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Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

The title of this post sounds like the beginning of a strange joke, but it’s actually because we’re covering three issues today.

Our first topic is corporate taxation. More specifically, we’re looking at a nation that seems to be learning that it’s foolish the have a punitive corporate tax system.

By way of background, the United States used to have the second-highest corporate tax rate in the developed world.

But then the Japanese came to their senses and reduced their tax rate on companies, leaving America with the dubious honor of having the world’s highest rate.

So did the United States respond with a tax cut in order to improve competitiveness? Nope, our rate is still high and the United States arguably now has the world’s worst tax system for businesses.

But the Japanese learned if a step in the right direction is good, then another step in the right direction must be even better.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Japan will be lowering its corporate tax rate again.

Japan’s ruling party on Tuesday cleared the way for a corporate tax cut to take effect next year… Reducing the corporate tax rate, currently about 35%, is a long-standing demand of large corporations. They say they bear an unfair share of the burden and have an incentive to move plants overseas to where taxes are lower. …Business leaders want the rate to fall below 30% within the next few years and eventually to 25%… The Japan Business Federation, known as Keidanren, says tax cuts could partly pay for themselves by spurring investment. Japan’s current corporate tax rate is higher than most European and Asian countries, although it is lower than the U.S. level of roughly 40%.

If only American politicians could be equally sensible.

The Japanese (at least some of them) even understand that a lower corporate rate will generate revenue feedback because of the Laffer Curve.

I’ve tried to make the same point to American policymakers, but that’s like teaching budget calculus to kids from the fiscal policy short bus.

Let’s switch gears to our second topic and look at what one veteran wrote about handouts from Uncle Sam.

Here are excerpts from his column in the Washington Post.

Though I spent more than five years on active duty during the 1970s as an Army infantry officer and an additional 23 years in the Reserves, I never fired a weapon other than in training, and I spent no time in a combat zone. …nearly half of the 4.5 million active-duty service members and reservists over the past decade were never deployed overseas. Among those who were, many never experienced combat. …support jobs aren’t particularly hazardous. Police officers, firefighters and construction workers face more danger than Army public affairs specialists, Air Force mechanics, Marine Corps legal assistants, Navy finance clerks or headquarters staff officers.

So what’s the point? Well, this former soldier thinks that benefits are too generous.

And yet, the benefits flow lavishly. …Even though I spent 80 percent of my time in uniform as a reservist, I received an annual pension in 2013 of $24,990, to which I contributed no money while serving. …My family and I have access to U.S. military bases worldwide, where we can use the fitness facilities at no charge and take advantage of the tax-free prices at the commissaries and post exchanges. The most generous benefit of all is Tricare. This year I paid just $550 for family medical insurance. In the civilian sector, the average family contribution for health care in 2013 was $4,565… Simply put, I’m getting more than I gave. Tricare for military retirees and their families is so underpriced that it’s more of a gift than a benefit. …budget deficits are tilting America toward financial malaise. Our elected representatives will have to summon the courage to confront the costs of benefits and entitlements and make hard choices. Some “no” votes when it comes to our service members and, in particular, military retirees will be necessary.

The entire column is informative and thoughtful. My only quibble is that it would be more accurate to say “an expanding burden of government is tilting America toward financial malaise.”

But I shouldn’t nitpick, even though I think it’s important to focus on the underlying problem of spending rather than the symptom of red ink.

Simply stated, it’s refreshing to read someone who writes that his group should get fewer taxpayer-financed goodies. And I like the idea of reserving generous benefits for those who put their lives at risk, or actually got injured.

Last but not least, I periodically share stories that highlight challenging public policy issues, even for principled libertarians.

You can check out some of my prior examples of “you be the judge” by clicking here.

Today, we have another installment.

The New York Times has reported that a mom and dad in the United Kingdom were arrested because their kid was too fat.

