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Archive for the ‘Class warfare’ Category

A few years ago, I shared an image that neatly summarized why the left’s fixation on income inequality is misguided.

Now I have something even better.

I don’t know who “JIMBOB” is, but this cartoon he created is a masterpiece. The car analogy is perfect.

I’ll have to recycle this cartoon every time I write on the issue (along with substantive analysis, including Max Roser’s numbers and the powerful Chinese data).

That being said, I’m going to suggest one possible revision to JIMBOB. I think it would be a slight improvement if both captions started with “some.”

For what it’s worth, I think that phrasing would better reflect how the left thinks.

Or, to be fair, it shows how some on the left think.

I’ve never forgotten a conversation I had with a friend from the other side of the spectrum. His support for class-warfare policies is based on the fact that some (many?) rich people got their wealth via government.

And those people obviously don’t deserve their loot.

The difference between me and my friend is that I’d rather keep tax rates low and get rid of the programs that provide unjust riches. In other words, we should be guided by this very powerful image.

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Assuming elected officials care about the consequences of their actions, the obvious answer to a question isn’t always the right answer.

  • Q: Why should a (sensible) politician oppose the minimum wage, especially since some workers will get a pay hike?

A: Because the bottom rungs of the economic ladder will disappear and marginally skilled people will lose a chance to find employment and develop work skills.

  • Q: Why should a (sensible) politician oppose so-called employment-protection legislation, especially since some employees will be protected from dismissal?

A: Because employers will be less likely to hire workers if they don’t have the freedom to fire them if circumstances change.

  • Q: Why should a (sensible) politician oppose class-warfare taxation, especially since they could redistribute money to 90 percent of voters?

A: Because the short-run benefits of buying votes will be offset by long-run damage to investment, competitiveness, and job creation.

Many politicians are not sensible, of course, which is why bad policy is so common.

So it’s worth noting when someone actually makes the right decision, especially if they do it for the right reason.

With that in mind, President Emmanuel Macron deserves praise for gutting his country’s punitive “exit tax.” The U.K.-based Financial Times has the key details.

French president Emmanuel Macron said that he would remove the so-called exit tax as it was damaging for France’s image as a place to do business. The tax requires those entrepreneurs or investors who hold more than €800,000 in financial assets or at least 50 per cent of a company to pay capital gains up to 15 years after leaving France.  …A finance ministry spokesperson on Saturday confirmed “the removal of the exit tax as it existed.” …”The exit tax sends a negative message to entrepreneurs in France, more than to investors. Why? Because it means that beyond a certain threshold, you are penalised if you leave,” Mr Macron had said… “I don’t want any exit tax. It doesn’t make sense. People are free to invest where they want. I mean, if you are able to attract [investment], good for you, but if not, one should be free to divorce,” added the French president.

Kudos to Macron. He not only points out that such a tax discourages investment and entrepreneurship, but he also makes the moral argument that people should be free to leave a jurisdiction that mistreats them.

To be sure, the proposal isn’t perfect.

Mr Macron has now decided to introduce a new “anti-abuse” tax targeted at assets sold within two years of someone leaving the country. …“The new system will henceforth target divestments occurring shortly after leaving France — two years — to avoid letting people make short trips abroad in order to optimise tax efficiencies,” added the spokesperson.

This is why I gave the plan two-plus cheers instead of three cheers.  Though I understand the political calculation. It would create a lot of controversy if a rich person moved for one year to one of the several European nations that have no capital gains tax (Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, etc), sold their assets, and then immediately moved back to France the following year.

The right policy, needless to say, is for there to be no capital gains tax, period.

But let’s not get sidetracked. Here are a few additional details from Reuters.

France imposed the so-called “Exit Tax” in 2011 during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. …Its aim was to stop individuals temporarily changing their tax domicile in order to skirt French taxes but pro-business President Emmanuel Macron says it damages France’s attractiveness as an investment destination.

Yes, you read correctly, the class-warfare policy wasn’t imposed by the hard-left Francois Hollande, but by the Nicolas Sarkozy, the supposed conservative but de-facto leftist who preceded him.

