’re not the IRS numbers that are pre-tax that get a lot of play – the increase in inequality, when you include taxes and transfers, is not as high as it is pre-tax. And that’s because there is a safety net. There are transfers.

But even that said, let’s say there has been an increase. Now the question is what do you do about it. And the real issue is you do have this headwind of technological change and globalization. And so now the question is, what do you do about it?

And one set of proposals which I think Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and the Democrats in general push [is] to raise the minimum wage. And that’s precisely the wrong thing to do here because if you’ve got a headwind of technology and globalization, which is making it harder to hire people and it makes jobs more difficult to create, raising the minimum wage exacerbates that. It’s exactly the wrong thing to do.

If you want to encourage job creation, I think job creation is the most important thing. And I know your boss at AEI, Arthur Brooks, is very articulate on this, the way you encourage jobs is, you know, have an Earned Income Tax Credit or something of that nature, rather than raising the minimum wage. Because raising the minimum wage, you just put more headwinds into job creation.

I would say the same thing about mandated leaves, which is also a big campaign plank among the Democrats. Because, again, that makes jobs more expensive. It makes employment more expensive. And what are companies going to do in response to making jobs more expensive? Well, let’s apply more technology. Let’s try to find jobs in places where the costs are lower. So that is – you know – it is a real conundrum what to do with technology and globalization, but the answer is to make it easier to hire, rather than harder.

At the same time, where I think the Republicans sometimes are not quite so sensitive is [that] you do need to have safety net. If you think this is going on, you really want to make sure you have a solid safety net, so that people do not, you know, go too far down.

Read the rest of the interview here

to perhaps answer their own question, AEI posed some graphs on income earns in America:

income1

They wrote:

“Perhaps the stagnation and decline in US household income that gets so much media and political attention isn’t necessarily the result of the usual negative factors that get cited so frequently: stagnating wages, reduced economic and employment opportunities for the average, middle-class American, the increased share of rising income or wealth going to the top X%, the hollowing out of the middle class, the claims that the middle class is shrinking/losing ground/disappearing/declining, etc. Rather, perhaps there’s a less-nefarious, demographic-driven reason that household incomes have been stagnating/declining in recent years — the increase in the share of US households with no earners, which is largely driven by the aging US population and the increasing number of retired workers, and to a lesser extent by the increasing number and share of disabled workers. Finally, there’s been nearly a six percentage point decline in the share of US households with two or more earners since 1999, which could be another demographic change that has contributed to a decline in median household income.”

We’d love to hear your opinions on what AEI is presenting. Enter them in the comment section, and don’t forget to follow our feed.

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Bernice Whaley, director of the Delaware Economic Development Office (DEDO), recently provided a glowing assessment of Delaware’s economy in a News Journal article. Ms. Whaley cites a current unemployment rate of 4.7% and growth over the last two years of 4% in Delaware jobs and 6.5% in personal income. And she notes recent increases in high technology employment in the state.

It might be helpful to put these statistics in perspective relevant to the average Delaware household.

The Delaware unemployment rate has thankfully fallen from a high of 8.7% in 2009 to 4.7% today. Two things are worth noting. First, in the year prior to the recession the state’s unemployment rate was 3.4%. Second, according to the most recent Census data, the percent of Delaware residents age 16 to 64 working dropped from 80.7% in 2009 to 76.7% in 2013. In other words, one major reason for a lower Delaware unemployment rate is that a large number of working age individuals have simply stopped looking for employment.

Total jobs in Delaware have expanded by almost 4% (2% per year) over the past two years. While it took more time to get there, this is similar to the job growth rate following the last recession in Delaware. Many of the jobs being added, however, are lower paying positions in such industries as temporary services and restaurants. The result from the Census is that between 2009 and 2013 the inflation adjusted median earnings of working Delaware residents with a high school degree has dropped 7% while that of residents with a bachelor’s degree or more has dropped almost 3%.

The earnings of Delaware workers are on average moving backwards.

Delaware personal income has grown at least 6.5% over the past two years. This compares to 13.8% growth following the last recession. More disturbing, the slowest growing component of Delaware personal income during the past two years has been earnings by residents while the fastest growing component has been transfer payments (e.g., Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, TANF).

