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Posts Tagged ‘International Taxation’

It’s a bad idea when governments demand information on your bank accounts and investments so they can impose economically destructive double taxation.

It’s a worse idea when they also demand the right to tax economic activity in other jurisdictions (otherwise known as “worldwide taxation“).

And it’s the worst possible development when governments decide that they should impose a global network of data collection and dissemination as part of a scheme of worldwide double taxation.

Yet that’s exactly what’s happening. High-tax nations, working through the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, want to impose a one-size-fits-all system of “automatic information exchange” that would necessitate the complete evisceration of financial privacy.

David Burton of the Heritage Foundation explains the new scheme for giving governments more access to peoples’ private financial information.

…the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released the full version of the global standard for automatic exchange of information. The Standard for Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information in Tax Matters calls on governments to obtain detailed account information from their financial institutions and exchange that information automatically with other jurisdictions on an annual basis.

I think this is bad policy, regardless. It is based on imposing and enforcing bad tax policy.

But David goes one step farther. He warns that this global network of tax police includes many unsavory nations.

It is one thing to exchange financial account information with Western countries that generally respect privacy and are allied with the United States. It is an entirely different matter to exchange sensitive financial information about American citizens or corporations with countries that do not respect Western privacy norms, have systematic problems with corruption or are antagonistic to the United States. States that fall into one of these problematic categories but are participating in the OECD automatic exchange of information initiative include Colombia, China and Russia. …The Obama administration enthusiastically supports the OECD initiative.

Moreover, David wisely does not believe we should trust the Obama Administration’s hollow assurances that other nations won’t misuse the data.

…even the administration has realized important privacy issues at are stake. Robert B. Stack, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for International Tax Affairs, has testified that “the United States will not enter into an information exchange agreement unless the Treasury Department and the IRS are satisfied that the foreign government has strict confidentiality protections…” Leaving these determinations to a tax agency with little institutional interest in anything other than raising tax revenue is dangerous. There is little doubt sensitive financial information about American citizens and businesses can and will be used by some governments for reasons that have nothing to do with tax administration, such as identifying political opponents’ financial resources or industrial espionage. In addition, individuals in corrupt governments may use the information for criminal purposes such as identity theft, to access others’ funds or to identify potential kidnapping victims. It is naïve to think otherwise. …The Senate should not ratify this protocol. The risks to American citizens and American businesses are too great.

David is exactly right, but too restrained and polite in his assessment.

Richard Rahn, my colleague at Cato, is more blunt in his analysis. Here’s some of what he wrote for the Washington Times.

Do you want the Obama administration sharing all of your financial information with the Russian, Chinese and Saudi Arabian governments? You may be thinking, not even President Obama would go that far. Not so… The rationale behind this despicable idea is to more effectively enable governments, such as that of France and the United States, to identify tax evaders. This might sound like a good idea until one realizes that every individual and business will be stripped of all of their financial privacy if this becomes the law of the land… all of the information that financial institutions now report to the U.S. government to try to ensure income-tax compliance, including your account balances, interest, dividends, proceeds from the sale of financial assets — would be shared with foreign governments. This would apply not only for individuals, but also for both financial and nonfinancial businesses, plus trust funds and foundations. 

Richard then explains that we can’t even trust the bureaucrats at the IRS.

The United States and other governments will, of course, claim that your sensitive financial information will remain confidential — and that you can trust the governments. After the recent Internal Revenue Service scandals — which recur every decade or so — why would anyone believe anything the IRS says? Remember, the IRS leaked information on some of Mitt Romney’s donors during the 2012 presidential campaign. It was blatantly illegal, and the IRS (i.e., you the taxpayer) paid a small fine, but no one went to jail. Many U.S. presidents have misused the IRS, starting at least as far back as Franklin Roosevelt, and the American people are always told “never again,” which is the beginning of the new lie.

And he logically concludes it would be even more foolish to trust foreign tax bureaucracies.

Particularly the tax authorities of the many nations that abuse human rights and persecute minorities, as well the tax police in nations that are too incompetent to be trusted with sensitive data.

…just think what is going to happen when all of those corrupt officials in foreign governments get ahold of it. Some will use the information for identity theft and to raid bank accounts, others for industrial espionage, some to identify potential kidnapping victims and some for political purposes. The potential list goes on and on. The U.S. Treasury Department says it will insist on strict confidentiality protections. (Lois Lerner, please call your office.) If you are a Ukrainian-American who donates to Ukrainian free-market and democratic causes, would you really think that Vladimir Putin’s team, having your financial information, would not misuse it? If you are an American Jew who donates to Israeli causes, do you really think that all of those in the Saudi government who now have full access to your confidential financial information are not going to misuse it? The Chinese are well known for using malware against their opponents. Just think of all the mischief they could cause if they had access to all of the sensitive financial information of human rights advocates in America.

Richard draws the appropriate conclusion. Simply stated, there’s no way we should have a global regime of automatic information exchange simply because a handful of high-tax nations want to remake global tax policy so they can prop up their decrepit welfare states.

As Lord Acton famously reminded us, governments are prone to misuse information and power. The instrument behind this information-sharing ploy is the OECD, which started out as a statistical collection and dissemination agency to promote free trade among its members. It has now morphed into an international agency promoting big government and higher taxes, and the destruction of financial freedom — while at the same time, by treaty, its staff salaries are tax-exempt. No hypocrisy there. Thinking Republicans and Democrats should unite around opposition to this terrible treaty and defund the OECD. Those who vote for it will deservedly be easy marks for their political opponents.

And kudos to Richard for urging the defunding of the OECD. It is absurd that American tax dollars are funding a Paris-based bureaucracy that constantly urges policies that would undermine the U.S. economy.

Especially when they’re insulated from the negative effects of the policies they push. Since they’re on the public teat, they don’t suffer when the private economy is battered. And they don’t even have to pay tax on their very generous salaries.

P.S. I’m very glad to report that at least one lawmaker is doing the right thing. Senator Rand Paul is leading the fight to block proposals that would put Americans at risk by requiring the inappropriate collection and sharing of private financial information.

P.P.S. By way of background, the OECD scheme is part of an effort to cripple tax competition so that high-tax nations can impose higher tax rates and finance bigger government. To learn more about tax competition (and tax havens), watch this four-part video series.

P.P.P.S. The OECD scheme is basically a multilateral version of the horrid “FATCA” legislation signed by Obama back in 2010.

P.P.P.P.S. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think a global tax database is even worse than an Obamacare database on our sex lives.

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Last month, I nailed Bill and Hillary Clinton for their gross hypocrisy on the death tax.

But that’s just one example. Today, we’re going to experience a festival of statist hypocrisy. We have six different nauseating examples of political elitists wanting to subject ordinary people to bad policy while self-exempting themselves from similar burdens.

Our first three examples are from the world of taxation.

Here are some excerpts from a Washington Times report about a billionaire donor who is bankrolling candidates who support higher taxes, even though he structured his hedge fund in low-tax jurisdictions specifically to minimize the fiscal burdens of his clients.

Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist who is spending $100 million to help elect Democrats this fall, is rallying support for energy taxes that could impact everyday Americans. But when he ran his own hedge fund, Mr. Steyer sought to help wealthy clients legally avoid paying taxes, confidential investor memos show. Mr. Steyer’s strategy included establishing funds in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Mauritius… Mr. Steyer boasted to investors such as major universities that his hedge fund, Farallon Capital Management LLC, had a “desire not to earn income which would be taxable to our tax-exempt investors,” one internal memo reviewed by The Washington Times showed. Mr. Steyer also helped his firm’s wealthy clientele avoid the highest of U.S. taxes and penalties by establishing arcane tax shelters… Mr. Steyer is pushing for a variety of new taxes on the energy sector. In California, Mr. Steyer supports an oil extraction tax, and he is funding politicians who support taxing carbon, including Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat.

By the way, Steyer did nothing wrong, just as Mitt Romney did nothing wrong when he utilized so-called tax havens to manage and protect his investments.

But at least Romney wasn’t overtly urging higher taxes on everyone else, so he’s not guilty of glaring hypocrisy.

Speaking of international taxation, how about the behavior of Senator Joe Machin’s daughter? She’s the head of an American drug-making company, a position that almost surely has something to do with her father being a senator.  Particularly since the company gets a big chunk of its revenues from sales to the federal government.

In any event, her company has decided that it’s okay to benefit from sales to big government, but that it’s not a good idea to pay taxes for big government. Here are some blurbs from a National Journal report.

…this column happens to be about a Democratic senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, and his daughter, Heather Bresch, the chief executive of Mylan, a giant maker of generic drugs based outside Pittsburgh. Her company’s profits come largely from Medicaid and Medicare, which means her nest is feathered by U.S. taxpayers. On Monday, Bresch announced that Mylan will renounce its United States citizenship and instead become incorporated in the Netherlands – leaving this country, in part, to pay less in taxes.

By the way, I’m a big fan of companies re-domiciling overseas.

So long as our corporate tax system has high rates and punitive worldwide taxation, corporate expatriation is the best way of protecting the interests of American workers, consumers, and shareholders.

But it’s a bit hypocritical when the expatriating company is run by a major Democrat donor.

Our third example of hypocrisy also deals with corporate expatriation, and it’s probably the most odious and extreme display of two-faced political behavior. Here’s some of what was reported in the L.A. Times about the Secretary of the Treasury’s attack on corporate inversions.

Calling for “a new sense of economic patriotism,” a top Obama administration official urged Congress to take immediate action to stop U.S. companies from reorganizing as foreign firms to avoid paying taxes. …”What we need as a nation is a new sense of economic patriotism, where we all rise or fall together,” Lew wrote to the top Democrats and Republicans on the congressional tax-writing committees. “We should not be providing support for corporations that seek to shift their profits overseas to avoid paying their fair share of taxes,” he said. …Lew said such moves were unfair to U.S. taxpayers. …”Congress should enact legislation immediately — and make it retroactive to May 2014 — to shut down this abuse of our tax system,” Lew wrote.

Gee, big words from Mr. Lew. But too bad he didn’t say those words to himself when he was a crony capitalist at Citigroup. Why? Because he had big money parked in the Cayman Islands!

So he inverted his own funds but doesn’t want other taxpayers to have the right to make the same sensible choices.

Now let’s look at three non-tax related examples of hypocrisy.

First, we have a pro-Obamacare politician running for Congress. One of his main talking points is that his wife is an OB/GYN and he also trumpets his support for expansion of Medicaid (the government’s money-hemorrhaging healthcare program for lower-income people).

Here’s some of what was reported by the Free Beacon (h/t: National Review).

John Foust has made his wife the face of his campaign for Virginia’s 10th District. Dr. Marilyn Jerome is an OBGYN… Foust attacks his Republican opponent Barbara Comstock for opposing Medicaid expansion. Failure to expand Medicaid to rural hospitals could be “devastating,” he says. Dr. Jerome has also written in support of the Affordable Care Act on the Foxhall website, citing the Medicaid expansion as beneficial to low-income women.

But it seems that Medicaid expansion is only a good idea when other doctors are dealing with the government.

It turns out, however, that not all women can receive “compassionate reproductive healthcare” from Foxhall. The practice doesn’t accept Medicaid. …in public, Dr. Jerome is preaching the Affordable Care Act and praising the Medicaid expansion while, in her practice, she doesn’t accept it.

The message is that sub-standard government-run healthcare is okay for us peasants, but doctors who cater to the political elite in Washington want nothing to do with the program.

Sort of like the politicians and IRS bureaucrats who want to be exempted from Obamacare.

Second, it turns out that global warming alarmists use above-average amounts of energy.

Here are some tidbits from a column in the UK-based Telegraph.

People who claim to worry about climate change use more electricity than those who do not, a Government study has found. Those who say they are concerned about the prospect of climate change consume more energy than those who say it is “too far into the future to worry about,” the study commissioned by the Department for Energy and Climate Change found. …The findings were based on the Household Electricity Survey.

Not that this surprises me. I’ve previously shared evidence that elitist environmentalists want to dictate the energy consumption of ordinary people while suffering no cutbacks in their own extravagant living standards.

Third, we have a remarkable bit of political jujitsu from Martin O’Malley, the governor of Maryland, on the issue of illegal aliens. Here’s an amazing excerpt from a story in Politco (h/t: National Review).

Martin O’Malley says that deporting the children detained at the border would be sending them to “certain death” — but he also urged the White House not to send them to a facility in his own state.

Wow. Regardless of what you think about open borders, amnesty, and other immigration issues, O’Malley comes across as a craven politician. This is NIMBY on steroids.

In conclusion, I should point out that hypocrisy is not limited to leftists. I’m even harder on faux conservatives who pretend to favor small government when talking to voters but then aid and abet statism behind closed doors in Washington.

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I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Bill Clinton. In part, that’s because economic freedom increased and the burden of government spending was reduced during his time in office.

Partisans can argue whether Clinton actually deserves the credit for these good results, but I’m just happy we got better policy. Heck, Clinton was a lot more akin to Reagan that Obama, as this Michael Ramirez cartoon suggests.

Moreover, Clinton also has been the source of some very good political humor, some of which you can enjoy here, here, here, here, and here.

Most recently, he even made some constructive comments about corporate taxation and fiscal sovereignty.

Here are the relevant excerpts from a report in the Irish Examiner.

It is up to the US government to reform the country’s corporate tax system because the international trend is moving to the Irish model of low corporate rate with the burden on consumption taxes, said the former US president Bill Clinton. Moreover, …he said. “Ireland has the right to set whatever taxes you want.” …The international average is now 23% but the US tax rate has not changed. “…We need to reform our corporate tax rate, not to the same level as Ireland but it needs to come down.”

Kudos to Clinton for saying America’s corporate tax rate “needs to come down,” though you could say that’s the understatement of the year. The United States has the highest corporate tax rate among the 30-plus nations in the industrialized world. And we rank even worse – 94th out of 100 countries according to a couple of German economists – when you look at details of how corporate income is calculated.

And I applaud anyone who supports the right of low-tax nations to have competitive tax policy. This is a real issue in Europe. I noted back in 2010 that, “The European Commission originally wanted to require a minimum corporate tax rate of 45 percent. And as recently as 1992, there was an effort to require a minimum corporate tax rate of 30 percent.” And the pressure remains today, with Germany wanting to coerce Ireland into hiking its corporate rate and the OECD pushing to undermine Ireland’s corporate tax system.

All that being said – and before anyone accuses me of having a man-crush on Bill and/or of being delusional – let me now issue some very important caveats.

When Clinton says we should increase “the burden on consumption taxes,” that almost surely means he would like to see a value-added tax.

This would be a terrible idea, even if at first the revenue was used to finance a lower corporate tax rate. Simply stated, it would just be a matter of time before the politicians figured out how to use the VAT as a money machine to finance bigger government.

Indeed, it’s no coincidence that the welfare state in Europe exploded in the late 1960s/early 1970s, which was also the time when the VAT was being implemented. And it’s also worth noting that VAT rates in recent years have jumped significantly in both Europe and Japan.

