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Archive for the ‘Higher Taxes’ Category

The 1930s arguably was America’s worst decade for economic policy and economic results.

Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt both increased the burden of government and the net result was a decade-long depression.

The insult to injury was that some people then blamed free enterprise. Indeed, there are still people who think government actually saved the economy.

Sort of like applauding an arsonist after a fire is extinguished.

Whenever I deal with people who harbor these illusions, I ask them a series of questions, none of which have good answers (at least if the goal if to maintain the illusion).

Today, let’s look at the role of tax policy in the 1930s. Chris Edwards wrote on this topic last week, citing a new book by Art Laffer, Brian Domitrovic, and Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield.

Here are some excerpts from Chris’ article.

Many economists would point to monetary policy mistakes for causing the initial slide into the Great Depression. …But Laffer and coauthors argue that the “chief cause of the Great Depression was taxation.” That is a bold claim because policymakers made many mistakes during the 1930s. …Let’s explore the major tax increases of the 1930s… Herbert Hoover signed the first two laws listed here and Franklin Roosevelt the others.

  • Smoot‐​Hawley Tariff Act of 1930.
  • Revenue Act of 1932.
  • Gold Confiscation.
  • Agricultural Adjustment Act.
  • National Industrial Recovery Act.
  • Alcohol.
  • Revenue Act of 1934.
  • Revenue Act of 1935.
  • Social Security Act of 1935.
  • Revenue Act of 1936.
  • Revenue Act of 1937.
  • Revenue Act of 1938.

State and local governments jacked up taxes during the 1930s. …high earners responded strongly to the income tax increases of the 1930s… the reported incomes of high earners got slugged in the early 1930s and remained low the rest of the decade. This suggests major economic damage. …Despite these taxpayer responses to higher tax rates, …governments did manage to squeeze substantially more money out of the public during the 1930s. Tax revenues as a percentage of GDP rose from 10.3 percent in 1929, to 15.4 percent in 1933, and then to 16.6 percent in 1940. Meanwhile, government spending soared from 9.9 percent of GDP in 1929 to 18.0 percent in 1932, and then remained near the higher level the rest of the decade.

Here’s a chart that accompanied the article showing the aggregate increases in the fiscal burden of government.

You’ll notice that aggregate tax revenues increased by about 60 percent during the 1930s.

Yet tax rates increased by a far greater amount. There’s a lesson to be learned, as I explained last year, about the Laffer Curve.

P.S. Our friends on the left like class-warfare tax increases because they hurt the rich, but they don’t seem to care that everyone else suffers collateral damage.

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Last week, I explained that “supply siders” need to be ardent advocates of spending restraint. After all, there is no chance of good tax policy in the future if the burden of federal spending continues to expand.

I also wrote about “national conservatives” and pointed out that their opposition to entitlement reform means they implicitly embrace massive tax increases.

The bottom line is that the United States has a built-in spending crisis. Democrats are not serious about addressing the problem. So if Republicans bail as well, the nation is doomed to become a decrepit, European-style welfare state.

What does that mean? Nothing good, at least for people in the productive sector of the economy.

In an article for National Review, Philip Klein speculates whether there is any appetite for spending restraint, even among self-described conservatives.

For much of the history of the American conservative movement, limiting the size and scope of government has stood as one of its central goals. …In 2022, such messages were barely anywhere to be found on the campaign trail…conservatives have largely moved on from making the case for reducing the size and power of Washington. In some cases, this shift has been passive. …It has become popular in some circles on the right to mock “zombie Reaganism” and insist that while it may have made sense back in the 1980s to argue for smaller government, such a message is now outdated. …the argument that the battle to limit government has already been lost also neglects to recognize that things could always get worse. That is, even though the federal government has gone through extraordinary growth since the New Deal, it would have grown even larger had there been no conservative movement to push back. One need only look at Europe, where conservative parties long ago made their peace with the welfare state, to see how government agencies have crowded out civil society… There is no way in which a nation with…a ballooning welfare state will be an accommodating place for conservatives in the long run, no matter how much some may fantasize about seizing the dragon and precisely aiming its fire at their enemies during the relatively brief windows in which Republicans have power. Conservatives…should not abandon the fight for limited government.

At the risk of understatement, I fully agree.

I wrote two days ago and also the previous week to make the case for spending restraint.

Those are easy columns to write since it is the same argument I’ve been making my entire life. But what is depressing now is that there is opposition from Republicans as well as Democrats.

Maybe they should all be forced to watch my video series on the economics of government spending.

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In the past couple of months, I’ve repeatedly addressed the fiscal and economic mess in the United Kingdom.

Today, we’re going to zoom out and identify the main cause of all the problems.

If you look at the annual budget numbers published by the Treasury Department in the United Kingdom, the first thing to notice is that there was a big surge of spending for the pandemic.

One can certainly argue that pandemic-related spending was necessary to deal with a one-time emergency.

Indeed, the same thing happened in the United States.

This second chart, however, shows the real problem with fiscal policy in the United Kingdom. Politicians have used the one-time emergency has an excuse to impose a permanent increase in the country’s spending burden.

This is an indictment of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s profligacy.

Johnson was then replaced by the short-lived Liz Truss, who proposed lower taxes but offered no plan to restrain spending.

And now the new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, seems committed to an ongoing policy of higher taxes to finance permanently larger government.

In an article for Reuters, William Schomberg reports that the Chancellor of the Exchequer (akin to the U.S. Treasury Secretary) apparently thinks higher taxes are needed to save the economy.

British finance minister Jeremy Hunt said he will have to raise taxes in next week’s budget plan in order to fix the public finances and soften a potentially long recession… “This is going to be a big moment of choice for the country and we will put people ahead of ideology,” Hunt told the Sunday Times in an interview. …Hunt and Sunak are trying to prepare their Conservative Party for the tax increases which could reignite tensions in the party… Hunt was also considering a multi-billion-pound package of support to shield pensioners and benefit claimants from higher power bills, the newspaper said.

At the risk of understatement, Jeremy Hunt knows nothing about economics. Or history.

I wish a reporter would ask him to name a single country, at any point in world history, that achieved more prosperity by raising taxes and increasing the burden of government spending.

I’ll close with a couple of additional observation.

P.S. I never thought I would be reminiscing fondly about the fiscal policies of David Cameron and Theresa May.

P.P.S. But Margaret Thatcher is still the gold standard for responsible U.K. fiscal policy.

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The Laffer Curve is a very straightforward concept.

It graphically illustrates why politicians are wrong if they think you can double tax revenue by doubling tax rates (or that revenues will drop by 50 percent if tax rates are cut in half).

Simply stated, you also have to look at what happens to taxable income.

In cases where taxpayers have a lot of control over the timing, level, and composition of their income, changes in tax rates may cause big changes in taxable income (or “tax base” in the jargon of economists).

None of this should be controversial. Even Paul Krugman agrees that the Laffer Curve exists.

Today, we are going to see that the pro-tax International Monetary Fund also admits there is a Laffer Curve.

Indeed, a new study authored by David Amaglobeli, Valerio Crispolti, and Xuguang Simon Sheng openly states that politicians should be very cognizant of the fact that some tax policy changes can have a big effect on the “tax base.”

This paper investigates the potential revenue impact of different tax policy changes using the Tax Policy Reform Database (TPRD)… Revenue responses to tax policy changes depend on many factors… However, one of most important factors is the nature of the tax policy change itself. For example, while a tax rate cut will directly lower revenue intake, it could also encourage more economic activity, hence expand the tax base. Estimating the revenue response to a tax policy change, therefore, requires granular information on the nature of this change, including on the tax instrument used (e.g., VAT or personal income tax), the type of change adopted (e.g., tax base, tax rate), and its timing and size.

Here are some of the findings.

We assess the impact of tax policy changes on tax revenues using Jordà (2005)’s local projections method. Our baseline results are based on tax shocks identified in the year when a tax change is announced. Our main empirical findings suggest that the revenue yield of tax policy changes varies significantly across taxes and types of changes, with tax rate changes generally having a more transitory revenue impact than tax base changes for most taxes. Specifically, base broadening changes in PIT, CIT, EXE, and PRO have on average a more significant and long-lasting impact on tax collection than rate changes. At the same time, rate hikes have relatively more significant effects on taxes in the case of VAT and SSC measures.

Most notably, the report finds tax increases hurt prosperity, especially higher marginal tax rates.

Gechert and Groß (2019) conclude that measures to broaden the tax base are less harmful to economic growth than tax hikes. Dabla-Norris and Lima (2018) find that during fiscal consolidations, tax base-broadening measures lead to smaller output and employment declines compared to measures to increase tax rates.

And we learn that it is very foolish to raise corporate tax rates.

Mertens and Ravn (2013) find that…increases in CIT are approximately revenue neutral for the United States. …Announcements of CIT increases are associated with a somewhat transitory rise in tax collection, suggesting that companies have quickly adapted their business to reduce the tax burden.

For wonky readers, here’s a chart from the study. Note how, in many cases, there’s not much difference in revenue between tax increases (blue line) and tax cuts (red lines).

P.S. One big takeaway is that there is not a single Laffer Curve. There are multiple Laffer Curves depending on the tax that’s being changed and the ability of taxpayers to change their behavior.

P.P.S. A less-obvious takeaway is that class-warfare taxes cause the most economic damage, meaning the most harm to ordinary people.

P.P.P.S. You can call it the “Khaldun Curve” if you prefer.

P.P.P.P.S. I have trouble deciding what evidence is most powerful, the views of CPAs or the data from the OECD?

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I discussed Italy’s looming fiscal crisis on Monday and then argued against a potential bailout on Tuesday.

Today, let’s focus on the rest of Europe.

I gave a presentation yesterday in Brussels about “Public Finances in the Eurozone” and used the opportunity to explain that governments are too big in Europe and to warn that demographic changes were going to lead to an even-bigger burden of government in the future.

My assessment is very mainstream, at least with regards to what will happen to national budgets in European nations.

A study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, authored by Yvan Guillemette and David Turner, examines the long-run fiscal position of member nations.

It warns that government debt levels will increase dramatically if they don’t change current policies.

… secular trends such as population ageing and the rising relative price of services will keep adding pressure on government budgets. Without policy changes, maintaining current public service standards and benefits while keeping public debt ratios stable at current levels would increase fiscal pressure in the median OECD country by nearly 8 percentage points of GDP between 2021 and 2060, and much more in some countries. …governments will need to re-assess long-run fiscal sustainability in the context of higher initial government debt levels…when considering expenditure pressures associated with ageing…, the OECD structural primary balance would deteriorate rapidly and net government debt would more than double as a share of GDP by 2050 (Figure 12).