What’s particularly bizarre is that Macron was a senior official for Hollande, yet he is the pro-market reformer who is trying to save France.

P.S. I’m embarrassed to admit that the United States has a very punitive exit tax (which Hillary Clinton wanted to make even worse).

P.P.S. Since one of my three examples at the beginning of today’s column dealt with the perverse consequences of “employment-protection laws,” I suppose it’s worth noting that’s another area where Macron is trying to reduce government intervention.

P.P.P.S. While Macron is a pro-market reformer at the national level, he advocates very bad ideas for the European Union.

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I’ve repeatedly argued that faster growth is the only effective way of helping the less fortunate.

Class warfare and redistribution, by contrast, are not effective. Such policies are based on the fallacy that the economy is a fixed pie, and proponents of this view fixate on inequality because they mistakenly believe that additional income for the rich means less income for the poor.

Today, let’s look at some numbers that prove that a fixation on inequality is misguided. The Census Bureau this week released its annual report on Income and Poverty in the United States. That publication includes data (Table A-2) showing annual inflation-adjusted earnings by income quintile between 1967-2017.

To see if my left-leaning friends are right about the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor, I calculated the annual percent change for each quintile. Lo and behold, the data actually show that there’s a very clear pattern showing how all income quintiles tend to rise and fall together.

The lesson from this data is clear. If you want policies that help the poor, those also will be policies that help the middle class and rich.

And if you hate the rich, you need to realize that policies hurting them will almost certainly hurt the less fortunate as well.

One other lesson is that all income quintiles did particularly well during the 1980s and 1990s when free-market policies prevailed.

P.S. Many people (including on the left) have pointed out that the Census Bureau’s numbers under-count compensation because fringe benefits such as healthcare are excluded. This is a very legitimate complaint, but it doesn’t change the fact that all income quintiles tend to rise and fall together. For what it’s worth, adding other forms of compensation would boost lower quintiles compared to higher quintiles.

P.P.S. Here’s an interesting video from Pew Research showing how the middle class has become more prosperous over the past few decades.

P.P.P.S. The Census Bureau’s report also has the latest data on poverty. The good news is that the poverty rate fell. The bad news is that long-run progress ground to a halt once the federal government launched the ill-fated War on Poverty.

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If the goal is higher living standards, then higher levels of productivity are necessary. And that requires entrepreneurship and innovation.

But bad tax policy can be an obstacle to the economic choices that create a better future.

I’ve already shared lots of research showing how punitive tax rates undermine growth, but it never hurts to add to the collection.

Let’s look at a new study by Ufuk Akcigit, John Grigsby, Tom Nicholas, and Stefanie Stantcheva. Here’s the issue they investigated.

…do taxes affect innovation? If innovation is the result of intentional effort and taxes reduce the expected net return from it, the answer to this question should be yes. Yet, when we think of path-breaking superstar inventors from history…we often imagine hard-working and driven scientists, who ignore financial incentives and merely seek intellectual achievement. More generally, if taxes affect the amount of innovation, do they also affect the quality of the innovations produced? Do they affect where inventors decide to locate and what firms they work for? …In this paper, we…provide new evidence on the effects of taxation on innovation. Our goal is to systematically analyze the effects of both personal and corporate income taxation on inventors as well as on firms that do R&D over the 20th century.

To perform their analysis, the economists gathered some very interesting data on the evolution of tax policy at the state level. Such as when personal income taxes were adopted.

By the way, I may have discovered an error. They show Connecticut’s income tax being imposed in 1969, but my understanding is that the tax was first levied less than 30 years ago.

In any event, the authors also show how, over time, states have taxed upper-income households.

They look at 20th-century data. If you want more up-to-date numbers, you can click here.

But let’s not digress. Here are some of the findings from the study.

