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Archive for February 22nd, 2012

American companies are hindered by what is arguably the world’s most punitive corporate tax system. The federal corporate rate is 35 percent, which climbs to more than 39 percent when you add state corporate taxes. Among developed nations, only Japan is in the same ballpark, and that country is hardly a role model of economic dynamism.

But the tax rate is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s also critically important to look at the government’s definition of taxable income. If there are lots of corrupt loopholes – such as ethanol – that enable some income to escape taxation, then the “effective” tax rate might be rather modest.

On the other hand, if the government forces companies to overstate their income with policies such as worldwide taxation and depreciation, then the statutory tax rate understates the actual tax burden.

The U.S. tax system, as the chart suggests, is riddled with both types of provisions.

This information is important because there are good and not-so-good ways of lowering tax rates as part of corporate tax reform. If politicians decide to “pay for” lower rates by eliminating loopholes, that creates a win-win situation for the economy since the penalty on productive behavior is reduced and a tax preference that distorts economic choices is removed.

But if politicians “pay for” the lower rates by expanding the second layer of tax on U.S. companies competing in foreign markets or by changing depreciation rules to make firms pretend that investment expenditures are actually net income, then the reform is nothing but a re-shuffling of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Now let’s look at President Obama’s plan for corporate tax reform.

*The good news is that he reduces the tax rate on companies from 35 percent to 28 percent (still more than 32 percent when state corporate taxes are added to the mix).

*The bad news is that he exacerbates the tax burden on new investment and increases the second layer of taxation imposed on American companies competing for market share overseas.

In other words, to paraphrase the Bible, the President giveth and the President taketh away.

This doesn’t mean the proposal would be a step in the wrong direction. There are some loopholes, properly understood, that are scaled back.

But when you add up all the pieces, it is largely a kiss-your-sister package. Some companies would come out ahead and others would lose.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough to measurably improve incomes for American workers. In a competitive global economy, where even Europe’s welfare states recognize reality and have lowered their corporate tax rates, on average, to 23 percent, the President’s proposal at best is a tiny step in the right direction.

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I’ve written before about how big government is enriching people in the Washington metropolitan area. This is for two reasons.

First, bureaucrats are paid too much, getting twice as much compensation, on average, as people in the productive sector of the economy.

Second, lobbyists, contractors, and interest groups have figured out how to get lucrative positions at the federal trough.

A new report from MSN Money illustrates how the political elite is getting very rich by plundering honest Americans. America has 3,033 counties, and they identified the 15 richest jurisdictions from that list.

Of those 15 super-elite counties (the top 1/2 of one percent), 10 are in the Washington metropolitan area. I’ve identified them with stars in the map.

You may be wondering, by the way, about the location of the other counties in the top 15. Well, four of them are suburbs of New York City, meaning that they are home to rich Wall Street people who mooched from the taxpayers thanks to TARP bailouts and other subsidies.

So if you really want to be cynical, you could count them as auxiliary counties of Washington, DC. That’s probably an unfair conclusion, but TARP was unfair to honest and hard-working people, so I don’t feel too guilty.

As far as I can tell, the only untarnished jurisdiction in the top 15 is Douglas County, Colorado. And given that these are the folks who are implementing a good school choice plan, it seems that we have a group of productive people who also believe in doing the right thing.

For more information about the overcompensation of bureaucrats, this video is loaded with information.

Most important of all, remember that any proposals to increase government spending will further widen the income gulf between the political elite and regular Americans. And any initiative to boost the tax burden would lead to the same result.

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