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Archive for the ‘Competitiveness’ Category

There were several good features of the 2017 tax bill, including limitations on the state and local tax deduction.

But the 21 percent corporate tax rate was the unquestioned crown jewel of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. The U.S. system had become extremely anti-competitive thanks to a 35 percent rate that was far above the world average, so reform was desperately needed.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Democrats in the House of Representatives already are pushing for a big increase in the corporate rate.

Rep. John Yarmuth, the new House Budget chairman, said his chamber’s budget blueprint will aim to claw back lost revenue by boosting the corporate tax rate from its current 21 percent to as high as 28 percent… he anticipates the budget resolution will envision changes to the 2017 GOP tax overhaul, including raising the corporate tax rate above its current 21 percent. “…We’ll see how much revenue we can get out of it.” The rate was 35 percent before it was cut in the GOP tax bill.

Since Republicans control the Senate and Trump is in the White House, there’s probably no short-term risk of a higher corporate tax rate.

But such an initiative could be a major threat after the 2020 election, so let’s augment our collection of evidence showing why a higher rate would be a very bad idea.

We’ll start with some analysis from the number crunchers at the Tax Foundation.

A corporate tax rate that is more in line with our competitors reduces the incentives for firms to realize their profits in lower-tax jurisdictions and encourages companies to invest in the United States. Raising the corporate income tax rate would dismantle the most significant pro-growth provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and carry significant economic consequences. …Raising the corporate income tax rate would reduce economic growth, and lead to a smaller capital stock, lower wage growth, and reduced employment. …Raising the rate to 25 percent would reduce GDP by more than $220 billion and result in 175,700 fewer jobs.

Here’s the table showing the negative effect of a 22 percent rate and a 25 percent rate, so a bit of extrapolation will give you an idea of how the economy will suffer with a 28 percent rate.

By the way, since the adverse impact on wages is one of the main reasons to be against a higher corporate tax rate, I’ll also share this helpful flowchart from the article.

Now let’s look at some research from China, which underscores the importance of low rates if we want more innovation.

Here’s the unique set of data that created an opportunity for the research.

In November 2001, China implemented a tax collection reform on all manufacturing firms established on or after January 2002, which switched the collection of corporate income taxes from the local tax bureau to the state tax bureau. After the reform, similar firms established before or after 2002 could pay very different effective tax rates because of the differences in the management and incentives of those two types of tax bureaus…, resulting in a reduction of effective corporate income tax rates by almost 10% among newly established firms. …the policy change created exogenous variations in the effective tax rate among similar firms established before versus after 2002. We can thus apply a regression discontinuity design (RD) and use the generated variation in the effective tax rate to identify the impact of taxes on firm innovation.

And here are the findings.

Our analysis yields several interesting results. First, we show a strong and robust causal relationship between tax rate and firm innovation. Decreasing the effective tax rate by one standard deviation (0.01) increases the average number of patent application by a significant 5.7% (see Figure 2 for the graphical evidence). The reform also stimulated R&D expenditures and increased the skilled-labour ratio by 14%. Second, a lower tax rate also improves the quality of patents. The impact of tax reform on patent applications mainly comes from its effect on invention and utility patents – decreasing the effective tax rate by one standard deviation improves the probability of having an invention patent application by 4.4% and increases the number of utility patent applications by 4.7%.

Don’t forget that high personal tax rates also discourage innovation, so it’s a pick-your-poison menu.

Here’s a chart from the study, showing the difference in patents between higher-taxed firms and lower-taxed firms.

Last but not least, let’s review some of the findings from a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

We present new data on effective corporate income tax rates in 85 countries in 2004. …In a cross-section of countries, our estimates of the effective corporate tax rate have a large adverse impact on aggregate investment, FDI, and entrepreneurial activity. For example, a 10 percent increase in the effective corporate tax rate reduces aggregate investment to GDP ratio by 2 percentage points. Corporate tax rates are also negatively correlated with growth, and positively correlated with the size of the informal economy. The results are robust to the inclusion of controls for other tax rates, quality of tax administration, security of property rights, level of economic development, regulation, inflation, and openness to trade

And here’s one of the many charts and tables in the study.

The bottom line is that a higher corporate tax rate will be bad for workers for the simple reason that less investment means lower productivity and lower productivity means lower wages.

