It’s Time to End Ex-Im Bank’s Taxpayer Subsidized Corporate Welfare

When the federal government subsidizes a private company, we all lose. Such subsidies, often referred to as “corporate welfare” by critics, tend to benefit big companies, while stifling innovation and making it more difficult for smaller companies to compete. The Export-Import Bank, or Ex-Im Bank, is perhaps the highest profile example of this process.

The Ex-Im Bank claims to facilitate exports of U.S. goods and support American jobs. To do this, the Bank finances American businesses—freeing them from the need to obtain private loans—so that they can compete internationally. This may sound good in the abstract but its implementation imports all the hazards of corporate welfare.

In April, President Trump disappointed supporters of free trade when he seemingly changed his position on the Ex-Im Bank. As a candidate in 2015, Trump said the Ex-Im Bank was “unnecessary” and contradictory to free enterprise. However, three months after his inauguration, he called the Bank “a very good thing” claiming that “it actually makes money.” In his first budget proposal, President Trump decided to keep it. He also intends to nominate two board members, which will permit the bank to enter into full operation, meaning more and bigger loans from the taxpayer.

On the bright side, President Trump has nominated former Rep. Scott Garrett to head the Bank. In the past, Garrett has been an outspoken critic of the Ex-Im Bank, which hopefully means that should he be confirmed, he will limit its operations and advocate for reform. It can only be seen as a positive sign that the big businesses who benefit most have already come out in opposition to his nomination.

The Ex-Im Bank claims to “level the playing field” for domestic products and help small businesses compete internationally. But federal subsidies to politically-favored companies hurt both international competition and market efficiency. If a business can’t get a private loan, resources should be allocated elsewhere to companies that can better compete, without taxpayer-subsidized assistance. Artificially propping up private industry is not the role of the federal government.

Many economists recognize the failures of the Ex-Im Bank. But supporters, most prominently the companies that get these cheap loans, argue it is acceptable to sacrifice quality, efficiency and competition to help prop up American jobs. However, the biggest recipients are generally in good positions to sustain themselves and do not need these funds to retain American jobs.

Most beneficiaries of the Ex-Im Bank’s loans are, in fact, not small businesses. The largest recipient, by far, is Boeing, which takes a whopping 40 percent the Bank’s financing.  The top 10 recipients, which include Caterpillar, General Electric, and other behemoth companies (and which frighteningly includes “unknown”), makes up 75 percent of the Bank’s expenditures.

Boeing has repeatedly threatened job losses if the Bank goes away. In 2015, the company cautioned that ending the Ex-Im Bank would lead to the loss of thousands of employees because otherwise it would be unable to compete with the European company, Airbus. Congress gave in and re-instated the Bank—and Boeing went ahead and cut 4,000 jobs anyway. Re-instatement of the Bank did nothing to save those jobs, but it did line the pockets of shareholders (18 of which are members of Congress). Companies like Boeing don’t need subsidized loans to stay afloat. Faced with the possibility of the Ex-Im Bank closing, for example, the government and Standard & Poor released reports that found Boeing would do fine without the aid. The other largest recipients are similarly financially sound.

Free and open trade breeds competition and efficiency, whereas corporate subsidies set up a system of reliance, barriers to entry and inefficiency. If you’re playing with the house’s money, you’re much more likely to chase the river and make poor decisions. For example, in 1987, the Ex-Im Bank’s investments were so bad that it requested a massive federal bailout. After the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars, it needed a $3-billion bailout just to stay afloat. The bank had some gains and some losses in the 1990s. Although there was an overall profit of $5 billion since 1990, the low interest rates brought in much less money than it could have and defaults may result in a net loss in the future.

A federal budget agency found that the Ex-Im Bank’s current budget is on pace to cost taxpayers $2 billion over the next decade. Yet we continue to throw more and more taxpayer money at an unnecessary corporate welfare regime, benefitting not the free market but favored players.

Federal policies should create an even playing field for industry and a friendly environment for entrepreneurship to flourish. Only about two percent of all exports are subsidized by the Ex-Im Bank. If 98 percent of the market can export without needing any help from a corporatist bank, the other two percent should manage fine. The Bank helps line the pockets of politically-connected businessmen and gives little aid to the average person. It is time for the president and Congress to end it for good.

Tyler Arnold is a communications associate at Cause of Action Institute

Occupational Licensing Laws are Holding Americans Back

Occupational licensing laws are intended to protect consumers from unsafe services provided by unqualified individuals. Doctors and pilots, for instance, are licensed to guarantee that no one unqualified operates on someone or flies a plane. But recently, the practice of requiring a license has moved beyond consumer protection in highly skilled, high risk occupations, and has morphed into a barrier to entry, protecting established companies from outside competition. As states move to require licenses for more occupations, the consumer is not protected, but harmed by fewer choices, higher prices, and a shift away from customer focus.

A system that guarantees inefficiency

A license requirement disincentivizes individuals from pursuing careers in affected fields. That’s because obtaining a license requires time and money, which limits the number of individuals who would otherwise enter the marketplace. Faced with diminished competition, the negative impact on the consumer is amplified because existing businesses then have less incentive to provide a better service.

Growing trend

In the 1950s, occupational licensing laws only affected five percent of the American workforce. By 2015, nearly one in three workers now need a license to work. Far removed from simply guaranteeing safety, licensing has encroached into non-professional occupations that do not require extensive training.

These laws include licensing requirements for: hair braiding, locksmithing, packaging, auctioneering, being a florist, selling caskets, interior designing, teeth whitening, fortune telling and being a shampooer. Most consumers would unlikely be alarmed to find out their hair was braided by a renegade licenseless hair braider, or that their fortune teller failed to predict they needed a license to practice.

Costly and unnecessary

Not only do many occupational licenses seem unnecessary, but the requirements are often excessive and odd. The publication Rare reported that in Idaho, regulations make becoming a barber more difficult than a bounty hunter. In Washington, D.C., shoe-shiners are required to purchase a $337 permit. Becoming an interior decorator in Florida takes about six years. Sign language interpreter? Several states require a license for that too.

Per the Mercatus Center, preschool teachers, on average, must receive 1,728 days of training and pay more than $100 in fees to get their teaching license. Athletic trainers must pay, on average, $400 in fees. Other occupations that require more than $100 in fees include: Earth driller, cosmetologist, barber, skin care specialist and veterinary technologist. These licenses also require more than 100 days of training or experience.  These examples raise the question: who exactly is supporting this bureaucratic red tape?

Keeping people out of jobs

Unsurprisingly, the groups that lobby for the regulations tend to be the same groups that benefit from the lack of competition. The National Review reported that individuals with a certificate or license make, on average, $200 more per week than someone without one. Furthermore, the unemployment rate for individuals without a certificate or license is much higher than the unemployment rate for someone with one. For individuals who graduated from high school, but did not attend college, the unemployment rate for someone without a certificate or license is almost double that of someone who has one (5.9 and 3.1 percent, respectively). For individuals who did not graduate high school and have no certificate or license, unemployment is 8.2 percent, while for individuals with a certificate or license, it is 5.1 percent. These legal requirements are holding down the poor while artificially keeping unemployment higher than it otherwise would be.

The heavy licensing burden is an ever-growing problem. It is holding back Americans who are already in tough situations. Unnecessary licensing laws should be scaled back. If it turns out society erupts into chaos with unlicensed florists and fortune tellers, then we can re-examine the issue.

Tyler Arnold is a communications associate at Cause of Action Institute