Since its inception more than a century and a half ago, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has experienced enormous growth in both size and complexity—as has the industry it seeks to serve. Today the USDA is among the largest federal employers and its 2014 budget exceeded $160 billion. Its spectrum of activities span from the protection of rural farm interests to urban food assistance. Consequently, the department is the target of a wide range of interest groups besides farmers, including food assistance advocates and advocacy groups interested in issues such as obesity, animal welfare, food safety, the environment, and more. The disparate agendas of these groups make it difficult for Congress to assemble a unified policy package each time USDA’s programs are due for reauthorization. The latest reauthorization, the Agricultural Act of 2014, was signed into law two years late in February 2015.
In a new study for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, economist Jayson L. Lusk documents the changes in American agriculture since the USDA’s inception and the expansion of the department’s mission. Much of the USDA’s regulation is outdated, wasteful, and conflicting.
Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has ignited a debate over inequality that has significantly impacted public perceptions and policy debates in the United States. Piketty uses hundreds of years of income data to make bold predictions about future income inequality and justify aggressive policy reforms—including a global tax on capital—to tackle the issue. But are Piketty’s conclusions and policy prescriptions really grounded in economic theory and solid empirical results?
In a new study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, economist Mark J. Warshawsky reviews and critiques Piketty’s analysis and proposals. Warshawsky finds several significant flaws in Piketty’s methodology for estimating future inequality and in his suggested reforms to the tax code. Warshawsky’s review also summarizes the criticism of Piketty’s book by other academics and Piketty’s responses to this criticism.
Near-zero GDP growth. Strong dollar. Weak exports. Factory recession. Fed hesitancy. Low inflation and low interest rates. Solid consumer spending. Accelerating construction. Rising home sales. China turning the corner? These keywords seen frequently in recent news stories pretty well describe the 2016 midyear economy.
We stand on the cusp of the next great industrial revolution thanks to technological innovations and developments that could significantly enhance the welfare of people across the world. Inventions previously seen only in science fiction, such as artificial intelligence, connected devices and 3D printing, will enable us to connect and invent in ways we never have before, notes a recent World Economic Forum report on the amazing technological revolutions that could be coming.
A new study for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University ranks each US state’s financial health based on short- and long-term debt and other key fiscal obligations, such as unfunded pensions and healthcare benefits.
A new study for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University examines recent trends in state fiscal policy and details how well these efforts conform to widely accepted “best practices” in tax reform. It examines the tax and the expenditure patterns of five states and finds that, while there is no one correct way to enact economically beneficial tax reform, it is possible to discern some clear trends.
We assess the effects of both regulatory changes on railroad safety with the use of RegData and find that partial economic deregulation is associated with improved safety. Safety regulation was most closely associated with improved railroad safety during the period when economic regulation curtailed railroads’ incentives to operate safely.
Economist Robert Krol examines the problem of highway congestion, looking at how congestion pricing has been successful in the past and why it could be an attractive option in the future. There is mixed evidence about whether congestion pricing is regressive, but governments implementing congestion pricing could use several policy solutions to help reduce inequity. These include reducing other regressive taxes such as the gasoline tax and giving commuters the option to choose between toll lanes and toll-free lanes.
Puerto Rico is facing a severe fiscal crisis, and new crises will be almost inevitable in the absence of major institutional changes in the commonwealth. History has bequeathed the island inefficient state-run enterprises and a government unable to balance its budget, but Puerto Rico could have a bright future if it undertakes the right reforms.
Alabama currently lags behind its regional neighbors and the nation in economic growth and performance. This study undertakes a comprehensive analysis of Alabama's current fiscal situation as well as the reforms necessary to put Alabama on the road to economic prosperity.
As the world’s first decentralized digital currency, Bitcoin has the potential to revolutionize online payment systems and commerce in ways that benefit both consumers and businesses. Individuals can now avoid using an intermediary such as PayPal or submitting credit card information to a third party for verification—both of which often involve transaction fees, restrictions, and security risks—and instead use bitcoins to pay each other directly for goods or services.