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Archive for the ‘Competitiveness’ Category

I’m glad the United States is now ranked #1 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, though I point out in this interview that Trump’s performance is mostly a net wash.

His sensible approach to tax and regulation is offset by his weak approach to spending and his problematic view of monetary policy.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I forget to mention protectionism as another area where Trump is pushing in the wrong direction.

But let’s not focus on Trump. Instead, let’s take a closer look at the new data from the World Economic Forum.

And we’ll start with a look at the top 20. You’ll see some familiar jurisdictions, places that always get good grades, such as Singapore, Switzerland, and Hong Kong.

But you’ll also notice that there are several European welfare states with very good scores.

That’s because the GCR – unlike Economic Freedom of the World or the Index of Economic Freedom – does not rank nations based on economic policy. It’s more a measure of the business environment.

But since good policy tends to create a good business environment, there is a connection. Nations such as Germany and the Netherlands, as well as Scandinavian countries, have big welfare states. But the damage of those policies is offset by a very laissez-faire approach to businesses. So the big companies that help put together the GCR understandably give those places good scores.

By the way, it’s also worth mentioning that the 2018 edition uses a revised methodology. And based on this new approach, the United States retroactively gets the top score for 2017 as well.

All that being said, does it matter if a nation is ranked higher rather than lower?

Based on this strong relationship between competitiveness scores and economic output, the answer is yes.

The bottom line is that there’s a very meaningful link between economic liberty and national prosperity.

Now let’s take a closer look at the scores for the United States. As you can see, our top score is mostly due to our market efficiency and innovation environment.

For what it’s worth, I don’t fully agree with the report’s methodology. But that’s mostly because I prefer to look at the degree of economic liberty rather than whether a nation is business friendly. There’s an overlap, of course, but it’s nonetheless important to distinguish between pro-market and pro-business.

In any event, here are a couple of additional findings that caught my eye.

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I recently wrote about the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index, which is a snapshot of current competitiveness (New Jersey is in last place, which shouldn’t surprise anyone).

But what if we want to know which states are moving in the right direction or wrong direction?

If so, the best document to review is Chris Edwards’ Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors.

The new edition just came out, so I immediately looked at the rankings. The nation’s best governor – by a comfortable margin – is Susana Martinez of New Mexico.

She is joined by four other governors who earned top marks.

Eight governors, including two Republicans, were in the cellar.

The report has some other data worth sharing.

Here’s a chart that shows what has happened to state spending this century. What caught my eye is the boom-bust cycle of excessive spending growth when the economy is growing (and generating lots of revenue) and cutbacks during the downturn.

Yet another argument for spending caps, such as TABOR in Colorado.

Last but not least, the report included some analysis on tax-driven migration (the topic we covered last week).

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Yesterday, I wrote about the newest edition of Economic Freedom of the World, which is my favorite annual publication.

Not far behind is the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index, which is sort of the domestic version of their equally fascinating (to a wonk) International Tax Competitiveness Index.

And what can we learn from this year’s review of state tax policy? Plenty.

…the specifics of a state’s tax structure matter greatly. The measure of total taxes paid is relevant, but other elements of a state tax system can also enhance or harm the competitiveness of a state’s business environment. The State Business Tax Climate Index distills many complex considerations to an easy-to-understand ranking.

That’s the theory, but what about the results?

Here are the best and worst states.

If you pay close attention, there’s a common thread for the best states.

The absence of a major tax is a common factor among many of the top 10 states. …there are several states that do without one or more of the major taxes: the corporate income tax, the individual income tax, or the sales tax. Wyoming, Nevada, and South Dakota have no corporate or individual income tax (though Nevada imposes gross receipts taxes); Alaska has no individual income or state-level sales tax; Florida has no individual income tax; and New Hampshire, Montana, and Oregon have no sales tax.

By the way, both Utah and Indiana are among the nine states with flat tax systems, so every top-10 state has at least one attractive feature.

But if you peruse the bottom-10 states, you’ll find that every one of them has an income tax with “progressive” rates that punish people for contributing more to the economy.

Indeed, half of the states on that unfortunate list are part of the “Class-Warfare Graduated Tax” club.

Not a desirable group, assuming the goal is faster growth and more jobs.

The Tax Foundation’s report also is worth reading because it reviews some of the academic evidence about the superiority of pro-growth tax systems.