The parents of an 11-year-old boy were arrested in Britain on suspicion of neglect and child cruelty after authorities grew alarmed about the child’s weight. The boy, who like his parents was not identified, weighed 210 pounds. …In a statement, the police said that “obesity and neglect of children” were sensitive issues, but that its child abuse investigation unit worked with health care and social service agencies to ensure a “proportionate and necessary” response. The police said in the statement that “intervention at this level is very rare and will only occur where other attempts to protect the child have been unsuccessful.”

So was this a proper example of state intervention?

My instinct is to say no. After all, even bad parents presumably care about their kids. And they’ll almost certainly do a better job of taking care of them than a government bureaucracy.

But there are limits. Even strict libertarians, for instance, will accept government intervention if parents are sadistically beating a child.

And if bad parents were giving multiple shots of whiskey to 7-year olds every single night, that also would justify intervention in the minds of almost everybody.

On the other hand, would any of us want the state to intervene simply because parents don’t do a good job overseeing homework? Or because they let their kids play outside without supervision (a real issue in the United States, I’m embarrassed to admit)?

The answer hopefully is no.

But how do we decide when we have parents who are over-feeding a kid?

My take, for what it’s worth, is that the size of kids is not a legitimate function of government. My heart might want there to be intervention, but my head tells me that bureaucrats can’t be trusted to exercise this power prudently.

P.S. I guess “bye bye burger boy” in the United Kingdom didn’t work very well.

P.P.S. But the U.K. government does fund foreign sex travel, and that has to burn some calories.

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If you have any long-term Japanese investments, sell them soon.

How do you say “Barack” in Japanese?

In part, that’s because the Japanese Prime Minister announced another Keynesian spending binge earlier this year – even though several so-called stimulus plans in Japan have flopped over the past two decades (Keynesian economics doesn’t work anywhere, but that’s a topic for another day).

Adding to the burden of government spending is not exactly prudent behavior for a nation that already has the highest level of debt among all industrialized countries.

But the main reason I’m so pessimistic about Japan is that the government has decided to deal with the problem of runaway government spending by imposing  permanently higher taxes on the private sector.

I’m not kidding. Let’s look at parts of a recent Reuters report.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will…raise the national sales tax to 8 percent in April from 5 percent, a final draft of the government economic plan, seen by Reuters, shows.

Cartoon Fiscal Cliff 3

Japan’s government isn’t even pretending to restrain spending!

And to make a bad situation even worse, some of the money will be used for yet another faux stimulus package.

Abe ordered his government to compile the stimulus package to be announced on Tuesday. It features public-works spending for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The main problem, though, is that Japan’s real fiscal problem is an ever-increasing burden of government spending. The tax increase won’t solve that problem. Indeed, it will give politicians an excuse to postpone much-need reforms.

Surprisingly, the Reuters report acknowledges these problems.

The government has done little to rein in spending…, so some critics doubt Tuesday’s move will be enough to get Japan on track to achieve its goal of halving the budget deficit – excluding debt service and income from debt sales – by the fiscal year to March 2016 and balance it five years later. …any improvement in government revenue from the tax increase is likely to be quickly overwhelmed by expenditures in a country where a rapidly ageing society and generous public services are blowing an ever-bigger hole in the budget.

Time to “decisively” raise taxes!

So why is the Prime Minister doing something that won’t work? Apparently this shows he is decisive. This is not a joke.

…pressing ahead with the tax hike bolsters the image Abe has sought to foster of a decisive leader, withstanding opposition from his advisers and some of his own party.

Gee, isn’t it wonderful that Japan’s Prime Minister decisively wants to do the wrong thing and decisively put his nation deeper in a ditch.

While rational people are puzzled by the Japanese government’s self-defeating decision to raise taxes, there is one group that is cheering. Here are some excerpts from Tax-News.com about the head bureaucrat from the OECD applauding the greed of Japan’s political class.

The Secretary General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Angel Gurria has warmly welcomed the announcement from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the nation will raise its consumption tax from its current five percent levy to eight percent from April 2014. …”As Abe himself has noted, this increase is essential to maintain confidence in Japan and establish a social security system that is sustainable for future generations. I congratulate Prime Minister Abe for this important step and also encourage the government to complete the second hike in the consumption tax rate to 10 percent in 2015.”

