Quotulatiousness

April 12, 2015

Unprintable words about printers

Filed under: Personal,Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 05:00

It’s coming up to the deadline for getting our tax returns in to the CRA, so I’d asked my friend Clive to come over this weekend to do my books in preparation for taking all the paperwork in to my accountant. It seemed like a pretty straight-forward thing — all I had to do was to print off all my various invoices and other documents for which I didn’t already have a hard-copy.

But I had somehow forgotten about the Satanic nature of printers.

Elizabeth and I each have a printer attached to our respective computers, so even if one failed to co-operate, we have the other one to fall back on. And this turned out to be a good thing, as the HP Officejet 6310 printer I use with my laptop started having paper feed issues on Saturday. As in, it couldn’t manage to pull even a single sheet of paper out of the stack. Well, damn, but at least there’s Elizabeth’s Canon printer I can use instead.

I disconnected the HP and moved her printer over to my workspace (the kitchen table, actually). But first I had to download the drivers for it. Having downloaded the drivers, I prepared to print the first of the documents I needed … and the damned Canon developed a similar paper feed problem. It just would not feed paper from the paper bin to the print-head.

A couple of hours go by, as I frantically try to fix one or the other of the two busted printers. It’s now after 5, and I’m running out of options and patience. I decide to go down to our local Staples and buy a new printer because that tax return deadline is looming.

In Staples, I vent a bit of my frustration over printers to a staff member, and she agrees that one of the few genuine pleasures in life is hoofing a printer out the window. After we compared notes on distance and impact zones, I asked for her recommendation for a cheap printer that would at least let me print off what I need for Clive to work with today. She warned me against my first choice, as it only came with “starter” ink cartridges, while a slightly older model using the same cartridges comes with full-sized ones instead … and was $30 cheaper, to boot. She made the sale.

I got the printer home, set it up and … discovered that the printer’s display panel didn’t work. And it was now too late to get the unit back to the store for a replacement. So, early Sunday, as soon as the store opens I’ll be on their doorstep with the faulty printer. I hope the next one will at least print something.

April 8, 2015

This is probably why so many people think businesses should pay more tax

Filed under: Business,Economics,Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Forbes, Tim Worstall reports on a staggering misconception among Americans about what corporate profits amount to:

A wonderful little find by Mark Perry. Something that helps to explain quite why so many completely ridiculous economic ideas and public policies manage to gain traction. The problem is that the average person just doesn’t understand the economy at all. No, I don’t mean economics, or the abstruse arguments about whether we should use monetary or fiscal policy. But just the basic raw numbers of what’s actually going on out there. As Perry goes on to point out this, well, let’s not beat about the bush here, let’s call it what it is, this ignorance of the universe they’re inhabiting by the average person out there is what keeps the economic demagogues in business.

Here’s what Perry found:

    When a random sample of American adults were asked the question “Just a rough guess, what percent profit on each dollar of sales do you think the average company makes after taxes?” for the Reason-Rupe poll in May 2013, the average response was 36%! That response was very close to historical results from the polling organization ORC’s polls for a slightly different, but related question: What percent profit on each dollar of sales do you think the average manufacturer makes after taxes? Responses to that question in 9 different polls between 1971 and 1987 ranged from 28% to 37% and averaged 31.6%.

That’s simply a ridiculous belief. Plain howling at the Moon crazy. The capital share of the economy isn’t that high and the capital share is made up of a great deal more than just profits (depreciation, rent, interest and so on as well as profits). There’s just no way that this is anywhere near true. As Perry goes on to point out:

    According to this Yahoo!Finance database for 212 different industries, the average profit margin for the most recent quarter was 7.5% and the median profit margin was 6.5%.

March 6, 2015

Politicians spend your money and hope some of the glamour attaches to them

Filed under: Business,Government,Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Coyote Blog, Warren Meyer wonders why so many states and cities are so eager to throw taxpayer money at movie and TV productions:

I am always amazed that the media will credulously run stories against “corporate welfare” for oil companies (which usually mostly includes things like LIFO accounting and investment tax credits that are not oil industry specific) but then beg and plead for us taxpayers to subsidize movie producers.