Here is the aforementioned Figure 12. As you can see, both deficits (left chart) and debt (right chart) are driven by the cost of age-related entitlement programs.

The report also explains that the increase in red ink is being caused by a bigger burden of government spending.

Under a ‘business-as-usual’ hypothesis, in which no major reforms to government programmes are undertaken, public expenditure is projected to rise substantially in most countries… Public health and long-term care expenditure is projected to increase by 2.2 percentage points of GDP in the median country between 2021 and 2060… Public pension expenditure is projected to increase by 2.8 percentage points of GDP in the median country between 2021 and 2060… Other primary expenditures are projected to rise by 1½ percentage points of GDP in the median country between 2021 and 2060 (Figure 13, Panel A). This projection excludes potential new sources of expenditure pressure, such as climate change adaptation.

Here’s Figure 13, mentioned above. Notice the projected increases in spending in most European nations.

So what’s the best response to this slow-motion fiscal disaster?

Since more government spending is the problem, you might think the OECD would recommend ways to restrain budgetary expansion.

But that would be a mistake. As is so often the case, OECD bureaucrats think giving politicians more money is the best approach.

The present study…uses an indicator of long-run fiscal pressure that is premised on the idea that governments would seek to stabilise public debt ratios at projected 2022 levels by adjusting structural primary revenue from 2023 onward. … all OECD governments would need to raise taxes in this scenario to prevent gross government debt ratios from rising over time… The median country would need to increase structural primary revenue by nearly 8 percentage points of GDP between 2021 and 2060, but the effort would exceed 10 percentage points in 11 countries.

To be fair, the authors acknowledge that there might be some complications.

Raising taxes…appears feasible in some countries…, in other countries it may present a substantial challenge. In Belgium, Denmark, Finland and France, for instance, structural primary revenue is already around 50% of GDP… Pushing mainstream taxes on incomes or consumption further up, even by only a few percentage points of GDP, may be politically difficult and fiscally counter-productive if it means reaching the downward-sloping segment of the Laffer curve… Lundberg…identifies five OECD countries where top effective marginal tax rates (accounting for income, payroll and consumption taxes) are already beyond revenue-maximizing levels (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Sweden). Thus, if taxes are to rise, it might be necessary to look to other bases, such as housing, capital gains, inheritance or wealth. Recent international efforts to establish a minimum global corporate tax could also enable more revenue to be raised from corporate taxes.

I’m happy that the study acknowledges the Laffer Curve, though that is not much of a concession since even Paul Krugman agrees that it exists.

And even when OECD bureaucrats admit that it may be unwise to increase some taxes, their response is to suggest that other taxes can be increased.

Sigh.

Now you understand why I’ve argued that the OECD may be the world’s worst international bureaucracy. Especially since OECD bureaucrats get tax-free salaries while urging higher taxes on the rest of us.

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A wealth tax is an extraordinarily destructive way for governments to generate revenue.

It violates the principles of sensible tax policy and it does a lot of damage since people have less incentive to save and invest. It’s unadulterated double taxation. Or, in some cases, triple or quadruple taxation.

And it’s unfair.

These factors explain why many nations in Europe have abolished their wealth taxes. This map from the Tax Foundation shows the holdouts that still pursue this senseless version of class warfare.

You’ll notice that Spain is one of the few countries that still has this punitive levy. And if you want to learn more about the Spanish version of this levy, you can click here and here for thorough summaries.

But one thing that everyone should understand is that politicians are always capable of making a bad situation worse.

And as you can see from this story by Grace Dean for Business Insider, that’s precisely what the Spanish government is doing by imposing a second wealth tax on the country.

Spain has introduced a second wealth tax amid soaring inflation, adding an extra 3.5% tax on top of wealth over $10 million. …To avoid people being double-taxed, the tax will only apply to the part of people’s assets not already taxed by their autonomous community, the government said. People will be taxed at a rate of 1.7% on assets between 3 and 5 million euros, 2.1% on assets between 5 and 10 million euros, and 3.5% on assets of more than 10 million euros (around $9.76 million). The government said that it was a temporary state tax for 2023 and 2024… The government is also raising taxes on companies with at least 200 million euros in annual income and expects to bring in an additional 200 million euros by increasing taxes on capital gains above 200,000 euros.

The title of today’s column asks “what fiscal policy is worse than a wealth tax”?

The obvious answer is two wealth taxes.

Though I’m not sure why people are referring to this levy as a second wealth tax when it could be considered an expansion of the existing wealth tax.

But semantics don’t matter. What is important is that this levy will backfire.

I explained back in 2019 that a wealth tax is basically a back-door way of increasing the tax burden on income that is saved and invested.

This is a very bad idea in theory, for reasons explained here and here, but most people do not realize how bad it is in practice.

It can result in effective tax rates of more than 100 percent.

That’s already happened to some French taxpayers.

And it almost surely will happen to some Spanish taxpayers, particularly since financial markets are not exactly enjoying a good year.

Hardly a recipe for improved competitiveness and faster growth.

But also hardly a surprise given the harsh ideological perspective of the leftist parties governing Spain.

P.S. I predict Andorra will be the big winner.

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Even though they ostensibly exist to promote economic growth, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have an unfortunate track record of promoting higher taxes and bigger government.

Not that we should be surprised. IMF and OECD officials get very comfortable (and tax-free!) salaries, so they have a “public choice” incentive to reflect the wishes of the politicians who control their purse strings.

But understanding the incentives of international bureaucrats definitely does not mean we should give them a free pass when they push bad policy.

And that’s exactly what the IMF and OECD are doing in Latin America.

Consider, for instance, the new IMF report on “Tax Policy for Inclusive Growth in Latin America and the Caribbean.” The authors (Santiago Acosta-Ormaechea, Samuel Pienknagura, and Carlo Pizzinelli) apparently think those struggling nations will grow faster if there is a bigger burden of government.

…fiscal policy…is not progressive enough… This paper presents a detailed assessment of tax structures in LAC and outlines reform options to improve collection… Specific tax design features are then assessed, inspecting how the taxation of capital and labor can be improved…to both increase revenue and provide a more equitable tax structure… Evidence for LA7 countries shows that better PIT design could bring significant gains in collection and equity. … Potentially adverse growth impacts could be mitigated by providing well-targeted incentives to labor force participation of low-wage earners through an earned income tax credit… Increasing the tax burden on certain non-labor income sources (e.g., capital gains) would also raise PIT revenue and improve equity… Other untapped revenue sources should be considered more forcefully, including the taxation of immovable property, inheritance taxes, and environmental taxes.

As illustrated by Figure 1 from the report, one of the clear messages is that Latin American countries should be more like high-tax countries in Western Europe.

What the authors overlook, however, is that the (relatively) rich countries in Western Europe became rich when the burden of government was very small.

There’s never been a nation, anywhere in the world, or at any point in world history, that became rich by adopting big government.

Now let’s look at what the OECD recommends, as part of “Latin American Economic Outlook 2021: Working Together for a Better Recovery.”

The LEO 2021 provides tailored policy messages to help stakeholders take action and build forward better. …it highlights the need to learn from the pandemic and mainstream some of the social policy innovations adopted throughout the crisis to strengthen social protection systems and improve quality and accessibility of public services. …a set of tax policy options could increase revenues… there needs to be greater resource mobilisation…in most LAC countries, which in turn implies greater progressivity of the taxation system… the average tax-to-GDP ratio in the LAC region was 22.9% in 2019, considerably below the OECD average of 33.8%… Countries may need to consider additional ways of raising revenues… PIT is the principal factor behind the tax gap between LAC and the OECD, limiting not only potential revenues but also the redistributive power of the tax system… taxation of immovable property…and of individuals’ capital gains, should contribute to increasing revenues to finance the recovery and improve the progressivity of the taxation system. Other measures include wealth and inheritance taxes.

Table 1 from the report summarizes the “new social contract” that the OECD is advocating.

All you need to understand is that “strengthening social protection systems and public services” is bureaucrat-speak for more government spending and “developing fairer and stronger tax systems” is bureaucrat-speak for higher taxes and class warfare.

I’ll close by calling your attention to this video explaining the ideal fiscal policy for nations in the developing world.

But remember that fiscal policy is just one piece of the puzzle, so I also recommend this video and this video if you want a full understanding of the policies that are needed to create broadly shared prosperity.

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Back in 2020, I warned that then-Mayor Bill de Blasio was setting the stage for fiscal crisis.

During his eight years in office, he violated fiscal policy’s golden rule by increasing the burden of government spending at three times the rate of inflation.

And all that spending requires lots of taxes, which helps to explain why residents were escaping New York City even before the pandemic.

But the pandemic accelerated the exodus, and that is turning a bad fiscal situation into a terrible fiscal situation for the new Mayor, Eric Adams.

Reporting for the New York Times, Nicole Hong and  write about how rich people (and their tax revenue) have been escaping New York City.

…roughly 300,000 New York City residents left during the early part of the pandemic… Now, new data from the Internal Revenue Service shows that the residents who moved to other states by the time they filed their 2019 taxes collectively reported $21 billion in total income, substantially more than those who departed in any prior year on record. …a potential loss that could have long-term effects on a city that relies heavily on its wealthiest residents to support schools, law enforcement and other public services. …The top 1 percent of earners, who make more than $804,000 a year, contributed 41 percent of the city’s personal income taxes in 2019. …The exodus to Florida was especially robust, and not just for the retiree crowd. …The pandemic accelerated the relocation of several New York-based financial firms to new offices or headquarters in Florida. …The Manhattan residents who moved to Palm Beach County had an average income of $728,351, IRS data showed.

So why are people leaving the City?

Some of it was temporary, caused by the pandemic.

But it’s very likely that most high-income emigrants won’t return. Why? Because New York City has bad governance. Everything from big problems like crummy schools to small problems like regulatory overkill.

So why pay lots of taxes when you get very little in return?

In a column last year for the New York Post, Nicole Gelinas warned about job losses in the financial industry.

…the city’s financial-industry jobs (not including real estate) were down 5 percent, to 338,800, compared with pre-COVID August 2019. Commercial-banking jobs are down 7 percent, to 67,300. Investment-related jobs are also down 7 percent, to 177,600. If we weren’t distracted by huge, double-digit percentage losses in other parts of the city’s economy, like arts and entertainment, these would be big numbers. …Some of this job destruction is a gain for other states. In Florida, financial jobs…are up 6 percent since August 2019, to 422,000. …yet another small investment firm, ARK, said it would close its New York headquarters and move…, with most of its dozens of workers going. …We used to fret about what happened when Wall Street crashed; now, we should fret that we have these woes when Wall Street hasn’t crashed.