We use OLS to study the baseline relationship between taxes and innovation, exploiting within-state tax changes over time, our instrumental variable approach and the border county design. On the personal income tax side, we consider average and marginal tax rates, both for the median income level and for top earners. Our corporate tax measure is the top corporate tax rate. We find that personal and corporate income taxes have significant effects at the state level on patents, citations (which are a well-established marker of the quality of patents), inventors and “superstar” inventors in the state, and the share of patents produced by firms as opposed to individuals. The implied elasticities of patents, inventors, and citations at the macro level are between 2 and 3.4 for personal income taxes and between 2.5 and 3.5 for the corporate tax. We show that these effects cannot be fully accounted for by inventors moving across state lines and therefore do not merely reflect “zero-sum” business-stealing of one state from other states.

Here are further details about the statewide impact of tax policy.

A one percentage point increase in either the median or top marginal tax rate is associated with approximately a 4% decline in patents, citations, and inventors, and a close to 5% decline in the number of superstar inventors in the state. The effects of average personal tax rates are even larger. A one percentage increase in the average tax rate at the 90th income percentile is associated with a roughly 6% decline in patents, citations, and inventors and an 8% decline in superstar inventors. For the average tax rate at the median income level, the effects are closer to 10% for patents, citations, and inventors, and 15% for superstar inventors.

At the risk of understatement, that’s clear evidence that class-warfare policy has a negative effect.

The study also looked at several case studies of how states performed after significant tax changes.

…case studies provide particularly clear visual evidence of a strong negative relationship between taxes and innovation. When combined with the macro state-level regressions, the instrumental variable approach and the border county analysis, the results overall bolster the conclusion that taxes were significantly negatively related to innovation outcomes at the state level.

Here’s the example of Delaware.

For what it’s worth, we have powerful 21st-century examples of the consequences of bad tax policy. Just think New JerseyCalifornia, and Illinois.

But I’m digressing again.

Back to the study, were we find that the authors also look at how tax policy affects the decisions of people and companies.

We then turn to the micro-level, i.e., individual firms and inventors. …we find that taxes have significant negative effects on the quantity and quality (as measured by citations) of patents produced by inventors, including on the likelihood of producing a highly successful patent (which gathers many citations). At the individual inventor level, the elasticity of patents to the personal income tax is 0.6-0.7, and the elasticity of citations is 0.8-0.9. …we show that individual inventors are negatively affected by the corporate tax rate, but much less so than by personal income taxes. …We find that inventors are significantly less likely to locate in states with higher taxes. The elasticity to the net-of-tax rate of the number of inventors residing in a state is 0.11 for inventors who are from that state and 1.23 for inventors not from that state. Inventors who work for companies are particularly elastic to taxes.

And here are additional details about the micro findings.

…patenting is significantly negatively affected by personal income taxes. A one percentage point higher tax rate at the individual level decreases the likelihood of having a patent in the next 3 years by 0.63 percentage points. Similarly, the likelihood of having high quality patents with more than 10 citations decreases by 0.6 percentage points for every percentage point increase in the personal tax rate. …We find that a one percentage point increase in the personal tax rate leads to a 1.1 percent decline in the number of patents and a 1.4-1.7 percent decline in the number of citations, conditional on having any. …the likelihood of having a corporate patent also reacts very negatively to the personal tax rate… A one percentage point decrease in the corporate tax rate increases patents by 4% and citations by around 3.5%. The IV results are of similar magnitudes, but again even stronger. According to the IV specification, a one percentage point decrease in the corporate tax rate increases patents by 6% and citations by 5%.

Here are some of the conclusions from the study.

Taxation – in the form of both personal income taxes and corporate income taxes – matters for innovation along the intensive and extensive margins, and both at the micro and macro levels. Taxes affect the amount of innovation, the quality of innovation, and the location of inventive activity. The effects are economically large especially at the macro state-level, where cross-state spillovers and extensive margin location and entry decisions compound the micro, individual-level elasticities. …while our analysis focuses on the relationship between taxation and innovation, our data and approach have much broader implications. We find that taxes have important effects on intensive and extensive margin decisions, on the mobility of people and where inventors and firms choose to locate.

In other words, the bottom line is that tax rates should be as low as possible to produce as much prosperity as possible.

P.S. If you check the postscript of this column, you’ll see that there is also data showing how inventors respond to international tax policy. And there’s similar data for top-level entrepreneurs.

