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Archive for the ‘Tax Competition’ Category

To pick the state with the best tax policy, the first step is to identify the ones with no income tax and then look at other variables to determine which one deserves the top ranking.

For what it’s worth, I put South Dakota at the top.

Picking the state with the worst tax policy is more difficult. There are lots of reasons to pick California, in part because it has the highest income tax rate of any state. But there are also strong arguments that New York, Illinois, and New Jersey deserve the worst rating.

And let’s not forget my home state of Connecticut, which invariably ranks near the bottom based on research from the Tax Foundation, the Mercatus Center, the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, and WalletHub.

The Wall Street Journal opined yesterday about Connecticut’s metamorphosis from a zero-income-tax state to a high-tax swamp.

Hard to believe, but a mere 25 years ago—a lifetime for millennials—Connecticut was a low-tax haven for Northeasterners. The state enacted an income tax in 1991 that was initially a flat 4.5% but was later made steeply progressive. In 2009 former Republican Governor Jodi Rell raised the top rate on individuals earning $500,000 or more to 6.5%, which Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy has lifted to 6.99% (as if paying 0.01% less than 7% is a government discount). Connecticut’s top tax rate is now higher than the 5.1% flat rate in the state formerly known as Taxachusetts.

This big shift in the tax burden has led to predictably bad results.

…the tax hikes have been a disaster. A net 30,000 residents moved to other states last year. Since 2010 seven of Connecticut’s eight counties have lost population, and the hedge-fund haven of Fairfield County shrank for the first time last year. In the last five years, 27,400 Connecticut residents have moved to Florida. …More than 3,000 Connecticut residents have moved to zero income-tax New Hampshire in the last two years. While liberals wax apocalyptic about Kansas’s tax cuts, the Prairie State has welcomed 1,430 Connecticut refugees since 2011 and reversed the outflow between 2005 and 2009. Yet liberals deny that tax policies influence personal or business decisions.

The good news is that the state’s leftist politicians recognize that there’s a problem. The bad news is that they don’t want to undo the high tax rates that are causing the problems. Instead, they want to use some favoritism, cronyism, and social engineering.

Connecticut’s progressive tax experiment has hit a wall. Tens of thousands of residents are fleeing for lower tax climes, which has prompted Democrats to propose—get this—paying new college grads a thousand bucks to stick around. …proposing a tax credit averaging $1,200 for grads of Connecticut colleges who live in the state as well as those of out-of-state schools who move to the state within two years of earning their degree.

As the WSJ points out, special tax credits won’t be very effective if the job market stinks.

Yet the main reason young people are escaping is the lack of job opportunities. Since 2010 employment in Connecticut has grown at half the rate of Massachusetts and more slowly than in Rhode Island, New Jersey or Kansas.

By the way, this isn’t the first time that Connecticut’s politicians have resorted to special-interest kickbacks.

The Wall Street Journal also editorialized last year about the state’s one-off bribe to keep a hedge fund from fleeing to a state with better policy.

Last week the Governor presented Bridgewater with $5 million in grants and $17 million in low-interest, forgivable loans to renovate its headquarters in Westport along the state’s Gold Coast.

But the bit of cronyism won’t help ordinary people.

Connecticut has lost 105,000 residents to other states over the last five years while experiencing zero real economic growth. …So here is the new-old progressive governing model: Raise taxes relentlessly in the name of soaking the 1% to pay off government unions. When that drives people out of the state, subsidize the 0.1% to salvage at least some jobs and revenue. Ray Dalio gets at least some of his money back. The middle class gets you know what.

What’s particularly frustrating is that the state’s leftist governor understands the consequences of bad tax policy, even though he’s unwilling to enact the right solution.

Mr. Malloy said that other states including New York were trying to lure Bridgewater, and Connecticut couldn’t afford to lose the $150 billion fund or its 1,400 high-income employees. …The Governor’s office says Nutmeg State tax revenues could shrink by $4.9 billion over the next decade if all of Bridgewater’s employees departed. …“We see what happens in places like New Jersey when some of the wealthiest people move out of the state,” Mr. Malloy warned. This is the same Governor who has long echoed the progressive left’s claim that tax rates don’t matter. Maybe he was knocked off his horse by a vision on the road to Hartford.

