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Archive for September, 2010

Riots and protests have swept across Europe, as populations lured into government dependency are upset that there’s no longer enough money to maintain the existing level of redistribution. Here’s an excerpt from a BBC report:

Tens of thousands of people from around Europe have marched across Brussels in a protest against spending cuts by some EU governments. Spain has held a general strike, with protesters in Barcelona clashing with police and torching a police car. Other protests against austerity measures have been held in Greece, Italy, the Irish Republic and Latvia. …In Greece and the Irish Republic, unemployment figures are at their highest level in 10 years, while Spain’s unemployment has doubled in just three years. …Police sealed off the EU headquarters and barricaded banks and shops ahead of the protest in Brussels. It was described by unions as a day of action under the slogan “No to austerity, priority to jobs and growth”.
Americans may be tempted to smugly scoff at Europe’s troubles, but it’s just a matter of time before the same problems afflict America. This chart is based on Congressional Budget Office projections (an optimistic “baseline” scenario and a more realistic “alternative” scenario) showing how the burden of federal government spending is about to skyrocket because of demographic changes and entitlement programs.
 
In the optimistic scenario, the federal government climbs to 45 percent of GDP. Add in state and local government, and that means the total burden of government will be about 60 percent of GDP – higher than France, Sweden, and Greece today. In the less optimistic scenario, the total burden of government will be in uncharted territory, perhaps akin to Cuba or North Korea. Needless to say, America will be convulsed by riots well before this point. 

The solution, of course, is to limit the growth of government. During the Bush-Obama years, howerver, politicians have been heading in the wrong direction.

The only bright side, at least for those who feel good when others suffer, is that Europe’s welfare states will have descended into social chaos and barbarism by the time the riots start in America.

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While I’m glad Republicans are finally talking about smaller government, I’ve expressed some disappointment with the GOP Pledge to America. Why “reform” Fannie and Freddie, I asked, when the right approach is to get the government completely out of the housing sector. Jacob Sullum of Reason is similarly underwhelmed. He writes:
In the “Pledge to America” they unveiled last week, House Republicans promise they will “launch a sustained effort to stem the relentless growth in government that has occurred over the past decade.” Who better for the job than the folks who ran the government for most of that time? …Republicans, you may recall, had a spending spree of their own during George W. Bush’s recently concluded administration, when both discretionary and total spending doubled — nearly 10 times the growth seen during Bill Clinton’s two terms. In fact, says Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, “President Bush increased government spending more than any of the six presidents preceding him, including LBJ.” Republicans controlled the House of Representatives for six of Bush’s eight years.
Redemption is a good thing, however, so maybe the GOP actually intends to do the right thing this time around. One key test is whether Republicans do a top-to-bottom housecleaning at both the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation.
 
These Capitol Hill bureaucracies are not well known, but they have enormous authority and influence. As the official scorekeepers of spending (CBO) and tax (JCT) bills, these two bureaucracies can mortally wound legislation or grease the skids for quick passage.
 
Unfortunately, that clout gets used to dramatically tilt the playing field in favor of bigger government. It was CBO that claimed that Obama’s stimulus created jobs, even though the head of CBO was forced to admit that the jobs-created number was the result of a Keynesian model that was rigged to show exactly that result . You would think that would shame the bureaucrats into producing honest numbers, but CBO continues to produce absurd job creation estimates regardless of the actual rate of unemployment.
 
CBO favors deficits and debt when it is asked to analyze proposals for more spending, but it rather conveniently changes its tune when the discussion shifts to tax increases. Since we’re on the topic of twisted economic analysis, CBO actually relies on a model which, for all intents and purposes, predicts that economic performance is maximized with 100 percent tax rates.
 
The Joint Committee on Taxation, meanwhile, is infamous for its assumption that taxes have no impact – at all – on economic output. In other words, instead of showing a Laffer Curve, JCT would show a straight line, with tax revenues continuing to rapidly climb even as tax rates approach 100 percent.  This creates a huge bias against good tax policy, yet JCT is impervious to evidence that its approach is wildly flawed.
 