Helms (1985) and Bartik (1985) put forth forceful arguments based on empirical research that taxes guide business decisions. Helms concluded that a state’s ability to attract, retain, and encourage business activity is significantly affected by its pattern of taxation. Furthermore, tax increases significantly retard economic growth when the revenue is used to fund transfer payments. Bartik concluded that the conventional view that state and local taxes have little effect on business is false. Papke and Papke (1986) found that tax differentials among locations may be an important business location factor, concluding that consistently high business taxes can represent a hindrance to the location of industry. …Agostini and Tulayasathien (2001) examined the effects of corporate income taxes on the location of foreign direct investment in U.S. states. They determined that for “foreign investors, the corporate tax rate is the most relevant tax in their investment decision.” Therefore, they found that foreign direct investment was quite sensitive to states’ corporate tax rates. Mark, McGuire, and Papke (2000) found that taxes are a statistically significant factor in private-sector job growth. Specifically, they found that personal property taxes and sales taxes have economically large negative effects on the annual growth of private employment. …Gupta and Hofmann (2003) regressed capital expenditures against a variety of factors… Their model covered 14 years of data and determined that firms tend to locate property in states where they are subject to lower income tax burdens.

None of this research should come as a surprise.

Businesses aren’t moving from California to Texas because business executives prefer heat and humidity over ocean and mountains.

The bottom line is that tax rates matter, whether we’re looking at state data, national data, or international data.

Let’s close by sharing a map from the report. Simply stated, red is bad and teal (or whatever that color is) is good.

P.S. My one complaint about this report from the Tax Foundation is that it doesn’t include the overall fiscal burden. Alaska and Wyoming score well because they have small populations and easily fund much of their (extravagant) state budgets with energy-related taxes. If data on the burden of state government spending was included, South Dakota would be the best state.

P.P.S. Unsurprisingly, Americans are moving from high-tax states to low-tax states.

P.P.P.S. It’s also no surprise to find New Jersey in last place.

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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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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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With the possible exception of a few extreme environmentalists, everyone agrees that robust long-run growth is a key to a better society.

An unprecedented jump in growth, for instance, is what enabled the western world to escape poverty, resulting in the famous “hockey stick” of modern prosperity.

Maintaining growth is an ongoing challenge for developed countries, to be sure, and it’s also vitally important to help developing nations grow and prosper.

Which is why policymakers should focus on the policies that generate good outcomes.

Libek, a think tank in Serbia, has released a study on this topic. They start by pointing out that we now have some good measures of economic liberty in various nations.

…the Economic Freedom in the World Index in 1996 by the Fraser Institute…was the first methodological tool that measured intrusion in functioning of the market process by government entities, either directly through government intervention or indirectly though regulation and market institutions. A similar index, Index of Economic Freedom, produced by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation soon followed… Since this very successful tool was invented, it has been widely employed in empirical studies…, the most important were concerning the role of economic freedom in fostering economic growth. …empirical studies mostly concluded that there is a significant connection between economic freedom and economic growth.

Since I’m always citing the Fraser Index and the Heritage Index, I agree that these are very helpful sources of data.

And lots of academics also use those numbers.

So Libek took a close look at this wealth of empirical research.

Libek conducted a metastudy regarding economic freedom in December 2017, with the aim to reexamine the connection between economic freedom and economic growth in published empirical studies. …Using Google scholar mechanism…92 studies…consider the connection between economic freedom and economic growth. Out of these, a predominant majority of 86 studies (93.5%) finds a positive correlation or connection between them, while only 6 studies (6.5%) have less positive results. …This metastudy shows that empirical studies have predominantly found that economic freedom is associated with higher economic growth rates, while there is only one study claim otherwise and results of other 5 are less conclusive. This high rate of concurrence between economists is highly unusual, given the fact that economist tend to often disagree even among theoretically more accepted topics. Therefore, it is conclusively shown that higher level of economic freedom, ceteris paribus, leads to higher economic growth.

The folks at Libek have a big incentive to care about these issues because Serbia is a reform laggard.

Here’s a chart comparing economic freedom in Serbia with other European regions.

And here is why economic reform is so vitally important for the people of Serbia.

Serbia remains one of the poorest countries in Europe, measured by GDP, with just 5 000 euros per capita. These low growth rates do not provide a possibility for development and closing the gap with more advanced European economies. …A study estimated future economic gains through higher economic freedom (Gwartney and Lawson 2004) reporting that 1-point increase in economic freedom (measured on a 1 to 10 scale) would increase long term rate of economic growth for 1.24% of GDP. Therefore, if Serbia would increase its score from the current 6.75 to 7.75 points – the approximately current level of Austria or Germany, Serbian long-term growth rate would increase from the envisaged 2% in 2017 (and estimated by the IMF to stand at 3.5% in 2018 and 2019) to 5.25% in 2020 and afterwards. This growth rate would enable a fast income convergence with other European countries, with GDP level per capita doubling in 14 years.

Amen. Serbia has the capacity to “converge,” but that won’t happen without economic liberalization.

For non-Serbians, the parts of the Libek report that will be of greatest interest deal with examples of nations that are out-performing their neighbors.