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The good news about China is that economic liberalization has produced impressive growth in recent decades, which has helped bring hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.

The bad news is that China started from such a low position that per-capita income is still quite low compared to rich nations.

So what does the economic future hold? Will China continue its upward trajectory?

That’s certainly possible, but it depends on the Chinese government. Will there be additional liberalization, giving the economy more “breathing room” to grow?

Not if the government listens to the bureaucrats at the International Monetary Fund. I wrote three years ago about an IMF study that recommended huge tax increases in China.

And now there’s another IMF report pushing for big tax hikes. Only instead of arguing that higher taxes somehow will produce more growth by financing a bigger burden of government (which – no joke – was the core argument in the 2105 study), this new report claims higher taxes will produce more growth by reducing inequality.

Here’s the basic premise of the paper.

…economic growth has not benefited all segments of the population equally or at the same pace, causing income disparities to grow, resulting in a large increase in income inequality… This is especially of concern as the recent literature has found that elevated levels of inequality are harmful for the pace and sustainability of growth… The paper discusses what additional policies can be deployed to improve equity in opportunities and outcomes, with particular focus on the role for fiscal policy.

But a key part of the premise – the blanket assertion that inequality undermines growth – is junk.

As I noted in 2015 when debunking a different IMF study, “..they never differentiate between bad Greek-style inequality that is caused by cronyism and good Hong Kong-style inequality that is caused by some people getting richer faster than other people getting richer in a free market.”

Let’s dig into the details of this new IMF study.

Here’s the problem, at least according to the bureaucrats.

Income inequality in China today, as measured by the Gini coefficient, is among the highest in the world. …Furthermore, the Gini coefficient has rapidly increased over the last two decades, by a total of about 15 Gini points since 1990.

And here’s the chart that supposedly should cause angst. It shows that inequality began to rise as China shifted toward capitalism.

But why is this inequality a bad thing, assuming rich people earned their money honestly?

When markets are allowed to function, people become rich by providing value to the rest of us. In other words, it’s not a zero-sum game.

Ironically, the IMF study actually makes my point.

…much of China’s population has experienced rising real incomes. …even for the bottom 10 percent incomes rose by as much as 63 percent between 1980 and 2015… This has implied that China reduced the share of people living in poverty immensely. Measured by the headcount ratio, the population in poverty decreased by 86 percentage points from 1980 to 2013 (see figure 6), the most rapid reduction in history.

And here’s the aforementioned Figure 6, which is the data worth celebrating.

Any normal person will look at this chart and conclude that China should do more liberalization.

But not the bureaucrats at the IMF. With their zero-sum mentality, they fixate on the inequality chart.

Which leads them to make horrifyingly bad recommendations.

…several reforms could be envisaged to make fiscal policy more inclusive, both on the tax and expenditure side. …revenues from PIT contribute only around 5 percent of total revenues, a much lower share than the OECD average of 25 percent. Increasing the reliance on PIT, which more easily accommodates a progressive structure, could allow China to improve redistribution through the tax system. …While the PIT in China already embeds a progressive schedule with marginal rates increasing with income from 3 to 45 percent, …redesigning the tax brackets would ensure that middle and high income households with higher ability to pay contribute more to financing the national budget… Property and wealth taxes remain limited in China. Such taxes are broadly viewed as progressive, because high-income households usually tend also to have more property and wealth. …Consideration should therefore be given to adopt a recurrent market-value based property tax.

And why do IMF bureaucrats want all these additional growth-stifling taxes?

To finance a larger burden of government spending.

China still lags other emerging economies and OECD countries in public spending on education, health and social assistance. …social expenditure will need to be boosted.

In other words, the IMF is suggesting that China should copy welfare states such as Italy and France.

Except those nations at least enjoyed a lengthy period before World War II when government was very small. That’s when they became relatively rich.

The IMF wants China to adopt big government today, which is a recipe to short-circuit prosperity.

P.S. I don’t think the IMF is motivated by animus towards China. The bureaucrats are equal-opportunity dispensers of bad advice.