Finally, growth in high technology industries in Delaware is positive, but it provides few opportunities for the almost two-thirds of working age Delaware residents who have less than an associate’s degree. Tests of Delaware public school students from 4th grade through high school evidence that the majority of students are not proficient in reading or math.

Obviously it is the job of DEDO to be positive and sell Delaware. And in all fairness DEDO has little control over the poor performing public schools, the green energy policies that have driven Delaware electric rates 35% above the nation, and the lack of a right-to-work law.

Nevertheless, a victory lap seems premature.

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United States one dollar bills are curled and inspected.

Today’s post is on income inequality. Since we’re heating up in election season, candidates are pushing forth their economic plans for America.

The dangerous separation of the American upper middle class

click here for the full article

“The American upper middle class is separating, slowly but surely, from the rest of society. This separation is most obvious in terms of income—where the top fifth have been prospering while the majority lags behind. But the separation is not just economic. Gaps are growing on a whole range of dimensions, including family structure, education, lifestyle, and geography. Indeed, these dimensions of advantage appear to be clustering more tightly together, each thereby amplifying the effect of the other.

For many, the most attractive class dividing line is the one between those at the very, very top and everybody else.  It is true that the top 1 percent is pulling away very dramatically from the bottom 99 percent. But the top 1 percent is by definition a small group. It is not plausible to claim that the individual or family in the 95th or 99th percentile are in any way part of mainstream America, even if many of them think so: over a third of the demonstrators on the May Day ‘Occupy’ march in 2011 had annual earnings of more than $100,000.

For others, the most important division is at the other end of the spectrum: the poverty line. The poor have not fallen behind the middle class in recent decades. But they have not caught up either. There is a case to be made that whatever is happening towards the top of the distribution, the gap we should care most about is between families struggling to put food on the table and those with adequate, middling incomes.”

Senator Bernie Sanders has made addressing income inequality one of the principle components of his campaign, and even other populist candidates like Donald Trump have called for raising taxes on the rich, or at least certain groups of wealthy Americans. Most voters, particularly Republican voters, oppose raising taxes on the rich, but here’s the question:

Is income inequality a problem in America?

The answer is, it could be: One of the ways America has been able to become the most powerful nation on earth in such a short period of time is because we are one of the few societies where economic mobility is possible. Someone born poor, even without tremendous musical, athletic, dancing, or tech genius talent can still earn a solid living and move from the bottom 10% to the top 1%. Herman Cain and Ben Carson are two such examples. Abraham Lincoln went from being born in a one-room cabin to President of the United States. That gives people hope that they too can achieve the “American Dream”, however it is defined for them. For some, earning a salary of $250,000 or more per year is unrealistic. But they may find happiness moving from $20,000 a year to $60,000 a year.

However, the American Dream only works if people believe economic mobility is feasible for them. And right now, many Americans do not believe it’s possible, or at least is becoming more difficult. Some Conservatives and “1%ers” will just say those people don’t work hard enough, or make poor decisions which cause them to stumble. Those may be true for some people, but not for all.

And that’s not the point of this discussion. It’s ‘do you believe you can move up the economic ladder’? And if people are answering no, then the question is, ‘why?’ and if people think the system is rigged against them, populist candidates like Sanders and Trump will absolutely win because the “hard work+perseverance=success” mantra will ring hollow to people who believe we are slowly moving away from an economically mobile society to one based primarily on who your parents are or who believe some people are ‘privileged’. That’s part of the reason entrepreneurship activity is down overall. Onerous government does hamper economic activity, but if people do not believe they can succeed, most will not even try.

This is something both major political parties will have to come to terms with. Certainly no productive society can function under Communism, where everyone (except the Party leaders) is equally poor and miserable. But too much inequality fuels populist and radical candidates who promise to fix the problem.

So take a look at the above graphic and try to answer for yourself, “is income inequality a problem in America”?