When jobs are lost, that’s bad news for politicians because they miss out on tax revenue. And that’s true if jobs simply disappear and it’s true if the jobs move to low-tax states like Florida.

And it’s a big problem because Mayor Adams inherited a big mess. Simply stated, revenues are running away at the same time that spending is going up.

Emma Fitzsimmons wrote for the New York Times that the former Mayor’s legacy is a bloated city budget, which is connected to an ever-expanding bureaucracy.

Bill de Blasio will be remembered for many things…But one central element of his administration has received less attention: his passion for spending money. Under Mr. de Blasio, the city’s budget has soared to a record $102.8 billion, and the city work force rose to more than 325,000 employees, its highest level ever. His final budget, more than $25 billion higher than his first budget in 2014… Mr. de Blasio’s spending spree could create problems for Mr. Adams… The city work force…quickly began to rise…after Mr. de Blasio took office — pleasing the city’s municipal unions, some of which were major donors to the mayor’s political endeavors. …The increases to the city work force will create long-term costs for the city for health care, pensions and retiree benefits.

I can say “I told you so” because I warned that de Blasio was bad news when he was running for office in 2013.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

P.S. Just as many states compete to be the worst, the same is true for cities. Yes, New York City is a mess, but is it better or worse than places such as Chicago, SeattleMinneapolisDetroit, and San Francisco?

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Based on research from the Congressional Budget Office, I’ve shared estimates of the potential economic damage from the fiscal plan Joe Biden unveiled last year.

But now he has a new budget. So what if we simply focus on the tax portion of that plan and ignore all the new spending?

The Tax Foundation has crunched the numbers from Biden’s tax agenda and has published some very sobering numbers about this latest version of the President’s class-warfare proposals.

What caught my attention was this chart showing the United States (light-blue bars) already is out of whack with major competitors and trading partners (green bars) – and Joe Biden wants to make a bad situation much worse (red bars).

And when I write “out of whack,” that’s not an idle statement.

it turns out that the United States would have the highest income tax rates in the world.

Higher than Greece. Higher than France. Higher than Italy. Here are some of the grim details.

…the tax increases in the Build Back Better Act (BBBA)…would raise revenues by $4 trillion on a gross basis over the next decade. The Biden tax increases in the budget and BBBA would come at the cost of economic growth, harming investment incentives and productive capacity… The budget proposes several new tax increases on high-income individuals and businesses, which combined with the BBBA would give the U.S. the highest top tax rates on individual and corporate income in the developed world… Taxing capital gains at ordinary income tax rates would bring the combined top marginal rate in the U.S. to 48.9 percent, up from 29.2 percent under current law and well-above the OECD average of 18.9 percent. …Raising the corporate income tax rate to 28 percent would once again bring the U.S. near the top of the OECD at a combined rate of 32.3 percent, versus 25.8 percent under current law and an OECD average (excluding the U.S.) of 22.8 percent.

The good news, relatively speaking, is that the United States would not have the highest aggregate tax burden (taxes as a share of economic output).

And the U.S. would not have the highest tax burden on consumption (no value-added tax in America, fortunately).

But with all of Biden’s new spending (along with the built-in expansions of government that already have been legislated), it may just be a matter of time before the U.S. copies those features of Europe’s stagnant welfare states.

The net result is lower living standards for the American people. The only open question is how far we drop.

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Trump had some economically illiterate tweets about trade during his presidency, including the infamous one about being “Tariff Man.”

I think Joe Biden must be feeling envious that Trump got so much attention, so he has issued a tweet showing that he also suffers from economic illiteracy.

Or maybe Biden’s problem is dishonesty because his tweet is based on a make-believe number about the the average tax rate paid by billionaires.

For what it’s worth, this isn’t the first time that Biden has issued a tweet based on fake numbers.

In the previous instance, he deliberately confused the distinction between the financial concept of book income and and cash-flow concept of taxable income.

What accounts for his most recent error?

Reporting for the Wall Street Journal, Richard Rubin and Rachel Louise Ensign explain how the Biden Administration concocted this number.

What do the wealthy pay in federal taxes? On paper, the top marginal income-tax rate is 37% on ordinary income and 23.8% on capital gains. Government estimates put high-income filers’ average rates in the mid-20s. A new Biden administration analysis, however, pegs the average tax rate for the 400 wealthiest households at 8.2% from 2010 to 2018. …It’s far below traditional estimates from government number crunchers… Recent estimates of a broader group of rich people from the Congressional Budget Office, Treasury Department and the Joint Committee on Taxation fall between 23% and 26%.

So how does the Biden Administration get a number that is radically different than other sources?

By artificially inflating the income of rich people by asserting that changes in wealth should count as income.

White House…economists Greg Leiserson and Danny Yagan..include increases in unrealized capital gains. That is the change in the value of assets, including stocks, that haven’t been sold. …Conventional analyses and the current income-tax law don’t include unrealized gains.

At the risk of making a wonky point, “conventional analysis” and “income-tax law” don’t include unrealized capital gains as income because, well, changes in net worth are not income.

And the fact that some folks on the left want to tax people on unrealized capital gains doesn’t change that reality.

To understand why that would be wretched policy, let’s cite examples that apply to those of us who, sadly, are not billionaires.

  • Imagine filing your taxes next year and having to pay more money to the IRS simply because Zillow estimated that your house rose in value.
  • Imagine that you’re filling out your 1040 form next year and you have to pay more money to the IRS  simply because your IRA or 401(k) rose in value.

Both of these examples sound absurd because they would be absurd. And if a policy is absurd and unfair for regular people, it’s also absurd and unfair for rich people.

Since I’m a fiscal wonk, I’ll close by making the point that the Biden Administration wants to take a bad tax (capital gains tax) and make it worse (by taxing paper gains in addition to actual gains).

The net result is that we would have a backdoor wealth tax – a approach that is so anti-growth that even most European governments have repealed those levies.

But since Joe Biden is motivated by class warfare (see here, here, here, and here), he apparently doesn’t care about the economic consequences.

P.S. Biden once claimed that it is “patriotic” to pay higher taxes, but he then played Benedict Arnold with his own tax return.

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When I first started writing this daily column, the Congressional Budget Office was infamous for dodgy economics.

That was the bad news.

The good news is that CBO is more of a mainstream organization today.

It’s far from being libertarian, to be sure, but it no longer seems to have the left-leaning bias that plagued the bureaucracy in the past (it had gotten so bad that I advised Republicans not to cite CBO numbers even when they seemed helpful to the cause of less government).

For instance, I grudgingly acknowledged a few years ago that CBO was better (but still not good) when analyzing potential repeal of Obamacare.

And I was actually impressed last year when CBO published a report showing that a bigger burden of government spending would reduce growth.

And now we have another report that reaches similar conclusions.

The new study, released last month, considers what would happen if lawmakers decided to control red ink by either raising taxes of by restraining spending.

A perpetually rising debt-to-GDP ratio is unsustainable over the long term because financing deficits and servicing the debt would consume an ever-growing proportion of the nation’s income. In this report, CBO analyzes the effects of measures that policymakers could take to prevent debt as a percentage of GDP from continuing to climb. Policymakers could restrain the growth of spending, raise revenues, or pursue some combination of those two approaches. …or this analysis, CBO examined two simplified policies. The first would raise federal tax rates on different types of income proportionally. The second would cut spending for certain government benefit programs—mostly for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Under each of the two stylized policy options, debt as a percentage of GDP would be fully stabilized 10 years after the changes were implemented.

By the way, I would have greatly preferred if CBO estimated the impact of genuine entitlement reforms.

Trimming spending for existing programs is better than nothing, of course, but the goal should be to achieve both structural reforms and budgetary savings.

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to what was actually in the report. Here’s what CBO projects if policy makers choose to raise taxes.

…the higher tax rates that would be required if implementation of the policy was delayed would reduce after-tax wages, which would discourage work and lower the aggregate supply of labor. Those reductions in capital stock and the labor supply would cause GDP to be lower… As a result, GDP would be 0.9 percent lower in 2051 if implementation of the policy was delayed by 5 years and 2.6 percent lower if it was delayed by 10 years.

And here’s what happens if they decide to trim benefits.

…a drop in benefits would reduce people’s income and induce some people to work more to, at least partially, maintain their standard of living, thereby increasing the aggregate labor supply. …a drop in expected future retirement benefits would induce workers to save more before they retired, and that increased saving would, in turn, increase the aggregate capital stock.

Figure 3 from the report allows readers to compare how the different options affect the economy’s output.

In other words, we get lower living standards if taxes go up and higher living standards if spending is restrained.

How big is the difference? As you can see, the tax increase options (light green) cause significant long-run reductions in gross domestic product.

Trimming benefits by contrast (the dark green lines) actually lead to a slight increase in economic output.

The report accurately explains why the two policy choices produce such different results.

…GDP would be lower after an increase in income tax rates than it would be after cuts in benefit payments… Whereas benefit cuts strengthen people’s incentives to work and save, tax increases weaken those incentives and thus reduce the capital stock, the labor supply, and output.

In other words, it’s not a good idea to copy nations such as France, Italy, and Greece.

Which is a good description of Biden’s so-called plan to Build Back Better.

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As part of my (reality-based) opposition to a value-added tax, I testified to the Ways & Means Committee back in 2011.

My primary argument against the VAT is that it would enable a bigger burden of government spending.

I frequently share this chart, for instance, that shows that the nations in Western Europe were quite similar to the United States back in the 1960s, with government budgets that consumed about 30 percent of economic output.

That was before they enacted VATs.

But once European politicians got that new source of revenue, the spending burden diverged, with the welfare state becoming a much larger burden in Western Europe than in the United States.

In other words, the VAT was a money machine for big government.

That argument is just as accurate today as it was back in 2011.

For today’s column, however, I want to focus on what I said in the last minute of my testimony (beginning about 4:00).

I pointed out that VAT supporters are wrong when they claim that adoption of this new tax would enable reductions in the income tax.

And if you peruse my written testimony, you’ll see that I included several charts showing how tax burdens changed between 1965 and 2008. In every case, I showed that European politicians actually increased the burden of income taxes after they enacted their VATs.

Is that still true?

Of course.

Here’s an updated version of the chart showing that the overall tax burden dramatically increased after VATs were imposed.

In the United States, by contrast, the overall tax burden only increased during this time period from 23.6 percent of GDP to 25 percent of GDP.

Still bad news, but nowhere near as bad as Western Europe, where the overall tax burden jumped by more than 13 percentage points.