I wish I understood the reason for the proliferation of government subsidies for film production. Is it as simple as politicians wanting to hobnob with Hollywood types? Our local papers often go into full sales mode for sports team subsidies, but that is understandable from a bottom-line perspective — sports are about the only thing that sells dead-tree papers any more, and so more local sports has a direct benefit on local newspapers. Is it the same reasoning for proposed subsidies for Hollywood moguls?

Whatever the reason, our local paper made yet another pitch for throwing tax dollars at movie producers

    Notwithstanding a recent flurry of Super Bowl-related documentaries and commercials that got 2015 off to a good start, Arizona appears to be falling behind in a competitive and lucrative business. The entertainment industry pays well, supports considerable indirect employment and offers the chance for cities and states to shine on a global stage.

Seriously? I am sure setting up the craft table pays better than catering a party at my home, but it is a job that lasts 2 months and is then gone. Ditto everything else on the production. And I am sick of the “shines on the world stage thing.” Who cares? And is this really even true? The movie Chicago was filmed in Toronto — did everyone who watched Chicago suddenly want to go to Toronto? The TV animated series Archer gets a big subsidy from the state of Georgia. Have they even mentioned Georgia in the series? Given the tone of the show, would they even want to be mentioned?

When government subsidizes an industry, it is explicitly saying that resources are better and more productively invested in the subsidized industry than in other industries in which the money would have been spent in a free market. Does the author really have evidence that the money I would have spent to improve the campgrounds we operate in Arizona is better taken from me and spent to get a Hollywood movie shot here instead? Which investment will still be here 6 months from now?

March 5, 2015

Tax Free Savings Accounts

Filed under: Cancon,Economics,Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, Livio Di Matteo talks about tax free savings accounts (TFSAs), registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs), and why some people are getting upset that some Canadians benefit more from these financial tools than others do:

A major theme running under most of these arguments goes something like this — Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) at least leave “a legacy of tax revenue to future governments” whereas TFSAs may generate “supernormal” returns that will escape taxation and on top of it will accrue primarily to the well-off.

However, when I think of RRSPs and TFSAs, I see them both as essentially the same. They are both “tax expenditures” that are designed to encourage saving by promising some type of tax incentive. The broader debate should really be about how we want to encourage more saving and then about “tax expenditures” in general rather than how much we should allow as limits to either RRSP or TFSA contributions.

However, if we are going to argue about RRSPs and TFSAs, to my mind what differs is the timing of the break. For an RRSP, you are getting the tax incentive upfront and deferring the taxes until you withdraw the money. For a TFSA, you are making the contribution with after tax dollars and allowing the contribution to accumulate tax free — the tax benefit comes down the road as the money grows.

[…]

Young households with children who face more cash constraints might find the RRSP more attractive while older households would probably find the TFSA more attractive. All other things given, both vehicles are of greater advantage to higher rather than low income earners because higher incomes are more likely to be able to save — period. If you are going to make the argument that TFSAs are somehow favouring the wealthy or higher income earners, you need to acknowledge that the same argument applies to RRSPs.

Update, 7 March: It kinda helps when I remember to include the correct link to an article…

February 17, 2015

In praise of “dynamic scoring”

Filed under: Economics,Government,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Dan Mitchell explains why there’s a need to change the way the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) “keep score” on how proposed legislative changes will impact the US economy:

cartoon-cboThe CBO, for instance, puts together economic analysis and baseline forecasts of revenue and spending, while also estimating what will happen if there are changes to spending programs. Seems like a straightforward task, but what if the bureaucrats assume that government spending “stimulates” the economy and they fail to measure the harmful impact of diverting resources from the productive sector of the economy to Washington?

The JCT, by contrast, prepares estimates of what will happen to revenue if politicians make various changes in tax policy. Sounds like a simple task, but what if the bureaucrats make the ridiculous assumption that tax policy has no measurable impact on jobs, growth, or competitiveness, which leads to the preposterous conclusion that you maximize revenue with 100 percent tax rates?