The importance of economic freedom is well shown by the most important case studies from different continents: Chile (South America), Singapore and Korea (East Asia), and Botswana (Africa). In all these prominent cases, economic freedom propelled these societies to a high and sustainable economic growth which led them to prosperity, compared to their neighbors.

The report specifically looks at the long-run data for countries that have sharply diverged from regional competitors.

Let’s start by comparing Chile with the rest of South America. As you can see, Chile’s dramatic economic liberalization led to far higher levels of national prosperity.

Now let’s compare Botswana to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.

I did something similar back in 2015 and also earlier this year, so this remarkable data is impressive but not surprising.

Last but not least, let’s compare Singapore and South Korea to their neighbors.

Once again, we see a compelling link between economic liberty and economic outcomes.

This is dramatically evident when comparing South Korea and North Korea, but you also see remarkable numbers when comparing Singapore with the United States.

The lesson is not that nations need perfect policy (even Hong Kong has some statism). Instead, the message is that governments should strive to increase economic liberty – hopefully in big ways but even small reforms are helpful – so that there’s more “breathing room” for the economy’s productive sector.

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Two months ago, I shared some data on private gun ownership in the United States and declared that those numbers generated “The Most Enjoyable Graph of 2018.”

Now I have something even better because it confirms my hypothesis about tax competition being the most effective way of constraining greedy politicians.

To set the stage, check out these excerpts from a heartwarming story in the Wall Street Journal.

Last year’s corporate tax cut is reducing U.S. tax collections, as expected. But that change is likely to ripple far beyond the country’s borders in the years ahead, shrinking other countries’ tax revenue… The U.S. tax law will reduce what other countries collect from multinational corporations by 1.6% to 13.5%… Companies will be more likely to put profits and real investment in the U.S. than they were before the U.S. lowered its corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, according to the paper. That will leave fewer corporate profits for other countries to tax. And as that happens, other countries are likely to chase the U.S. by lowering their corporate tax rates, too, creating the potential for what critics have called a race to the bottom. …Mexico, Japan and the U.K. rank near the top of the paper’s list of countries likely to lose revenue… Corporate tax rates steadily declined over the past few decades as countries competed to attract investment.

Amen. This was one of my main arguments last year for the Trump tax plan. Lower tax rates in America will lead to lower taxes elsewhere.

For instance, look at what’s now happening in Germany.

Ever since Donald Trump last year unveiled deep tax cuts for companies in America, German industry has been wracked with fears over the economic fallout. …“In the long term, Germany cannot afford to have a higher tax burden than other countries,” warned Monika Wünnemann, a tax specialist at German business federation BDI. …the BDI urges Berlin to cut the overall tax burden, including corporate and trade levies, to a maximum 25 percent, compared to 26 percent in the US. …tax competition has clearly heated up within the European Union: France plans to reduce its top corporate rate to 25 percent by 2022 from 34 percent. The UK wants to cut its rate to 17 percent by 2021 from 20 percent today. If it fails to take action, Germany will be stuck with the heaviest corporate tax burden among industrialized countries.

Now let’s peruse a recent study from the International Monetary Fund.

Tax competition and declining corporate income tax (CIT) rates are not new phenomena. However, over the past 30 years, the United States has been an outlier in not reducing tax rates Combined with the worldwide system of taxation, this is widely regarded as having served as an anchor to world CIT rates. Now the United States has cut its rate by 14 percentage points to 26 percent (21 percent excluding state taxes), which is close to the OECD member average of 24 percent (Figure 1). Combined with the (partial) shift toward territoriality, this may intensify tax competition. …Given the combination of highly mobile capital and source-based corporate income taxation, pressures on tax systems are not surprising. …The most clear-cut, and possibly largest, spillovers are still likely to be caused by the cut in the tax rate. …Depending on parameter assumptions, we find that reform will lead to average revenue losses of between 1.5 and 13.5 percent of the MNE tax base. …The paper has also discussed the likely policy reactions of other countries. …tax rates elsewhere also fall (by on average around 4 percentage points based on tentative estimates).

And here’s the chart from the IMF report that sends a thrill up my leg.

As you can see, corporate tax rates have plunged by half since 1980.

And the reason this fills me with joy is two-fold. First, we get more growth, more jobs, and higher wages when corporate rates fall.

Second, I’m delighted because I know politicians hate to lower tax rates. Indeed, they’ve tasked the OECD with trying to block corporate tax competition (fortunately the bureaucrats haven’t been very successful).

And I could add a third reason. The IMF confesses that we have even more evidence of the Laffer Curve.

So far, despite falling tax rates, CIT revenues have held up relatively well.

Game, set, match.

I’m very irked by what Trump is doing on trade, government spending, and cronyism, but I give credit where credit is due. I suspect none of the other Republicans who ran in 2016 would have brought the federal corporate tax rate all the way down to 21 percent. And I’m immensely enjoying how politicians in other nations feel pressure to do likewise.

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