Moreover, Clinton’s position on fiscal sovereignty has been very weak in the past. It was during his tenure, after all, that the OECD – with active support from the Clinton Treasury Department – launched its “harmful tax competition” attack against so-called tax havens.

In other words, he still has a long way to go if he wants to become an Adjunct Fellow at the Cato Institute.

P.S. Just in case anyone want to claim that the 1993 Clinton tax hike deserves credit for any of the good things that happened in the 1990s, look at this evidence before embarrassing yourself.

P.P.S. There’s very little reason to think that Hillary Clinton would be another Bill Clinton.

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It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that the United States has the world’s worst corporate tax system.

We definitely have the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world, and we may have the highest corporate tax rate in the entire world depending on how one chooses to classify the tax regime in an obscure oil Sheikdom.

But America’s bad policy goes far beyond the rate structure. We also have a very punitive policy of “worldwide taxation” that forces American firms to pay an extra layer of tax when competing for market share in other nations.

And then we have rampant double taxation of both dividends and capital gains, which discourages business investment.

No wonder a couple of German economists ranked America 94 out of 100 nations when measuring the overall treatment of business income.

So if you’re an American company, how do you deal with all this bad policy?

Well, one solution is to engage in a lot of clever tax planning to minimize your taxable income. Though that’s probably not a successful long-term strategy since the Obama Administration is supporting a plan by European politicians to create further disadvantages for American-based companies.

Another option is to somehow turn yourself into a foreign corporation. You won’t be surprised to learn that politicians have imposed punitive anti-expatriation laws to make that difficult, but the crowd in Washington hasn’t figured out how to stop cross-border mergers and acquisitions.

And it seems that’s a very effective way of escaping America’s worldwide tax regime. Let’s look at some excerpts from a story posted by CNBC.

Some of the biggest mergers and acquisitions so far in 2013 have involved so-called “tax inversions” – where a US acquirer shifts overseas, to Europe in particular, to pay a lower rate.

The article then lists a bunch of examples. Here’s Example #1.

Michigan-based pharmaceuticals group Perrigo has said its acquisition of Irish biotech company Elan will lead to re-domiciling in Ireland, where it has given guidance it expects to pay about 17 per cent in tax, rather than an estimated 30 per cent rate it was paying in the US. Deutsche Bank estimates Perrigo will achieve tax savings of $118m a year as a result.

And Example #2.

New Jersey-based Actavis’s acquisition of Warner Chilcott in May – will also result in a move to Ireland, where Actavis’s tax rate will fall to about 17 per cent from an effective rate of 28 per cent tax, and enable it to save an estimated $150m over the next two years.

Then Example #3.

US advertising company Omnicom has said its $35bn merger with Publicis will result in the combined group’s headquarters being located in the Netherlands, saving about $80m in US tax a year.

Last but not least, Example #4.

Liberty Global’s $23bn acquisition of Virgin Media will allow the US cable group to relocate to the UK, and pay its lower 21 per cent tax rate of corporation tax.

And we can expect more of these inversions in the future.

M&A advisers say the number of companies seeking to re-domicile outside the US after a takeover is rising. …Increased use of tax inversion has coincided with an intensifying political debate on US tax – with Democrats, Republicans and the White House agreeing that the current code, which imposes a top rate of 35 per cent but offers a plethora of tax breaks, is in need of reform.

I’ll close with a very important point.

It’s not true that the current code has a “plethora of tax breaks.” Or, to be more specific, there are lots of tax breaks, but the ones that involve lots of money are part of the personal income tax, such as the state and local tax deduction, the mortgage interest deduction, the charitable contributions deduction, the muni-bond exemption, and the fringe benefits exclusion.

There are some corrupt loopholes in the corporate income tax, to be sure, such as the ethanol credit for Big Ag and housing credits for politically well-connected developers. But if you look at the Joint Committee on Taxation’s list of so-called tax expenditures and correct for their flawed definition of income, it turns out that there’s not much room to finance a lower tax rate by getting rid of unjustified tax breaks.

So does this mean there’s no way of fixing the problems that cause tax inversions?

If lawmakers put themselves in the straitjacket of “static scoring” as practiced by the Joint Committee on Taxation, then a solution is very unlikely.

But if they choose to look at the evidence, they’ll see that there are big Laffer-Curve effects from better tax policy. A study from the American Enterprise Institute found that the revenue-maximizing corporate tax rate is about 25 percent while more recent research from the Tax Foundation puts the revenue-maximizing tax rate for companies closer to 15 percent.

I should hasten to add that the tax code shouldn’t be designed to maximize revenues. But when tax rates are punitively high, even a cranky libertarian like me won’t get too agitated if politicians wind up with more money as a result of lowering tax rates.

You might think that’s a win-win situation. Folks on the right support lower tax rates to get more growth and folks on the left support the same policy to raise more tax revenue.

But there’s at least one person on Washington who wants high tax rates even if they don’t raise additional revenue.

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President Obama promised he would unite the world…and he’s right.

Representatives from dozens of nations have bitterly complained about an awful piece of legislation, called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), that was enacted back in 2010.

They despise this unjust law because it extends the power of the IRS into the domestic affairs of other nations. That’s an understandable source of conflict, which should be easy to understand. Wouldn’t all of us get upset, after all, if the French government or Russian government wanted to impose their laws on things that take place within our borders?

But it’s not just foreign governments that are irked. The law is so bad that it is causing a big uptick in the number of Americans who are giving up their citizenship.

Here are some details from a Bloomberg report.

Americans renouncing U.S. citizenship surged sixfold in the second quarter from a year earlier… Expatriates giving up their nationality at U.S. embassies climbed to 1,131 in the three months through June from 189 in the year-earlier period, according to Federal Register figures published today. That brought the first-half total to 1,810 compared with 235 for the whole of 2008. The U.S., the only nation in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that taxes citizens wherever they reside.

I’m glad that the article mentions that American law is so out of whack with the rest of the world.

We should be embarrassed that our tax system – at least with regard to the treatment of citizens living abroad and the treatment of tax exiles – is worse than what they have in nations such as France.

And while there was an increase in the number of Americans going Galt after Obama took office, the recent increase seems to be the result of the FATCA legislation.

Shunned by Swiss and German banks and facing tougher asset-disclosure rules under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, more of the estimated 6 million Americans living overseas are weighing the cost of holding a U.S. passport. …Fatca…was estimated to generate $8.7 billion over 10 years, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

I very much doubt, by the way, that the law will collect $8.7 billion over 10 years.

And it’s worth noting that President Obama initially claimed that his assault on “tax havens” would generate $100 billion every year. If you don’t believe me, click here and listen to his words at the 2;30 mark.

So we started with politicians asserting they could get $100 billion every year. Then they said only $8.7 billion over ten years, or less than $1 billion per year.

And now it’s likely that revenues will fall because so many taxpayers are leaving the country. This is yet another example of how the Laffer Curve foils the plans of greedy politicians.

You may be tempted to criticize these overseas Americans, but I’ve talked to several hundred of them in the past few years and you can’t begin to imagine how their lives are made more difficult by the illegitimate extraterritorial laws concocted by Washington. Bloomberg has a few more details.

For individuals, the costs are also rising. Getting a mortgage or acquiring life insurance is becoming almost impossible for American citizens living overseas, Ledvina said. “With increased U.S. tax reporting, U.S. accounting costs alone are around $2,000 per year for a U.S. citizen residing abroad,” the tax lawyer said. “Adding factors, such as difficulty in finding a bank to accept a U.S. citizen as a client, it is difficult to justify keeping the U.S. citizenship for those who reside permanently abroad.”

Imagine what your life would be like if you had trouble opening a bank account or conducting all sorts of other financial activities. Things that are supposed to be routine, but are now nightmares.

I collected some of the statements from these overseas Americans. I encourage you to visit this link and get a sense of what they have to endure.

And then keep in mind that all of these problems would disappear if we had the right kind of tax system, such as the flat tax, and didn’t let the tentacles of the IRS extend beyond America’s borders.

P.S. Based on people I’ve met in my international travels, I’d guess that, for every American that officially gives up their citizenship, there are probably a dozen more living overseas who simply drop off the radar screen. Many of these people can’t afford – or can’t stand – to deal with the onerous requirements imposed by hacks, bullies, and lightweights in Washington such as Barbara Boxer.

P.P.S. Remember the Facebook billionaire who moved to Singapore to escape being an American taxpayer? Many of us – including me – instinctively find this unsettling. But if we believe that folks should have the freedom to move from California to Texas to benefit from better tax policy, shouldn’t they also have the freedom to move to another nation?

The same is true for companies.

If our tax law is bad, we should lower tax rates and adopt real reform.

Unless, of course, you think it’s okay to blame the victim.

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What’s the biggest fiscal problem facing the developed world?

To an objective observer, the answer is a rising burden of government spending, caused by poorly designed entitlement programs, growing levels of dependency, and unfavorable demographics. The combination of these factors helps to explain why almost all industrialized nations – as confirmed by BIS, OECD, and IMF data – face a very grim fiscal future.

If lawmakers want to avert widespread Greek-style fiscal chaos and economic suffering, this suggests genuine entitlement reform and other steps to control the growth of the public sector.

But you probably won’t be surprised to learn that politicians instead are concocting new ways of extracting more money from the economy’s productive sector.

They’ve already been busy raising personal income tax rates and increasing value-added tax burdens, but that’s apparently not sufficient for our greedy overlords.

Now they want higher taxes on business. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, for instance, put together a “base erosion and profit shifting” plan at the behest of the high-tax governments that dominate and control the Paris-based bureaucracy.

What is this BEPS plan? The Wall Street Journal explains that it’s a scheme to raise tax burdens on the business community.

After five years of failing to spur a robust economic recovery through spending and tax hikes, the world’s richest countries have hit upon a new idea that looks a lot like the old: International coordination to raise taxes on business. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on Friday presented its action plan to combat what it calls “base erosion and profit shifting,” or BEPS. This is bureaucratese for not paying as much tax as government wishes you did. The plan bemoans the danger of “double non-taxation,” whatever that is, and even raises the specter of “global tax chaos” if this bogeyman called BEPS isn’t tamed. Don’t be fooled, because this is an attempt to limit corporate global tax competition and take more cash out of the private economy.

The WSJ is spot on. This is merely the latest chapter in the OECD’s anti-tax competition crusade. The bureaucracy represents the interests of WSJ Global Tax Grab Editorialhigh-tax governments that are seeking to impose higher tax burdens – a goal that will be easier to achieve if they can restrict the ability of taxpayers to benefit from better tax policy in other jurisdictions.

More specifically, the OECD basically wants a radical shift in international tax rules so that multinational companies are forced to declare more income in high-tax nations even though those firms have wisely structured their operations so that much of their income is earned in low-tax jurisdictions.

So does this mean that governments are being starved of revenue? Not surprisingly, there’s no truth to the argument that corporate tax revenue is disappearing.

Across the OECD, corporate-tax revenue has fluctuated between 2% and 3% of GDP and was 2.7% in 2011, the most recent year for published OECD data. In other words, for all the huffing and puffing, there is no crisis of corporate tax collection. The deficits across the developed world are the product of slow economic growth and overspending, not tax evasion. But none of this has stopped the OECD from offering its 15-point plan to increase the cost and complexity of complying with corporate-tax rules. …this will be another full employment opportunity for lawyers and accountants.

I made similar points, incidentally, when debunking Jeffrey Sachs’ assertion that tax competition has caused a “race to the bottom.”

The WSJ editorial makes the logical argument that governments with uncompetitive tax regimes should lower tax rates and reform punitive tax systems.

…the OECD plan also envisions a possible multinational treaty to combat the fictional plague of tax avoidance. This would merely be an opportunity for big countries with uncompetitive tax rates (the U.S., France and Japan) to squeeze smaller countries that use low rates to attract investment and jobs. Here’s an alternative: What if everyone moved toward lower rates and simpler tax codes, with fewer opportunities for gamesmanship and smaller rate disparities among countries?

The column also makes the obvious – but often overlooked – point that any taxes imposed on companies are actually paid by workers, consumers, and shareholders.

…corporations don’t pay taxes anyway. They merely collect taxes—from customers via higher prices, shareholders in lower returns, or employees in lower wages and benefits.

Last but not least, the WSJ correctly frets that politicians will now try to implement this misguided blueprint.

The G-20 finance ministers endorsed the OECD scheme on the weekend, and heads of government are due to take it up in St. Petersburg in early September. But if growth is their priority, as they keep saying it is, they’ll toss out this complex global revenue grab in favor of low rates, territorial taxes and simplicity. Every page of the OECD’s plan points in the opposite direction.

The folks at the Wall Street Journal are correct to worry, but they’re actually understating the problem. Yes, the BEPS plan is bad, but it’s actually much less onerous that what the OECD was contemplating earlier this year when the bureaucracy published a report suggesting a “global apportionment” system for business taxation.

Fortunately, the bureaucrats had to scale back their ambitions. Multinational companies objected to the OECD plan, as did the governments of nations with better (or at least less onerous) business tax structures.

It makes no sense, after all, for places such as the Netherlands, Ireland, Singapore, Estonia, Hong Kong, Bermuda, Switzerland, and the Cayman Islands to go along with a scheme that would enable high-tax governments to tax corporate income that is earned in these lower-tax jurisdictions.

But the fact that high-tax governments (and their lackeys at the OECD) scaled back their demands is hardly reassuring when one realizes that the current set of demands will be the stepping stone for the next set of demands.

That’s why it’s important to resist this misguided BEPS plan. It’s not just that it’s a bad idea. It’s also the precursor to even worse policy.

As I often say when speaking to audiences in low-tax jurisdictions, an appeasement strategy doesn’t make sense when dealing with politicians and bureaucrats from high-tax nations.

Simply stated, you don’t feed your arm to an alligator and expect him to become a vegetarian. It’s far more likely that he’ll show up the next day looking for another meal.

P.S. The OECD also is involved in a new “multilateral convention” that would give it the power to dictate national tax laws, and it has the support of the Obama Administration even though this new scheme would undermine America’s fiscal sovereignty!

P.P.S. Maybe the OECD wouldn’t be so quick to endorse higher taxes if the bureaucrats – who receive tax-free salaries – had to live under the rules they want to impose on others.

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I damned Obama with faint praise last year by asserting that he would never be able to make America as statist as France.

My main point was to explain that the French people, notwithstanding their many positive attributes, seem hopelessly statist. At least that’s how they vote, even though they supposedly support spending cuts according to public opinion polls.

More specifically, they have a bad habit of electing politicians – such as Sarkozy and Hollande – who think the answer to every question is bigger government.

As such, it’s almost surely just a matter of time before France suffers Greek-style fiscal chaos.

But perhaps I should have taken some time in that post to explain that the Obama Administration – despite its many flaws – is genuinely more market-oriented that its French counterpart.