Writing for Investor’s Business Daily, former Treasury Department officials Ernie Christian and Gary Robbins explain why the controversy over these topics – sometimes referred to as “static scoring” vs “dynamic scoring” – is so important.

    It is Economics 101 that many federal taxes, regulations and spending programs create powerful incentives for people not to work, save, invest or otherwise efficiently perform the functions essential to their own well-being. These government-induced changes in behavior set off a chain reaction of macroeconomic effects that impair GDP growth, kill jobs, lower incomes and restrict upward mobility, especially among lower- and middle-income families. …Such measurements are de rigueur among credible academic and private-sector researchers who seek to determine the true size of the tax and regulatory burden on the economy and the true value of government spending, taking into account the economic damage it often causes.

But not all supposed experts look at these second-order or indirect effects of government policy.

And what’s amazing is that the official scorekeepers in Washington are the ones who refuse to recognize the real-world impact of changes in government policy.

    These indirect costs of government, in particular or in total, have not been calculated and disclosed in the Budget of the United States or in analyses by the Congressional Budget Office. The result of this deliberate omission by Washington has been to understate many costs of government, often by more than 100%, and grossly overstate its benefits. …It is on this foundation of disinformation that the highly disrespected, overly expensive and too often destructive federal government in Washington has been built.

February 12, 2015

Petty fines and “public safety” charges fall heaviest on the poor

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Government,USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle on the incredibly regressive way that American municipalities are raising money through fines and other costs imposed disproportionally on the poorest members of the community:

During last summer’s riots in Ferguson, Missouri, reporters began to highlight one reason that relations between the town’s police and its citizens are so fraught: heavy reliance on tickets and fines to cover the town’s budget. The city gets more than $3 million of its $20 million budget from “fines and public safety,” with almost $2 million more coming from various other user fees.

The problem with using your police force as a stealth tax-collection agency is that this functions as a highly regressive tax on people who are already having a hard time of things. Financially marginal people who can’t afford to, say, renew their auto registration get caught up in a cascading nightmare of fees piled upon fees that often ends in bench warrants and nights spent in jail … not for posing a threat to the public order, but for lacking the ready funds to legally operate a motor vehicle in our car-dependent society.

So why do municipalities go this route? The glib answer is “racism and hatred of the poor.” And, quite possibly, that plays a large part, if only in the sense that voters tend to discount costs that fall on other people. But having spent some time plowing through town budgets and reading up on the subject this afternoon, I don’t think that’s the only reason. I suspect that Ferguson is leaning so heavily on fines because it doesn’t have a lot of other terrific options.

January 17, 2015

Alberta to introduce a provincial sales tax?

Filed under: Cancon,Government,Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh explains why this is unlikely, at least in the short term:

Yeah, look, guys. I realize that Jim Prentice is talking about the possibility of a provincial sales tax for Alberta. I think he’s just trying to make sure he has our FULL ATTENTION before he passes a very austere budget, because I do not see a clear path toward us actually having a PST.

Under current Alberta statute — the Alberta Taxpayer Protection Act (ATPA) — Albertans would have to vote “yes” in a province-wide referendum before a PST could be introduced. The government gets to write the referendum question, which as we all know is a big advantage, but the economists who support a PST have not done anything like the necessary public outreach and education to soften up superstitious, PST-averse voters. The PCs are obviously hell-bent on a spring election, and spring seems far too soon for that sort of gamble, although the referendum could be held on the date of the general election.

It is more likely that if Prentice sincerely wanted a sales tax, he would try for repeal of the ATPA without an official referendum. Prentice could make that a centrepiece of the upcoming election campaign — a “no me without a PST” kinda offer — but then opposition parties and troublemaking journalists might ask why there is no formal referendum being held in parallel with the election. The whole point of the ATPA was to prevent premiers from forcing package deals of that sort onto voters.

And, of course, Albertans might actually take the “no me” option, rejecting a Conservative government in favour of … Stop laughing! It could totally happen!