Now let’s peruse the updated version of the chart showing what happened to taxes on income and profits.

As you can see, European governments definitely did not use VAT revenues to lower other taxes.

In the United States, by contrast, the tax burden on income and profits only increased during this time period from 11.3 percent of GDP to 11.6 percent of GDP.

Still bad news, but nowhere near as bad as Western Europe, where the tax burden on income and profits jumped by nearly 5 percentage points.

Now let’s peruse the updated version of the chart showing what happened to taxes on corporations (this chart is especially important because there are very naive people in the business community who think that they can avoid higher taxes on their companies if they surrender to a VAT).

As you can see, governments in Europe have been grabbing more money from corporations since VATs were imposed.

In the United States, by contrast, the tax burden on corporations actually decreased during this time period from 3.9 percent of GDP to 1.3 percent of GDP.

By every possible measure, the value-added tax is a big mistake (as even the IMF inadvertently shows).

Unless, of course, politicians first get rid of the income tax – including repealing the 16th Amendment and replacing it with an ironclad prohibition against any future income tax.

But that’s about as likely as me playing the outfield for the New York Yankees in this year’s World Series.

P.S. I mentioned at the very end of my testimony that we did not have clear evidence from other nations that subsequently adopted VATs. In the case of Japan, we now do have data showing how the VAT is financing bigger government.

P.P.S. Some VAT advocates actually claim the levy is good for growth. That’s a nonsensical claim. VATs drive a wedge between pre-tax income and post-tax consumption. What they really mean to say is that VATs don’t do as much damage, on a per-dollar-raised basis, as conventional income taxes (with punitive rates and double taxation).

P.P.P.S. You can enjoy some good anti-VAT cartoons herehere, and here.

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A few months ago, I reiterated my opposition to Biden’s proposed corporate tax cartel as part of a longer discussion with Australia’s Gene Tunny.

The main takeaway is that the proposed “minimum global tax” is an agreement by politicians for the benefit of politicians.

As I stated in the discussion. companies do not bear the burden of corporate taxes. Those costs are borne by workers, consumers, and shareholders.

Sadly, those costs will increase if the agreement is finalized. Politicians openly admit they are pushing this cartel to undermine jurisdictional tax competition.

At the risk of stating the obvious, their plan is to give themselves more leeway to increase tax rates.

I’m sharing the above interview and rehashing some of these basic arguments because Barack Obama’s former top economist, Jason Furman, has a column in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Here’s some of what he wrote in favor of the scheme.

Policy makers have the best chance in generations to reform and improve this system while bringing the rest of the world along. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has already helped craft an international agreement signed by more than 130 countries. Congress now needs to do its part and lock it in. …The arguments for…fixing Mr. Trump’s reforms were already strong, but the global agreement secured by Ms. Yellen makes them much stronger. In particular, the global agreement removes the main objection to more aggressively taxing overseas income because other countries have all agreed to adopt similar systems. The concerns that U.S. companies would be less competitive or would try to avoid U.S. taxes by incorporating overseas are considerably smaller than they would otherwise be. …The global minimum tax agreement signals the dawn of a new era of international economic cooperation. It will be good for the countries involved and…relatively minimal in only establishing a 15% rate floor.

Notice that Mr. Furman openly acknowledges that the goal is to create a cartel so that politicians will feel less constrained by the liberalizing force of tax competition.

For what it’s worth, I think Professor Bruce Gilley had better analysis in his column, which appeared in the WSJ earlier this year..

World leaders announced a new global corporate minimum tax to great fanfare last year. …The contorted language of the guidance, as well as political foot-dragging in several countries, makes clear that the ballyhooed global tax plan would be a great and expensive flop. Better to let this hydra-headed monster die. The agreement was always a tax grab. …Europe wanted to raise revenue by taxing U.S. companies. The Biden administration has cheered the agreement along with familiar claims that big companies should “pay their fair share.” …Digital multinationals like Amazon, Google, Airbnb and Meta are the target. …the agreement…seeks to establish a 15% minimum global tax rate for international companies… The only plausible way the tax leads to more revenue for the U.S. is if it is used as a cover to raise corporate taxes here, which was perhaps why the Biden administration joined. …According to an International Monetary Fund study, 45% to 75% of the burden of corporate taxes is recouped through lower employee wages.

The bottom line is that the proposal for a global minimum tax is being sold as a way to go after big business and rich shareholders, but ordinary people will be the biggest victims.

We will pay more for products because as the higher taxes filter through the economy and we will have less disposable income because of a diminished job market.

P.S. I have written several times about the utterly fraudulent argument that supposedly profitable companies do not pay corporate taxes.

So this is a good opportunity to share this part of Professor Gilley’s column, which notes that companies are (currently) required to keep two different sets of books (which demagogues then deliberately mix up to advance their false claims).

Public companies already have to keep two sets of books, one for the Securities and Exchange Commission and one for the Internal Revenue Service. The first tells shareholders how well the business is doing; the second tells the government how much is owed and to whom. The new global tax would require multinationals to keep a third set of books to avoid being the target of tax raids by, say, France. The agreement would create many new jobs for accountants and lawyers.

Needless to say, requiring companies to keep a third set of books is a remarkably bad idea.

P.P.S. Here’s a primer on corporate taxation.

P.P.P.S. The bureaucrats at the OECD are big advocates of a global minimum tax. I wonder whether they are so pro-tax because they get tax-free salaries and thus are protected from the awful policies they pursue?

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Thomas Piketty is a big proponent of class-warfare tax policy because he views inequality as a horrible outcome.

But a soak-the-rich policy agenda, echoed by many other academics such as Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, is fundamentally misguided. If people really care about helping the poor, they should focus instead on reforms that actually have a proven track record of reducing poverty.

The fact that they fixate on inequality makes me wonder about their motives.

And it also leads me to find their work largely irrelevant. I don’t care if they produce detailed long-run data on changes in inequality.

I prefer detailed long-run data on changes in poverty.

That being said, it appears that some of Piketty’s data is sloppy.

I shared some evidence about his bad numbers back in 2014. And, in a column for the Wall Street Journal, Phil Magness of the American Institute for Economic Research and Professor Vincent Geloso of George Mason University expose another glaring flaw

…the Piketty-Saez theory is less a matter of history than an accounting error caused by their misunderstanding of World War II-era tax statistics. …It’s true that income inequality declined in the early part of the 20th century, but the cause had more to do with the economic devastation of the Great Depression than the New Deal tax regime. …they failed to account properly for historical changes in how the Internal Revenue Service reported income-tax statistics. As a result, their numbers systematically overstate the levels of top income concentrations by as much as a third …Between 1943 and 1944 the tax collection agency shifted from tracking “net income” to “adjusted gross income,” or AGI…a truer depiction of annual earnings… Yet Messrs. Piketty and Saez didn’t bring pre-1944 IRS records into line with AGI accounting standards. Instead, they applied a fixed and arbitrary adjustment to all years before the AGI accounting change that conveniently scaled upward to the highest income brackets. …They used the wrong accounting definition for personal income and neglected to adjust their data for wartime distortions on tax reporting. When we corrected these problems, something stunning happened. The overall level of top income concentration flattened, and the timing of its leveling shifted away from the World War II-era tax rates that Messrs. Piketty and Saez place at the center of their story.

Here’s a chart that accompanied the column, showing how accurate data changes the story.

Since today’s column debunks sloppy class warfare, let’s travel back to 2014, when Deirdre McCloskey reviewed Pikittey’s tome for the Erasmus Journal of Philosophy and Economics.

She also thought his fixation on envy was misguided.

…in Piketty’s tale the rest of us fall only relatively behind the ravenous capitalists. The focus on relative wealth or income or consumption is one serious problem in the book. …What is worrying Piketty is that the rich might possibly get richer, even though the poor get richer too. His worry, in other words, is purely about difference, about the Gini coefficient, about a vague feeling of envy raised to a theoretical and ethical proposition. …Piketty and much of the left…miss the ethical point…of lifting up the poor…by the dramatic increase in the size of the pie, which has historically brought the poor to 90 or 95 percent of “enough”, as against the 10 or 5 percent attainable by redistribution without enlarging the pie. …the main event of the past two centuries was…the Great Enrichment of the average individual on the planet by a factor of 10 and in rich countries by a factor of 30 or more.

But she also explained that he doesn’t understand how the economy works.

The fundamental technical problem in the book…is that Piketty the economist does not understand supply responses. In keeping with his position as a man of the left, he has a vague and confused idea about how markets work, and especially about how supply responds to higher prices. …Piketty, it would seem, has not read with understanding the theory of supply and demand that he disparages, such as in Smith (one sneering remark on p. 9), Say (ditto, mentioned in a footnote with Smith as optimistic), Bastiat (no mention), Walras (no mention), Menger (no mention), Marshall (no mention), Mises (no mention), Hayek (one footnote citation on another matter), Friedman (pp. 548-549, but only on monetarism, not the price system). He is in short not qualified to sneer at self-regulated markets…, because he has no idea how they work.

And she concludes with a reminder that some of our left-wing friends seem most interested in punishing rich people rather than helping poor people.

The left clerisy such as…Paul Krugman or Thomas Piketty, who are quite sure that they themselves are taking the ethical high road against the wicked selfishness…might on such evidence be considered dubiously ethical. They are obsessed with first-act changes that cannot much help the poor, and often can be shown to damage them, and are obsessed with angry envy at the consumption of the uncharitable rich, of which they personally are often examples, and the ending of which would do very little to improve the position of the poor. They are very willing to stifle through taxing the rich the market-tested betterments which in the long run have gigantically helped the rest of us.

Amen. If you want to know what Deirdre means by “betterment,” click here and watch her video.

P.S. Click herehere, here, and here for my four-part series on poverty and inequality. Though what Deirdre wrote in 2016 may be even better.

P.P.S. I also can’t resist calling attention to the poll of economists at the end of this column.

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I wrote a few days ago about Biden’s plan to impose punitive double taxation on dividends.

But that’s not an outlier in his budget. As you can see from this table from the Tax Foundation, he wants to violate the principles of sensible fiscal policy by having high tax rates on all types of income.

What’s especially disappointing is that he wants tax rates in the United States to be much higher than in other developed nations.

At the risk of understatement, that’s not a recipe for jobs and investment.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized about Biden’s taxaholic preferences.