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That’s the premise behind an article on CBS news by Aimee Picchi which is based on a book co-written by Sociologist Professor Kathryn Edin of Johns Hopkins University. A sample:

“By one dismal measure, America is joining the likes of Third World countries.

The number of U.S. residents who are struggling to survive on just $2 a day has more than doubled since 1996, placing 1.5 million households and 3 million children in this desperate economic situation. That’s according to “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America,” a book from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that will be released on Sept. 1.

The measure of poverty isn’t arbitrary — it’s the threshold the World Bank uses to measure global poverty in the developed world. While it may be the norm to see families in developing countries such as Bangladesh and Ethiopia struggle to survive on such meager income, the growing ranks of America’s ultrapoor may be shocking, given that the U.S. is considered one of the most developed capitalist countries in the world.

“Most of us would say we would have trouble understanding how families in the county as rich as ours could live on so little,” said author Kathryn Edin, who spoke on a conference call to discuss the book, which she wrote with Luke Shaefer. Edin is the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University. “These families, contrary to what many would expect, are workers, and their slide into poverty is a failure of the labor market and our safety net, as well as their own personal circumstances.”

Despite questionable statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, most Americans do not believe the recovering economy has really boosted their well-being. True, there are more jobs now than in 2009 at the bottom of the recession. However, many of these jobs, as CRI has said here and here and, oh what the heck, just read here, are not the kinds of blue-collar jobs which were lost during the Great Recession. By this we mean jobs which paid at the absolute minimum, $35,000 and helped families earn at least a basic standard of living, even on just one income. The jobs we are seeing growth in are jobs in sectors like retail, restaurant, and tourism, which are generally minimum wage jobs.

The exact numbers receive EBT benefits (also known as ‘food stamps’), TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), Affordable Housing, student loans, etc., varies from month to month. But one thing that has absolutely happened is, more and more Americans are becoming poor, increasing numbers of working and middle class Americans are finding themselves sliding downward and not up, and the future looks bleak, because our deficit is so large there is no real way to ever pay most of it off. That’s why in poll after poll, the majority of Americans believe the so-called “Millennial Generation” will be the first generation to be worse off than their parents.

It should surprise no one that presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are stealing the show. The rhetoric each espouses, while different in ideology, basically says the same thing: the ruling class (Berni’s ‘billionaire class’ and Donald’s ‘political class’) has changed America from a free-market oriented society to one that is a combination of socialism and crony capitalism, the exact same system countries such as Canada, Sweden, Germany, France, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Portugal have. The days when a person could confidently and reasonably believe s/he could work hard, save money, invest wisely, and earn a higher standard of living are fading. Yes, there are indeed people who do overcome the odds and become millionaires or billionaires, even from humble beginnings. But for those who lack some superstar athletic, musical, or coding talent, those opportunities seem more and more distant as the majority of Americans work harder and harder for less value per hour.

The question of who to blame for this economic malaise floats around. People who identify as conservatives or libertarians generally put the blame on the government, believing government policies aimed at keeping people dependent on government, discouraging work opportunities for the poor (this post from ZeroHedge explains it, and mind their language), and federal reserve dollars being pumped into the system causing inflation are the main source. Throw in Statist politicians from both parties taxing and spending and pushing a tax code which actually harms people trying to acquire wealth through work rather than the already-rich and people whose income comes from the stock market, and there’s your answer.

People who identify as liberal or socialist will put the blame on Big Business. According to the Brookings Institute, the average age of a business in America is sixteen years- the highest it’s ever been. Despite claims of “new entrepreneurial activity” by our elected officials, fewer people are attempting startups. The biggest reason, besides bureaucratic red tape and high taxes? Business cronyism, where large firms use the government to rig policies in their favor and against their competitors, especially small competitors. As access to capital for small business owners, especially young people and people of color, declines, you will see fewer people taking risks to create jobs. That leaves us more dependent on corporatism for our daily bread.