P.P.S. The OECD also is trying to undermine growth in China.

P.P.P.S. There are some senior-level Chinese officials who understand the downsides of a welfare state.

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New Jersey is a fiscal disaster area.

It’s in last place in the Tax Foundation’s index that measures a state’s business tax climate.

It’s tied for last place in the Mercatus Center’s ranking of state fiscal conditions.

And it ranks in the bottom-10 in measures of state economic freedom and measures of unfunded liabilities for bureaucrat pensions.

All of this led me, last October, to warn that the state was suffering from fiscal decay.

Then, two months ago, James Freeman of the Wall Street Journal wrote about how New Jersey’s uncompetitive fiscal system was encouraging highly productive taxpayers to leave the state.

The Garden State already has the third largest overall tax burden and the country’s highest property tax collections per capita. Now that federal reform has limited the deduction for state and local taxes, the price of government is surging again among high-income earners in New Jersey and other blue states. Taxpayers are searching for the exits. …says Jeffrey Sica, founder of Circle Squared, an alternative investments firm. “We structure real estate deals for family offices and high-net-worth individuals and at a record pace those family offices and individuals are leaving the TriState for lower-tax states. Probably a dozen this year at least,”…In the decade ending in 2016, real economic growth in New Jersey clocked in at a compound annual percentage rate of 0.1, just slightly higher than John Blutarsky’s GPA and less than a tenth of the national average for economic growth. The Tax Foundation ranks New Jersey dead last among the 50 states for its business tax climate. …Steven Malanga calls Mr. Murphy’s plan “the U-Haul Budget” for the new incentives it gives New Jersey residents to flee.

You would think that New Jersey politicians would try to stop the bleeding, particularly given the impact of federal tax reform.

But that assumes logic, common sense, and a willingness to put the interests of people above the interests of government. Unfortunately, all of those traits are in short supply in the Garden State, so instead the politicians decided to throw gasoline on the fire with another big tax hike.

The Wall Street Journal opines today on the new agreement from Trenton.

Governor Phil Murphy and State Senate leader Steve Sweeney have been fighting over whether to raise tax rates on individuals or businesses, and over the weekend they decided to raise taxes on both. Messrs. Murphy and Sweeney agreed to raise the state’s income tax on residents making more than $5 million to 10.75% from 8.97% and the corporate rate on companies with more than $1 million in income to 11.5% from 9%. This will give New Jersey the fourth highest marginal income tax rate on individuals and the second highest corporate rate after Iowa.

New Jersey is pursuing class warfare, but the politicians don’t seem to realize that the geese with the golden eggs can fly away.

The two Democrats claim this will do no harm because about 0.04% of New Jersey taxpayers will get smacked. But those taxpayers account for 12.5% of state income-tax revenue and their investment income is highly mobile. The state treasurer said in 2016 that a mere 100 filers pay more than 5.5% of all state receipts. Billionaire David Tepper escaped from New Jersey for Florida in 2015, and other hedge fund managers could follow. Between 2012 and 2016 a net $11.9 billion of income left New Jersey, according to the IRS. The flight risk will increase with the new limit of $10,000 on deducting state and local taxes on federal tax returns. …About two-thirds of New Jersey’s $3.5 billion income outflow last year went to Florida, which doesn’t have an income tax. …The fair question is why any rational person or business that can move would stay in New Jersey.

That’s not merely a fair question, it’s a description of what’s already happening. And it’s going to accelerate – in New Jersey and other uncompetitive states – when additional soak-the-rich schemes are imposed (unless politicians figure out a way to put fences and guard towers at the border).

A few months ago, I conducted a poll on which state would be the first to suffer a fiscal collapse. For understandable reasons, Illinois was the easy “winner.” But I won’t be surprised if there are a bunch of new votes for New Jersey. Simply stated, the state is committing fiscal suicide.

P.S. What’s amazing (and depressing) is that New Jersey was like New Hampshire as recently as the 1960s, with no state sales tax and no state income tax.

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Though it gets strong competition from the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development wins the prize for being the worst international bureaucracy.