Mr. Biden…is proposing $2.5 trillion in new taxes that would give the U.S. the highest or near-highest tax rates in the developed world. …The biggest jump is in taxes on capital gains, as the top combined rate would rise to 48.9% from 29.2% today. That’s a 67% increase in the government’s take on long-term capital investments. The new top rate would be more than 2.5 times the OECD average of 18.9%. Nothing like reducing the U.S. return on capital to get people to invest elsewhere. Mr. Biden would also lift the top combined tax rate on corporate income to 32.3% from 25.8%. That would leap over Australia and Germany, which have top rates of 30% and 29.9% respectively, and it would crush the 22.8% OECD average. …Mr. Biden would also put the U.S. at the top of the noncompetitive list for personal income taxes, with multiple increases that would put the combined American rate at 57.3%. Compare that with 42.9% today and an average of 42.6% across the OECD.

The WSJ‘s editorial contained this chart.

The United States would be on top for corporate tax rates if Biden’s plan is adopted (which actually means on the bottom for competitiveness).

The bottom line is that Biden wants the U.S. to have the highest corporate rate, highest double taxation of dividends, and highest double taxation of capital gains.

To reiterate, not a smart way of trying to get more jobs and investment.

P.S. The “good news” is that the United States would not be at the absolute bottom for international tax competitiveness.

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Modern tax systems tend to have three major deviations from good fiscal policy.

  1. High marginal tax rates on productive behavior like work and entrepreneurship.
  2. Multiple layers of taxation on income that is saved and invested.
  3. Distortionary loopholes that reward inefficiency and promote corruption.

Today, let’s focus on an aspect of item #2.

The Tax Foundation has just released a very interesting map (at least for wonks) showing the total tax rate on dividends in European nations, including both the corporate income tax and the double-tax on dividends.

Because it has a reasonably modest corporate income tax rate, some of you may be surprised that Ireland has the most onerous overall burden on dividends. But that’s because there are high tax rates on personal income and households have to pay those high rates on any dividends they receive (even though companies already paid tax on that income).

It’s less surprising that Denmark is the second worst and France is the third worst.

Meanwhile, Estonia and Latvia have the least-onerous systems thanks to low rates and no double taxation.

But what about the United States?

There’s a different publication from the Tax Foundation that shows the extent – a maximum rate of 47.47 percent – of America’s double taxation.

The bottom line is that the United States would rank #7, between high-tax Belgium and high-tax Germany, if it was included in the above map.

That’s not a very good spot, at least if the goal is more jobs and more competitiveness.

To make matters worse, Joe Biden wants America to be #1 on the list. I’m not joking.

I’ve already written about his plan for a higher corporate tax rate.

But he wants an even-bigger increases in the second layer of tax on dividends.

How much bigger?

Pinar Cebi Wilber of the American Council for Capital Formation shared the unpleasant details in a column last year for the Wall Street Journal.

The Biden administration has released a flurry of tax proposals, including a headline-grabbing tax hike on capital gains that would apply retroactively from April. Dividends would be subject to the same treatment, according to a recently released Treasury Department document. …the proposal would tax qualified dividends—dividends from shares in domestic corporations and certain foreign corporations that are held for at least a specified minimum period of time—at income-tax rates (currently up to 40.8%) rather than the lower capital-gains rates (23.8%).

I also like that the column includes references to some academic research.

A 2005 paper by economists Raj Chetty and Emmanuel Saez looked at the effect of the 2003 dividend tax cuts on dividend payments in the U.S. The authors “find a sharp and widespread surge in dividend distributions following the tax cut,” after a continuous two-decade decrease in distributions. …Princeton’s Adrien Matray and co-author Charles Boissel looked at the issue the other way around. In a 2019 study, they found that an increase in French dividend taxes led to decreased dividend payments. …Another study from 2011, looking at America’s major competitor, reached the same directional conclusion: A 2005 reduction in China’s dividend tax rate led to an increase in dividend payments.

Not that anyone should be surprised by these results. The academic literature clearly shows that it’s not smart to impose high tax rates on productive behavior such as work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship.

Unless, of course, you want more people dependent on government.

P.S. Biden also wants American to be #1 for capital gains taxation. So at least he is consistent, albeit in a very perverse way.

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I’ve already written that massive spending increases for various bureaucracies is the most offensive part of Biden’s new budget.

But I explicitly noted that these huge budgetary increases (well above the rate of inflation, unlike what’s happening to incomes for American families) were not the most economically harmful feature of Biden’s plan.

That dubious honor belongs to either his massive expansion of the welfare state or his big tax increases.

In today’s column, we’re going to focus on his tax plan.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized a couple of days ago about what the president is proposing.

A President’s budget is a declaration of priorities, so it’s worth underscoring that President Biden’s new budget for fiscal 2023 proposes $2.5 trillion in tax increases over 10 years. His priority is taking money from the private economy and giving it to politicians to spend. …Raising the top income-tax rate to 39.6% from 37% would raise $187 billion. Raising capital-gains taxes, including taxing gains like ordinary income for taxpayers earning more than $1 million would snatch $174 billion. Raising the top corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%—a tax on workers and shareholders—would raise $1.3 trillion. Fossil fuels are hit up for $45 billion. We could go on… Let’s hope none of these tax-increases pass, but the Democratic appetite for your money really is insatiable.

That’s a damning indictment.

But the WSJ actually understates the problems with Biden’s tax agenda.

That’s because the White House also is being dishonest, as explained by Alex Brill of the American Enterprise Institute.

The budget proposes $2.5 trillion in net tax hikes, almost entirely from businesses and high-income households, and touts policies that would “reduce deficits by more than $1 trillion” over the next decade. But a short note in the preamble to the Treasury Department’s report on the budget reveals a sleight of hand: “The revenue proposals are estimated relative to a baseline that incorporates all revenue provisions of Title XIII of H.R. 5376 (as passed by the House of Representatives on November 19, 2021), except Sec. 137601.”In other words, the budget pretends that the failed effort to enact President Biden’s Build Back Better Act was a success and considers new budget proposals in addition to those policies. But you won’t find the price of the Build Back Better (BBB) Act (including its roughly $1 trillion in net tax hikes) in the budget tables.

I’m going to use this trick during my next softball tournament. I’m going to assume at the start that I’ve already had 20 at-bats and that I got an extra-base hit each time.

So even if I have a crummy performance during my real at-bats, my overall average and slugging percentage will still seem impressive.

Needless to say, my teammates would laugh at me, just as serious budget people understand that Biden’s budget is a joke.

But there is some good news. Barring something completely unexpected, Congress is not going to approve the president’s farcical plan.

P.S. Don’t fully celebrate. As I noted in my “Hopes and Fears for 2022” column, there is a risk that some sort of tax-and-spend plan might get approved. The only silver lining to that dark cloud is that it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as Biden’s full budget.

P.P.S. If that prospect gets you depressed, here are a couple of humorous images depicting Biden’s fiscal agenda.

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I’ve identified seven reasons to oppose tax increases, but explain in this interview that the biggest reason is that it would be a mistake to give politicians more money to finance an ever-larger burden of government spending.

I had two goals when responding this question (part of a longer interview).

First, I wanted to help viewers understand that America’s fiscal problem is too much government spending and that red ink is simply a symptom of that problem.

Over the years, I’ve concocted all sorts of visuals to make this point. Like this one.

And this one.

And this one.

Second, I wanted viewers to understand that higher taxes will simply make a bad situation even worse.

From my perspective, the biggest problem with tax increases is that they will enable a bigger burden of government spending.

But even the folks who fixate on red ink should adopt a no-tax increase position.

Why? Because politicians who want big tax increases want even bigger spending increases.

Joe Biden is pushing for a massive tax increase, for instance, but his proposed spending increase is far larger.

We also have decades of evidence from Europe. There’s been a huge increase in the tax burden in Western Europe since the 1960s (largely enabled by the enactment of value-added taxes).

Did that massive increase in revenue lead to less red ink?

Nope, just the opposite, as I showed in both 2012 and 2016.

If you don’t agree with me on this issue, maybe you should heed the words of these four former presidents.

P.S. Some people warn that endlessly increasing debt is a recipe for an eventual crisis. They’re probably right. Which is why it is important to oppose tax-increase deals that wind up saddling us with more red ink. Besides, the long-run damage of tax-financed spending is very similar to the long-run damage of debt-financed spending.

P.P.S. As I mention in the interview, the only real solution is spending restraint. And a spending cap is the best way of enforcing that approach.

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I’ve been writing a series of columns about the failure of Bidenomics (see here, here, and here), but let’s switch gears today and focus on some remarkably bad behavior by the bureaucrats at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Regular readers know that I’m not a big fan of this Paris-based international bureaucracy. Yes, there are some economists at the OECD who do solid research, but the organization routinely advocates for higher taxes and bigger government, often by using dishonest data.

But even I was surprised to receive this email from the OECD, which explicitly urged a giant tax increase on the relatively impoverished people of Mexico.

And “giant” is not a throwaway adjective.

Joe Biden wants a massive tax increase for the United States, but his proposal to increases tax revenue by 1.3 percent of GDP makes him seem like a rabid libertarian compared to the OECD’s plan to increase taxes by nearly three times as much in Mexico.

What’s especially amazing is that the OECD is urging this huge tax increase in a report that supposedly shares “recommendations for improving medium-term growth prospects.”

While I’m shocked by the size of the OECD’s proposed tax increase, I’m not surprised that the bureaucrats are claiming that higher taxes and bigger government are good for growth.

They’ve done it before and I’m sure they’ll do it again.

In China. In Africa. Everywhere.

So at least they are consistent, albeit in a very bad way.

I’ll close by noting that Mexico actually is in desperate need of “recommendations for improving medium-term growth prospects.”

But if you peruse the data for Mexico in the most-recent edition of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World, you’ll see that the country’s economy is being hampered by bad scores for rule of law, monetary policy, trade, and regulation.

So it’s baffling that the OECD’s bureaucrats somehow decided to focus on pushing for bad fiscal policy.

P.S. For those who want more information, you can click here to access the OECD’s report, along with other accompanying materials.

P.P.S. Incidentally, OECD bureaucrats are exempt from paying tax on the very lavish salaries they receive.

P.P.P.S. Adding insult to injury, American taxpayers finance the largest share of the OECD’s budget.

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It is not difficult to understand the economics of taxation. Simply stated, the more you tax of something, the less you get of it.

You can show the adverse impact of taxation with supply-and-demand curves (very helpful for understanding “deadweight loss“).

But you don’t need to be an economist to grasp the essential idea that we shouldn’t impose excessive penalties on productive behavior.

This is why I endlessly argue for lower tax rates on things that are very good for society, such as work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship. Simply stated, governments should minimize barriers to the creation of wealth and prosperity.

But what about using the tax code to punish things that are bad for society?

