Thursday, January 20, 2005

An import the EU doesn't need

Pat Cox, former president of the European Parliament and one of Ireland's foremost blatherers on matters European, has an opinion piece in Thursday's Wall Street Journal. As with most WSJ pieces, it's subscription only but you're not really missing much. The general sentiment is clear from the headline Europe's Future Is Freedom. It's a call for economic liberalisation in the EU and a critique of the EU's failure to set any meaningful priorities, other than everything being a priority, in this regard.

But there are a couple of instances where Pat goes a little too far to write things pleasing to the ears of his American readers. First, a comparison of Britain's National Health Service with Belgium's healthcare system:

The governments of Belgium and the U.K. spend roughly an equal percentage of GDP on public health care. Yet Belgium has a much better quality of service .. What's the difference between the two countries? Britain has an essentially old-fashioned, centralized, command-and-control system, whereas Belgium has freedom of provision for doctors and choice of providers for patients. Freedom works.

Pat spares his readers an equally interesting comparison of that Communist UK health care system with the Freedom Works system in the US; but there's hours of fun to be had with these OECD statistics showing that, for half of what the US spends (as a share of total income) on health, the UK doesn't do any worse on health outcomes, and provides healthcare to everybody.

But Pat goes off the deep end entirely with this especially pleasing nod to his editors at the WSJ op-ed page:

But reducing tax rates does not necessarily mean reducing government income. On the contrary, experience in many countries, including my own, Ireland, backs Arthur B. Laffer's theory that levels of taxation can become inversely related to government income.

Now, there are interesting things to be said about the Republic's tax revenue experience over the last twenty years, but let's consider instead Pat's treasured source for this insight, Mr Laffer. Consider that this is someone who Dubya's incumbent chairman of his Council of Economic Advisers, Greg Mankiw, has filed under Cranks and Charlatans, whose pet theory Dubya's dad described as "voodoo economics," of which Mankiw said:

Fads [like Laffer's tax theory] can make experts seem less united than the actually are... when the economics profession appears in disarray, you should ask whether the disagreement is real or manufactured... [by] some snake-oil salesman who is trying to sell a miracle cure...

Which makes Pat a snake-oil franchisee.