In our view, both the left and the right make fair points, which then brings us to the next step: the solution. In our view, only a truly fair marketplace, where a person reasonably believes he or she can compete either for a job or in business, will help people climb the economic ladder. The reason Trump and Sanders are hitting cords with a segment of the population is because (and the political pundits miss this, for the most part) the majority of Americans, whose household income is less than $55,000 a year, are becoming frustrated and resentful that opportunities are being taken away and incomes are declining due to government policies which discourage work and entrepreneurship, and corporate entities who raid the treasury for their own gain, depriving would-be entrepreneurs and workers of the funds they need to either start a business, take care of their families, or save for retirement. The economic mobility ladder is slowly but surely being lifted up by those who already “made it” and are using the government to keep everyone else away, or dependent on the government administrators for their basic needs.

We hope the public at large begins putting the pieces together and starts to vote for candidates who will oppose the so-called Ruling Class and their wealthy financiers, and instead turns to candidates with quality solutions that will give people opportunity and real hope. That is change we could believe in.

CRI will continue to conduct research on policies which we believe best help all Delawareans achieve what they can and believe they can move up the economic mobility ladder. If you agree that Delaware needs a real change in how our government does business, then visit caesarrodney.org and learn about what you can do today to help.

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photo credit to learnaboutancientrome.weebly.com.

Below is a guest post from Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education. The Foundation for Economic Education, founded in 1946, is the leader in education, publishing, and the production of ideas related to the economic, ethical and legal principles of a free society. Republished with permission.

More than 2,000 years before America’s bailouts and entitlement programs, the ancient Romans experimented with similar schemes. The Roman government rescued failing institutions, canceled personal debts, and spent huge sums on welfare programs. The result wasn’t pretty.

Roman politicians picked winners and losers, generally favoring the politically well connected — a practice that’s central to the welfare state of modern times, too. As numerous writers have noted, these expensive rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul efforts were major factors in bankrupting Roman society. They inevitably led to even more destructive interventions. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the old saying goes — and it took a while to tear it down as well. Eventually, when the republic faded into an imperial autocracy, the emperors attempted to control the entire economy.

Debt forgiveness in ancient Rome was a contentious issue that was enacted multiple times. One of the earliest Roman populist reformers, the tribune Licinius Stolo, passed a bill that was essentially a moratorium on debt around 367 BC, a time of economic uncertainty. The legislation enabled debtors to subtract the interest paid from the principal owed if the remainder was paid off within a three-year window. By 352 BC, the financial situation in Rome was still bleak, and the state treasury paid many defaulted private debts owed to the unfortunate lenders. It was assumed that the debtors would eventually repay the state, but if you think they did, then you probably think Greece is a good credit risk today.

In 357 BC, the maximum permissible interest rate on loans was roughly 8 percent. Ten years later, this was considered insufficient, so Roman administrators lowered the cap to 4 percent. By 342, the successive reductions apparently failed to mollify the debtors or satisfactorily ease economic tensions, so interest on loans was abolished altogether. To no one’s surprise, creditors began to refuse to loan money. The law banning interest became completely ignored in time.

By 133 BC, the up-and-coming politician Tiberius Gracchus decided that Licinius’s measures were not enough. Tiberius passed a bill granting free tracts of state-owned farmland to the poor. Additionally, the government funded the erection of their new homes and the purchase of their faming tools. It’s been estimated that 75,000 families received free land because of this legislation. This was a government program that provided complimentary land, housing, and even a small business, all likely charged to the taxpayers or plundered from newly conquered nations. However, as soon as it was permissible, many settlers thanklessly sold their farms and returned to the city. Tiberius didn’t live to see these beneficiaries reject Roman generosity, because a group of senators murdered him in 133 BC, but his younger brother Gaius Gracchus took up his populist mantle and furthered his reforms.

Tiberius, incidentally, also passed Rome’s first subsidized food program, which provided discounted grain to many citizens. Initially, Romans dedicated to the ideal of self-reliance were shocked at the concept of mandated welfare, but before long, tens of thousands were receiving subsidized food, and not just the needy. Any Roman citizen who stood in the grain lines was entitled to assistance. One rich consul named Piso, who opposed the grain dole, was spotted waiting for the discounted food. He stated that if his wealth was going to be redistributed, then he intended on getting his share of grain.