Consider, for instance, taxes that are designed to discourage obesity. I personally don’t think politicians and bureaucrats should try to dictate our lifestyle choices, so I’m not overly sympathetic to imposing special taxes on things like sugar.

But I also recognize that people do respond to incentives, so maybe such taxes would work.

Though it’s also possible that we might get unintended consequences, which is the message of Baylen Linnekin’s new article for Reason.

A new study is pouring cold beer on Seattle’s soda tax. …since the city I call home adopted a soda tax in 2018, residents have swapped out soda and replaced that soda with beer. Pointedly, the study says Seattle’s soda tax “induced” consumers to buy more beer. …The PLoS study, by University of Illinois-Chicago researchers Lisa M. Powell and Julien Lader, compared sales of beer in Seattle both before and since adoption of the soda tax with comparable sales in nearby Portland, Oregon, which has no soda tax. “At two-years post-tax implementation, [the] volume sold of beer in Seattle relative to Portland increased by 7%,” the authors report. Though supporters of soda taxes claim (largely without evidence) that they’re a successful tool to combat obesity, the authors of the PLoS study note that the dangers of “excess alcohol consumption [include] higher risk of motor accidents/deaths, liver cirrhosis, sexually transmitted diseases, crime and violence, and workplace accidents.” Also: obesity. …”It’s hard to overstate the abject failure of soda taxes to deliver on their promised benefits,” Reason Foundation’s Guy Bentley wrote several years ago… “Nowhere in the world, let alone the United States, have soda taxes reduced obesity.”

Here’s a link to the study for those interested.

The obvious takeaway is that imposing an anti-obesity tax may not be very effective if consumers can easily switch to a different product with some of the same characteristics (i.e., lots of calories).

And such a tax may wind up making society worse off if the original problem (obesity) isn’t solved and new problems (drunk driving, etc) are created.

So what’s the solution? Politicians presumably will look at the results of the study and argue that beer taxes also should be increased.

And then when they learn that people will drive to different cities to buy beer and soda (as happened when Philadelphia imposed such a tax), they’ll argue for statewide tax harmonization. And when that leads to cross-state shopping, they’ll push for federal harmonization.

Maybe, just maybe, they should leave people alone. In a free society, you should have the right to control your own life, even if it means making decisions that some people don’t like.

P.S. Nobody should be surprised when Seattle politicians enact bad policy.

P.P.S. Since we now know that soda taxes backfire, you also won’t be surprised to learn that marijuana taxes backfire. And tobacco taxes.

P.P.P.S. To the extent these taxes are successful, we get more evidence of the Laffer Curve. That happened in Berkeley. And it happened in Mexico.

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I wrote last month about a tax-and-spend proposal for single-payer healthcare in California (sort of a state version of “Medicare for All“).

I also analyzed the scheme in this discussion with Gene Tunny of Australia.

What’s remarkable, as Gene mentioned in his preface, is that the left’s push for single payer failed – even though Democrats have complete control of the Golden State, including more than three-fourths of the seats in both chambers of the state legislature.

So why didn’t those politicians hasten the state’s slow-motion economic suicide?

Almost certainly, the biggest reason is that even folks on the left have second thoughts about the enormous tax increase that would have been required.

As I noted back in 2016, big government is only fun when somebody else is picking up the tab.

Which motivates me to unveil a Thirteenth Theorem of Government.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened with single payer in California.

Here are some excerpts from a report by Sophia Bollag for the Sacramento Bee.

Efforts to create a government-run health care system for all Californians stalled Monday when the lawmaker pushing the legislation announced he didn’t have the votes in time for a key deadline. Assembly Bill 1400 aimed to create a so-called single-payer health care system in California that would essentially replace private insurance with a state-run health system. …To fund it, lawmakers would have also needed to pass a separate bill to increase taxes… The taxes Kalra proposed would also require voter approval. …Kalra said the fight for single-payer health care won’t die with AB 1400. Lawmakers could craft a different bill to implement such a system in the future. The bill’s failure represents a blow to the California Nurses Association, which had backed the bill. …This isn’t the first time a bill to create a single-payer system has died in the Assembly. The Senate advanced a similar bill in 2017, but it died in the Legislature’s lower chamber. Gov. Gavin Newsom…has said he supports single-payer health care.

Giant tax increases were the big obstacle (as was the case a few years ago).

…higher taxes are a tough sell, even in the California Legislature where Democrats hold a super-majority. …Fiscal analyses estimate the bill could cost between $314 billion and $391 billion per year if it were implemented. That would dramatically increase total state spending; California’s current budget is $262 billion. To pay for it, Kalra proposed taxing businesses 2.3% of their income after the first $2 million through a proposed amendment to the California Constitution. His proposal would also have imposed a 1.25% payroll tax on employers of 50 or more people and an additional payroll tax on wages for California residents over $49,900 per employee. The measure would have added progressive income taxes starting at .5% for people making more than $149,500, up to 2.5% for people making more than about $2.5 million per year.

By the way, the higher income tax rates mentioned in the last sentence would be in addition to California’s already-highest-in-the-nation income tax rates.

In a column for Forbes, Patrick Gleason points out that the failure of single payer in California is part of a pattern.

For progressive lawmakers and activists who want to enact a national single-payer health care system, rejection of a state-level “Medicare For All” proposal in one of the bluest states in the nation, where Democrats have sweeping control of state government, is seen as a major set back. …California isn’t the only state, let alone the only blue state, where single-payer health system legislation has crashed and burned. New York Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D), the longest serving member of the history of the New York Assembly, has long pushed for the New York Health Act, a single-payer proposal for the Empire State. Assemblyman Gottfried’s bill was approved by the New York Assembly five times between 1992 and 2018, only to see the state senate decline to take it up. As in California, exorbitant cost projections have been the main obstacle to single-payer’s enactment. …it is single-payer champion Bernie Sanders’ state of Vermont where state-level Medicare-For-All first proved to be unworkable. More than a decade ago, Vermont state lawmakers enacted legislation to implement a single-payer system called Green Mountain Care. …Shortly after the single-payer bill was enacted in 2011, Vermont officials were confronted with the reality that “free” health care is actually pretty costly for taxpayers. Governor Shumlin and Vermont lawmakers discovered they would need to impose a new 11.5% state payroll tax and a 9.5 percentage point income tax increase to pay for the new entitlement. Together these tax increases would’ve represented a more than 150% hike in the state’s income tax.

If you want more information, I wrote about deep-blue Vermont’s disastrous (but fortunately temporary) experiment with single payer back in 2014.

The article also should have mentioned that blue-leaning Colorado voters had a chance to adopt a single-payer scheme in 2016. By a stunning margin of 80-20, they voted it down.

The bottom line is that people (sadly) are willing to use government as a tool to steal from their neighbors. But the message of the Twelfth Theorem is that they generally don’t like to steal from themselves.

P.S. Here are the other 12 Theorems of Government.

  • The “First Theorem” explains how Washington really operates.
  • The “Second Theorem” explains why it is so important to block the creation of new programs.
  • The “Third Theorem” explains why centralized programs inevitably waste money.
  • The “Fourth Theorem” explains that good policy can be good politics.
  • The “Fifth Theorem” explains how good ideas on paper become bad ideas in reality.
  • The “Sixth Theorem” explains an under-appreciated benefit of a flat tax.
  • The “Seventh Theorem” explains how bigger governments are less competent.
  • The “Eighth Theorem” explains the motives of those who focus on inequality.
  • The “Ninth Theorem” explains how politics often trump principles.
  • The “Tenth Theorem” explains how politicians manufacture/exploit crises.
  • The “Eleventh Theorem” explains why big business is often anti-free market.
  • The “Twelfth Theorem” explains you can’t have European-sized government without pillaging the middle class.

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As part of a recent discussion with Gene Tunny in Australia, I explained why I support “Starve the Beast,” which means keeping taxes as low as possible to help achieve the goal of spending restraint.

The premise of Starve the Beast is very simple.

Politicians like to spend money and they don’t particularly care whether that spending is financed by taxes or financed by borrowing (both bad options).

As Milton Friedman sagely observed, that means they will spend every penny they collect in taxes plus as much additional spending financed by borrowing that the political system will allow.

The IMF published a study on this issue about 10 years ago. The authors (Michael Kumhof, Douglas Laxton, and Daniel Leigh) assert that there’s no way of knowing whether Starve the Beast will lead to good or bad results.

…there is no consensus regarding the macroeconomic and welfare consequences of implementing a starve-the-beast approach, henceforth referred to as STB. …it could be beneficial in the ideal case in which it results in cuts in entirely wasteful government spending. In particular, lower spending frees up resources for private consumption, and the associated lower tax rates reduce distortions in the economy. On the other hand, …lower government spending may itself entail welfare losses…if it augments the productivity of private factors of production. …the paper examines whether the principal macroeconomic variables such as GDP and consumption, both in the United States and in the rest of the world, respond positively to this policy. …In addition, the paper assesses how the welfare effects depend on the degree to which government spending directly contributes to household welfare or to productivity.

The authors don’t really push any particular conclusion. Instead, they show various economic outcomes depending on with assumptions one adopts.

Since plenty of research shows that government spending is not a net plus for the economy (even IMF economists agree on that point), and because I think a less-punitive tax system is possible (and desirable) if there’s a smaller burden of government spending, I think the findings shown in Figure 4 make the most sense.

Now let’s shift from academic analysis to policy analysis.

In a piece for National Review back in July 2020, Jim Geraghty notes that Starve the Beast has an impact on government finances at the state level.

…we’re probably not going to see a massive expansion of government at the state level in the coming year or two. …Thanks to the pandemic lockdown bringing vast swaths of the economy to a halt, state tax revenues are plummeting. …So states will have much less tax revenue, constitutional balanced-budget requirements that are not easily repealed, and a limited amount of budgetary tricks to work around it. State governments could attempt to raise taxes, but that’s going to be unpopular and hurt state economies when they’re already struggling. Add it all up and it’s a tough set of circumstances for a dramatic expansion of government, no matter how ardently progressive the governor and state legislatures are.

For what it’s worth, Geraghty warned in the article that fiscal restraint by state governments wouldn’t happen if the federal government turned on the spending spigot.

And that, of course, is exactly what happened.

Now let’s look at the most unintentional endorsement of Stave the Beast.

A couple of years ago, Paul Krugman sort of admitted that cutting taxes was a potentially effective strategy for spending restraint.