January 16, 2015

It’s always a good time to cut taxes

Filed under: Economics,Government,Humour,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In a column explaining why he’s terrified that the “Modern Monetary Theory” folks might get anywhere near the levers of power, Tim Worstall fits in the best reason to cut taxes:

Given that we are discussing monetary policy it seems appropriate to bring Milton Friedman in here. And he pointed out that if you ever have a chance to cut taxes just do so. On the basis that politicians, any group of politicians, will spend the bottom out of the Treasury and more however much there is. So, the only way to stop ever increasing amounts of the the entire economy flowing through government is simply to constrain the resources they can get their sticky little mits on. We could, for example, possibly imagine a Republican from the Neanderthal wing of the party arguing that what the US really needs is another 7 carrier battle groups. And one from the even more confused than usual Progressive end of the Democratic Party arguing that each college student needs her own personal carrier battle group to protect her from the microaggressions of being asked out for a coffee. You know. Sometime. Maybe. If you want to?

QotD: The impact of lower oil prices

Filed under: Business,Economics,Government,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

When oil prices are high there is a rush of investment into oil based enterprises from multi-nationals to frackers. No bad thing but there is always a real danger of over investment leading to the exploitation of very marginal resources. A lower oil price will strand some of that investment and, just as importantly, postpone a great deal of it. Which frees up investment for other, potentially more useful, purposes.

The second thing which happens is that governments become addicted to the joys of relatively painless oil royalties. This looks like revenue but, because it is drawn from a diminishing resource, is actually a rather dangerous drawing down of capital. A lot of oil “revenue” is seen as general revenue and is spent on non-capital expenditures. With a booming oil sector governments are tempted to think the exaggerated revenues are available for general expenses and will continue to be. Which means that government budgets are set based on a purely extractive draw down of a province’s or nation’s capital. This is a poor idea.

Not to take anything away from the bright guys who are fracking and mining their way to oil fortunes, the reality is that extracting oil does not leave much in the way of useful, secondary industry, much less innovation. Which, in turn, means that when the oil is no longer profitable to extract there is no residual, non-oil, economy left behind. If a government spends the oil revenue as it comes in, or worse uses it to secure loans, when the oil revenue dries up there is nothing to cover the spending or the debt.

[…]

The golden lining of additional pressures on nasty states like Russia, Iran and Venezuela is likely not as significant as the prevention of malinvestment and governmental squander. In time, as various emerging economies continue to grow, demand will drive the price of oil upwards again. With luck investors and governments will not make the same mistakes twice.

(One unalloyed good arising from the collapse of the price of oil is that so called clean energy renewables like wind and solar look even sillier with their present technology. I suspect wind will always make zero economic sense; I have more hope for photo voltaic solar as new materials promise significantly higher efficiency. And those same materials in a different configuration promise radical gains in battery efficiency for that daily occurrence known as darkness. Again, a low oil price will dampen the insane over investment in these marginal technologies.)

Jay Currie, “Oil Wars”, Jay Currie, 2014-01-03

January 13, 2015

The oddity that is Denmark

Filed under: Europe,Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:55

In the New York Post, Kyle Smith has a go at de-smugging one of the smuggest countries in the world … no, it’s not Canada (but we’re pretty damned smug ourselves):

Want proof that the liberal social-democratic society works?

Look to Denmark, the country that routinely leads the world in happiness surveys. It’s also notable for having the highest taxes on Earth, plus a comfy social-safety net: Child care is mostly free, as is public school and even private school, and you can stay on unemployment benefits for a long time. Everyone is on an equal footing, both income-wise and socially: Go to a party and you wouldn’t be surprised to see a TV star talking to a roofer.

The combination of massive taxes and benefits for the unsuccessful means top and bottom get shaved off: Pretty much everyone is proudly middle class. Danes belong to more civic associations and clubs than anyone else; they love performing in large groups. At Christmas they do wacky things like hold hands and run around the house together, singing festive songs. They’re a real-life Whoville.

In the American liberal compass, the needle is always pointing to places like Denmark. Everything they most fervently hope for here has already happened there.