And don’t forget that CBO and JCT both bear responsibility for Obamacare since they cranked out preposterous estimates that a giant new entitlement would lead to lower budget deficits
 
Not that we need additional evidence, but the head of the CBO just repeated his higher-taxes-equal-more-growth nonsense in testimony to the Senate Budget Committee. With this type of mindset, is it any surprise that fiscal policy is such a mess?
Douglas Elmendorf said extending breaks due to expire at year’s end would increase demand in the next few years by putting more money in consumers’ pockets. Over the long term, he said, the tax cuts would hurt the economy because the government would have to borrow so much money to finance them that it would begin competing with private companies seeking loans. That, in turn, would drive up interest rates, Elmendorf said.
I’ve already written once about how the GOP sabotaged itself when it didn’t fix the problems with these scorekeeping bureaucracies after 1994. If Republicans take power and don’t raze CBO and JCT, they will deserve to become a permanent minority party.

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I’m not a big fan of multi-guest panels, but I think this interview went well.

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I’m in Singapore for two days to help fight the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a statist international bureaucracy based in Paris. The OECD has something called a global tax forum, the purpose of which is to harass so-called tax haven in hopes of coercing them into acting as tax collectors for Europe’s decrepit welfare states. Here’s the executive summary from the memo I wrote, which warns low-tax jurisdictions that the OECD may push even harder to undermine fiscal sovereignty because of fears that a GOP takeover of Congress will make it more difficult to push for tax harmonization policies in the future.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has an ongoing project to prop up Europe’s inefficient welfare states by attacking tax competition in hopes of enabling governments to impose heavier tax burdens. This project received a boost when the Obama Administration joined forces with countries such as France and Germany, but the tide is now turning against high-tax nations – particularly as more people understand that such an approach inevitably leads to Greek-style fiscal collapse. Looming political changes in the United States will further complicate the OECD’s ability to impose bad policy. Because of these developments, low-tax jurisdictions should be especially wary of schemes to rush through new anti-tax competition initiatives at the Singapore Global Forum.

The good news is that nothing dramatic took place on the first day of the two-day conference. the OECD continued to bully low-tax jurisdictions to sign information-sharing agreements and the low-tax jurisdictions kept asking for double-taxation agreements so they could get some benefit in exchange for weakening their human rights/financial privacy laws. The OECD and high-tax nations have been ignoring these requests for a two-way street, thus continuing their bad-faith behavior.

For more information on this issue, here’s a link to my video on tax competition, and here are a handful of TV appearances where I discuss the issue. This is a challenging issue to debate, so I’d welcome feedback on which arguments you think are most effective.

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I’ve already commented on the Democrats deciding to wait until after the election before figuring out what to do about the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. This was a remarkable development since failure to extend these pieces of legislation means a big tax increase next January. But this doesn’t mean the Democrats are sitting on their hands. The President has a proposal to significantly increase the tax burden on American companies that compete in world markets, and Democrats on Capitol Hill think this is a winning political issue. They think higher taxes will encourage companies to keep more jobs in America, and they hope voters agree. But as the Wall Street Journal opines, this is a recipe for undermining the competitiveness f American companies. This means fewer jobs, and probably less tax revenue.