Or perhaps less statist would be a more accurate description.

However you want to describe it, there is a genuine difference and it’s manifesting itself as France and the United States are fighting over the degree to which governments should impose international tax rules designed to seize more tax revenue from multinational companies.

Guardian Tax HeadlineHere’s some of what the UK-based Guardian is reporting.

France has failed to secure backing for tough new international tax rules specifically targeting digital companies, such as Google and Amazon, after opposition from the US forced the watering down of proposals that will be presented at this week’s G20 summit. Senior officials in Washington have made it known they will not stand for rule changes that narrowly target the activities of some of the nation’s fastest growing multinationals, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

This is very welcome news. The United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world and the overall tax system for companies ranks a lowly 94 out of 100 nations in a survey of “tax attractiveness” by German economists.

So it’s good that U.S. government representatives are resisting schemes that would further undermine the competitiveness of American multinationals.

Particularly since the French proposal also would enable governments to collect lots of sensitive personal information in order to enforce the more onerous tax regime.

…the US and French governments have been at loggerheads over how far the proposals should go. …Despite opposition from the US, the French position – which also includes a proposal to link tax to the collection of personal data – continues to be championed by the French finance minister, Pierre Moscovici.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has been playing a role in this effort to increase business tax burdens.

The OECD plan has been billed as the biggest opportunity to overhaul international tax rules, closing loopholes increasingly exploited by multinational corporations in the decades since a framework for bilateral tax treaties was first established after the first world war. The OECD is expected to detail up to 15 areas on which it believes action can be taken, setting up a timetable for reform on each of between 12 months and two and a half years.

Just in case you don’t have your bureaucrat-English dictionary handy, when the OECD says “reform,” it’s safe to assume that it means “higher taxes.”

Maybe it’s because the OECD is based in France, where taxation is the national sport.

France has been among the most aggressive in responding to online businesses that target French customers but pay little or no French tax. Tax authorities have raided the Paris offices of several firms including Google, Microsoft and LinkedIn, challenging the companies’ tax structures.

But British politicians are equally hostile to the private sector. One of the senior politicians in the United Kingdom actually called a company “evil” for legally minimizing its tax burden!

In the UK, outcry at internet companies routing British sales through other countries reached a peak in May after a string of investigations by journalists and politicians laid bare the kinds of tax structures used by the likes of Google and Amazon. …Margaret Hodge, the chair of the public accounts committee, called Google’s northern Europe boss, Matt Brittin, before parliament after amassing evidence on the group’s tax arrangements from several whistleblowers. After hearing his answers, she told him: “You are a company that says you do no evil. And I think that you do do evil” – a reference to Google’s corporate motto, “Don’t be evil”.

Needless to say, Google should be applauded for protecting shareholders, consumers, and workers, all of whom would be disadvantaged if government seized a larger share of the company’s earnings.

And if Ms. Hodge really wants to criticize something evil, she should direct her ire against herself and her colleagues. They’re the ones who have put the United Kingdom on a path of bigger government and less hope.

Let’s return to the main topic, which is the squabble between France and the United States.

Does this fight show that President Obama can be reasonable in some areas?

The answer is yes…and no.

Yes, because he is resisting French demands for tax rules that would create an even more onerous system for U.S. multinationals. And it’s worth noting that the Obama Administration also opposed European demands for higher taxes on the financial sector back in 2010.

But no, because there’s little if any evidence that he’s motivated by a genuine belief in markets or small government.* Moreover, he only does the right thing when there are proposals that unambiguously would impose disproportionate damage on American firms compared to foreign companies. And it’s probably not a coincidence that the high-tech sector and financial sector have dumped lots of money into Obama’s campaigns.

Let’s close, however, on an optimistic note. Whatever his motive, President Obama is doing the right thing.

This is not a trivial matter. When the OECD started pushing for changes to the tax treatment of multinationals earlier this year, I was very worried that the President would join forces with France and other uncompetitive nations and support a “global apportionment” system for determining corporate tax burdens.

Based on the Guardian’s report, as well as some draft language I’ve seen from the soon-to-be-released report, it appears that we have dodged that bullet.

At the very least, this suggests that the White House was unwilling to embrace the more extreme components of the OECD’s radical agenda. And since you can’t impose a global tax cartel without U.S. participation (just as OPEC wouldn’t succeed without Saudi Arabia), the statists are stymied.

So two cheers for Obama. I’m not under any illusions that the President is turning into a genuine centrist like Bill Clinton, but I’ll take this small victory.

* Obama did say a few years ago that “no business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top,” so maybe he does understand the danger of high tax rates. And the President also said last year that we should “let the market work on its own,” which may signal an awareness that there are limits to interventionism. But don’t get your hopes up. There’s some significant fine print and unusual context with regard to both of those statements.

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I never thought I would wind up in Costco’s monthly magazine, but I was asked to take part in a pro-con debate on “Should offshore tax havens be illegal?”

Given my fervent (and sometimes risky) support of tax competition, financial privacy, and fiscal sovereignty, regular readers won’t be surprised to learn that I jumped at the opportunity.

After all, if I’m willing to take part in a debate on tax havens for the upper-income folks who read the New York Times, I should do the same thing for the middle-class folks who patronize big-box stores.

My main argument was that we need tax havens to help control the greed of the political elite. Simply stated, politicians rarely think past the next election, so they’ll tax and spend until we suffer a catastrophic Greek-style fiscal collapse unless there’s some sort of external check and balance.

…politicians have an unfortunate tendency to over-spend and over-tax. …And if they over-tax and over-spend for a long period, then you suffer the kind of fiscal crisis that we now see in so many European nations.  That’s not what any of us want, but how can we restrain politicians? There’s no single answer, but “tax competition” is one of the most effective ways of controlling the greed of the political elite. …Nations with pro-growth tax systems, such as Switzerland and Singapore, attract jobs and investment from uncompetitive countries such as France and Germany. These “tax havens” force the politicians in Paris and Berlin to restrain their greed.  Some complain that these low-tax jurisdictions make it hard for high-tax nations to enforce their punitive tax laws. But why should the jurisdictions with good policy, such as the Cayman Islands, be responsible for enforcing the tax law of governments that impose bad policy?

Costco MitchellI also made the point that the best way to undermine tax havens is to make our tax system fair and reasonable with something like a flat tax.

…the best way to reduce tax evasion is lower tax rates and tax reform. If the United States had a flat tax, for instance, we would enjoy much faster growth and we would attract trillions of dollars of new investment.

And I concluded by pointing out that there are other very important moral reasons why people need financial privacy.

In addition to promoting good fiscal policy, tax havens also help protect human rights. …To cite just a few examples, tax havens offer secure financial services to political dissidents in Russia, ethnic Chinese in Indonesia and the Philippines, Jews in North Africa, gays in Iran, and farmers in Zimbabwe. The moral of the story is that tax havens should be celebrated, not persecuted.

And what did my opponent, Chye-Ching Huang from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, have to say about the issue? To her credit, she was open and honest about wanting to finance bigger government. And she recognizes that tax competition is an obstacle to the statist agenda.

It drains the United States of tax revenues that could be used to reduce deficits or invested in critical needs, including education, healthcare, and infrastructure.

Costco HuangShe also didn’t shy away from wanting to give the scandal-plagued IRS more power and money.

U.S. policymakers could and should act… Policymakers could provide the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) with the funding it needs to ensure that people pay the taxes they owe, including sufficient funds to detect filers who are using offshore accounts to avoid paying their taxes.

Her other big point was to argue against corporate tax reforms.

…a “territorial” tax system…would further drain revenues, and domestic businesses and individual taxpayers could end up shouldering the burden of making up the difference.

Given that the United States has the highest statutory tax rate for companies in the industrialized world and ranks only 94 out of 100 nations for business “tax attractiveness,” I obviously disagree with her views.

And I think she’s wildly wrong to think that tax havens lead to higher taxes for ordinary citizens. Heck, even the New York Times inadvertently admitted that’s not true.

In any event, I think both of us had a good opportunity to make our points, so kudos to Costco for exposing shoppers to the type of public finance discussion that normally is limited to pointy-headed policy wonks in sparsely attended Washington conferences.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that I don’t think I’m going to prevail in Costco’s online poll. It’s not that I made weak arguments, but the question wound up being altered from “Should offshore tax havens be illegal?” to “Should offshore bank accounts be taxable?”

Costco Debate QuestionSo I imagine the average reader will think this is a debate on whether they should be taxed on their account at the bank down the street while some rich guy isn’t taxed on his account at a bank in Switzerland.

Heck, even I would be sorely tempted to click “Yes” if that was the issue.

In reality, I don’t think any of our bank accounts should be taxable (whether they’re in Geneva, Switzerland or Geneva, Illinois) for the simple reason that there shouldn’t be any double taxation of income that is saved and invested.

The folks at Costco should have stuck with the original question (at least the way it was phrased to me in the email they sent), or come up with something such as “Are tax havens good for the global economy?”

But just as you can’t un-ring a bell, I can’t change Costco’s question, so I’m not holding my breath expecting to win this debate.

P.S. I’m at FreedomFest in Las Vegas, where I just debated Jim Henry of the Tax Justice Network on the same topic. I should have asked him what he though of all the politically connected leftists who utilize tax havens.

P.P.S. If you like tax haven debates, here are Part I and Part II of a very civilized debate I had with a young lady from the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development.

P.P.P.S. Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough, but I don’t have any tax haven-oriented cartoons to share other than one that compares where Romney put his money to where Obama puts our money.

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Because we live in an upside-down world, Switzerland is being persecuted for being a productive, peaceful nation that has a strong human rights policy with regards to privacy.

More specifically, politicians from high-tax nations resent the fact that investors flock to Switzerland to benefit from good policies, and they are pressuring the Swiss government to weaken that nation’s human rights laws so that governments with bad fiscal systems have an easier time of tracking and taxing flight capital.

I’ve resigned myself to this happening for the simple reason that it is well nigh impossible for a small nation (even one as well-armed as Switzerland) to withstand the coercion when all the world’s big nations are trying to impose one-size-fits-all policies designed to make it easier to raise tax rates and expand the size and power of government.

Switzerland v IRSBut, as the Wall Street Journal reports, the Swiss aren’t going down without a fight.

Switzerland’s lower house of Parliament voted 123-63 against the measure, which would have enabled many of the Alpine nation’s banks to sidestep the Swiss banking secrecy laws and start handing information to the U.S. Department of Justice about any past help they may have given to Americans hiding undeclared wealth in Swiss accounts. Earlier Wednesday, the smaller, upper house of Switzerland’s Parliament voted 26-18 in favor of the proposed plan. But in the lower house, lawmakers had raised concerns about the heavy-handedness of the U.S. effort to have them sign off on legislation that might have exposed the country’s banks and bank employees to legal hazards. Lawmakers had also raised concerns about the lack of detail in the plan regarding potential fines for banks that would have opted to participate.

I heartily applaud the lawmakers who rejected the fiscal imperialism of the United States government.

As I stated in my recent BBC interview on tax havens, I believe in sovereignty, and the IRS should have no right to impose bad American tax law on economic activity inside Swiss borders (just as, say, China should have no right to demand that the United States help track down Tiananmen Square protestors that escaped to America).

But I’m not opening champagne just yet, in part because I don’t like the stuff and in part because I fear that this will be a temporary victory.

The Swiss have resisted American demands before, and on more than one occasion, only to eventually back down. And it’s hard to blame them when they’re threatened by odious forms of financial protectionism.

That being said, I’m going to enjoy this moment while it lasts and hope that somehow David can continue to withstand Goliath.

P.S. If you want to understand more about the underlying economic and philosophical implications of this issue, I heartily recommend this New York Times column by Pierre Bessard of Switzerland’s Insitut Liberal.

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It goes without saying that I’m always ready to defend tax havens when statists are seeking to undermine tax competition, financial privacy, and fiscal sovereignty.

So when the BBC asked if I would debate the topic, I said yes even though I’m in Paris (where supporting liberty is probably a capital crime).

I think the debate went well. Or, to be more precise, I was happy that I got to make my points.

I’ve been in debates on tax havens when I’m outnumbered 3-1, so a fair fight almost seems like a treat.

P.S. If you have a burning desire to watch me debate tax havens, you can see me cross swords with a bunch of different statists by clicking here.

P.P.S. Or if you like watching when I’m outnumbered, here’s my debate against three leftists on state-run TV.

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Whether it’s American politicians trying to extort more taxes from Apple or international bureaucrats trying to boost the tax burden on firms with a global corporate tax return, the left is aggressively seeking to impose harsher fiscal burdens on the business community.

A good (or “bad” would a more appropriate word) example of this thinking can be found in the New York Times, where Steven Rattner just wrote a column complaining that companies are using mergers to redomicile in jurisdictions with better tax law.*

He thinks the right response is higher taxes on multinationals.

While a Senate report detailing Apple’s aggressive tax sheltering of billions of dollars of overseas income grabbed headlines this week, …the American drug maker Actavis announced that it would spend $5 billion to acquire Warner Chilcott, an Irish pharmaceuticals company less than half its size. Buried in the fifth paragraph of the release was the curious tidbit that the new company would be incorporated in Ireland, even though the far larger acquirer was based in Parsippany, N.J. The reason? By escaping American shores, Actavis expects to reduce its effective tax rate from about 28 percent to 17 percent, a potential savings of tens of millions of dollars per year for the company and a still larger hit to the United States Treasury. …Eaton Corporation, a diversified power management company based for nearly a century in Cleveland, also became an “Irish company” when it acquired Cooper Industries last year. …That’s just not fair at a time of soaring corporate profits and stagnant family incomes. …President Obama has made constructive proposals to reduce the incentive to move jobs overseas by imposing a minimum tax on foreign earnings and delaying certain tax deductions related to overseas investment.

But Mr. Rattner apparently is unaware that American firms that compete in other nations also pay taxes in other nations.

Too bad he didn’t bother with some basic research. He would have discovered some new Tax Foundation research by Kyle Pomerleau, which explains that these firms already are heavily taxed on their foreign-source income.

Tax Foundation - Overseas Corporate Tax Burden…the amount U.S. multinational firms pay in taxes on their foreign income has become a common topic for the press and among politicians. Some of the more sensational press stories and claims by politicians lead people to believe that U.S. companies pay little or nothing in taxes on their foreign earnings. Last year, even the president suggested the U.S. needs a “minimum tax” on corporate foreign earnings to prevent tax avoidance. Unfortunately, such claims are either based upon a misunderstanding of how U.S. international tax rules work or are simply careless portrayals of the way in which U.S. companies pay taxes on their foreign profits. …According to the most recent IRS data for 2009, U.S. companies paid more than $104 billion in income taxes to foreign governments on foreign taxable income of $416 billion. As Table 1 indicates, companies paid an average effective tax rate of 25 percent on that income.