P.S. It’s also likely that House Democrats will try to increase the top personal tax rate, though hopefully they’re not so crazy as to push for Ocasio-Cortez’s 70 percent rate.

P.P.S. it’s quite possible that an increase in the corporate tax rate would reduce revenues, especially in the long run.

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When I give speeches on the importance of public policy, I frequently share data showing that pro-market nations are relatively prosperous when compared to countries with statist policies.

One of the most dramatic examples is South Korean prosperity versus North Korean deprivation.

It’s not that South Korea is perfect. After all, it only ranks #35 according to Economic Freedom of the World.

But that’s enough economic liberty to be in the “most free” category. And this helps to explain why South Korean living standards have climbed dramatically compared to the economic hellhole of North Korea (and you see something similar if you compare Venezuela and South Korea).

I’m definitely not the only person to notice the difference between the two Koreas. Here are some excerpts from one of Richard Rahn’s columns in 2017.

In 1960, South Korea and North Korea were similar in their poverty. Now, 50-plus years later, South Korea has a per-capita income more than 20 times that of North Korea, at approximately $38,000 per year, which is higher than that of Spain or Italy. South Koreans have gone from a per-capita income in 1970 that was about 10 percent of the average American to almost 70 percent today. …Koreans in both the North and South come from the same genetic stock, speak the same language, and occupy adjoining pieces of land with much of the same topography and limited natural resources. North Korea is the ultimate consequence of socialism, which always contains the seeds of its own destruction. Socialism goes against human nature, requiring its government to become increasingly authoritarian — North Korea being Exhibit A.

But Richard also warned that South Korea can’t rest on its laurels.

While economic growth per year averaged more than 9 percent from 1963 to 1990, it has now slowed down and last year was only 2.8 percent…a sharp drop from earlier decades. There is too much unneeded and counterproductive regulation, including the lack of ease of creating new businesses, barriers to imports and inward foreign investment. By any measure, South Korea has been a great success, but probably not as much as it could have been or can be if it followed more of a classic free trade and more limited-government model as practiced by Hong Kong and others. The country is increasingly exhibiting the disease of most other rich, developed democracies by allowing itself to be slowly seduced into the promise of more government services and attendant regulation, rather than the tougher and more competitive policies that created the wealth. Will South Korea avoid the stagnation of Japan and much of Europe? The jury is still out.

The jury may still be out, but there is growing evidence that South Korea is heading in the wrong direction because the nation’s relatively new President in increasing the burden of government.

Here are some passages from a report in the Japan Times.

Moon Jae-in began his second full year as South Korea’s president with a reminder of what didn’t work in the first — namely his economic policies. …The self-styled “jobs president” has seen his once sky-high poll numbers tumble… Moon, a progressive, was swept into office in 2017 promising a reversal from the conglomerate-focused economic agenda of ousted President Park Geun-hye. But his plan to raise the minimum wage 11 percent disappointed… More than three-quarters of the 30 experts surveyed by Bloomberg News last month predicted that employment growth would slow this year, in part because of the wage hike. …In a speech at his news conference Thursday, Moon…pledged to improve the safety net…and fix what he described as “the worst forms of polarized wealth and economic inequality in the world.” …More than half of South Koreans surveyed in another Gallup poll last month said that the administration needed “to focus on economic growth, rather than income distribution.”

By the way, the article doesn’t even mention that South Korea faces a major demographic challenge.

It has a catastrophically low fertility rate, which means that the tax-and-transfer welfare state will become increasingly unaffordable as the ratio of workers to recipients shifts in the wrong direction.

Entitlement reform is the sensible answer to this problem (see Hong Kong, for example).

But that’s obviously not happening under President Moon. Indeed, he wants to make matters worse by expanding the welfare state.

Some people in South Korea realize that demographics are a problem for their nation.

The U.K.-based Express looks at their attempted solution.

Seoul’s Dongguk and Kyung Hee universities say the courses on dating, sex, love and relationships target a generation which is shunning traditional family lives. …as part of the course, students have to date three classmates for a month each. …The course has expanded to Kyong Hee university, which offers “Love and Marriage” classes and Inha university in Incheon, a specialist engineering college, where students can now sign up to lessons on prioritising success and love. In 2016 the number of marriages hit its lowest since 1977, according to data from the government agency Statistics Korea. …The crude marriage rate – the annual number of marriages per 1,000 people – was 5.5 last year, compared with 295.1 when statistics began in 1970. Seoul has spent about £50 billion trying to boost the birth rate.