This is remarkable.

Governor Malloy recognizes that tax-motivated migration is a powerful force.

He even admits that it causes big Laffer Curve effects, meaning governments actually lose revenue over time when tax rates are punitive.

Yet he won’t fix the underlying problem.

Maybe there’s some unwritten rule that Connecticut has to have bad governors?

Mr. Malloy’s Republican predecessor Jodi Rell raised the top marginal tax rate to 6.5% from 5% on individuals earning more than $500,000, and Mr. Malloy raised it again to 6.99%. Hilariously, Ms. Rell said last month that she’s also moving her residence to Florida because of the “downward spiral” in Connecticut that she helped to propel.

And lots of other people are moving as well.

The death tax plays a role, as explained in a column for the Hartford Courant.

Connecticut spends beyond its means and, therefore, taxes more than it should. …they’re driving the largest taxpayers away. We’ve passed the tipping point beyond which higher taxes beget lower revenues… The wealthy, in particular, have decided in swelling numbers they won’t be caught dead — literally — in our state. Evidence strongly suggests that estate and gift taxes are the final straw. To avoid Connecticut’s estate tax, wealthy families are moving to one of the 36 states without one.

And the loss of productive people means the loss of associated economic activity.

Including tax revenue.

Where wealthy families choose to establish residency has important ramifications for Connecticut’s economy and fiscal health. The earlier these golden geese flee, the greater the cumulative loss of golden eggs in the form of income taxes, sales taxes, jobs created by their companies, philanthropic support and future generations of precious taxpayers.

The data on tax-motivated migration is staggering.

Between 2010 and 2013, the number of federal tax returns with adjusted gross incomes of $1 million or more grew only 9.5 percent here vs. 22 percent in Massachusetts, 16 percent in New York and Rhode Island, and 30 percent in Florida. Slow economic growth and ever higher taxes are both cause and effect of out-migration. …In 2008, the state Department of Revenue Services asked accountants and tax lawyers whether clients moved out of state due to the estate tax, and 53 percent of respondents said it was the principal reason. …The outflow accelerated following 2011’s historic $2.5 billion tax increase. In the following two years, Connecticut suffered a net out-migration of more than 27,000 residents who took nearly $4 billion in annual adjusted gross income elsewhere, a stunning $500,000 per household. According to the Yankee Institute, the average adjusted gross income of each person leaving tripled in the past 10 years. At an average tax rate of 6.5 percent, this represents more than $250 million in lost income tax revenue annually, which is 50 percent more than the state collected in estate and gift taxes in 2014.

By the way, just in case some of you are skeptical and think that Connecticut’s deterioration is somehow unconnected to tax policy, I’ll close with this excerpt from some academic research that calculated the nationwide impact of state tax policy differences.

We consider the complete sample of all U.S. establishments from 1977-2011 belonging to firms with at least 100 employees and having operations in at least two states. On the extensive margin, we find that a one percentage point increase (decrease) in the state corporate tax rate leads to the closing (opening) of 0.03 establishments belonging to firms organized as C corporations in the state. This corresponds to an average change in the number of establishments per C corporation of 0.4%. A similar analysis shows that a one percentage point change in the state personal tax rate a§ects the number of establishments in the state per pass-through entity by 0.2-0.3%. These effects are robust to controls for local economic conditions and heterogeneous time trends. …This lends strong support to the view that tax competition across states is economically relevant.

To be sure, the numbers cited above may not sound large.

But keep in mind that small changes, if sustained over time, grow into very big results.

In the case of Connecticut, we have a state that has suffered dramatic negative consequences ever since the income tax was imposed back in 1991.

P.S. While my former state obviously has veered sharply in the wrong direction on fiscal policy, I must say that I’m proud that residents are engaging in civil disobedience against the state’s anti-gun policies.