Unfortunately, the New York Times either is short of fact checkers or has very sloppy editors. Here are some other egregious errors.

And none of this counts Paul Krugman’s mistakes, which are in a special category (see here, here, here, here, and here for a few examples).

*There is an important lesson to be learned when American companies redomicile overseas. Unfortunately, the New York Times wants to make a bad system even worse.

P.S. Rand Paul has a must-watch video on the issue of anti-Apple demagoguery.

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Since I just left Monaco and am now in Geneva, this is an appropriate time to extol the virtues of so-called tax havens.

Monaco Casino

The name’s Bond….James Bond

But I don’t merely say nice things about low-tax jurisdictions when I’m in friendly environments.

I believe in swinging my sword in the belly of the beast.

That’s why I recently defended tax havens and tax competition for the fiscal heathens who read the New York Times.

In an even bigger display of futile optimism, I also just explained the benefits of tax competition, fiscal sovereignty, and financial privacy for the kleptocrats in Congress.

Here’s some of what I wrote for The Hill, starting with the obvious point that it is preposterous to blame tax havens for the financial crisis.

When the financial crisis hit, politicians from high-tax nations didn’t let the crisis go to waste. Acting through the G-20, they launched an attack on so-called tax havens, asserting that “hot money” from the offshore world somehow had caused the banking system to become unstable.  This campaign against low-tax jurisdictions made no sense. Nobody in the Cayman Islands or Monaco was responsible for the Federal Reserve’s easy money. Nobody in Panama or Singapore had anything to do with the corrupt system of Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac subsidies.

I then explained that tax havens once again are being attacked, though in this case multinational corporations are the main victims of a new scheme by the parasitical bureaucrats at the OECD.

So-called tax havens will suffer collateral damage, though, since big firms use them as very desirable platforms for a significant chunk of cross-border economic activity.

Tax havens are being attacked again… Funded with American tax dollars, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a report on “Addressing Base Erosion and Profit Shifting,” (BEPS) and will follow up in a few months with specific recommendations.  This new OECD scheme is targeting multinational companies for a big tax hike, probably by requiring global tax returns, but that means tax havens are in the cross hairs because their pro-growth tax policies make them attractive locations for cross-border economic activity. Indeed, the OECD specifically has complained that “small jurisdictions act as conduits, receiving disproportionately large amounts of Foreign Direct Investment compared to large industrialised countries and investing disproportionately large amounts in major developed and emerging economies.” …its new campaign isn’t just targeting small tax havens, but will also undermine the relatively attractive fiscal systems in nations such as Ireland, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Slovakia, Singapore, Estonia, and the Netherlands. The burden of this will fall not on companies, but on workers, consumers, and shareholders.

I close with a warning that tax havens and tax competition are one of the few restraints on the greed of the political class. We need to preserve these liberalizing forces if we want to protect ourselves from even worse fiscal policy.

Tax Haven Article - The Hill…anti-tax haven demagoguery is perfectly acceptable in political circles since it is seen as expanding the power of government over taxpayers.  The real issue we should be addressing is whether we need some sort of external constraint to protect us from fiscal crises that are triggered by the overspending and overtaxing of the political class.  For a couple of decades following the Reagan and Thatcher tax cuts, governments around the world have been forced by tax competition to lower tax rates, reduce double taxation of saving and investment and reform their tax system.  Defenders of the welfare state and proponents of class-warfare tax policy have resented this liberalizing process and grab any opportunity to demonize tax havens, particularly since these jurisdictions have strong human rights laws that protect the financial privacy of investors.

For further information, I highly recommend the writings of Allister Heath and Pierre Bessard.

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I could only use 428 words, but I highlighted the main arguments for tax havens and tax competition in a “Room for Debate” piece for the New York Times.

NYT Tax Haven Room for DebateI hope that my contribution is a good addition to the powerful analysis of experts such as Allister Heath and Pierre Bessard.

I started with the economic argument.

…tax havens are very valuable because they discourage anti-growth tax policy. Simply stated, it is very difficult for governments to impose and enforce confiscatory tax rates when investors and entrepreneurs can shift their economic activity to jurisdictions with better tax policy. Particularly if those nations have strong policies on financial privacy, thus making it difficult for uncompetitive high-tax nations to track and tax flight capital. Thanks to this process of tax competition, with havens playing a key role, top personal income tax rates have dropped from an average of more than 67 percent in 1980 to about 42 percent today. Corporate tax rates also have plummeted, falling from an average of 48 percent to 24 percent. …Lawmakers also were pressured to lower or eliminate death taxes and wealth taxes, as well as to reduce the double taxation of interest, dividends and capital gains. Once again, tax havens deserve much of the credit because politicians presumably would not have implemented these pro-growth reforms if they didn’t have to worry that the geese with the golden eggs might fly away to a confidential account in a well-run nation like Luxembourg or Singapore.

Since I didn’t have much space, here’s a video that elaborates on the economic benefits of tax havens, including an explanation of why fiscal sovereignty is a big part of the debate.

My favorite part of the video is when I quote OECD economists admitting the beneficial impact of tax havens.

I also explain for readers of the New York Times that there’s a critical ethical reason to defend low-tax jurisdictions.

Tax havens also play a very valuable moral role by providing high-quality rule of law in an uncertain world, offering a financial refuge for people who live in nations where governments are incompetent and corrupt. …There are also billions of people living in nations with venal and oppressive governments. To cite just a few examples, tax havens offer secure financial services to political dissidents in Russia, ethnic Chinese in Indonesia and the Philippines, Jews in North Africa, gays in Iran and farmers in Zimbabwe.

To elaborate, here’s my video making the moral case for tax havens.

By the way, many of the issues in this video may not resonate for those of us in “first world” nations, but please remember that the majority of people in the world live in countries where basic human rights are at risk or simply don’t exist.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about the stability of our nations. I close my contribution to the New York Times by warning that the welfare state may collapse.

With more and more nations careening toward fiscal collapse, raising the risk of social chaos and economic calamity, it is more important than ever that there are places where people can protect themselves from bad government. Tax havens should be celebrated, not persecuted.

I didn’t have space to cite the BIS and OECD data showing that most of the world’s big nations – including Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom – face fiscal problems more significant that Greece is dealing with today. Assuming these nations don’t implement desperately needed entitlement reform, the you-know-what is going to hit the fan at some point. Folks with funds in a tax haven will be in much better shape if, or when, that happens.

For more background information on tax competition, here’s a video explaining the ABCs of the issue.

It’s galling, by the way, that the bureaucrats at the OECD pushing for a global tax cartel get tax-free salaries.

And here’s my video debunking some of the common myths about tax havens.

My favorite part of this video is the revelation that a former John Kerry staffer fabricated a number that is still being used by anti-tax haven demagogues.

And speaking of demagogues misusing numbers, you’ll notice the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has a starring role in this video.

I’ve probably exhausted your interest in videos, but if you’re game for one more, click here to learn more about the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a statist international bureaucracy that is active in trying to undermine tax havens as part of it’s efforts to create a global tax cartel to prop up Europe’s welfare states.

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Using data stolen from service providers in the Cook Islands and the British Virgin Islands, the Washington Post published a supposed exposé of Americans who do business in so-called tax havens.

Cayman April 2013

Another Research Trip to Cayman – One of the Sacrifices I Make in the Fight for Freedom

Since I’m the self-appointed defender of low-tax jurisdictions in Washington, this caught my attention. Thomas Jefferson wasn’t joking when he warned that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” I’m constantly fighting against anti-tax haven schemes that would undermine tax competition, financial privacy, and fiscal sovereignty.

Even if it means a bunch of international bureaucrats threaten to toss me in a Mexican jail or a Treasury Department official says I’m being disloyal to America. Or, in this case, if it simply means I’m debunking demagoguery.

The supposedly earth-shattering highlight of the article is that some Americans linked to offshore companies and trusts have run afoul of the legal system.

Among the 4,000 U.S. individuals listed in the records, at least 30 are American citizens accused in lawsuits or criminal cases of fraud, money laundering or other serious financial misconduct.

But the real revelation is that people in the offshore world must be unusually honest. Fewer than 1 percent of them have been named in a lawsuit, much less been involved with a criminal case.

This is just a wild guess, but I’m quite confident that you would find far more evidence of misbehavior if you took a random sample of 4,000 Americans from just about any cross-section of the population.

We know we would find a greater propensity for bad behavior if we examined 4,000 politicians. And I assume that would be true for journalists as well. And folks on Wall Street. And realtors. And plumbers. Perhaps even think tank employees. Anyhow, you get the point.

Citing a couple of anecdotes, the reporter then tries to imply that low-tax jurisdictions somehow lend themselves to criminal activity.

 Fraud experts say offshore bank accounts and companies are vital to the operation of complex financial crimes. Allen Stanford, who ran a $7 billion Ponzi scheme, used a bank he controlled in Antigua. Bernard Madoff, who ran the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history, used a series of offshore “feeder funds” to fuel the growth of his multibillion-dollar house of cards.

The Allen Stanford case was a genuine black eye for the offshore world, but it’s absurd to link Madoff’s criminality to tax havens. The offshore funds that invested with Madoff were victimized in the same way that many onshore funds lost money.

Moreover, there’s no evidence in this article – or from any other source to my knowledge – suggesting that financial impropriety is more likely in low-tax jurisdictions.

We then get some “hard” numbers.

Today, there are between 50 and 60 offshore financial centers around the world holding untold billions of dollars at a time of historic U.S. deficits and forced budget cuts. Groups that monitor tax issues estimate that between $8 trillion and $32 trillion in private global wealth is parked offshore.

So we have offshore wealth of somewhere “between $8 trillion and $32 trillion”? With that level of precision, or lack thereof, perhaps you now understand why the make-believe numbers about alleged tax evasion are about as credible as a revenue estimate from the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Speaking of make-believe numbers, the article mentions one of Washington’s worst lawmakers, a Senator who pushed through a law that has united the world against the United States.

Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) has been holding hearings and conducting investigations into the offshore world for nearly three decades. In 2010, Congress passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act requiring that U.S. taxpayers report foreign assets to the government and foreign institutions alert the IRS when Americans open accounts.

He justifies bad policy by claiming that there’s a pot of gold at the end of the tax haven rainbow.

“We can’t afford to lose tens of billions of dollars a year to tax-avoidance schemes,” Levin said. “And many of these schemes involve the shift of U.S. corporate tax revenues earned here in the U.S. to offshore tax havens.”

But FATCA is predicted to collected less than $1 billion per year, and it probably will lose revenue once you include Laffer Curve effects such as lower investment in the American economy from overseas.

The most interesting part of the article, as least from a personal perspective, is that the Center for Freedom and Prosperity is listed as one of the “powerful lobbying interests” fighting to preserve tax competition.

The efforts by Levin and other lawmakers have been opposed by powerful lobbying interests, including the banking and accounting industries and a little-known nonprofit group called the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. CF&P was founded by Daniel J. Mitchell, a former Senate Finance Committee staffer who works as a tax expert for the Cato Institute, and Andrew Quinlan, who was a senior economic analyst for the Republican National Committee before helping start the center. …The center argues that unfettered access to offshore havens leads to lower taxes and more prosperity.

Having helped to start the organization, I wish CF&P was powerful. The Center has never had a budget of more than $250,000 per year, so it truly is a David vs. Goliath battle when we go up against bloated and over-funded bureaucracies such as the IRS and the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The reporter somehow thinks it is big news that the Center has tried to raise money from the business community in low-tax jurisdictions.

According to records reviewed by The Post and ICIJ, the organization’s fundraising pleas have been circulated to offshore entities that make millions by providing anonymity for wealthy clients, many of them U.S. citizens.

Unfortunately, even though these offshore entities supposedly “make millions,” I’m embarrassed to say that CF&P has not been able to convince them that it makes sense to support an organization dedicated to protecting tax competition, financial privacy, and fiscal sovereignty.

But maybe that will change now that the OECD has launched a new attack on tax planning by multinational firms.

Let’s close by returning to the policy issue. The article quotes me defending the right of jurisdictions to determine their own fiscal affairs.

Mitchell, the co-founder of CF&P, added that nations shouldn’t be telling other countries how to conduct their affairs and noted that the United States is one of the worst offenders in the world when it comes to corporate secrecy.

My only gripe is that the reporter mischaracterizes my position. Yes, there are several states that are “tax havens” because of their efficient and confidential incorporation laws, but that means America is “one of the best providers,” not “one of the worst offenders.”

This is something to celebrate. I’m glad the United States is a safe haven for the oppressed people of the world. That’s great news for our economy. I just wish we also were a tax haven for American citizens.

“The United States is one of the biggest tax havens in the world,” Mitchell said. “In general, the United States is impervious to fishing expeditions here, and then the United States turns around and says, ‘Allow us to do fishing expeditions in your country.’”

But I’m not a hypocrite. Other nations should have the sovereign right to maintain pro-growth tax and privacy laws as well.

Other nations shouldn’t feel obliged to enforce bad American tax law, any more than we should feel obliged to enforce any of their bad laws.

P.S. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that “onshore” nations are much more susceptible to dirty money than “offshore” jurisdictions. Which is why you have a hard time finding any tax havens on this map showing the nations with the most money laundering.

P.P.S. On the topic of tax havens, you won’t be surprised to learn that Senator Levin is not the only dishonest demagogue in Washington. If you pay close attention around 1:25 and 2:25 of this video, you’ll see that the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue also has an unfortunate tendency to play fast and loose with the truth.

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If asked to name my least-favorite international bureaucracy, the easy answer would be the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

After all, it was only a few days ago that I outlined different ways that the Paris-based bureaucracy is seeking to expand statism and reduce freedom around the world.

Our tax money at the OECD, UN, and IMF

I’m particularly nauseated by the OECD’s support for value-added taxes and their ridiculous assertion that poverty is higher in America than Greece or Turkey.

But we can’t forget the United Nations, which pushes a plethora of bad policies, including a push for regulatory control over the Internet, support for global taxation, supranational gun control schemes, attacks on sovereignty of American states, and support for a “right” to taxpayer-financed birth control (though at least they had the good sense to invite me to speak at last year’s “High Level Thematic Debate on the State of the World Economy”).

For today, though, my least favorite bureaucracy is the International Monetary Fund. I recently listed many of the ways that this gold-plated institution of over-paid and un-taxed paper pushers supports bigger government, but this story from today’s Washington Post is the icing on the cake of statism.

The report on a new IMF study started on a very positive note.

Government subsidies of gasoline, electricity and other energy sources amount to about $1.9 trillion a year and should be ended.

I’m against subsidies, so what’s not to like about a proposal to end handouts?

Well, it turns out that the IMF has a very strange way of defining subsidies. For logical people, a subsidy occurs when the government takes money from Person A and gives it to Person B.

In the la-la land of the IMF, however, a “subsidy” occurs if the government doesn’t tax as much from Person A as the bureaucrats would like. I’m not joking.