…the President’s plan reveals how out of touch Democrats are with the real world of tax competition. The U.S. already has one of the most punitive corporate tax regimes in the world and this tax increase would make that competitive disadvantage much worse, accelerating the very outsourcing of jobs that Mr. Obama says he wants to reverse. At issue is how the government taxes American firms that make money overseas. Under current tax law, American companies pay the corporate tax rate in the host country where the subsidiary is located and then pay the difference between the U.S. rate (35%) and the foreign rate when they bring profits back to the U.S. This is called deferral—i.e., the U.S. tax is deferred until the money comes back to these shores. Most countries do not tax the overseas profits of their domestic companies. Mr. Obama’s plan would apply the U.S. corporate tax on overseas profits as soon as they are earned. This is intended to discourage firms from moving operations out of the U.S. …Mr. Obama believes that by increasing the U.S. tax on overseas profits, some companies may be less likely to invest abroad in the first place. In some cases that will be true. But the more frequent result will be that U.S. companies lose business to foreign rivals, U.S. firms are bought by tax-advantaged foreign companies, and some U.S. multinational firms move their headquarters overseas. They can move to Ireland (where the corporate tax rate is 12.5%) or Germany or Taiwan, or dozens of countries with less hostile tax climates. We know this will happen because we’ve seen it before. The 1986 tax reform abolished deferral of foreign shipping income earned by U.S. controlled firms. No other country taxed foreign shipping income. Did this lead to more business for U.S. shippers? Precisely the opposite. According to a 2007 study in Tax Notes by former Joint Committee on Taxation director Ken Kies, “Over the 1985-2004 period, the U.S.-flag fleet declined from 737 to 412 vessels, causing U.S.-flag shipping capacity, measured in deadweight tonnage, to drop by more than 50%.” …Now the White House wants to repeat this experience with all U.S. companies. Two industries that would be most harmed would be financial services and technology, and their emphasis on human capital makes them especially able to pack up and move their operations abroad. CEO Steve Ballmer has warned that if the President’s plan is enacted, Microsoft would move facilities and jobs out of the U.S.

I’ve commented on this issue before, but I think the best explanation is in this video, which makes the key observation that American tax law may be able to discourage U.S. firms from building factories in other nations, but that simply means that companies from other countries will be able to take advantage of those opportunities.

A lot of Democrats, at least in private, admit that going after “deferral” is bad policy. But this makes the current proposal especially disgusting. People in the White House and on Capitol Hill know it will hurt jobs and reduce competitiveness, but they don’t care. Or at least they put political ambition before doing what’s right for the American people.

If they really cared, the would fix what’s wrong with the current system. A very effective way to encourage more jobs and investment in America is to lower the corporate tax rate, which is the point I made in the Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s first video.

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I always view polling data with a bit of skepticism, but I’m nonetheless embarrassed by new data from a 22-nation poll showing that German and French respondents are even more opposed to so-called stimulus spending than American respondents. If Americans are to the left of Europeans on size-of-government issues, that does not bode well for our future. On the other had, at least we’re not as naive and/or stupid as Egyptians, Mexicans, Russians, Indonesians, and Nigerians. Here’s a blurb from the summary.

In 14 of 22 countries most people–on average 56 per cent–favour an increase in government spending to stimulate the economy. This includes large majorities of Egyptians (91%), Mexicans (80%), Russians and Indonesians (both 78%), and Nigerians (73%). But majorities are opposed in a number of industrialised countries that had large stimulus programmes–Germany (66%), France (63%) and the US (58%).

The good news from the poll is that a majority of people around the world recognize that governments waste money at alarming rates. Americans think that 55 percent of their taxes are squandered. The Spanish, for inexplicable reasons, are most likely to think money is not wasted (perhaps because most of them have their snouts in the pubic trough?).

People believe that their government misspends more than half the money they pay in tax, according to the findings of a new BBC World Service global poll across 22 countries–but many are still looking to government to play a more active economic role. The poll of more than 22,000 people, conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA, found that people estimated on average that 52 per cent of the money they pay in tax is not used in ways that serve the interests and values of the people of their country. …The countries with the lowest average estimate of misspent tax money were Spain (average 34% misspent), Indonesia (40%), Azerbaijan and Egypt (both 42%). The highest were in Columbia (74% misspent) and Pakistan (69%). In the world’s two largest economies, Americans estimate on average that 55 per cent of their taxes are misspent, while in China the figure is 46 per cent. …As well as being less likely to support action to address the deficit, those who have the highest estimates of tax misspending are less likely to support government stimulus spending–among those who think that more than three-quarters of their tax money is misspent, only 47 per cent believe the government should spend to stimulate the economy.

The full report can be read here.

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I don’t know if this is true, but it’s been circulating for so long that there’s probably some fire under all the smoke. Does anybody know if this is for real, or an urban legend?

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