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I’ve been at the United Nations this week for both the 14th Session of the Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters as well as the Special Meeting of ECOSOC on International Cooperation in Tax Matters.

As you might suspect, it would be an understatement to say this puts me in the belly of the beast (for the second time!). Sort of a modern-day version of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.

These meetings are comprised of tax collectors from various nations, along with U.N. officials who – like their tax-free counterparts at other international bureaucracies – don’t have to comply with the tax laws of those countries.

In other words, there’s nobody on the side of taxpayers and the private sector (I’m merely an observer representing “civil society”).

I could share with you the details of the discussion, but 99 percent of the discussion was boring and arcane. So instead I’ll touch on two big-picture observations.

What the United Nations gets wrong: The bureaucracy assumes that higher taxes are a recipe for economic growth and development.

I’m not joking. I wrote last year about how many of the international bureaucracies are blindly asserting that higher taxes are pro-growth because government supposedly will productively “invest” any additional revenue. And this reflexive agitation for higher fiscal burdens has been very prevalent this week in New York City. It’s unclear whether participants actually believe their own rhetoric. I’ve shared with some of the folks the empirical data showing the western world became rich in the 1800s when fiscal burdens were very modest. But I’m not expecting any miraculous breakthroughs in economic understanding.

What the United Nations fails to get right: The bureaucracy does not appreciate that low rates are the best way of boosting tax compliance.

Most of the discussions focused on how tax laws, tax treaties, and tax agreements can and should be altered to extract more money from the business community. Participants occasionally groused about tax evasion, but the real focus was on ways to curtail tax avoidance. This is noteworthy because it confirms my point that the anti-tax competition work of international bureaucracies is guided by a desire to collect more revenue rather than to improve enforcement of existing law. But I raise this issue because of a sin of omission. At no point did any of the participants acknowledge that there’s a wealth of empirical evidence showing that low tax rates are the most effective way of encouraging tax compliance.

I realize that these observations are probably not a big shock. So in hopes of saying something worthwhile, I’ll close with a few additional observations

  • I had no idea that people could spend so much time discussing the technicalities of taxes on international shipping. I resisted the temptation to puncture my eardrums with an ice pick.
  • From the moment it was announced, I warned that the OECD’s project on base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) was designed to extract more money from the business community. The meeting convinced me that my original fears were – if possible – understated.
  • A not-so-subtle undercurrent in the meeting is that governments of rich nations, when there are squabbles over who gets to pillage taxpayers, are perfectly happy to stiff-arm governments from poor nations.
  • The representative from the U.S. government never expressed any pro-taxpayer or pro-growth sentiments, but he did express some opposition to the notion that profits of multinationals could be divvied up based on the level of GDP in various nations. I hope that meant opposition to “formula apportionment.”
  • Much of the discussion revolved around the taxation of multinational companies, but I was still nonetheless surprised that there was no discussion of the U.S. position as a very attractive tax haven.
  • The left’s goal (at least for statists from the developing world) is for the United Nations to have greater power over national tax policies, which does put the UN in conflict with the OECD, which wants to turn a multilateral convention into a pseudo-International Tax Organization.

P.S. The good news is that the folks at the United Nations have not threatened to toss me in jail. That means the bureaucrats in New York City are more tolerant of dissent than the folks at the OECD.

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The good news is that the House put together an Obamacare-repeal bill that reduced the fiscal burden of government. The bad news is that the legislation didn’t address the regulations and interventions that produce rising costs and sectoral inefficiency because of the third-party payer problem.

Whether the bill was a net plus is now moot since it didn’t have enough votes for approval. And the withdrawal of the legislation has generated a bunch of stories on whether Trump and congressional Republicans are incapable of governing.

In particular since it appears that GOPers also seem incapable of coming to agreement on how to reduce the tax burden. I commented on the dysfunctional state of affairs in this interview with Neil Cavuto.

The bottom line is that there are big divisions. There is (thankfully) a lot of opposition to the border-adjustable tax, and there’s also no agreement on whether the tax plan should be a pure tax cut or whether it should be a revenue-neutral package that finances lower tax rates by eliminating or curtailing undesirable preferences.