So the OECD wants a hike in the VAT now…and another one in just two years. I’m sure Japanese taxpayers are overjoyed to be subsidizing a bunch of bureaucrats in Paris (who get tax-free salaries!) who urge more taxes on other people.

But, to be fair, the OECD wants higher taxes for everybody – including more Obama-style class-warfare taxes in America. The bureaucrats even argue that VATs are good for growth and job creation!

My view, for what it’s worth, is that this is another piece of evidence showing that the VAT is a money machine for big government. Not just in Japan, but also in Europe.

And the same would be true in America. This video explains further.

P.S. Here are some examples of how the Japanese government wastes money, though regulation of coffee enemas is my favorite example of government stupidity from Japan.

P.P.S. Click here, here, and here to enjoy some very good cartoons on the VAT.

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Good fiscal policy doesn’t require heavy lifting. Governments simply need to limit the burden of government spending.

The key variable is making sure spending doesn’t consume ever-larger shares of economic output. In other words, follow Mitchell’s Golden Rule.

It’s possible for a nation to have a large public sector and be fiscally stable. Growth won’t be very impressive, but big government doesn’t automatically mean collapse. Sweden and Denmark are good role models for this approach.

And it’s even easier for a jurisdiction to have a small government and be fiscally stable, particularly since less spending and lower taxes are associated with prosperity. Hong Kong, Singapore, and Switzerland are good examples.

Unfortunately, many nations face fiscal death spirals. The burden of government spending keeps climbing, while private sectors gets hit over and over again with higher taxes. This destructive combination inevitably leads to fiscal collapse.

I’ve warned about potential fiscal crises in France, Greece, and the United Kingdom. I’ve even noted that the United States has a very dismal future if government policy stays on autopilot.

More spending and higher taxes!

But Japan may be poster child for reckless and irresponsible tax and spending policy.

Even though the public sector already is far too big and even though the government has incurred more debt than any other developed economy, the new Prime Minster thinks another Keynesian stimulus package is the recipe for economic revival.

I’m not joking. Even though the economy has been stagnant for 20 years – a period that has seen several so-called stimulus schemes, the government wants to throw good money after bad.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the New York Times approves of this new pork-fest.

The $116 billion stimulus package unveiled Friday by Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is a step in the right direction… Mr. Abe’s package of public-works spending…, investment tax credits and more spending on education and health care could help jump start the moribund Japanese economy. … Some forward-looking steps, like expanded health care spending, are already in the stimulus package.

Though if you read the entire editorial, at least the NYT acknowledged that this so-called stimulus should be accompanied by some long-term reforms such as fewer subsidies for politically powerful sectors of the Japanese economy.

Japan’s Fiscal Suicide

Now let’s shift to the tax side of the fiscal equation. We know that Japan has some of the highest tax rates in the industrialized world. Indeed, until last year, Japan was the only nation to have a higher corporate tax rate than the United States.

These high tax rates undermine competitiveness and hamper growth. Simply stated, the government is discouraging work, saving, investment, entrepreneurship, and other productive behaviors.

So what do you think the Japanese government is planning? You guessed it. Even higher tax rates. Here are some excerpts from a story at Tax-news.com.

…the ruling Liberal Democratic  Party (LDP) and its coalition partner, New Komeito, have now turned their attention  to ways to revise taxation, including increased taxes for the wealthiest taxpayers. …While there may be some disagreement within the coalition concerning an inheritance   tax rate rise for the largest estates, which is supported by New Komeito, there   is expected to be less of a problem over raising individual income tax rates   for the highest-earners. A progressive tax package, which might, for example, raise the present highest   40% income tax rate and reduce the JPY50m inheritance tax exemption amount,   is likely to be announced at a coalition meeting expected later this month.

I’m not going to pretend that I know when Japan’s economy implodes, but I think that collapse is almost inevitable at this point. Class warfare tax policy and Keynesian fiscal policy are not a recipe for a good outcome.