In the developed world, the IMF says the subsidies are even larger but less overt, reflecting that government tax policies do not capture the costs of pollution and other externalities. Using economic models and other studies performed as part of the larger global warming debate, the IMF puts those indirect subsidies at $1.4 trillion — $25 for each ton of carbon dioxide produced — and suggests they be offset through an “efficient” tax that makes energy users pay the full cost of the product.

To be fair, private behavior can impose costs on other people (“externalities”), so there’s nothing automatically wrong with looking at these indirect costs.

The problem is that the IMF used discredited global warming ideology to concoct an absurd $1.4 trillion estimate of “subsidies.”

IMF Stick UpAnd guess what that means?

For the United States, the IMF estimated that would require a $1.40 levy per gallon of gas and other fees totaling more than $1,400 per person each year — around $500 billion in total.

Wow, that’s more than $5,500 for a family of four.

Remember that these bureaucrats get extremely generous tax-free salaries, yet they apparently don’t see any hypocrisy in recommending huge tax increases for the peasantry.

“It is time for subsidies to end and carbon taxation to be put in place,” IMF First Deputy Managing Director David Lipton said in an interview Tuesday.

Amazing. I’m sure this leech is driven around in a private limousine, flies around the world in first class, and enjoys the services of the private chefs in the IMF’s elite dining room – all at our expense. Yet he wants the rest of us to pay higher tax.

P.S. You’ll be happy to know that the IMF study deliberately “did not look at government support for the alternative energy industry.” So Obama’s corrupt “green energy” programs got a free pass. Gee, how convenient.

P.P.S. I realize that I forgot the mention the World Bank, the folks who put together a fiscal report card giving nations higher grades if they imposed harsher tax burdens.

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I’ve been very critical of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Most recently, I criticized the Paris-based bureaucracy for making the rather remarkable assertion that a value-added tax would boost growth and employment.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Now the bureaucrats have concocted another scheme to increase the size and scape of government. The OECD just published a study on “Addressing Base Erosion and Profit Shifting” that seemingly is designed to lay the groundwork for a radical rewrite of business taxation.

In a new Tax & Budget Bulletin for Cato, I outline some of my concerns with this new “BEPS” initiative.

…the BEPS report…calls for dramatic changes in corporate tax policy based on the presumption that governments are not seizing enough revenue from multinational companies. The OECD essentially argues that it is illegitimate for businesses to shift economic activity to jurisdictions that have more favorable tax laws. …The core accusation in the OECD report is that firms systematically—but legally—reduce their tax burdens by taking advantage of differences in national tax policies.

Ironically, the OECD admits in the report that revenues have been trending upwards.

…the report acknowledges that “… revenues from corporate income taxes as a share of gross domestic product have increased over time. …Other than offering anecdotes, the OECD provides no evidence that a revenue problem exists. In this sense, the BEPS report is very similar to the OECD’s 1998 “Harmful Tax Competition” report, which asserted that so-called tax havens were causing damage but did not offer any hard evidence of any actual damage.

To elaborate, the BEPS scheme should be considered Part II of the OECD’s anti-tax competition project. Part I was the attack on so-called tax havens, which began back in the mid- to late-1990s.

The OECD justified that campaign by asserting there was a need to fight illegal tax evasion (conveniently overlooking, of course, the fact that nations should not have the right to impose their laws on what happens in other countries).

The BEPS initiative is remarkable because it is going after legal tax avoidance. Even though governments already have carte blanche to change business tax policy.

…governments already have immense powers to restrict corporate tax planning through “transfer pricing” rules and other regulations. Moreover, there is barely any mention of the huge number of tax treaties between nations that further regulate multinational taxation.

So what does the OECD want?

…the OECD hints at its intended outcome when it says that the effort “will require some ‘out of the box’ thinking” and that business activity could be “identified through elements such as sales, workforce, payroll, and fixed assets.” That language suggests that the OECD intends to push global formula apportionment, which means that governments would have the power to reallocate corporate income regardless of where it is actually earned.

And what does this mean? Nothing good, unless you think governments should have more money and investment should be further penalized.

Formula apportionment is attractive to governments that have punitive tax regimes, and it would be a blow to nations with more sensible low-tax systems. …business income currently earned in tax-friendly countries, such as Ireland and the Netherlands, would be reclassified as French-source income or German-source income based on arbitrary calculations of company sales and other factors. …nations with high tax rates would likely gain revenue, while jurisdictions with pro-growth systems would be losers, including Ireland, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Estonia, Luxembourg, Singapore, and the Netherlands.

Since the United States is a high-tax nation for corporations, why should Americans care?

For several reasons, including the fact that it wouldn’t be a good idea to give politicians more revenue that will be used to increase the burden of government spending.

But most important, tax policy will get worse everywhere if tax competition is undermined.

…formula apportionment would be worse than a zero-sum game because it would create a web of regulations that would undermine tax competition and become increasingly onerous over time. Consider that tax competition has spurred OECD governments to cut their corporate tax rates from an average of 48 percent in the early 1980s to 24 percent today. If a formula apportionment system had been in place, the world would have been left with much higher tax rates, and thus less investment and economic growth. …If governments gain the power to define global taxable income, they will have incentives to rig the rules to unfairly gain more revenue. For example, governments could move toward less favorable, anti-investment depreciation schedules, which would harm global growth.

You don’t have to believe me that the BEPS project is designed to further increase the tax burden. The OECD admits that higher taxes are the intended outcome.

The OECD complains that “… governments are often under pressure to offer a competitive tax environment,” and that “failure to collaborate … could be damaging in terms of … a race to the bottom with respect to corporate income taxes.” In other words, the OECD is admitting that the BEPS project seeks higher tax burdens and the curtailment of tax competition.

Writing for Forbes, Andy Quinlan of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity highlights how the BEPS scheme will undermine tax competition and enable higher taxes.

…the OECD wants to undo taxpayer gains made in recent decades thanks to tax competition. Since the 1980′s, average global income taxes on both individuals and corporations have dropped significantly, improving incentives in the productive sector of the economy to generate economic growth. These pro-growth reforms are the result of tax competition, or the pressure to adopt competitive economic policies that is put on governments by an increasingly globalized society where both labor and capital are mobile. Tax competition is the only force working on the side of taxpayers, which explains the organized campaign by global elite to defeat it. …If taxpayers want to preserve gains made thanks to tax competition, they must be weary of the threat posed by global tax cartels though organizations such as the OECD.

Speaking of the OECD, this video tells you everything you need to know.

The final kicker is that the bureaucrats at the OECD get tax-free salaries, so they’re insulated from the negative impact of the bad policies they want to impose on everyone else.

That’s even more outrageous than the fact that the OECD tried to have me thrown in a Mexican jail for the supposed crime of standing in the public lobby of a public hotel.

Anguilla 2013P.S. I just gave a speech to the Anguilla branch of the Society for Trust and Estate Professionals, and much of my remarks focused on the dangers of the BEPS scheme.

I took this picture from my balcony. As you can see, there are some fringe benefits to being a policy wonk.

And I travel to Nevis on Sunday to give another speech.

Tough work, but somebody has to do it. Needless to say, withe possibility of late-season snow forecast for Monday in the DC area, I’m utterly bereft I won’t be there to enjoy the experience.

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Every so often, you get a “teaching moment” in Washington, and we now have an excellent opportunity to educate lawmakers about the “offshore” world because President Obama’s nominee to be Treasury Secretary has been caught with his hand in the tax haven cookie jar.

Mr. Lew not only invested some of his own money in a Cayman-based fund, he also was in charge of a Citi Bank division that had over 100 Cayman-domiciled funds.

As you can imagine, Republicans are having some fun with this issue.

Democrats used to be critical of Ugland House

Mitt Romney was subjected to a lot of class-warfare demagoguery during the 2012 campaign because he also invested  some of his wealth in a Cayman fund, so GOPers are hoisting Lew on a petard and grilling him about the obvious hypocrisy of a leftist utilizing – both personally and professionally – a jurisdiction that commits the unforgivable crime of not imposing income tax.

In a sensible world, Lew would say what everyone in the financial world already understands, which is that the Cayman Islands are an excellent, fully legal, tax-neutral platform for investment funds because 1) there’s no added layer of tax, 2) there’s good rule of law, and, 3) foreigners can invest in the American economy without creating any nexus with the IRS.

But we don’t live in a sensible world, so Lew instead wants us to believe he’s a moron and that he didn’t realize that funds were domiciled in Cayman.

And I guess all the other wealthy leftists with offshore-based investments probably think that as well, right?

Anyhow, I’m taking a glass-half-full perspective on this kerfuffle since it gives me an opportunity to educate more people about why tax havens are a liberalizing and positive force in the global economy.

Oh, what about Lew as Treasury Secretary? Well, as I explain for Real News, he’s competent but misguided.

In other words, the chances of any good reform in the next four years are asymptotically approaching zero. Based on his background (and also based on the views of the President he’ll be serving), it’s virtually impossible to envision good entitlement reform, pro-growth tax reform, and any changes to lessen the likelihood of future Greek-style fiscal collapse (as amusingly illustrated by this cartoon).

So with any luck, they’ll be some tax havens around that the rest of us can utilize when that day of reckoning occurs.

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As a taxpayer, I’m not a big fan of international bureaucracies. They consume a lot of money, pay themselves extravagant (and tax-free!) salaries, and generally promote statist policies.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is a prime example. Originally created for benign purposes such as gathering statistics, it now is a bloated bureaucracy pursuing an anti-free market agenda.

But international bureaucracies also have a nasty habit of operating in the shadows and using thuggish behavior to thwart critics. And I have the scars to prove it from my efforts to protect fiscal sovereignty.

But it’s not just the crowd in Paris that doesn’t believe in openness and fair play. A journalist recently traveled to South Korea to report on a World Health Organization conference on tobacco.

This doesn’t sound like the type of event that would involve skullduggery, but here’s part of what the reporter wrote for the Korea Times.

A monumental session during the World Health Organization’s (WHO) convention on tobacco control turned into an alarming attack on transparency, accountability and press freedom. …delegates of the member countries of the conference stripped the media of the ability to cover the meeting and escorted public onlookers from the premises. The decision to meet behind closed doors occurred when a discussion began about efforts to decrease tobacco use by increasing the price of tobacco products. Specifically, the convention attendees were discussing the framework for an international tobacco tax. This is one of the most controversial topics for debate in Seoul this week.

This is what is called a “learning moment.” And the journalist clearly recognized both the WHO’s hypocrisy and its troubling policy agenda.

As a reporter covering this meeting, this was not only a frustrating stance, but it raises some serious questions about an organization that for years has operated largely behind the scenes and without the benefit of much public scrutiny. When is the media more necessary than when an unaccountable, shadowy organization that devours millions of tax dollars each year from people across the world debates getting in the business of issuing global taxes? This effort to silence the press is particularly chilling since it is in direct conflict with the U.N. — the WHO’s parent organization—claims to fight to advance “free, independent and pluralistic media” across the world. Apparently, U.N. and WHO leaders believe in media rights in all cases except when the media covers them.

And remember, you’re paying for this thuggish behavior.

If you want to learn more about the underlying issue, I wrote about the WHO’s push for global tobacco taxation back in both May and September.

All of which is consistent with the broader ongoing push by the United Nations to get worldwide taxing power.

Needless to say, any form of global taxation would be a terrible development, but governments are sympathetic to such schemes since they view tax competition as a constraint on their ability to pursue redistribution and thus a limit on their efforts to buy votes with other people’s money.

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I spoke at the United Nations back in May, explaining that more government was the wrong way to help the global economy.

But I guess I’m not very persuasive. The bureaucrats have just released a new report entitled, “In Search of New Development Finance.”

As you can probably guess, what they’re really searching for is more money for global redistribution.

But here’s the most worrisome part of their proposal. They want the U.N. to be in charge of collecting the taxes, sort of a permanent international bureaucracy entitlement.

I’ve written before about the U.N.’s desire for tax authority (on more than one occasion), but this new report is noteworthy for the size and scope of taxes that have been proposed.

Here’s the wish list of potential global taxes, pulled from page vi of the preface.

Here’s some of what the report had to say about a few of the various tax options. We’ll start with the carbon tax, which I recently explained was a bad idea if imposed inside the U.S. by politicians in Washington. It’s a horrible idea if imposed globally by the kleptocrats at the United Nations.

…a tax of $25 per ton of CO2 emitted by developed countries is expected to raise $250 billion per year in global tax revenues. Such a tax would be in addition to taxes already imposed at the national level, as many Governments (of developing as well as developed countries) already tax carbon emissions, in some cases explicitly, and in other cases, indirectly through taxes on specific fuels.

Notice that the tax would apply only to “developed countries,” so this scheme is best characterized as discriminatory taxation. If Obama is genuinely worried about jobs being “outsourced” to nations such as China (as he implies in his recent attack on Romney), then he should announce his strong opposition to this potential tax.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

Next, here’s what the U.N. says about a financial transactions tax.

A small tax of half a “basis point” (0.005 per cent) on all trading in the four major currencies (the dollar, euro, yen and pound sterling) might yield an estimated $40 billion per year. …even a low tax rate would limit high-frequency trading to some extent. It would thus result in the earning of a “double dividend” by helping reduce currency volatility and raising revenue for development. While a higher rate would limit trading to a greater extent, this might be at the expense of revenue.

This is an issue that already has attracted my attention, and I also mentioned that it was a topic in my meeting with the E.U.’s Tax Commissioner.

But rather than reiterate some of my concerns about taxing financial consumers, I want to give a back-handed compliment the United Nations. The bureaucrats, by writing that “a higher rate…might be at the expense of revenue,” deserve credit for openly acknowledging the Laffer Curve.

By the way, this is an issue where both the United States and Canada have basically been on the right side, though the Obama Administration blows hot and cold on the topic.

Now let’s turn to the worst idea in the U.N. report. The clowns want to steal wealth from rich people. But even more remarkable, they want us to think this won’t have any negative economic impact.

…the least distorting, most fair and most efficient tax is a “lump sum” payment, such as a levy on the accumulated wealth of the world’s richest individuals (assuming the wealthy could not evade the tax). In particular, it is estimated that in early 2012, there were 1,226 individuals in the world worth $1 billion or more, 425 of whom lived in the United States, 90 in other countries of the Americas, 315 in the Asia-Pacific region, 310 in Europe and 86 in Africa and the Middle East. Together, they owned $4.6 trillion in assets, for an average of $3.75 billion in wealth per person.21 A 1 per cent tax on the wealth of these individuals would raise $46 billion in 2012.

I’ll be the first to admit that you can’t change people’s incentives to produce in the past. So if you steal wealth accumulated as the result of a lifetime of work, that kind of “lump sum” tax isn’t very “distorting.”

But here’s a news flash for the nitwits at the United Nations. Rich people aren’t stupid (or at least their financial advisers aren’t stupid). So you might be able to engage in a one-time act of plunder, but it is deliberate naiveté to think that this would be a successful long-run source of revenue.

