Archive for April 15th, 2010

Even though today is tax day, let us not forget that taxation is just one of several ways that government dimishes propserity. Government spending financed by borrowing also is destructive, as is most regulation since red tape imposes substantial inefficiences and generally fails a cost-benefit test.

The folks at the Competitive Enterprise Institute have just released their annual estimate of the regulatory burden. The publication, entitled Ten Thousand Commandments, includes the following depressing factoids:

• A very rough extrapolation from an evaluation of the federal regulatory enterprise by economist Mark Crain estimates that annual regulatory compliance costs hit $1.187 trillion in 2009.
• Given 2009’s actual government spending of $3.518 trillion, the regulatory “hidden tax” stood at 34 percent of the level of federal spending itself. (Because of the recent federal spending surge, this proportion is lower than the near–40 percent level of recent years.)
• The dramatic reality that regulations and deficits now each exceed $1 trillion a year is an unsettling new development for America. In 2008, regulatory costs were more than double that year’s $459 billion budget deficit. Now, the 2009 deficit spending surge has catapulted the deficit well above the costs of regulation ($1.414 trillion compared to $1.187 trillion, respectively).
• The game has changed, with respect to government spending versus government regulation. Although the spending and deficit levels eclipse federal regulatory costs now, unchecked government spending can translate, in later years, into greater regulation as well…
• Regulatory costs dwarf corporate income taxes of $147 billion.
• Regulatory costs exceed estimated 2009 individual income taxes of $953 billion by 25 percent.
• Regulatory costs of $1.187 trillion absorb 8.3 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), estimated at $14.253 trillion in 2009.
• Combining regulatory costs with federal FY 2009 outlays of $3.518 trillion implies
that the federal government’s share of the economy now reaches 33 percent.

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Caroline Baum of Bloomberg has a good column against the value-added tax, in part because she quotes me, but more so because she effectively explains that a national sales tax like the VAT would be an add-on tax that would finance much bigger government:

As Americans awake to the 2009 tax-filing deadline today, they can look forward to working longer and harder for the government in the future — at least the dwindling share that pays individual income taxes. Enter the VAT, or value-added tax, a whole new source of revenue for the government. The VAT, a fixture in Europe for decades, is a broad-based consumption tax levied at each stage of production on the “value added,” as the name implies. Because government starts with a wish-list of new spending and entitlements and works backward to find a way to pay for them (when it’s trying to look responsible), raising more revenue without sinking the economy is an issue right now. “There is no way to finance all this new spending without an additional broad-based tax,” says Dan Mitchell, senior fellow at the Libertarian Cato Institute in Washington. Which is exactly why a VAT should be avoided, he says. “It’s akin to giving the keys to the liquor store to a bunch of alcoholics.” …Somehow I doubt the Obama administration or Congress would propose substituting a VAT for the income tax or lowering individual or corporate tax rates as an offset. The VAT would be an add-on. …Before you conclude that a VAT is the answer to all our fiscal problems, consider some facts. “Greece collapsed in spite of a 19 percent VAT adopted in 2005,” says Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. The additional revenue from the VAT did nothing to address Greece’s indebtedness. Does anyone think an out-of-control U.S. Congress would devote increased tax revenue to deficit reduction? (If you raised your hand, go back and reread this column from the beginning.)

P.S. Apologies for being out of touch. My laptop has crashed due to some form of virus attack. I am finally able to post again thanks to the kind people at the Montreal Economic Institute.

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