The real mystery is why both a state and a nation on the other side of the Pacific Ocean want to copy Japan’s suicidal fiscal policy?

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For years, I’ve been warning that a value-added tax (VAT) would be a terrible idea. Simply stated, politicians would have no reason to control spending or reform entitlements if they had a new source of tax revenue.

In this video, I explain why this European-style national sales tax is a money machine for bigger government.

Japan’s politicians are confirming my argument. Here are some details from a new report in the Wall Street Journal.

Japan’s parliament passed a landmark tax bill Friday, finalizing the legal framework to double the nation’s sales tax by 2015 as a step toward fiscal reconstruction. The upper house enactment of the contentious bill marks the end of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s tortuous 12-month road to raise the tax to 8% in April 2014 and 10% in October 2015. …The sales tax hike will be the first since 1997, when the rate was raised to the current 5% from 3%.

Wow, more than tripling the tax between 1997 and 2015. I wonder how long it will take Japan’s political class to boost the rate to 20 percent?

But that’s only part of the story.

Mr. Noda also had to promise to dissolve the lower house “in the near term” in exchange for…endorsement of the bill in the opposition-controlled upper house.

Wow, if I’m reading that passage correctly, it sounds like Prime Minister Noda is willing to lose power in order to impose this new tax. This shows an amazing amount of greed for new revenue.

I’m surprised, though, that his party didn’t kick him out and elect a new leader. They must be as politically incompetent as the supposedly right-wing party in Slovakia that surrendered power to the socialists in order to get support for the Greek bailout.

However, the WSJ article also suggests that the tax is not a done deal.

The bill includes a provision making an “economic upturn” a condition for implementing the rate hike. The government refused to specify in the bill exactly what an upturn entails, and lawmakers have different interpretations. DPJ tax policy chief Hirohisa Fujii told Dow Jones that only an economic shrinkage of 3% or more should prevent the tax increase from taking place.

Isn’t that remarkable. This onerous tax hike can only go into effect if there’s an “economic upturn,” and one of the sleazy politicians from the ruling party is defining an economic contraction of -2.99 percent as meeting that test.

Sound like Mr. Fujii should become friends with the Obama Administration officials who relied on Keynesian economic theory to concoct an infamous prediction that unemployment would never rise above 8 percent if Washington squandered more than $800 billion on a faux stimulus.

But if he’s smart, Mr. Fujii will grab as much loot as possible and emigrate. Japan’s long-term finances are a disaster, and the VAT increase is a pretty good sign that politicians have no intention of turning the ship of state before it rams the fiscal iceberg.

And now you’ll understand even more why I’m worried about the pro-VAT sympathies of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

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Last year, I expressed skepticism that the White House was serious about reducing the corporate tax rate. And, sure enough, when the Obama Administration produced a plan earlier this year, it was a disappointing mix of a few good provisions and several unpalatable proposals.

This is unfortunate because the United States has one of the most punitive corporate tax systems in the developed world. Indeed, every singe European welfare state has a lower corporate tax rate than America – even leftists nations such as France and Sweden!

For a long time, only Japan imposed a more onerous tax rate than the United States. But even that now has changed. After toying with the idea since 2010, the Japanese government finally pulled the trigger and reduced the nation’s tax rate.

Here’s a brief blurb from Reuters.

The United States will hold the dubious distinction starting on Sunday of having the developed world’s highest corporate tax rate after Japan’s drops to 38.01 percent… Japan’s reduction , prompted by years of pressure from Japanese politicians hoping to spur economic growth, will give that country the world’s second-highest rate. …The average 2012 corporate tax rate for the 34 developed countries is 25.4 percent, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

That leaves America in the unenviable position of having the developed world’s highest corporate tax rate, somewhere between 39 percent-40 percent. This video explains why this isn’t a good idea.

It was my very first video, so it’s not a polished product, but the information is right on the mark.