So: Why does no one seem particularly interested in visiting Denmark? (“Honey, on our European trip, I want to see Tuscany, Paris, Berlin and … Jutland!”) Visitors say Danes are joyless to be around. Denmark suffers from high rates of alcoholism. In its use of antidepressants it ranks fourth in the world. (Its fellow Nordics the Icelanders are in front by a wide margin.) Some 5% of Danish men have had sex with an animal. Denmark’s productivity is in decline, its workers put in only 28 hours a week, and everybody you meet seems to have a government job. Oh, and as The Telegraph put it, it’s “the cancer capital of the world.”

So how happy can these drunk, depressed, lazy, tumor-ridden, pig-bonking bureaucrats really be?

January 1, 2015

The Laffer Curve at 40

Filed under: Business,Economics,Government,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:39

In the Washington Post, Stephen Moore recounts the tale of the most famous napkin in US economic history:

It was 40 years ago this month that two of President Gerald Ford’s top White House advisers, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, gathered for a steak dinner at the Two Continents restaurant in Washington with Wall Street Journal editorial writer Jude Wanniski and Arthur Laffer, former chief economist at the Office of Management and Budget. The United States was in the grip of a gut-wrenching recession, and Laffer lectured to his dinner companions that the federal government’s 70 percent marginal tax rates were an economic toll booth slowing growth to a crawl.

To punctuate his point, he grabbed a pen and a cloth cocktail napkin and drew a chart showing that when tax rates get too high, they penalize work and investment and can actually lead to revenue losses for the government. Four years later, that napkin became immortalized as “the Laffer Curve” in an article Wanniski wrote for the Public Interest magazine. (Wanniski would later grouse only half-jokingly that he should have called it the Wanniski Curve.)

This was the first real post-World War II intellectual challenge to the reigning orthodoxy of Keynesian economics, which preached that when the economy is growing too slowly, the government should stimulate demand for products with surges in spending. The Laffer model countered that the primary problem is rarely demand — after all, poor nations have plenty of demand — but rather the impediments, in the form of heavy taxes and regulatory burdens, to producing goods and services.

[…]

Solid supporting evidence came during the Reagan years. President Ronald Reagan adopted the Laffer Curve message, telling Americans that when 70 to 80 cents of an extra dollar earned goes to the government, it’s understandable that people wonder: Why keep working? He recalled that as an actor in Hollywood, he would stop making movies in a given year once he hit Uncle Sam’s confiscatory tax rates.

When Reagan left the White House in 1989, the highest tax rate had been slashed from 70 percent in 1981 to 28 percent. (Even liberal senators such as Ted Kennedy and Howard Metzenbaum voted for those low rates.) And contrary to the claims of voodoo, the government’s budget numbers show that tax receipts expanded from $517 billion in 1980 to $909 billion in 1988 — close to a 75 percent change (25 percent after inflation). Economist Larry Lindsey has documented from IRS data that tax collections from the rich surged much faster than that.

December 30, 2014

Tax-splaining a headline

Filed under: Business,Economics,Law,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The headline that grabs attention says that a vast number of US corporations pay absolutely no corporate taxes. Tim Worstall explains that this is quite true:

Timothy Taylor has a nice piece here on the subject:

    More than 90 percent of businesses, representing more than one-third of all business activity, in the United States are structured as flow-through entities — businesses that do not pay the corporate income tax, but rather pass profits through to owners who pay tax under the individual income tax.

    We have two (actually, more than two, but this is the distinction that matters to us here) forms of business ownership. The first is the C Corporation, what we all normally think of as a corporation. The second is an S corporation (in taxation, very like a partnership). And the important thing is that C corporations are the only ones that pay the corporate income tax. S corporations don’t: their owners pay individual income tax on the profits. So, if we saw a move from C to S corporations as the method of organisation then we’d see a reduction in corporate income tax paid. But not, possibly, a reduction in total tax paid on business profits.

And that is what seems to have happened at least in part:

    Back in 1980, nearly 80% of business income went to “C” corporations–so named after the applicable part of the tax code that governs them–which are what most of us think of when we think of a “corporation.” Back then, the remaining 20% was almost all sole proprietorships, which were just taxed as individual income. …..(…)…But C corporations now account for only about 30% of all business income. The share going to sole proprietorships hasn’t changed much. But much more corporate income is going to partnership and S corporations….(…)…Back in the 1960s, the corporate income tax often collected 4-5% of GDP. Since about 1990, it has more commonly collected 1-2% of GDP. Part of the reason is that a smaller share of business income is flowing through the conventional C corporation form.