I’m skeptical of this approach, regardless of how much money the government spends.

Policy makers should focus instead on things they can control, such as fiscal policy and regulatory policy.

And this is why South Korea’s lurch to the left is so disappointing. Politicians are making things worse rather than better.

Even the New York Times is reporting that Moon’s statist agenda isn’t working.

Under President Moon Jae-in, South Korea has raised taxes and the minimum wage in the name of economic growth. So far, it hasn’t worked out as planned. Growth has slowed, unemployment has risen and small-business owners…are complaining. …With his progressive policies, President Moon is trying to tackle some of the same economic problems that plague the United States and much of the developed world. They include a widening wealth gap, slower growth and stagnant wages. …South Korea’s troubles suggest the limits of the state in solving economic problems, especially without addressing the underlying structural issues. …After his election in May 2017, Mr. Moon undertook a sharp shift in economic policy. He supported higher wages, tighter restrictions on working hours and greater welfare spending, funded by tax increases on companies and high-income earners. …Mr. Moon has paid a steep political price for his agenda. His approval rating has plummeted from 84 percent in mid-2017 to 45 percent in the most recent Gallup poll. …The 2019 budget represents the sharpest increase in spending in a decade… The minimum wage has also gone up again for 2019, by 11 percent.

More taxes, more spending, more regulation, and more intervention. Who does Moon think he is, Barack Obama or Richard Nixon?

On a serious note, it surely says something that even the New York Times is forced to acknowledge that statist policies backfire.

Let’s close by looking at how South Korea’s economic freedom score has evolved over time. As you can see, there was a lot of economic liberalization between 1975-2005. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that economic liberty has declined since the mid-2000s.

The drop is modest, at least in absolute terms. But it’s also important (as I explained when looking at Italy) to look at relative competitiveness.

South Korea’s current score of 7.53 isn’t that much lower than its 7.67 score in 2006. But that slight drop, along with pro-reforms steps that other nations have taken, means that South Korea is now ranked #35 instead of #20.

And the current scores are based on policy in 2016, before Moon moved South Korea in the direction of more statism. This doesn’t bode well.

P.S. I’m not expecting South Korea to become another Hong Kong or Singapore, but it should at least seek incremental progress rather than incremental deterioration. Taiwan is a good example of that approach.

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Today is my last day in Chile, so today’s column will build upon what I wrote last week.

I have three charts that illustrate how Chile’s pro-market reforms have been great news – especially for poor people (or, to be more accurate, for Chileans who used to be poor).

We’ll start with this chart from the most recent issue of Economía y Sociedad, which shows that there’s more mobility in Chile than any other OECD nation.

Honest folks on the left should view this as unambiguously positive.

Similarly, this Gini data (measuring the degree of inequality) should be slam-dunk evidence of progress for all left-of-center people.

For what it’s worth, I don’t care about the Gini coefficient. What matters to me is economic growth so that everyone can get richer.

If rich people happen to get richer faster than poor people (like in China), that’s fine.

And if poor people happen to get richer faster than rich people (like in Chile), that’s fine as well.

What irks me is that folks who fixate on inequality often support policies that retard growth. In other words, they’re so worried about rich people getting richer that they advocate for bigger government, which makes it harder for poor people to become richer.

Economic growth, by contrast, truly is the rising tide that lifts all boats.

Which is why this final chart (based on the Maddison database) is so powerful. It shows 1975-2016 income trends for Chile (red) and other major Latin American economies. As you can see, Chile started near the bottom and is now the region’s richest nation.

Wow, Chile didn’t just converge. It surpassed.

It’s also worth noting how nations such as Argentina, Venezuela, and Cuba have enjoyed very little income growth over the past 40 years.

The bottom line is that those nations are evidence of the costly impact of statism, while Chile is an amazing example of how capitalism generates widely shared prosperity.

P.S. I’m not claiming Chile is a perfect role model. It is #15 in Economic Freedom of the World, so there is considerable room for improvement. But I am arguing it is a successful example of how better policy is great news for all segments of society.

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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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