For more information, I addressed wealth taxes in this post, and the argument I was making applies to a global wealth tax just as much as it applies to a national wealth tax.

Now let’s conclude with a very important warning. Some people doubtlessly will dismiss the U.N. report as a preposterous wish list. In part, they’re right. There is virtually no likelihood of these bad policies getting implemented at any point in the near future.

But the statists have been relentless in their push for global taxation, and I’m worried they eventually will find a way to impose the first global tax. And if you’ll forgive me for going overboard on metaphors, once the camel’s nose is under the tent, it’s just a matter of time before the floodgates open.

The greatest threat is the World Health Organization’s scheme for a global tobacco tax. I wrote about this issue back in May, and it seems my concerns were very warranted. The bureaucrats recently unveiled a proposal – to be discussed at a conference in South Korea in November – that would look at schemes to harmonize tobacco taxes and/or impose global taxes.

Here’s some of what the Washington Free Beacon wrote.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is considering a global excise tax of up to 70 percent on cigarettes at an upcoming November conference, raising concerns among free market tax policy analysts about fiscal sovereignty and bureaucratic mission creep. In draft guidelines published this September, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control indicated it may put a cigarette tax on the table at its November conference in Seoul, Korea. …it is considering two proposals on cigarette taxes to present to member countries. The first would be an excise tax of up to 70 percent. …The second proposal is a tiered earmark on packs of cigarettes: 5 cents for high-income countries, 3 cents for middle-income countries, and 1 cent for low-income countries. WHO has estimated that such a tax in 43 selected high-/middle-/low-income countries would generate $5.46 billion in tax revenue. …Whichever option the WHO ends up backing, “they’re both two big, bad ideas,” said Daniel Mitchell, a senior tax policy fellow at the Cato Institute. …Critics also argue such a tax increase will not generate more revenue, but push more sales to the black market and counterfeit cigarette producers. “It’s already huge problem,” Mitchell said. “In many countries, a substantial share of cigarettes are black market or counterfeit. They put it in a Marlboro packet, but it’s not a Marlboro cigarette. Obviously it’s a big thing for organized crime.” …The other concern is mission creep. Tobacco, Mitchell says, is easy to vilify, making it an attractive beachhead from which to launch future vice tax initiatives.

It’s my final comment that has me most worried. The politicians and bureaucrats are going after tobacco because it’s low-hanging fruit. They may not even care that their schemes will boost organized crime and may not raise much revenue.

They’re more concerned about establishing a precedent that international bureaucracies can impose global taxes.

I wrote the other day about whether Americans should escape to Canada, Australia, Chile, or some other nation when the entitlement crisis causes a Greek-style fiscal collapse.

But if the statists get the power to impose global taxes, then what choice will we have?

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Very few people are willing to admit that they favor protectionism. After all, who wants to embrace a policy associated with the Great Depression?

But people sometimes say “I want free trade so long as it’s fair trade.” In most cases, they’re simply protectionists who are too clever to admit their true agenda

In the Belly of the Beast at the European Commission

There’s a similar bit of wordplay that happens in the world of international taxation, and a good example of this phenomenon took place on my recent swing through Brussels.

While in town, I met with Algirdas Šemeta, the European Union’s Tax Commissioner, as part of a meeting arranged by some of his countrymen from the Lithuanian Free Market Institute.

Mr. Šemeta was a gracious host and very knowledgeable about all the issues we discussed, but when I was pontificating about the benefits of tax competition (are you surprised?), he assured me that he felt the same way, only he wanted to make sure it was “fair tax competition.”

But his idea of “fair tax competition” is that people should not be allowed to benefit from better policy in low-tax jurisdictions.

Allow me to explain. Let’s say that a Frenchman, having earned some income in France and having paid a first layer of tax to the French government, decides he wants to save and invest some of his post-tax income in Luxembourg.

In an ideal world, there would be no double taxation and no government would try to tax any interest, dividends, or capital gains that our hypothetical Frenchman might earn. But if a government wants to impose a second layer of tax on earnings in Luxembourg, it should be the government of Luxembourg. It’s a simple matter of sovereignty that nations get to determine the laws that apply inside their borders.

But if the French government wants to track – and tax – that flight capital, it has to coerce the Luxembourg government into acting as a deputy tax collector, and this generally is why high-tax governments (and their puppets at the OECD) are so anxious to bully so-called tax havens into emasculating their human rights laws on financial privacy.

Now let’s see the practical impact of “fair tax competition.” In the ideal world of Mr. Šemeta and his friends, a Frenchman will have the right to invest after-tax income in Luxembourg, but the French government will tax any Luxembourg-source earnings at French tax rates. In other words, there is no escape from France’s oppressive tax laws. The French government might allow a credit for any taxes paid to Luxembourg, but even in the best-case scenario, the total tax burden on our hypothetical Frenchman will still be equal to the French tax rate.

Imagine if gas stations operated by the same rules. If you decided you no longer wanted to patronize your local gas station because of high prices, you would be allowed to buy gas at another station. But your old gas station would have the right – at the very least – to charge you the difference between its price and the price at your new station.

Simply stated, you would not be allowed to benefit from lower prices at other gas stations.

So take a wild guess how much real competition there would be in such a system? Assuming your IQ is above room temperature, you’ve figured out that such a system subjects the consumer to monopoly abuse.

Which is exactly why the “fair tax competition” agenda of Europe’s welfare states (with active support from the Obama Administration) is nothing more than an indirect form of tax harmonization. Nations would be allowed to have different tax rates, but people wouldn’t be allowed to benefit.

For more information, here’s my video on tax competition.

And if you want information about the beneficial impact of “tax havens,” read this excellent column by Pierre Bessard and watch my three-part video series on the topic.

P.S. The Financial Transaction Tax also was discussed at the meeting, and it appears that the European actually intend on shooting themselves in the foot with this foolish scheme. Interestingly, when presented by other participants with some studies showing how the tax was damaging, Mr. Šemeta asked why we he should take those studies seriously since they were produced by people opposed to the tax. Since I’ve recently stated that healthy skepticism is warranted when dealing with anybody in the political/policy world (even me!), I wasn’t offended by the insinuation. But my response was to ask why we should act like the European Commission studies are credible since they were financed by governments that want a new source of revenue.

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If we want to avoid the kind of Greek-style fiscal collapse implied by this BIS and OECD data, we need some external force to limit the tendency of politicians to over-tax and over-spend.

That’s why I’m a big advocate of tax competition, fiscal sovereignty, and financial privacy (read Pierre Bessard and Allister Heath to understand why these issues are critical).

Simply stated, I want people to have the freedom to benefit from better tax policy in other jurisdictions, especially since that penalizes governments that get too greedy.

I’m currently surrounded by hundreds of people who share my views since I’m in Prague at a meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society. And I’m particularly happy since Professor Lars Feld of the University of Freiburg presented a paper yesterday on “Redistribution through public budgets: Who pays, who receives, and what effects do political institutions have?”.

His research produced all sorts of interesting results, but I was drawn to his estimates on how tax competition and fiscal decentralization are an effective means of restraining bad fiscal policy.

Here are some findings from the study, which was co-authored with Jan Schnellenbach of the University of Heidelberg.

In line with the previous subsections, we find that countries with a higher GDP per employee, i.e. a higher overall labor productivity, have a more unequal primary income distribution. …fiscal competition within a country or trade openness as an indicator of globalization do not exacerbate, but reduce the gap between income classes. …expenditure and revenue decentralization restrict the government’s ability to redistribute income when fiscal decentralization also involves fiscal competition. …fiscal decentralization, when accompanied by high fiscal autonomy, involves significantly less fiscal redistribution. Please also note that fiscal competition induces a more equal distribution of primary income and, even though the distribution of disposable income is more unequal, it is open how the effect of fiscal competition on income distribution should be evaluated. Because measures of income redistribution usu-ally have adverse incentive effects which consequently affect economic growth negatively, fiscal competition might be favorable for countries which have strong egalitarian preferences. A rising tide lifts all boats and might in the long-run outperform countries with more moderate income redistribution even in distributional terms.

The paper includes a bunch of empirical results that are too arcane to reproduce here, but they basically show that the welfare state is difficult to maintain if taxpayers have the ability to vote with their feet.

Or perhaps the better way to interpret the data is that fiscal competition makes it difficult for governments to expand the welfare state to dangerous levels. In other words, it is a way of protecting governments from the worst impulses of their politicians.

I can’t resist sharing one additional bit of information from the Feld-Schnellenbach paper. They compare redistribution in several nations. As you can see in the table reproduced below, the United States and Switzerland benefit from having the lowest levels of overall redistribution (circled in red).

It’s no coincidence that the U.S. and Switzerland are also the two nations with the most decentralization (some argue that Canada may be more decentralized that the U.S., but Canada also scores very well in this measure, so the point is strong regardless).

Interestingly, Switzerland definitely has significantly more genuine federalism than any other nation, so you won’t be surprised to see that Switzerland is far and away the nation with the lowest level of tax redistribution (circled in blue).

One clear example of Switzerland’s sensible approach is that voters overwhelmingly rejected a 2010 referendum that would have imposed a minimum federal tax rate of 22 percent on incomes above 250,000 Swiss Francs (about $262,000 U.S. dollars). And the Swiss also have a spending cap that has reduced the burden of government spending while most other nations have moved in the wrong direction.

While there are some things about Switzerland I don’t like, its political institutions are a good role model. And since good institutions promote good policy (one of the hypotheses in the Feld-Schnellenbach paper) and good policy leads to more prosperity, you won’t be surprised to learn that Swiss living standards now exceed those in the United States. And they’re the highest-ranked nation in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report.

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I was a bit surprised couple of years ago to read that an American company re-located to Canada to benefit from better tax policy.

But I wasn’t totally shocked by the news because Canada has been lowering tax rates, reducing the burden of government spending, and taking other steps to make its economy more competitive.

But I am downright stunned to learn that America’s high corporate tax rate is such an outlier that companies are even moving to welfare states such as the United Kingdom.

Here are some excerpts from a story in the Wall Street Journal.

More big U.S. companies are reincorporating abroad despite a 2004 federal law that sought to curb the practice. One big reason: Taxes. Companies cite various reasons for moving, including expanding their operations and their geographic reach. But tax bills remain a primary concern. … Aon plc…relocated to the U.K. in April. Aon has told analysts it expects to reduce its tax rate, which averaged 28% over the past five years, by five percentage points over time, which could boost profits by about $100 million annually. Since 2009, at least 10 U.S. public companies have moved their incorporation address abroad or announced plans to do so, including six in the last year or so, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of company filings and statements. …Eaton, a 101-year-old Cleveland-based maker of components and electrical equipment, announced in May that it would acquire Cooper Industries PLC, another electrical-equipment maker that had moved to Bermuda in 2002 and then to Ireland in 2009. It plans to maintain factories, offices and other operations in the U.S. while moving its place of incorporation—for now—to the office of an Irish law firm in downtown Dublin. …Eaton’s chief executive, Alexander Cutler, has been a vocal critic of the corporate tax code. “We have too high a domestic rate and we have a thoroughly uncompetitive international tax regime,” Mr. Cutler said on CNBC in January. …In moving from Dallas to the U.K. in 2009, Ensco followed rivals such as Transocean Ltd., Noble Corp. and Weatherford International Ltd. that had relocated outside the U.S. The company said the move would help it achieve “a tax rate comparable to that of some of Ensco’s global competitors.”

Wow. I can understand moving to Ireland, with its 12.5 percent corporate tax rate, but I wouldn’t have thought that the U.K.’s 24 percent rate was overly attractive.

But compared to the punitive 35 percent rate in the United States, I guess 24 percent doesn’t look that bad.

So what’s the solution? The obvious answer is to lower the corporate tax rate. But it also would help to eliminate worldwide taxation, as noted in the article.

Lawmakers of both parties have said the U.S. corporate tax code needs a rewrite and they are aiming to try next year. One shared source of concern is the top corporate tax rate of 35%—the highest among developed economies. By comparison, Ireland’s rate is 12.5%. …Critics of the tax code also say it puts U.S. companies at a disadvantage because it taxes their profits earned abroad. Most developed countries tax only domestic earnings. While executives would welcome a lower tax rate and an end to global taxation, some worry their tax bills could rise under other measures that could be included in a tax-overhaul package.

Both Obama and Romney have said that they favor a slightly lower corporate rate, but I’m skeptical about their true intentions. In any event, neither one of them is talking about a low rate, perhaps 15 percent of below.

For more information, here’s my video on corporate taxation.

And the issue of worldwide taxation may sound arcane, but this video explains why it also is important.

Let’s close by noting that there are two obstacles to pro-growth reform. First, any good reform will deprive politicians of tax revenue. And since they’ve spent the country into a fiscal ditch, that makes it very difficult to enact legislation that – at least on paper – means less money flowing to Washington.

Second, politicians are very reluctant to lower tax rates on groups that can be demagogued, such as “rich people” and “big corporations.” This is the destructive mentality that drives class-warfare tax policy.

So America faces a choice. Jobs, investment, and growth or big government, class warfare, and stagnation. The solution should be obvious…unless you’re a politicians interested in preserving power in Washington.

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In previous posts, I put together tutorials on the Laffer Curve, tax competition, and the economics of government spending.

Today, we’re going to look at the issue of tax reform. The focus will be the flat tax, but this analysis applies equally to national sales tax systems such as the Fair Tax.

There are three equally important features of tax reform.

  1. A low tax rate – This is the best-known feature of tax reform. A low tax rate is designed to minimize the penalty of work, entrepreneurship, and productive behavior.
  2. No double taxation of saving and investment – All major tax reform plans, such as the flat tax and national sales tax, get rid of the tax bias against income that is saved and invested. The capital gains tax, double tax on dividends, and death tax are all abolished. Shifting to a system that taxes economic activity only one time will boost capital formation, thus facilitating an increase in productivity and wages.
  3. No distorting loopholes – With the exception of a family-based allowance designed to protect lower-income people, the main tax reform plans get rid of all deductions, exemptions, shelters, preference, exclusions, and credits. By creating a neutral tax system, this ensures that decisions are made on the basis of economic fundamentals, not tax distortions.

All three features are equally important, sort of akin to the legs of a stool. Using the flat tax as a model, this video provides additional details.

One thing I don’t mention in the video is that a flat tax is “territorial,” meaning that only income earned in the United States is taxed. This common-sense rule is the good-fences-make-good-neighbors approach. If income is earned by an American in, say, Canada, then the Canadian government gets to decide how it’s taxed. And if income is earned by a Canadian in America, then the U.S. government gets a slice.

It’s also worth emphasizing that the flat tax protects low-income Americans from the IRS. All flat tax plans include a fairly generous “zero-bracket amount,” which means that a family of four can earn (depending on the specific proposal) about $25,000-$35,000 before the flat tax takes effect.