By the third century AD, the food program had been amended multiple times. Discounted grain was replaced with entirely free grain, and at its peak, a third of Rome took advantage of the program. It became a hereditary privilege, passed down from parent to child. Other foodstuffs, including olive oil, pork, and salt, were regularly incorporated into the dole. The program ballooned until it was the second-largest expenditure in the imperial budget, behind the military.It failed to serve as a temporary safety net; like many government programs, it became perpetual assistance for a permanent constituency who felt entitled to its benefits.

In 88 BC, Rome was reeling from the Social War, a debilitating conflict with its former allies in the Italian peninsula. One victorious commander was a man named Sulla, who that year became consul (the top political position in the days of the republic) and later ruled as a dictator. To ease the economic catastrophe, Sulla canceled portions of citizens’ private debt, perhaps up to 10 percent,leaving lenders in a difficult position. He also revived and enforced a maximum interest rate on loans, likely similar to the law of 357 BC. The crisis continually worsened, and to address the situation in 86 BC, a measure was passed that reduced private debts by another 75 percent under the consulships of Cinna and Marius.

Less than two decades after Sulla, Catiline, the infamous populist radical and foe of Cicero, campaigned for the consulship on a platform of total debt forgiveness. Somehow, he was defeated, likely with bankers and Romans who actually repaid their debts opposing his candidacy. His life ended shortly thereafter in a failed coup attempt.

In 60 BC, the rising patrician Julius Caesar was elected consul, and he continued the policies of many of his populist predecessors with a few innovations of his own. Once again, Rome was in the midst of a crisis. In this period, private contractors called tax farmers collected taxes owed to the state. These tax collectors would bid on tax-farming contracts and were permitted to keep any surplus over the contract price as payment. In 59 BC, the tax-farmer industry was on the brink of collapse. Caesar forgave as much as one-third of their debt to the state. The bailout of the tax-farming market must have greatly affected Roman budgets and perhaps even taxpayers, but the catalyst for the relief measure was that Caesar and his crony Crassus had heavily invested in the struggling sector.

In 33 AD, half a century after the collapse of the republic, Emperor Tiberius faced a panic in the banking industry. He responded by providing a massive bailout of interest-free loans to bankers in an attempt to stabilize the market. Over 80 years later, Emperor Hadrian unilaterally forgave 225 million denarii in back taxes for many Romans, fostering resentment among others who had painstakingly paid their tax burdens in full.

Emperor Trajan conquered Dacia (modern Romania) early in the second century AD, flooding state coffers with booty. With this treasure trove, he funded a social program, the alimenta, which competed with private banking institutions by providing low-interest loans to landowners while the interest benefited underprivileged children. Trajan’s successors continued this programuntil the devaluation of the denarius, the Roman currency, rendered the alimenta defunct.

By 301 AD, while Emperor Diocletian was restructuring the government, the military, and the economy, he issued the famous Edict of Maximum Prices. Rome had become a totalitarian state that blamed many of its economic woes on supposed greedy profiteers. The edict defined the maximum prices and wages for goods and services. Failure to obey was punishable by death. Again, to no one’s surprise, many vendors refused to sell their goods at the set prices, and within a few years, Romans were ignoring the edict.

Enormous entitlement programs also became the norm in old Rome. At its height, the largest state expenditure was an army of 300,000–600,000 legionaries. The soldiers realized their role and necessity in Roman politics, and consequently their demands increased. They required exorbitant retirement packages in the form of free tracts of farmland or large bonuses of gold equal to more than a decade’s worth of their salary. They also expected enormous and periodic bonuses in order to prevent uprisings.

The Roman experience teaches important lessons. As the 20th-century economist Howard Kershner put it, “When a self-governing people confer upon their government the power to take from some and give to others, the process will not stop until the last bone of the last taxpayer is picked bare.” Putting one’s livelihood in the hands of vote-buying politicians compromises not just one’s personal independence, but the financial integrity of society as well. The welfare state, once begun, is difficult to reverse and never ends well.

