The Slippery Slope

Beyond defining and protecting property rights, most governments dip into the private market for one reason or another (e.g., national defense) to some extent.  In doing so, they reward (e.g., subsidize) or penalize (e.g., tax) specific firms and/or industries. These firms have a MUCH stronger incentive to protect their interests than do the general public with regard to these activities. As a result of this asymmetry, firms spend more (fight harder) to protect their privileges than do the general public to protect a fair and competitive marketplace. As a result of these incentives, government privileges tend to grow over time and are hard to reverse. Governments keep getting bigger and bigger. Worse yet, if taxes do not match these increases in government costs, i.e., if the government borrows to finance them, these asymmetric incentives are even stronger.

These realities are now being confronted by the Republican Party as it attempts to agree on which government budget items to cut in order to reduce the fiscal deficit without raising taxes. As Steve Clemons reported in this morning’s Semafor Principles: “When Speaker Kevin McCarthy only has four votes of wiggle room in passing GOP legislation, the corn caucus can be as powerful as the Freedom Caucus. After a proposed repeal of biofuels subsidies prompted a rebellion by Midwestern lawmakers, leadership is making changes to a bill they presented as non-negotiable”

The Chips Act of 2022 provides an even costlier example that will be almost impossible to get rid of. The Act provides $52 billion in manufacturing grants and research investments and establishes a 25% investment tax credit to incentivize semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S.”  It makes financially attractive what was on its own an inefficient and costlier way to acquire these produces than buying them abroad. It makes us poorer as do other “Buy American” requirements.

Especially now with a labor shortage (we should increase legal immigration), moving workers to subsidized areas means taking them away from producing what the market found more profitable. It reduces overall output and our standard of living. If we insist on producing our own tanks and airplanes for national security reasons, that is a cost we should probably bare.  But for 5G phone service, Tik Toc, steel from Canada, or whatever???? Tell your congressman to stop subsidizing these special interests. And if they are really justified by national security, pay the cost properly with tax revenue.