Proponents of tax reform explain that there are many reasons to junk the internal revenue code and adopt something like a flat tax.

  • Improve growth – The low marginal tax rate, the absence of double taxation, and the elimination of distortions combine to create a system that minimizes the penalties on productive behavior.
  • Boost competitiveness – In a competitive global economy, it is easy for jobs and investment to cross national borders. The right kind of tax reform can make America a magnet for money from all over the world.
  • Reduce corruption – Tax preferences and penalties are bad for growth, but they are also one of the main sources of political corruption in Washington. Tax reform takes away the dumpster, which means fewer rats and cockroaches.
  • Promote simplicity – Good policy has a very nice side effect in that the tax system becomes incredibly simple. Instead of the hundreds of forms required by the current system, both households and businesses would need only a single postcard-sized form.
  • Increase privacy – By getting rid of double taxation and taxing saving, investment, and profit at the business level, there no longer is any need for people to tell the government what assets they own and how much they’re worth.
  • Protect civil liberties – A simple and fair tax system eliminates almost all sources of conflict between taxpayers and the IRS.

All of these benefits also accrue if the internal revenue code is abolished and replaced with some form of national sales tax. That’s because the flat tax and sales tax are basically different sides of the same coin. Under a flat tax, income is taxed one time at one low rate when it is earned. Under a sales tax, income is taxed one time at one low rate when it is spent.

Neither system has double taxation. Neither system has corrupt loopholes. And neither system requires the nightmarish internal revenue service that exists to enforce the current system.

This video has additional details – including the one caveat that a national sales tax shouldn’t be enacted unless the 16th Amendment is repealed so there’s no threat that politicians could impose both an income tax and sales tax.

Last but not least, let’s deal with the silly accusation that the flat tax is a risky and untested idea. This video is a bit dated (some new nations are in the flat tax club and a few have dropped out), but is shows that there are more than two dozen jurisdictions with this simple and fair tax system.

P.S. Fundamental tax reform is also the best way to improve the healthcare system. Under current law, compensation in the form of fringe benefits such as health insurance is tax free. Not only is it deductible to employers and non-taxable to employees, it also isn’t hit by the payroll tax. This creates a huge incentive for gold-plated health insurance policies that cover routine costs and have very low deductibles. This is a principal cause (along with failed entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid) of the third-party payer crisis. Shifting to a flat tax means that all forms of employee compensation are taxed at the same low rate, a reform that presumably over time will encourage both employers and employees to migrate away from the inefficient over-use of insurance that characterizes the current system. For all intents and purposes, the health insurance market presumably would begin to resemble the vastly more efficient and consumer-friendly auto insurance and homeowner’s insurance markets.

P.P.S. If you want short and sweet descriptions of the major tax reform plans, here are four highly condensed descriptions of the flat tax, national sales tax, value-added tax, and current system.

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My friends at Americans for Tax Reform have received a bunch of attention for a new report entitled “Win Olympic Gold, Pay the IRS.”

In this clever document, they reveal that athletes could face a tax bill – to those wonderful folks at the IRS – of nearly $9,000 thanks to America’s unfriendly worldwide tax system.

The topic is even getting attention overseas. Here’s an excerpt from a BBC report.

US medal-winning athletes at the Olympics have to pay tax on their prize money – something which is proving controversial in the US. But why are athletes from the US taxed when others are not? The US is right up there in the medals table, and has produced some of the finest displays in the Olympics so far. … But not everyone is happy to hear that their Olympic medal-winning athletes are being taxed on their medal prize money. Athletes are effectively being punished for their success, argues Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, who introduced a bill earlier this week that would eliminate tax on Olympic medals and prize money. …This, he said, is an example of the “madness” of the US tax system, which he called a “complicated and burdensome mess”.

It’s important to understand, though, that this isn’t a feel-good effort to create a special tax break. Instead, Senator Rubio is seeking to take a small step in the direction of better tax policy.

More specifically, he wants to move away from the current system of “worldwide” taxation and instead shift to “territorial” taxation, which is simply the common-sense notion of sovereignty applied to taxation. If income is earned inside a nation’s borders, that nation gets to decided how and when it is taxed.

In other words, if U.S. athletes earn income competing in the United Kingdom, it’s a matter for inland revenue, not the IRS.

Incidentally, both the flat tax and national sales tax are based on territorial taxation, and most other countries actually are ahead of the United States and use this approach. The BBC report has further details.

The Olympic example highlights what they regard as the underlying problem of the US’ so-called “worldwide” tax model. Under this system, earnings made by a US citizen abroad are liable for both local tax and US tax. Most countries in the world have a “territorial” system of tax and apply that tax just once – in the country where it is earned. With the Olympics taking place in London, the UK would, in theory, be entitled to claim tax on prize money paid to visiting athletes. But, as is standard practice for many international sporting events, it put in place a number of tax exemptions for competitors in the Olympics – including on any prize money. That means that only athletes from countries with a worldwide tax system on individual income are liable for tax on their medals. And there are only a handful of them in the world, says Daniel Mitchell, an expert on tax reform at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank – citing the Philippines and Eritrea as other examples. But with tax codes so notoriously complicated, unravelling which countries would apply this in the context of Olympic prize money is a tricky task, he says. Mitchell is a critic of the worldwide system, saying it effectively amounts to “double taxation” and leaves the US both at a competitive disadvantage, and as a bullyboy, on the world stage. “We are the 800lb (360kg) gorilla in the world economy, and we can bully other nations into helping enforce our bad tax law.”

To close out this discussion, statists prefer worldwide taxation because it undermines tax competition. This is because, under worldwide taxation, individuals and companies have no ability to escape high taxes by shifting activity to jurisdictions with better tax policy.

Indeed, this is why politicians from high-tax nations are so fixated on trying to shut down so-called tax havens. It’s difficult to enforce bad tax policy, after all, if some nations have strong human rights policies on privacy.

For all intents and purposes, a worldwide tax regime means the government gets a permanent and global claim on your income. And without having to worry about tax competition, that “claim” will get more onerous over time.

P.S. Just because a nation has a right to tax foreigners who earn income inside its borders, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to go overboard. The United Kingdom shows what happens if politicians get too greedy and Spain shows what happens if marginal tax rates are reasonable.

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Mitt Romney is being criticized for supporting “territorial taxation,” which is the common-sense notion that each nation gets to control the taxation of economic activity inside its borders.

While promoting his own class-warfare agenda, President Obama recently condemned Romney’s approach. His views, unsurprisingly, were echoed in a New York Times editorial.

President Obama raised…his proposals for tax credits for manufacturers in the United States to encourage the creation of new jobs. He said this was greatly preferable to Mitt Romney’s support for a so-called territorial tax system, in which the overseas profits of American corporations would escape United States taxation altogether. It’s not surprising that large multinational corporations strongly support a territorial tax system, which, they say, would make them more competitive with foreign rivals. What they don’t say, and what Mr. Obama stressed, is that eliminating federal taxes on foreign profits would create a powerful incentive for companies to shift even more jobs and investment overseas — the opposite of what the economy needs.

Since even left-leaning economists generally agree that tax credits for manufacturers are ineffective gimmicks proposed for political purposes, let’s set that topic aside and focus on the issue of territorial taxation.

Or, to be more specific, let’s compare the proposed system of territorial taxation to the current system of “worldwide taxation.”

Worldwide taxation means that a company is taxed not only on it’s domestic earnings, but also on its foreign earnings. Yet the “foreign-source income” of U.S. companies is “domestic-source income” in the nations where those earnings are generated, so that income already is subject to tax by those other governments.

In other words, worldwide taxation results in a version of double taxation.

The U.S. system seeks to mitigate this bad effect by allowing American-based companies a “credit” for some of the taxes they pay to foreign governments, but that system is very incomplete.

And even if it worked perfectly, America’s high corporate tax rate still puts U.S. companies in a very disadvantageous position. If an American firm, Dutch firm, and Irish firm are competing for business in Ireland, the latter two only pay the 12.5 percent Irish corporate tax on any profits they earn. The U.S. company also pays that tax, but then also pays an additional 22.5 percent to the IRS (the 35 percent U.S. tax rate minus a credit for the 12.5 percent Irish tax).

In an attempt to deal with this self-imposed disadvantage, the U.S. tax system also has something called “deferral,” which allows American companies to delay the extra tax (though the Obama Administration has proposed to eliminate that provision!).

Romney is proposing to put American companies on a level playing field by going in the other direction. Instead of immediate worldwide taxation, as Obama wants, he wants to implement territorial taxation.

But what about the accusation from the New York Times that territorial taxation “would create a powerful incentive for companies to shift even more jobs and investment overseas”?

Well, they’re somewhat right…and they’re totally wrong. Here’s what I’ve said about that issue.

If a company can save money by building widgets in Ireland and selling them to the US market, then we shouldn’t be surprised that some of them will consider that option.  So does this mean the President’s proposal might save some American jobs? Definitely not. If deferral is curtailed, that may prevent an American company from taking advantage of a profitable opportunity to build a factory in some place like Ireland. But U.S. tax law does not constrain foreign companies operating in foreign countries. So there would be nothing to prevent a Dutch company from taking advantage of that profitable Irish opportunity. And since a foreign-based company can ship goods into the U.S. market under the same rules as a U.S. company’s foreign subsidiary, worldwide taxation does not insulate America from overseas competition. It simply means that foreign companies get the business and earn the profits.

To put it bluntly, America’s tax code is driving jobs and investment to other nations. America’s high corporate tax rate is a huge self-inflected wound for American competitiveness.

Getting rid of deferral doesn’t solve any problems, as I explain in this video. Indeed, Obama’s policy would make a bad system even worse.

But, it’s also important to admit that shifting to territorial taxation isn’t a complete solution. Yes, it will help American-based companies compete for market share abroad by creating a level playing field. But if policy makers want to make the United States a more attractive location for jobs and investment, then a big cut in the corporate tax rate should be the next step.

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I realize it’s a bold assertion, but the $100 million that American taxpayers send to Paris every year to subsidize the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is – on a per-dollar basis – the most destructively wasteful part in the federal budget.

This video will give you some evidence.

But the video also is a couple of years old, so it doesn’t even include some of the more recent and most outrageous examples of OECD perfidy.

The good news is that more and more people are sounding the alarm bells about this wretched bureaucracy.

Richard Rahn excoriates the statist swamp in his Washington Times column.

Most Americans probably would not approve of their tax dollars being used to support an international organization that undermines their fundamental liberties and promotes giving their hard-earned money to other governments, often run by corrupt or dictatorial regimes. This is precisely what the OECD is doing… The OECD was formed in 1960 to promote trade and investment among the developed countries. Over the years, it has morphed into an organization promoting higher taxes and the redistribution of income… Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and well-known tax economist, has closely followed the efforts of the OECD in promoting bigger government and more statism. In his extensive work, he has described how the OECD’s “anti-tax competition project” is designed to prop up Europe’s bankrupt welfare states and how its advocacy of “higher marginal tax rates,” a “value-added tax” and “failed Keynesian stimulus” for the U.S. reduces economic growth. (Note: OECD bureaucrats work out of plush offices in Paris, travel first class and have tax-free salaries.) It is worth repeating: U.S. taxpayers are supporting high-salaried international bureaucrats who are advocating higher taxes on others, most notably U.S. taxpayers, but do not pay income taxes themselves. Hypocrisy abounds. …serious and fiscally responsible members of Congress have the ability to knock all or part of the OECD funding out of the budget through amendments, provided they can get a majority of their fellow members to vote with them. The major limited-government, free-market organizations have endorsed a cutback in OECD funding.

And here’s some of what Dennis Kleinfeld wrote for IFC Review. He starts with a bit of history and explains how OECD bureaucrats live a good life at our expense.

The Organisation of Cooperation and Development has been in existence since 1960. …The OECD’s purpose was to pave the way “for a new era of cooperation….” that started with the US and Europe and now essentially encompasses as members or to-be members virtually all the dominant industrial powers. The OECD Secretary General, Deputy Secretaries, and heads of the Directorates are non-elected administrators and policy-makers, who live in Paris tax free (except for the Americans), travel first class, live first class, and whose every expense is paid for by the member states from taxes or money borrowed. These are the guys who tell everyone else to pay their fair share of taxes and share in making sacrifices for the greater good of all. This reminds me that we should never confuse the Hippocratic Oath with hypocrisy.

He then puts forth a strong hypothesis.

In a colourful sense, the OECD is (if you remember Star Trek) the Borg of organisations. Looking around the world today, I believe it can be concluded that the OECD approach to solving the world’s problems has solved nothing but has created even greater, perhaps now nearly insurmountable difficulties.

And he backs up his assertion by pointing out how the OECD is undermining the global economy.

The OECD promotes tax policies to create tax harmony, eliminate tax competition, and end tax abuse. To achieve this, the OECD has found that it becomes ever necessary to impose draconian and oppressive measures in order to make the income tax system work. Any idea of cooperative economic prosperity, encouragement of trans-national capital flows, international trade, or making global investing a seamless effort has been sacrificed on the altar of the income tax system.

And he shows examples of how OECD-supported policies are causing trouble and reducing liberty.

The OECD has long promoted such means to enforce income tax compliance. What is becoming increasingly apparent is that FACTA has gone too far and the backlash is being dramatically felt across all sectors of the US economy. Why then is it such a surprise that combining short sighted legislation with an already failing tax policy would result in rapidly accelerating an already declining economy? The OECD is mandating and leading what seems to be a cavalry charge over the financial and social edge into chaos. Its weapon of choice, the income tax system, is not achieving success for the taxpayers in this battle; rather it is assuring the defeat of individual liberties, the natural desire for privacy, and the freedom to live without the fear of arbitrary governmental retribution. Perhaps George Orwell’s classic books 1984 and Animal Farm are not works of fiction but accurate previews of what the world will look like as the policies of the OECD create the future.

He then offers a strong conclusion about the OECD’s collectivist program.

After 61 years of the OECD providing its services in the interests of international cooperation and economic development policies, it is safe to say that there is a lack of demonstratable proof that the OECD policies have actually been a positive factor in the world’s affairs. In fact, the contrary seems to be the true. I am quite convinced that the OECD functionaries have proceeded under the fixed ideological beliefs that global social happiness and economic prosperity can only be achieved when individuals subordinate their economic freedom and liberties to the interests of the collective, a utopian view of society. They are wrong. The state of the world proves otherwise.

By the way, if you’re not convinced that the OECD is a cancer that need to be cut out, here are a few additional distressing bits of evidence.

Removing American-financed subsidies from the OECD won’t necessarily put an end to this corrupt and statist bureaucracy. But at least American taxpayers won’t be violated to subsidize the pampered officials who drive the OECD’s biased agenda.

And without America support, it is highly doubtful that the OECD would have any ability to bully nations into expanding the burden of government.

That’s a win-win situation for America and the world.

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Given the kleptocratic nature of international bureaucracies (particularly my good buddies at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), I’m never surprised when a bad proposal is unveiled.