Rome fell to invaders in 476 AD, but who the real barbarians were is an open question. The Roman people who supported the welfare state and the politicians who administered it so weakened society that the Western Roman Empire fell like a ripe plum that year. Maybe the real barbarians were those Romans who had effectively committed a slow-motion financial suicide.

read the original post at the FEE website here

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This guest post is provided by Jack Massih, CRI’s summer intern. This is his debut post.

Connecticut recently decided to walk off of a cliff with its tax hike on businesses, and unsurprisingly the affected companies are looking to move to friendlier climates. Governors from Florida, Texas, Georgia and even New York quickly jumped at the opportunity, calling CEO Jeffery Immelt to explain why their state is the best place for GE’s new home. Delaware, with its business friendly reputation, ostensibly seems a natural place for GE to plant its new headquarters, but Delaware has fallen behind other states in offering a pro-business atmosphere, and if GE does decide to move, it is a near certainty they will not relocate to Delaware. For a State that has historically acted to accommodate businesses, this is a troubling development, indicative of the disastrous path state leaders have charted for Delaware.

As the current General Assembly looks to raise the personal income tax on the state’s wealthier families and raise the gross receipts tax on businesses, it is easy to forget there was a time when Delaware actually cut taxes and streamlined regulations to attract businesses and their employees to the first state. Lawmakers and Governors worked hard to woo the banking industry into Wilmington, and they adroitly maneuvered to land AstraZenica’s corporate office. Such policies paid off massively for Delaware, and even though tax rates were decreased, revenues grew as people and businesses flocked to the first state. In recent years many other states have prospered thanks to this pro-growth model, and Delaware was the pioneer of such policy, but state lawmakers have forgone this proven path to success in favor of increased taxes and ever expanding regulations.

One merely needs to examine the wealth migration into and out of Delaware to understand that families and companies vote with their feet. Money is still coming into the state from surrounding states in the mid-Atlantic and northeast, but much of it is offset by wealth leaving the state for even sunnier financial climates in the south. Delaware seems to be nothing more than a layover on the flight of money out of the region, rather than a permanent destination. Smart decisions to cut taxes sensibly will entice that money to stay within the state, boosting revenues and infusing communities with cash, while reckless tax hikes and wanton government spending will permanently scare it away. Delaware is straddling the line between being a winning state or a losing state, and current decisions by the General Assembly threaten to push it into the losing camp.

The risks of Delaware’s loss in competitiveness go beyond families and businesses leaving the state, there is also the loss in growth due to companies choosing not to relocate or expand into Delaware. Not only does the state run the risk of turning away established businesses and residence, it stands to lose out on the next generation of AstraZenica’s and banking firms. As firms like General Electric looking to relocate pass over Delaware, the state will lose out on the important revenue growth these income-earners and employers will bring, and its options to meet its ever growing spending commitments will invariably shrink to increasing taxes and/or making drastic discretionary cuts to state services. Both unsavory options inevitably push people out of the state and leading to an increasingly vicious cycle of austerity as people abandon the state and the tax base decreases further.

In order to avert such a scenario state officials need to drop their current tax and spend predilections and carefully examine their options to make Delaware more competitive. The bad news is that in many respects Delaware is lagging behind many other states; its tax burden is one of the highest in the country, and it is one of the few states that levy both a corporate income tax and a gross receipts tax. However this also means Delaware’s lawmakers have many routes to take in order to make Delaware more attractive to businesses. What Delaware should do is examine the states that have lined up to court General Electric and attempt to recreate their environments. In many cases these states have no personal income tax or no corporate income tax, a lower overall tax burden, and sensible regulations that make it easier to conduct business.

Delaware was once an expert at making itself hospitable for businesses and workers and it must rediscover that talent or it will lose out to states that recognize the need for sensible regulations and tax policy. The beauty of the federal system is the competition it engenders between the many states, encouraging creativity and common sense while punishing irresponsibility and complacency. If Delaware wants to keep its reputation as the first state for business, it must abandon its current self-defeating policy of constantly raising taxes to meet swollen budgets, and it must instead make itself attractive to business through the pursuit of pro-growth policies that will allow the state to reap the advantages of a healthy economy. The sooner citizens come to this realization the sooner Delaware can work to restore its waning competitiveness.

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