…the same Republicans now wringing their hands over budget deficits…blew up that same deficit by enacting a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. …this has been the G.O.P.’s budget strategy for decades. First, cut taxes. Then, bemoan the deficit created by those tax cuts and demand cuts in social spending. Lather, rinse, repeat. This strategy, known as “starve the beast,” has been around since the 1970s, when Republican economists like Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman began declaring that the role of tax cuts in worsening budget deficits was a feature, not a bug. As Greenspan openly put it in 1978, the goal was to rein in spending with tax cuts that reduce revenue, then “trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.” …voters should realize that the threat to programs… Social Security and Medicare as we know them will be very much in danger.

In other words, Krugman doesn’t like Starve the Beast because he fears it is effective (just like he also acknowledges the Laffer Curve, even though he’s opposed to tax cuts).

Let’s close by looking at some very powerful real-world evidence. Over the past 50 years, there’s been a massive increase in the tax burden in Western Europe.

Did all that additional tax revenue lead to lower deficits and less debt?

Nope, the opposite happened. European politicians spent every penny of the new tax revenue (much of it from value-added taxes). And then they added even more spending financed by additional borrowing.

To be fair, one could argue that this was an argument for the view of “Don’t Feed the Beast” rather than “Starve the Beast,” but it nonetheless shows that more money in the hands of politicians simply means more spending. And more red ink.

P.S. I had a discussion last year with Gene Tunny about the issue of “state capacity libertarianism.”

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I wrote back in 2012 that California voters opted for “slow-motion economic suicide” by voting to raise the state’s top income tax rate to 13.3 percent.

Sure enough, having the nation’s highest state income tax rate has been bad news.

More and more companies and households are leaving the (no-longer) Golden State for zero-income-tax states such as Texas, Nevada, and Florida.

Unfortunately, it appears that California politicians aren’t learning any lessons from this exodus.

They’re now pushing for a massive tax increase to fund a government takeover of health care.

The Wall Street Journal opined about the new plan.

California Democrats are busy reviving government-run, single-payer health care, despite its failure in the state five years ago. …Their revived legislation would replace Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance with a state-run system… Californians would also be entitled to an expansive list of benefits including vision, dental, hearing and long-term care. A board of bureaucrats would control costs—i.e., ration care. …While Californians would technically be entitled to a “free” knee replacement, they might not get one if bureaucrats consider them too old—but the state won’t let people know that’s the reason. …Arizona could soon become a hot destination for medical tourism. …As for the tax increases… Start with a 2.3% excise tax on business with more than $2 million in annual gross receipts… Employers with 50 or more workers would also pay a 1.25% payroll tax, which would be passed onto workers. Workers earning more than $49,900 would pay an additional 1% payroll tax. …would raise the effective income tax on wage earners making more than $61,213 to 11.55%—more than millionaires pay in every state but New York. …An additional progressive surtax would start at 0.5% on income over $149,509 and rise to 2.5% at $2,484,121. …The top marginal rate would rise to 15.8% on unearned income, including capital gains, and 18.05% on wage income.

In a column for Reason, Joe Bishop-Henchman and Andrew Wilford of the National Taxpayers Union explain the likely impact of the proposed tax increases.

As the mad scientist laboratory for bad tax policy in America, California is constantly striving to come up with poorly designed and harmful taxes to pay for ever-increasing spending. But even by its own lofty standards, California has truly outdone itself with its latest proposal to fund a state single-payer health care system. …Not only would the proposed $163 billion in new tax revenue nearly double last year’s total revenue for the tax-happy state, but California would structure these new taxes in such a way as to be even more harmful than doubled tax liabilities already imply. …the 2.3 percent gross receipts tax sticks out. …whether a business has a profit margin of 0.1 percent or 10 percent, it would still have to pay the same percentage of its total revenues. …a rate that is three times the level of the nation’s current highest. …the proposal to institute a payroll tax on businesses with 50 or more employees…would create an obvious disincentive for businesses to hire their 50th employee. …the payroll tax would discourage both hiring employees and paying them higher wages, a disastrous outcome for workers. …individual income tax rates…would effectively be…an 18-bracket tax structure with a top marginal tax rate of 18.05 percent. …a trend that California appears to have its head in the sand about: overtaxed businesses and individuals fleeing for greener pastures.

Let’s elaborate on that final sentence and ask ourselves what the tipping point will be for various taxpayers.

  • Imagine you run a business and you have to pay a 2.3 percent tax on all your receipts, even if you happen to be losing money? Do you leave the state?
  • Imagine if you are a typical employee and government takes more than 10 percent of your income in exchange for bad roads and bad schools? Do you leave the state?
  • Imagine that you are a high-value entrepreneur facing the possibility of having to pay more than 18 percent of your income to state politicians? Do you leave?
  • Imagine being an investor who is thinking about forgoing consumption in order to make an investment that might result in a punitive capital gains tax? Do you leave?

And while you contemplate those questions, remember that California is already very unfriendly to taxpayers, ranking #48 according to the Tax Foundation and ranking #49 according to the Fraser Institute.

Moreover, while California politicians consider a massive tax increase, other states are lowering tax rates.

In other words, California already is in trouble and many state politicians now want to double down on a losing bet.

P.S. California considered a government-run health plan a few years ago and backed off, so maybe there’s hope.

P.P.S. Illinois has been the long-time leader in the poll that asks which state will be the first to suffer political collapse. That may change if this California plan is enacted.

P.P.P.S. When I’m feeling petty and malicious, I sometime hope jurisdictions adopt bad policy because that will give me more evidence showing the adverse consequences of bad policy.

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The fight over President Biden’s budget, the so-called Build Back Better plan, has revolved around very important issues.

For today’s column, let’s zoom out and look at two charts that highlight the big issue that should be getting more attention.

First, here’s a comparison of projected inflation with baseline spending (the current spending outlook) and Biden’s budget – all based on economic and fiscal estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

As you can see, spending was growing far too fast even without Biden’s budget. And if Biden’s budget is enacted, the spending burden will rise more than twice the rate of inflation.

Now let’s look at a chart that illustrates why Biden’s spending spree is just a small part of the problem.

To be sure, it’s not good that the President is exacerbating America’s fiscal problems, but you can see that he’s simply adding a few more straws to the camel’s back.

You’ll also notice that I included both the amount of spending that technically is in Biden’s budget plan (the orange part), as well as CBO’s estimate of the additional spending (the gray part) that will happen if the budget gimmicks are removed.

The bottom line is that America’s fiscal problem is too much government spending.

And that spending burden is getting worse over time because spending is growing faster than the private sector, violating the Golden Rule, which is bad news for jobs and growth.

Making the problem worse, as Biden proposes, will further hurt American prosperity.

P.S. Biden’s plan will increase the deficit, which also is not good, but keep in mind that tax-financed spending is no better than debt-financed spending. In either case, you wind up with the same bad result.

P.P.S. This column has two serious visuals to help understand Biden’s fiscal policy. If you prefer satire, here are two other images.

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Regarding fiscal policy, almost everyone’s attention is focused on Biden’s growth-sapping plan to increase the burden of taxes and spending.

People are right to be concerned. If the President’s plan is approved, the already-grim fiscal outlook for United States will get even worse.

This battle will be decided in next 12 months, hopefully with a defeat for Biden’s dependency agenda.

Regardless of how that fight is resolved, though, we’re eventually going to get to a point where sensible people are back in charge. And when that happens, we’ll have to figure out how to restore the nation’s finances.

That requires figuring out the appropriate goal. Here are two options:

  • Keeping taxes low.
  • Controlling debt.

These are both worthy objectives.

But, as a logic teacher might say, they are necessary but not sufficient conditions.

Here’s a chart showing how a policy of low taxes (the orange line) presumably enables faster growth, but also creates the risk of an eventual economic crisis if nothing is done to control spending and debt climbs too high (think Greece).

By contrast, the chart also shows that it’s theoretically possible to avoid an economic crisis with higher taxes (the blue line), but it means less growth on a year-to-year basis.

The moral of the story is that the economy winds up in the same place with either tax-financed spending or debt-financed spending.

Which is why we should consider a third goal.

  • Limiting spending.

The economic benefits of this approach are illustrated in this second chart. We enjoy faster year-to-year growth. And, because spending restraint is the best way of controlling debt, the risk of a Greek-style economic crisis is averted.

Now for some caveats.

I made a handful of assumptions in the above charts.

  • The economy grows 2.0 percent annually for the next 31 years with tax-financed spending
  • The economy grows 2.5 percent annually with debt-financed spending, but suffers a 10 percent decline in Year 31.
  • The economy grows 3.0 percent annually for the next 31 years with smaller government (thus enabling low taxes and less debt).

Anyone can create their own spreadsheet and make different assumptions.

That being said, there’s a lot of evidence that higher tax burdens hinder growth, that ever-rising debt burdens can lead to crisis, and that less government spending produces stronger growth.

So feel free to make your own assumptions about the strength of these effects, but let’s never lose sight of the fact that spending restraint should be the main goal for post-Biden fiscal policy.

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Earlier this year, extrapolating from a study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Robert O’Quinn (former Chief Economist at the Department of Labor) and I authored a study on the economic impact of Biden’s fiscal plan.

The results are not pretty.

Lost jobs, lost wages, lower living standards, and lost competitiveness.

But those estimates were based on the parameters of Biden’s economic plan in the summer.

His agenda has since been modified, which raises the question of how the current proposal would affect economic performance.

In a piece for Canada’s Fraser Institute (publishers of Economic Freedom of the World and Economic Freedom of North America), Robert and I updated our numbers and explained the implications of Biden’s tax-and-spend agenda.

According to independent experts at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the actual cost of the president’s policies is closer to $4.9 trillion. Some of this new spending will be financed with red ink, but President Biden also has embraced higher tax rates on work, saving, investment and entrepreneurship. Indeed, if his plan were enacted, the United States would have both the highest corporate tax rate and the highest capital gains tax rate in the developed world. …But how much would the economy be hurt? There are groups such as the Tax Foundation that do excellent work measuring the adverse effects of higher tax rates. But it’s also important to measure the harmful impact of a bigger welfare state. …Based on that CBO study, and using the CBO fiscal and economic baselines, we calculated the following unpalatable outcomes if Build Back Better bill (pushed by the president and Democrats in Congress) becomes law and growth is reduced by 2/10ths of 1 per cent per year.

And here are the results.

The good news is that the latest version of Biden’s plan doesn’t do quite as much damage as what was being discussed earlier this year.

The bad news is that our economy will be much weaker (and our results are in line with other estimates, including those done before the election and since the election).

Not that we should be surprised. If the United States becomes more like Europe, we’ll be more likely so suffer from European-style anemia.

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Biden’s budget plan is based on fraudulent numbers, but it is also based on the fraudulent idea that a big, European-style welfare state can be financed without fleecing lower-income and middle-class taxpayers.