And since the United Nations has a long track record of supporting global taxation (with the money going to the U.N., of course), I’m even less surprised when that crowd produces another idea for fleecing people in the productive sector of the economy.

Here are some excerpts from a Yahoo report.

The United Nations on Thursday called for a tax on billionaires to help raise more than $400 billion a year for poor countries. An annual lump sum payment by the super-rich is one of a host of measures including a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, currency exchanges or financial transactions proposed in a UN report that accuses wealthy nations of breaking promises to step up aid for the less fortunate.

These people love taxes, perhaps because they get tax-free salaries.

But setting aside their despicable hypocrisy, there’s scant evidence, if any, that foreign aid does anything other than foment corruption in recipient nations. And there’s lots of evidence, by contrast, that free markets and small government do create prosperity.

Yet the United Nations reflexively wants to line the pockets of the political elite in poor nations. And we’re not talking about pocket change.

The report estimates that the number of people around the globe worth at least $1 billion rose to 1,226 in 2012. There are an estimated 425 billionaires in the United States, 315 in the Asia-Pacific region, 310 in Europe, 90 in other North and South American countries and 86 in Africa and the Middle East. Together they own an estimated $4.6 trillion so a one percent tax on their wealth would raise more than $46 billion, according to the report. “Would this hurt them?” it questioned.

You have to appreciate the supreme irony of pampered international bureaucrats demanding that others should surrender some of their money.

I’m also impressed by their ability to come up with new tax schemes.

The document gives other ideas for international taxes, including:

  • – a tax of $25 per tonne on carbon dioxide emissions would raise about $250 billion. It could be collected by national governments, but allocated to international cooperation.
  • – a tax of 0.005 percent on all currency transactions in the dollar, yen, euro and pound sterling could raise $40 billion a year.
  • – taking a portion of a proposed European Union tax on financial transactions for international cooperation. The tax is expected to raise more than $70 billion a year.

…Without commenting on any of the individual taxes proposed, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that if the new “innovative financing” is to become viable, “strong international agreement is needed.”

Let’s close with some good news. Proposals for global taxation from the United Nations are so radical and so far from the mainstream that even the Obama Administration generally is opposed to these crack-pot ideas.

“I’m horribly offended”

Though that may simply be because Obama wants to seize the money for his own class-warfare purposes and doesn’t want to compete with other taxing authorities. Sort of the way hyenas and vultures sometime fight over a carcass. Or how inner-city gangs sometimes fight over turf.

Actually, I apologize for those analogies. I hope the carrion feeders and gang-bangers of the world will forgive me for equating them with politicians.

“That’s an unfair slur”

Hyenas and vultures both have valuable roles in the ecosystem. And gangs sometimes engage in non-coercive activities such as selling drugs to yuppies.

It’s beyond my abilities, however, to say something nice about politicians.

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Back in April, responding to an article written by Ann Hollingshead for the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development, I wrote a long post defending so-called tax havens.

I went through the trouble of a point-by-point response because her article was quite reasonable and focused on some key moral and philosophical issues (rather than the demagoguery I normally have to deal with when people on the left reflexively condemn low-tax jurisdictions).

She responded to my response, and she raised additional points that deserve to be answered.

So here we go again. Let’s go through Ann’s article and see where we agree and disagree.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post criticizing the philosophies of Dan Mitchell, a libertarian scholar from the Cato Institute. I asked for a “thoughtful discussion” and I got it—both from the comments section of our blog and from Dan himself.  On his own blog, Dan replied with a thought-provoking point-by-point critique of my piece.

It has been a polite discussion, which is good because readers get to see that we don’t really disagree on facts. Our differences are a matter of philosophy, as Ann also acknowledges.

Dan made several interesting points in his rebuttal. As much as I’d like to take on the whole post right now, my reply would be far too long and I don’t think our readers would appreciate a blog post that approaches a novella. Rather I’ll focus on a couple of his comments that I find interesting on a philosophical level (there were many) and which demand a continued conversation because, I believe, they are the basis of our differences. We’ll start with a rather offhand remark in which Dan indirectly refers to financial privacy as a human right. This is an argument we’ve heard before. And it is worth some exploration.Unless I am very much mistaken, Dan’s belief that financial privacy is a human right arises out of his fundamental value of freedom. My disagreement with Dan, therefore, does not arise from a difference in the desire to promote human rights (I believe we both do), but rather in the different relative weights we each place on the value of privacy, which Dan (I’m supposing) would call an extension of freedom.

I wouldn’t argue with her outline, though I think it is incomplete. I’m a big fan of privacy as a principle of a civil and just society, but I also specifically support financial privacy as a means to an end of encouraging better tax policy. Simply stated, politicians are much more likely to reduce or eliminate double taxation if they feel such taxes can’t be enforced and simply put a country in a much less competitive position.

Okay, so on to [my] answer of the subject of this post. Privacy—and financial privacy by extension—is important. But is it a human right? That’s a big phrase; one which humanity has no business throwing around, lest it go the way of “[fill in blank]-gate” or “war on [whatever].” And as Dan himself points out, governments have a way of fabricating human rights—apparently some European courts have ruled that free soccer broadcasts and owning a satellite dish are a human rights—so it’s important that we get back to [philosophical] basics and define the term properly. The nearly universally accepted definition of “human rights” was established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United Nations adopted in 1948. According to the UN, “human rights” are those “rights inherent to all human beings,” regardless of “nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status.” The Declaration includes 30 Articles which describe each of those rights in detail. “Financial privacy” per se is not explicitly a human right in this document, but “privacy” is, and I think it’s reasonable to include financial privacy by extension. But privacy is defined as a fundamental, not an absolute, human right. Absolute rights are those that there is never any justification for violating. Fundamental freedoms, including privacy and freedom from detention, can be ethically breached by the government, as long as they authorized by law and not arbitrary in practice. The government therefore has the right to regulate fundamental freedoms when necessary.

I’m not sure how to react. There are plenty of admirable provisions in the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but there are also some nonsensical passages – some of which completely contradict others.

Everyone hopefully agrees with the provisions against slavery and in favor of equality under law, but Article 25 of the U.N. Declaration also includes “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”

That sounds like a blank check for redistributionism, similar to the statism that I experienced when I spoke at the U.N. last month, and it definitely seems inconsistent with the right of property in Article 17.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t care that the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes a “right to privacy” because I don’t view that document as having any legal or moral validity. I don’t know whether it’s as bad as the European Union’s pseudo-constitution, but I do know that my support for privacy is not based on or dependent on a document from the United Nations.

As an aside, I can’t help noting that Articles 13 and 15 of the U.N. Declaration guarantee the right to emigrate and the right to change nationality, somethings leftists should keep in mind when they demonize successful people who want to move to nations with better tax law.

Getting back to Ann’s column, she confirms my point that you can’t protect property rights for some people while simultaneously giving other people a claim on their output.

That’s important because it means, that when it comes to freedom and privacy, we need to make choices. We can’t always have them all at once. To use a hideously crude example that gets back to the issue of tax evasion, in a developing country, a rich person’s right to financial privacy might be at odds with a poor person’s right to “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.”

For those who are not familiar with the type of discussion, it is the difference between “negative rights” promoted by classical liberals, which are designed to protect life, liberty, and property from aggression, and the “positive rights” promoted by the left, which are designed to legitimize the redistributionist state.

Tom Palmer has a good discussion of the topic here, and he notes that “positive rights” create conflict, writing that, “…classical liberal ‘negative’ rights do not conflict with each other, whereas ‘positive’ rights to be provided with things produce many conflicts. If my ‘right to health care’ conflicts with a doctor’s ‘right to liberty,’ which one wins out?”

Continuing with Ann’s article, she says values conflict with one another, though that’s only if true if one believes in positive rights.

I started this post with a discussion of values, because at the core that’s what we’re talking about. Values are relative, individual, and often in conflict with one another. And they define how we rank our choices between human rights. Dan values freedom, perhaps above most else. He might argue that economic freedom would lead to an enrichment of human rights at all levels, but he probably wouldn’t disagree that that thesis remains untested. My views are a little more complicated because I don’t get to enjoy the (albeit appealing and consistent) simplicity of libertarianism.

I’m tempted to say, “C’mon in, Ann, the water’s fine. Libertarianism is lots of fun.” To be a bit more serious, libertarianism is simple, but it’s not simplistic. You get to promote freedom and there’s no pressure to harass, oppress, or pester other people.

As my colleague David Boaz has stated, “You could say that you learn the essence of libertarianism — which is also the essence of civilization –  in kindergarten: don’t hit other people, don’t take their stuff, keep your promises.”

The world would be a lot better if more people rallied to this non-coercive system.

One more point. Dan mentioned he does “fully comply” with the “onerous demands imposed on [him] by the government.” But as Dan insinuates, irrespective of an individual’s personal values, those demands are not optional. In the United States, we have the luxury of electing a group of individuals to represent our collective values. Together those people make a vision for the country that reflects our ideals. And then, we all accept it. If our country got together and decided to value freedom above all else, we would live in a world that looks a lot like Dan’s utopia. But, frankly, it hasn’t. So we respect our tax code out of a respect for the vision of our country. Dan has the right to try to shape that vision, as do I. Neither of us has the right to violate it.

What Ann writes is true, but not persuasive. Libertarians don’t like untrammeled majoritarianism. We don’t think two wolves and a sheep should vote on what’s for lunch.

We like what our Founding Fathers devised, a constitutional republic where certain rights were inalienable and protected by the judicial system, regardless of whether 90 percent of voters want to curtail our freedoms.

Ann, as you can see from her final passage, does not agree.

That, at is heart, is my problem with both tax evasion and tax avoidance. Neither lines up with the spirit of our collective compact; although the latter is not necessarily reflected in the official laws on the books. I’m not saying tax avoiders should be thrown in jail; they’ve done nothing illegal. I’m saying the regulations that confine us should line up with the vision we’ve created and the values we’ve agreed upon. If that vision is Dan’s, I’ll accept it. But I’m glad he’ll (begrudgingly) accept ours too.

I’m not automatically against having a “collective compact.” After all, that’s one way of describing the American Constitution. But I will return to my point about America’s founders setting up that system precisely because they rejected majoritarianism.

So what does all this mean? Probably nothing, other than the less-than-remarkable revelation that Ann and I have different views on the legitimate role(s) of the federal government.

Since I want to restrain the size and scope of government (not only in America, but elsewhere in the world) and avert future Greek-style fiscal nightmares, that means I want tax competition. And, to be truly effective, that means tax havens.

If that appeals to you (or at least seems like a reasonably hypothesis), I invite you to read some writings by Allister Heath of the United Kingdom and Pierre Bessard of Switzerland.

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It is very sad that America’s tax system is so onerous that some rich people feel they have no choice but to give up U.S. citizenship in order to protect their family finances.

I’ve written about this issue before, particularly in the context of Obama’s class-warfare policies leading to an increase in the number of Americans “voting with their feet” for places with less punitive tax regimes.

We now have a very high-profile tax expatriate. One of the founders of Facebook is escaping for Singapore. Here are some relevant passages in a Bloomberg article.

Escaping to Singapore, where success is encouraged rather than penalized

Eduardo Saverin, the billionaire co- founder of Facebook Inc. (FB), renounced his U.S. citizenship before an initial public offering that values the social network at as much as $96 billion, a move that may reduce his tax bill. …Saverin’s stake is about 4 percent, according to the website Who Owns Facebook. At the high end of the IPO valuation, that would be worth about $3.84 billion. …Saverin, 30, joins a growing number of people giving up U.S. citizenship, a move that can trim their tax liabilities in that country. The Brazilian-born resident of Singapore is one of several people who helped Mark Zuckerberg start Facebook in a Harvard University dorm and stand to reap billions of dollars after the world’s largest social network holds its IPO. “Eduardo recently found it more practical to become a resident of Singapore since he plans to live there for an indefinite period of time,” said Tom Goodman, a spokesman for Saverin, in an e-mailed statement. …Singapore doesn’t have a capital gains tax. It does tax income earned in that nation, as well as “certain foreign- sourced income,” according to a government website on tax policies there. …Renouncing your citizenship well in advance of an IPO is “a very smart idea,” from a tax standpoint, said Avi-Yonah. “Once it’s public you can’t fool around with the value.” …Renouncing citizenship is an option chosen by increasing numbers of Americans. A record 1,780 gave up their U.S. passports last year compared with 235 in 2008, according to government records. …“It’s a loss for the U.S. to have many well-educated people who actually have a great deal of affection for America make that choice,” said Richard Weisman, an attorney at Baker & McKenzie in Hong Kong. “The tax cost, complexity and the traps for the unwary are among the considerations.”

What makes this story amusing, from a personal perspective, is that Saverin’s expatriation takes place just a couple of days after my wayward friend Bruce Bartlett wrote a piece for the New York Times, in which he said that people like me are exaggerating the impact of taxes on migration.

Here are some key excerpts from Bruce’s column.

In recent years, the number of Americans renouncing their citizenship has increased. …the number of Americans renouncing their citizenship rose to 1,781 in 2011 from 231 in 2008. This led William McGurn of The Wall Street Journal to warn that the tax code is turning American citizens living abroad into “economic lepers.” The sharply rising numbers of Americans renouncing their citizenship “are canaries in the coal mine,” he wrote. The economist Dan Mitchell of the libertarian Cato Institute was more explicit in a 2010 column in Forbes, “Rich Americans Voting With Their Feet to Escape Obama Tax Oppression.” …the sharp rise in Americans renouncing their citizenship since 2008 is less pronounced than it appears if one looks at the full range of data available since 1997, when it first was collected. As one can see in the chart, the highest number of Americans renouncing their citizenship came in 1997. …The reality is that taxes are just one factor among many that determine where people choose to live. Factors including climate, proximity to those in similar businesses and the availability of amenities like the arts and cuisine play a much larger role. That’s why places like New York and California are still magnets for the wealthy despite high taxes. And although a few Americans may renounce their citizenship to avoid American taxes, it is obvious that many, many more people continually seek American residency and citizenship.

I actually agree with Bruce. Taxes are just one factor when people make decisions on where to live, work, save, and invest.

But I also think Bruce is drinking too much of the Kool-Aid being served by his new friends on the left. There is a wealth of data on successful people leaving jurisdictions such as California and New York that have confiscatory tax systems.

And there’s also lots of evidence of taxpayers escaping countries controlled by politicians who get too greedy. Mr. Saverin is just the latest example. And I suspect, based on the overseas Americans I meet, that there are several people who quietly go “off the grid” for every person who officially expatriates.

The statists say these people are “tax traitors” and “economic Benedict Arnolds,” but those views are based on a quasi-totalitarian ideology that assumes government has some sort of permanent claim on people’s economic output.

If people are leaving America because our tax law is onerous, that’s a signal we should reform the tax code. Attacking those who expatriate is the fiscal version of blaming the victim.

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