A former reporter for the New York Times, Fox Butterfield, became a bit of a laughingstock in the 1990s for publishing a series of articles addressing the supposed quandary of how crime rates could be falling during periods when prison populations were expanding. A number of critics sarcastically explained that crimes rates were falling because bad guys were behind bars and invented the term “Butterfield Effect” to describe the failure of leftists to put 2 + 2 together.
Last year, I was amused to see a New York Times columnist complain that Republicans were being stubborn in their opposition to tax hikes, but she inadvertently provided evidence against her own position.
She obviously wants readers to conclude that bad, mean, wicked Republicans are being too dogmatic because they won’t agree to big tax hikes. But the chart she prepared tells a completely different story. The only budget agreement that actually produced a balanced budget was the 1997 deal, and that deal contained tax cuts rather than tax increases!
I’m thinking this habit of accidentally helping the other side should be called the “Own-Goal Effect,” even though I generally don’t like anything associated with soccer (with one very important exception).
Given the track record of the New York Times in these matters, you won’t be surprised that the self-styled newspaper of record just published a story that combines the Butterfield Effect and the Own-Goal Effect.
Here are a couple of sentences from the recent NYT story, noting that taxpayers in many parts of the world face a tsunami of tax increases.
Taxes on earnings, investment income, sales and a few other things have gone up already in many countries, and further increases are possible, including a huge one in the United States. …“Quite a few countries are trying to increase tax revenue,” said Kevin Cornelius, a partner in Geneva for the Human Capital Practice at Ernst & Young. “The question is who’s raising taxes the slowest. I can’t remember as much tax legislation going through as we’ve seen in the last 24 months.”
Nothing remarkable in that excerpt. My blog is filled with stories about greedy governments seeking to extract more revenue from the economy’s productive sector.
But notice the headline that the NYT assigned to the article. Channeling the wisdom of Fox Butterfield, it fails to make an obvious causal link. As I have repeatedly noted in my writings about tax competition and tax havens, taxpayers need places to hide their money in order to curtail the ability and incentive of politicians to impose higher tax rates.
Heck, don’t believe me. Greg Mankiw has written the same thing.
In other words, the headline actually should read: “Taxes Trend Higher Worldwide Because there are Few Places to Hide.”
The article includes some discussion of how politicians are trying to shut down escape routes.
A rise in rates is not the only unpleasant matter that taxpayers must contend with. Tax lawyers, accountants and bankers highlight a global game of gotcha being played by revenue authorities. Taxpayers are being asked to provide more detailed information about financial accounts. Americans living or doing business abroad are conspicuous targets in this effort, and on the off chance that they will be less than forthcoming, the Internal Revenue Service is asking foreign financial institutions and tax agencies to join the cause. Elsewhere, vehicles that individuals and families use to shelter income and assets from tax, like trusts, corporations and foundations, are being examined more closely and critically. In certain cases, laws are amended to neutralize the effectiveness of tax-avoidance methods soon after they are devised. Also, foreign visitors’ claims of nonresidence for tax purposes are being treated more skeptically. “We’ve seen a huge amount of tax scrutiny,” said Mr. Cornelius at Ernst & Young. “Authorities are more aggressive in pursuing individuals. There’s more sharing of information across borders. That’s going to continue.”
What a depressing excerpt. And it doesn’t even touch on some of the worst ideas being advanced by the political elite, such as a potential international tax organization. Governments clearly are doing everything they can to pave the way for higher tax rates and a bigger burden of government spending.
To be fair to the author, I don’t detect ideological bias in the story. He inadvertently provides evidence confirming that tax competition is needed to restrain greedy politicians, so he scores a goal against the statists. But, unlike our President and some others who are even more radical, I don’t think he was trying to advance the left-wing narrative that tax competition is bad and that tax havens are evil.
So perhaps he’s only guilty of the “Butterfield Effect” and not the “Own-Goal Effect.”