I’ve repeatedly pointed out that this is not true, but it’s time to turn this fiscal fact into a Theorem of Government.

Some of my friends on the left don’t agree with the first sentence of this Theorem. In some cases, I think they sincerely believe that big government can be entirely financed by going after upper-income taxpayers.

This is why I added the second sentence. After all, surely some of Europe’s welfare states would have figured out how to shield poor and middle-class people from high tax burdens if that was possible.

Yet that’s not the case. As illustrated by this unfortunate Spaniard, ordinary people in Europe get fleeced by their governments.

The good news (sort of) is that there are some honest folks on the left who openly admit a big welfare state means big taxes on ordinary people.

I even include them on my page of “honest leftists.”

And now we have a new member of that club. Congressman Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania recently admitted that his party’s agenda will require taxes on those of us with modest incomes.

Here are some excerpts from a report by Emily Brooks.

Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb acknowledged that enacting all of the Democrats’ sweeping policy visions would require Democrats to raise taxes on the middle class rather than relying on tax increases on the rich. “If we want to propose a lot of new spending and adventurous new government programs in our party, we have to have the confidence to ask … the middle class and people like that to contribute to it. And I think that’s … what we’re missing right now,” Lamb, a Democrat representing a swing district northwest of Pittsburgh, said last week. …”Some of the focus on the billionaires and the ultra-wealthy that people are putting in the news right now — it’s fine, it’s valid, it’s not enough to fund everything we want to do,” Lamb said.

Needless to say, I disagree with Cong. Lamb’s policy agenda. If we adopt European-style fiscal policy, it will mean anemic, European-style economic malaise.

And that will translate into lower living standards for the masses.

But at least he’s being honest about what he wants.

P.S. To elaborate, a small government can be financed by a few rich people. That’s basically the story of Hong Kong. A medium-sized government can be financed in large part by the rich. That’s sort of the story of the United States (though ordinary people pay of a lot of payroll taxes). But there’s no way to finance a Biden-style agenda without going after ordinary taxpayers.

P.P.S. Here are my other Theorems of Government.

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When President Biden first proposed a global minimum tax on companies, I immediately warned that creating a corporate tax cartel would be very bad news for workers, consumers, and shareholders.

I also warned a BBC audience that proponents would use the agreement as a stepping stone for other statist initiatives to increase the power of politicians.

Simply stated, I’ve been ringing the alarm bells that a tax cartel will lead to ever-higher corporate tax rates. And it will serve as a model for other forms of harmonization.

Well, now that Ireland has capitulated and governments formally adopted the scheme, this is my “I told you so” column.

In a column for the Washington Post, Larry Summers, a former top adviser for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, celebrates the creation of a global tax cartel.

His column has a laughably inaccurate title, but he starts with some accurate observations about the importance of the agreement.

This agreement is arguably the most significant international economic pact of the 21st century so far. It is built around a profoundly important principle: Countries should cooperate to raise corporate taxation, not compete to reduce it. …It also demonstrates the power of ideas to shape economic policy, as tax scholars have for years been pondering the conundrums of taxing global companies.

I also think the agreement is important, albeit in a very bad way.

And it does show the power of ideas, albeit very bad ideas (though politicians instinctively want more money and power and merely rely on left-leaning academics and policy wonks for after-the-fact rationalizations of statism).

As you might expect, Summers veers from reality to fantasy when discussing the implications of the new tax cartel.

Countries have come together to make sure that the global economy can create widely shared prosperity, rather than lower tax burdens for those at the top. By providing a more durable and robust revenue base, the new minimum tax will help pay for the sorts of public investments that are fundamental to economic success in all countries.

For all intents and purposes, he’s embracing the absurd notion that more growth will materialize if politicians impose higher tax rates and use the money to expand the burden of government.

Proponents of this view conveniently never offer any evidence.

Why? Because there isn’t any.

The scholarly research shows the opposite is true. Free markets and small government are the recipe for growth and prosperity.

I’ll now shift back to a part of the column that is unfortunately accurate.

It is also a template for much more that needs to be done to tackle the adverse side effects of our modern, global capitalism.

What’s accurate about that sentence isn’t the jibe about “adverse side effects” of capitalism (unless, of course, he thinks mass prosperity is a bad thing).

But he’s right about the statists using the global tax cartel as “a template” for further schemes to empower politicians and their cronies.

Summers mentions issues such as public health (I guess he wants to reward the World Health Organization’s corruption and incompetence).

Since I’m a public-finance economist, I’m more worried about cartels that will be created for personal income tax, capital gains tax, dividend tax, wealth tax, etc.

P.S. The corporate tax cartel will lead to higher tax rates, but OECD and IMF data (and U.S. data) show that this doesn’t necessarily mean higher revenue.

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The good news is that President Biden wants the United States to be at the top. The bad news is that he wants America to be at the top in bad ways.

  • The highest corporate income tax rate.
  • The highest capital gains tax rate.
  • The highest level of double taxation.

We can now add another category, based on the latest iteration of his budget plan.

According to the Tax Foundation, the United States would have the developed world’s most punitive personal income tax.

Worse than France and worse than Greece. How embarrassing.

In their report, Alex Durante and William McBride explain how the new plan will raise tax rates in a convoluted fashion.

High-income taxpayers would face a surcharge on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), defined as adjusted gross income less investment interest expense. The surcharge would equal 5 percent on MAGI in excess of $10 million plus 3 percent on MAGI above $25 million, for a total surcharge of 8 percent. The plan would also redefine the tax base to which the 3.8 percent net investment income tax (NIIT) applies to include the “active” part of pass-through income—all taxable income above $400,000 (single filer) or $500,000 (joint filer) would be subject to tax of 3.8 percent due to the combination of NIIT and Medicare taxes. Under current law, the top marginal tax rate on ordinary income is scheduled to increase from 37 percent to 39.6 percent starting in 2026. Overall, the top marginal tax rate on personal income at the federal level would rise to 51.4 percent. In addition to the top federal rate, individuals face taxes on personal income in most U.S. states. Considering the average top marginal state-local tax rate of 6.0 percent, the combined top tax rate on personal income would be 57.4 percent—higher than currently levied in any developed country.

Needless to say, this will make the tax code more complex.

Lawyers and accountants will win and the economy will lose.

I’m not sure why Biden and his big-spender allies have picked a complicated way to increase tax rates, but that doesn’t change that fact that people will have less incentive to engage in productive behavior.

What matters is the marginal tax rate on people who are thinking about earning more income.

And they’ll definitely choose to earn less if tax rates increase, particularly since well-to-do taxpayers have considerable control over the timing, level, and composition of their income.

P.S. Based on what happened in the 1980s, we can safely assume that Biden’s class-warfare plan won’t raise much money.

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After the people of the United Kingdom voted to escape the European Union, I wondered whether the Conservative Party would “find a new Margaret Thatcher” to enact pro-market reforms and thus “take advantage of a golden opportunity” to “prosper in a post-Brexit world.”

The answer is no.

The current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, deserves praise for turning the Brexit vote into Brexit reality, but his fiscal policy has been atrocious.

Not only is he failing to be another Margaret Thatcher, he’s a bigger spender than left-leaning Tory leaders such as David Cameron and Theresa May.

Let’s look at some British media coverage of how Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) have sided with government over taxpayers.

Allister Heath of the Telegraph has a brutal assessment of their profligacy.

Rishi Sunak’s message, repeated over and over again, as he unveiled a historic, epoch-defining rise in public spending financed by ruinous tax increases. It was a Labour Budget with a Tory twist and the kind of Spending Review that Gordon Brown would have relished… the cash was sprinkled in every possible direction. Sunak is Chancellor, but he was executing Boris Johnson’s cakeist vision: a meddling, hyperactive, managerialist, paternalistic and almost municipal state which refuses to accept any limits to its ambition or ability to spend. …The scale of the tax increases is staggering. …This will propel the tax burden from 33.5 per cent of GDP before the pandemic to 36.2 per cent by 2026-27, its highest since the early 1950s… The picture on spending is equally grim: we are on course for a new normal of around 41.6 per cent of GDP by 2026-27, the largest sustained share of GDP since the late 1970s. …The Budget and Spending Review are thus a huge victory for Left-wing ideas, even if the shift is being implemented by Right-wing Brexiteers who have forgotten that the economic case for Brexit wasn’t predicated on Britain becoming more like France or Spain. …Labour shouldn’t be feeling too despondent: the party may not be in office, but when it comes to the economy and public spending, they are very much in power.

Writing for CapX, James Heywood explains one of the adverse consequences of big-government Toryism.

Simply stated, the U.K. will go from bad to worse in the Tax Foundation’s International Tax Competitiveness Index.

…in the Cameron-Osborne era, the Conservatives focused on heavily on making Britain competitive and business-friendly, with significant cuts to the headline rate of corporation tax. …in his recent Tory conference speech, Boris Johnson trumpeted the virtues of an ‘open society and free market economy’, promising that his was a government committed to creating a ‘low tax economy’.  Unfortunately, when it comes to UK tax policy the direction of travel is concerningly divorced from the rhetoric. The latest iteration of the US-based Tax Foundation’s annual International Tax Competitiveness Index placed the UK 22nd out of 37 OECD countries when it comes to the overall performance of our tax system. …Nor does the UK’s current ranking factor in the Government’s plans for future tax rises. …the headline rate of corporation tax had fallen to 19% and was set to fall to 17% by 2020. That further fall had already been cancelled during Sajid Javid’s brief stint as Chancellor, in order to pay for additional NHS spending. At the last Budget, Rishi Sunak went much further, setting out plans to gradually raise the rate from 19% to 25% in April 2023. That is a huge tax measure by anyone’s standards… On top of that we have the recently announced Health and Social Care Levy… If we factor all these new measures into the Tax Foundation’s Competitiveness Index, the UK falls to a dismal 30th out of 37 countries.

For what it’s worth, the United Kingdom’s competitiveness decline will be very similar to the drop in America’s rankings if Biden’s fiscal plan is enacted.

In other words, there’s not much difference between the left-wing policy of Joe Biden and the (supposedly) right-wing policy of Britain’s Conservative Party.

No wonder a British cartoonist thought it was appropriate to show Rishi Sunak morphing into Gorden Brown, the high-tax, big-government Chancellor of the Exchequer under Tony Blair.

I’ll close with the observation that conservatives and libertarians in the United Kingdom need to create their own version of the no-tax-hike pledge.

That pledge, organized by Americans for Tax Reform, has helped protect many (but not all) Republicans from politically foolish tax hikes.

It is good politics to have a no-tax pledge, but I’m much more focused on the fact that opposing tax hikes is good policy.

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