The Paris-based organization is infamous for pushing a statist agenda on a wide range of issues, including class-warfare taxation, energy taxation, business taxation, value-added taxes, Keynesian spendinggreen energy, and government-run healthcare.

And it relies on dodgy, dishonest, and misleading data when pushing big-government policies regarding povertypay equityinequality, and comparative economics.

But what gets me most agitated is the OECD’s attempt, beginning in the late 1990s, to prop up decrepit welfare states by undermining tax competition.

I elaborated on my concerns in this interview last June.

To make matters worse, American taxpayers finance the lion’s share of the OECD’s statist agenda. Eliminating subsidies for the OECD arguably would be the budget cut with the greatest value per dollar saved.

Which is the point of some new research from the Heritage Foundation. James Roberts and Adam Michel make a strong case that the OECD is using handouts from American taxpayers to push policy that are contrary to U.S. interests.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)…has transformed itself into a dunning agency for European mega-welfare states that are straining to fund the generous but unsustainable pension, health care, and other government programs they have over-promised to their constituents. One need only undertake a cursory examination of research over the past five years to see that tax-related work by the OECD’s Centre for Tax Policy and Administration and by other OECD directorates (for example, on carbon taxes) has been focused almost entirely on studies that buttress political arguments for higher taxes and implementation of more intrusive ways to collect them. …high-taxing European members of the OECD have pushed the organization toward an almost obsessive research focus on international tax avoidance and evasion. These manifest through its base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) project, and a proposed protocol amending the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Assistance in Tax Matters. …The BEPS project also complements a disproportionate OECD focus on income inequality…that, in the eyes of OECD’s international civil servants, could be addressed best by international wealth redistribution schemes… The Trump Administration should consider whether U.S. taxpayers should continue to subsidize an organization that increasingly acts contrary to the expressed wishes of a significant number of Americans, who voted into office in 2016 a government with a mandate to cut government spending and reduce taxes. It could decide to withdraw the United States completely from the OECD.

I normally would exclaim “amen” at this point, except the folks at Heritage are being far too nice, writing that the White House “should consider” whether to subsidize the OECD and noting that the U.S. “could” withdraw from the Paris-based bureaucracy.

I’m in no mood for diplomatic niceties when dealing with an organization that is pervasively hostile to economic liberty. The OECD is beyond salvage. If Republicans had any brains (yes, I realize that the GOP is known as “the stupid party” for good reason), handouts would have ended last decade.

I’ll close with an example of the OECD’s perfidy.

From the moment the bureaucracy’s anti-tax competition project began about 20 years ago, I explained that the OECD was seeking to destroy financial privacy so that uncompetitive governments could track capital and impose high tax rates on income that is saved and invested. In effect, the battle over “tax havens” and “tax competition” were a proxy for whether there should be more double taxation and more extra-territorial taxation.

OECD bureaucrats and others scoffed at such assertions and said the project was simply about closing off options for tax evasion so that nations could afford to lower tax rates.

I viewed that explanation as laughably dishonest. After all, did oil-producing nations create OPEC so they could reduce petroleum prices?

Were my suspicions warranted? Well, see what the bureaucrats just wrote.

…opportunities may exist…to increase progressivity in the…taxation of capital income as a result of major changes to the international tax environment. …the recent move towards the automatic exchange of financial account information between tax administrations is likely to make it harder…for taxpayers to evade tax by hiding income and wealth offshore… This may present a particular opportunity for countries that previously moved away from progressive taxation of capital income (due to concerns regarding such tax evasion) to reintroduce a degree of progressivity.

In other words, now that the OECD has succeeded in greatly weakening financial privacy, the bureaucrats openly admit that the real goal was to make it possible for uncompetitive welfare states to impose higher tax burdens on saving and investment. I’m shocked, shocked.

Here’s my video on the OECD. It was released in 2010, but nothing has changed other than there’s even more evidence against the parasitical bureaucracy.

P.S. To add more insult to all the injury, the tax-loving bureaucrats at the OECD get tax-free salaries. Must be nice to be exempt from the bad policies they support.

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