That really is a large part of the explanation. It’s not that business profits are not being taxed, it’s that they’re being taxed in a different way. And that explains much of the fall in the corporate income tax revenues: and all too few people are over on the other side looking at the increase in individual income tax payments stemming from corporate profits.

So a legal change has drawn a lot of corporations to change how they are structured, so that profits are taxable in the hands of their individual owners, rather than in the imaginary hands of the corporate person. And another US tax quirk explains even more of the headline:

There is another point to be made here, about how we measure the share of corporate profits in the US economy. This has very definitely risen, this is absolutely true. And the tax bill hasn’t, that’s also true. A goodly part of the explanation is the above, about C and S corporations. But there’s this one more thing. Profits in the US economy includes all profits made in the US, by both Americans and foreigners. But it also includes foreign profits made by US corporations. Those tens of billions being made abroad by Google and Apple, Microsoft, they’re all included in the US profit share. And as we also know, those foreign profits aren’t paying the US corporate income tax because, entirely legally, they’re being used overseas to reinvest in those foreign businesses. My stick my finger in the air estimate of the difference those profits make is about 2% of US GDP. Meaning that if we measure US profits as 10% of GDP, then look at tax payments, we’re only seeing the tax payments from 8% of GDP (before we even look at the C and S corporation thing).

December 23, 2014

Turning the United States into something like Scandinavia

Filed under: Economics,Europe,Government,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:13

In his daily-or-so Forbes post, Tim Worstall explains the real reason why it will be somewhere between difficult and impossible to turn the United States into a Scandinavian mixed economy like Denmark:

The essence of the argument is that sure, we’d like quite a lot of equity in how the economy works out. Wouldn’t mind that large (but efficient! of which more later) welfare state. We’d also like to have continuing economic growth of course, so that our children are better off than we are, theirs than they and so on. And we can have that welfare state and equity just by taxing the snot out of everyone but that does rather impact upon that growth. So, the solution is to have as classically liberal an economy as one can, with the least regulation of who does what and how, then tax the snot out of it to pay for that welfare state. Not that Sumner put it in quite those words of course.

The lesson so far being that if the American left want to turn the US into Scandinavia, well, OK, but they’re going to have to pull back on most of the economic regulation they’ve encumbered the country with over the past 50 years.

The other point is an observation of my own. Which is that those Scandinavian welfare states are very local. To give you my oft used example, the national income tax rate in Denmark starts out at 3.76% and peaks at 15%. There’s also very stiff, 25-30% of income, taxes at the commune level. A commune being possibly as small as a township in the US, 10,000 people. The point being that this welfare state is paid for out of taxes raised locally and spent locally. Entirely the opposite way around from the way that the American left tells us that the US should work: all that money goes off to Washington and then the bright technocrats disburse it.

Instead they have what I call the Bjorn’s Beer Effect. You’re in a society of 10,000 people. You know the guy who raises the local tax money and allocates that local tax money. You also know where he has a beer on a Friday night. More importantly Bjorn knows that everyone knows he collects and spends the money: and also where he has a beer on a Friday. That money is going to be rather better spent than if it travels off possibly 3,000 miles into some faceless bureaucracy. I give you as an example Danish social housing or the vertical slums that HUD has built in the past. And if people think their money is being well spent then they’re likely to support more of it being spent.

[…]

So, the two things I would say need to be done as precursors to turning the united States into Scandinavia are the following. First we need to move back to a much less regulated, more classically liberal, economy. Secondly we need to push the whole tax system and welfare state provision down from the Federal government down to much smaller units. Possibly even right down to the counties. The first of these will generate the economic growth to pay for that expanded welfare state, the second make people more willing to pay for it.

If you find any American leftists out there willing to agree to these two preconditions do let me know. Because I’ve never met a single one who would think that those were things worth doing in order to get that social democracy they say they desire.

