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Archive for April 17th, 2010

As usual, some very sound thoughts - on both the value-added tax and the income tax – from George Will:

When liberals advocate a value-added tax, conservatives should respond: Taxing consumption has merits, so we will consider it — after the 16th Amendment is repealed. A VAT will be rationalized as necessary to restore fiscal equilibrium. But without ending the income tax, a VAT would be just a gargantuan instrument for further subjugating Americans to government. …Because the income tax is not broadly based, it radiates moral hazard: Its incentives are for perverse behavior. The top 1% of earners provide 40% of that tax’s receipts; the top 5% provide 61%; the bottom 50% provide 3%. So the tax makes a substantial majority complacent about government’s growth. Increasingly, the income tax is codified envy. A VAT is the political class’s recourse when the resources of the minority that is targeted by the envious are insufficient to finance ravenous government.

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Since the United States is the biggest funder of that bevy of kleptocrats and moochers known as the United Nations, it is especially painful to read stories about the rampant corruption that characterizes that international bureaucracy and its various divisions. Here’s a typical story about waste and fraud from The American:

How pervasive are the problems at the World Food Program, the largest hunger relief agency in the world and the United Nations agency responsible for food aid? It’s a $2.9 billion question—the amount of direct aid disbursed by the WFP. A significant part of its budget comes from U.S. contributors, and USAID coordinates some of its work through the WFP. It’s been a month since the leaking of a scathing evaluation of WFP’s Somalian relief program written by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia. The body, created by the UN Security Council, alleges that three Somali businessmen who held about $160 million in WFP transport contracts were involved in arms trading while diverting the agency’s food aid away from the hungry. A New York Times report also claimed food was being siphoned off by radical Islamic militants and local UN workers. …Somalia is not the WFP’s only controversy, only its most recent and most public. Its operation in Ethiopia, which is one of the largest recipients of food aid in the word, is reportedly in disarray, with the transport companies controlled by the country’s authoritarian government at the center of the controversy. According to the U.S. State Department, in 2008 only 12 percent of food aid (most of it overseen by the WFP) made it to its intended recipients in the poverty-stricken eastern region. The trucking situation is little better in Afghanistan, where reports suggest that WFP is paying two to three times more than commercial rates, taking large chunks out of the $1.2 billion, three-year relief effort. The WFP has admitted that it inflated its shipping costs in North Korea by funneling business through dictator Kim Jong Il’s government. In each case the WFP has denied the magnitude of the problem. But the responses miss the point. Why hasn’t the WFP, which portrays itself as a model of transparency, opened its books so the international community can exercise appropriate accountability and oversight? …U.S. citizens concerned about the use of their tax dollars abroad may find it equally hard to discover how NGOs awarded grants by USAID are spending their money. I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with USAID in May 2009, requesting copies of all NGO project budgets financed with American taxpayers’ money during the second half of 2008. Almost a year later, USAID has still not released these documents.

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Being an American citizen is an honor in many ways, but it is a huge millstone around the neck for highly successful investors and entrepreneurs because of an oppressive and complex tax system. This is particularly true for those based in and/or competing in global markets. Indeed, because the tax system (and regulatory system) is so onerous and because it is expected to get far worse in the future, a growing number of Americans are actually giving up citizenship and “voting with their feet.” The politicians view these people as “tax traitors” and are trying to erect higher barriers to hinder economic migration, particularly in the form of confiscatory “exit taxes” that are disturbingly reminiscent of the totalitarian practices of some of the world’s most unsavory regimes. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on this issue:

The number of American citizens and green-card holders severing their ties with the U.S. soared in the latter part of 2009, amid looming U.S. tax increases and a more aggressive posture by the Internal Revenue Service toward Americans living overseas. According to public records, just over 500 people world-wide renounced U.S. citizenship or permanent residency in the fourth quarter of 2009, the most recent period for which data are available. That is more people than have cut ties with the U.S. during all of 2007, and more than double the total expatriations in 2008. An Ohio-born entrepreneur, now based in Switzerland, told Dow Jones he is considering turning in his U.S. passport. Mounting U.S. tax and reporting requirements are making potential business partners hesitate to do business with him, he said. “I still do dearly love the U.S., and renouncing my citizenship is not something I take lightly. But more and more it is seeming like being part of a dysfunctional family,” said the businessman, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution. “The tax itself is only a small part of the issue,” the Swiss-based entrepreneur said. “It’s the overall regulatory environment.” …”Fifteen or 20 years ago there was a big rush to make sure your kids became U.S. citizens, for access to U.S. schools for example,” said Timothy Burns, a tax lawyer at Withers law firm in Hong Kong. “Now we’re seeing just the opposite.” Last month, the Treasury Department announced more rigorous requirements for Americans living abroad to report information on foreign bank accounts. The reporting requirement has been in place for years, but only in the most recent couple of years has the IRS gotten tough about enforcing penalties. …Others are giving up their U.S. nationality to avoid tax increases in the U.S., as the government struggles under huge budget deficits. The top marginal tax rate is set to rise to 39.6% from 35% at the end of this year. A proposal to tax fund manager pay at ordinary income rates, instead of the 15% capital gains rate, is gaining currency in Congress. “Everybody sees the tax rates are going up. At a certain point, it gets beyond people’s pain threshold,” said Anthony Tong, a tax partner at accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in Hong Kong. Unlike most jurisdictions, the U.S. taxes the income of citizens and green-card holders no matter where in the world it is earned.

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