The moral of the story is very straightforward. A high corporate tax rate is a self-imposed wound to American competitiveness. But that’s only part of the story. America also has a “worldwide” tax system, which forces U.S. companies to suffer a big disadvantage when trying to compete for market share in other nations.

No wonder even officials from the Clinton Administration have begun to argue that the corporate tax rate should be significantly lowered.

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There are several semi-permanent fiscal policy fights in Washington, most of which somehow are related to the big issue of whether government should be bigger or smaller.

Today, I want to focus on two of those battles, and point to developments in Japan to make the case that the left is wrong.

First, let’s look at a couple of sentences from a Wall Street Journal story about Japanese fiscal policy.

Top officials from Japan’s government and ruling party formally endorsed a revised bill to double the country’s sales tax, despite strong objections from other party members, in a sign of their determination to rein in the nation’s soaring public debt. …The legislation will double the current 5% sales tax in two stages by 2015 as a way to help pay for the nation’s growing social welfare costs as the population ages.

I realize I’m a strange person and I look at everything through a libertarian lens, but I think this story provides strong support for my viewpoint on two important issues.

1. Higher taxes lead to higher spending – Just like in the United States, politicians in Japan claim that they have to raise taxes to deal with deficits and debt. Indeed, the excerpt above includes that assertion, reporting that the VAT increase would be “to rein in the nation’s soaring debt.”

I think this is nonsense. Politicians are motivated by a desire to finance bigger government. And that’s what’s happening in Japan. Later in the article, we see that the real purpose of the tax hike is to “pay for the nation’s growing social welfare costs.”

2. The VAT is a money machine for big government – I’ve cited the European evidence to show that small VATs become big VATs in part because it is a hidden tax. My statist friends often respond by saying I need to look at Japan, Canada, and Australia, where VATs haven’t been increased. I then respond by saying it’s just a matter of time. So, even though I would like to be wrong, Japan is confirming my fears.

That being said, I must acknowledge the possibility that Canada and Australia may prove me wrong. And I will be happy if that’s what happens. Both nations have done a pretty good job of restraining the growth of government (see Table 25 of this OECD data), and I don’t see any immediate threat of VAT hikes. But I’m not holding my breath for what happens 10 years from now.

Last but not least, I’ve decided the title of this post is inaccurate. The left isn’t wrong. They know the higher taxes lead to higher spending, and they know the VAT is a money machine for big government. They just don’t publicly admit these are the results they want.

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In a recent column for the Wall Street Journal, I explained why Mitt Romney’s interest in a value-added tax is deeply troubling.

One of my key points was that the VAT is a money machine for big government.

But don’t believe me. Look at Japan, where the politicians see increases in the VAT as a way of financing a much larger burden of government spending. Here’s some of what is being reported by Bloomberg.

Noda reshuffled his cabinet last week, aiming to win support for doubling Japan’s 5 percent national sales tax by 2015… Japan’s finances are “getting worse and worse every day, every second,” Takahira Ogawa, Singapore-based director of sovereign ratings at S&P… Japan’s aging population is also weighing on Noda’s struggle to achieve fiscal health. Social-security expenses have more than doubled in two decades and will account for 52 percent of general spending for the year starting in April, according to a budget proposal the cabinet approved last month.

The key point in this excerpt is that the VAT is a substitute for entitlement reform. Without the VAT, politicians might actually reform the welfare state. But because of the VAT, they want to take the easy (but extremely destructive) route and boost the tax burden.

This is why I get so agitated about the threat of a VAT in America, as illustrated by this recent appearance on Larry Kudlow’s show.

By the way, you won’t be surprised to know that the fiscal pyromaniacs at the International Monetary Fund support a bigger tax burden in Japan. Here’s another passage from the Bloomberg story.

The International Monetary Fund has said a gradual increase of Japan’s sales tax to 15 percent “could provide roughly half of the fiscal adjustment needed to put the public-debt ratio on a downward path.”

Isn’t it nice that we give these international bureaucrats big tax-free salaries so they can run around the world pushing for bailouts and higher taxes.

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