December 19, 2014

In Stephen Harper’s Canada, politics beats economics every time

Filed under: Cancon,Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Stephen Harper gets a lot of criticism for being an ideological hard-liner, but he gets nearly as much flak from small-government conservatives for being no better — and in some cases, much worse — than Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. Earlier this month in Maclean’s, Stephen Gordon explained some of the reasons for Harper’s political and economic actions:

Politics, not economics, has also determined [Harper’s] strategy for achieving this goal [a smaller government-spending-to-GDP ratio]. If you asked an economist for the best way of reducing revenues, she’d probably prepare a list with the taxes that are the most harmful to the economy at the top, and the taxes that are the least harmful at the bottom. The GST would rank at or near the bottom of that list. (Here is a representative reaction to the Conservatives’ 2005 campaign promise to reduce the GST; here is an explanation for why economists think the GST is a good idea.) In economic terms, reducing the GST was probably the worst possible option available to the Conservatives.

But as far as politics goes, it was an inspired choice. It helped win the election, and — perhaps even more importantly — reducing the GST has made it that much harder for any future government to reverse the trend to lower spending. If the Liberals and the NDP were to ask an economist to provide a list of ways of generating the most revenues at the least economic cost, increasing the GST would be at or near the top of the list. But those two GST points are not going to come back to fill federal coffers in the foreseeable future. Both the Liberals and the NDP have campaigned at some point on anti-GST platforms, and history has not been kind to provincial governments that have raised the HST without an electoral mandate to do so. (The NDP’s proposal to increase corporate tax rates is the doppelgänger of the Conservatives’ GST cut. In economic terms, an increase in corporate taxes is probably the worst possible choice for generating revenues, but it’s a potential vote-winner. Maybe it will work for them as well as it did for the CPC.)

[…]

This brings us to the “starve the beast strategy” described in detail here: the reduction in revenues is now a justification for reducing expenditures. But, once again, the strategy is driven by politics, not economics. The elements are as follows (see also here and, most recently, here):

  1. Let transfer payments to individuals grow at the rate of GDP.
  2. Let transfer payments to provinces grow at the rate of GDP.
  3. Hold nominal direct program spending constant.

These elements have been in place in every budget since 2010. The economics of this approach are very dodgy: the economically efficient way to approach the problem of reducing spending is to perform a cost-benefit analysis and eliminate the programs that don’t pass the test. But the politics are something else. Cuts in transfer payments directly affect peoples’ personal finances, and could be reversed at no political cost. The same is true for cuts in transfer payments to the provinces; much of the Jean Chrétien-era cuts to the provinces were rescinded a few year later. The path of least political resistance is through direct program spending: the cost of paying federal public servants’ wages.

December 14, 2014

Google to Spain: “Buh-bye!”

Filed under: Business,Europe,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Spanish legislation imposing a special tax on Google has resulted in Google erasing Spain from their Google News business plan altogether:

Back in October, we noted that Spain had passed a ridiculously bad Google News tax, in which it required any news aggregator to pay for snippets and actually went so far as to make it an “inalienable right” to be paid for snippets — meaning that no one could choose to let any aggregator post snippets for free. Publishers have to charge any aggregator. This is ridiculous and dangerous on many levels. As we noted, it would be deathly for digital commons projects or any sort of open access project, which thrive on making content reusable and encouraging the widespread sharing of such content.

Apparently, it’s also deathly for Google News in Spain. A few hours ago, Google announced that due to this law, it was shutting down Google News in Spain, and further that it would be removing all Spanish publications from the rest of Google News. In short, Google went for the nuclear option in the face of a ridiculously bad law:

    But sadly, as a result of a new Spanish law, we’ll shortly have to close Google News in Spain. Let me explain why. This new legislation requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not. As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable. So it’s with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we’ll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.

Every time there have been attempts to get Google to cough up some money to publishers in this or that country, people (often in our comments) suggest that Google should just “turn off” Google News in those countries. Google has always resisted such calls. Even in the most extreme circumstances, it’s just done things like removing complaining publications from Google News, or posting the articles without snippets. In both cases, publishers quickly realized how useful Google News was in driving traffic and capitulated. In this case, though, it’s not up to the publishers. It’s entirely up to the law.

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