Jason Furman, who was the Chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, suggest that Republican divisions won’t matter if tax reform becomes a bipartisan issue. But I’m not overly impressed by the five conditions he outlines in a column in today’s Wall Street Journal.

  • “Commit to revenue neutrality and distributional neutrality, as in the 1986 tax reform” – This is a poison pill, mostly because “distributional neutrality” means lawmakers would be constrained by class warfare concerns instead of focusing on how to produce growth. Indeed, this is why the plan put forth by the previous Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee was such a dud.
  • “Focus on business taxes only” – As I mentioned in the interview, I actually think this suggestion makes sense.
  • “For overseas business income, adopt something like a ‘minimum tax.'” – This is another poison pill. It’s designed to preserve worldwide taxation. Moreover, I explained last year that such schemes discriminate against nations with better tax policy.
  • “For domestic business income, adopt something along the lines of the House Republican proposal” – There’s not a lot of detail in the WSJ column, so it’s unclear if Furman is endorsing the notorious BAT from the House plan. He does explicitly endorse expensing over depreciation and he wants to put debt and equity on a level playing field. If that’s all he means, I agree with him.
  • “Incorporate into the bill a real plan for public infrastructure spending” – Since the federal government should not have any role in transportation, I’m obviously not enthusiastic about this proposal. Though if a bit of pork was the price to get an otherwise good bill through the process, I wouldn’t object too strenuously.

It’s unclear if Furman considers the five conditions a package deal. If so, there is zero chance of bipartisanship because Republicans presumably will not agree if they are bound by distributional neutrality.

But if a “business taxes only” agenda can get some Democrats on board, then there may be hope. Especially since that may make a virtue out of necessity, as I suggested in the interview.

And for those who question whether lowering the corporate tax rate is important, here’s an argument-ending chart from a recent Tax Foundation publication. Keep in mind that the U.S. corporate rate (including state levies) is 39 percent.

It’s particularly noteworthy that average corporate tax rates in Europe and Asia are about 20 percent, far lower than the tax burden imposed on companies in the United States.

No wonder many American companies have redomiciled to other nations.

The ultimate answer is to junk the entire tax code and adopt a simple and fair flat tax. The best-possible answer we may get out of dysfunctional Washington is probably a lower corporate rate.

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The multi-faceted controversy over Donald Trump’s taxes has been rejuvenated by a partial leak of his 2005 tax return.

Interestingly, it appears that Trump pays a lot of tax. At least for that one year. Which is contrary to what a lot of people have suspected – including me in the column I wrote on this topic last year for Time.

Some Trump supporters are even highlighting the fact that Trump’s effective tax rate that year was higher than what’s been paid by other political figures in more recent years.

But I’m not impressed. First, we have no idea what Trump’s tax rate was in other years. So the people defending Trump on that basis may wind up with egg on their face if tax returns from other years ever get published.

Second, why is it a good thing that Trump paid so much tax? I realize I’m a curmudgeonly libertarian, but I was one of the people who applauded Trump for saying that he does everything possible to minimize the amount of money he turns over to the IRS. As far as I’m concerned, he failed in 2005.

But let’s set politics aside and focus on the fact that Trump coughed up $38 million to the IRS in 2005. If that’s representative of what he pays every year (and I realize that’s a big “if”), my main thought is that he should move to Italy.

Yes, I realize that sounds crazy given Italy’s awful fiscal system and grim outlook. But there’s actually a new special tax regime to lure wealthy foreigners. Regardless of their income, rich people who move to Italy from other nations can pay a flat amount of €100,000 every year. Note that we’re talking about a flat amount, not a flat rate.

Here’s how the reform was characterized by an Asian news outlet.

Italy on Wednesday (Mar 8) introduced a flat tax for wealthy foreigners in a bid to compete with similar incentives offered in Britain and Spain, which have successfully attracted a slew of rich footballers and entertainers. The new flat rate tax of €100,000 (US$105,000) a year will apply to all worldwide income for foreigners who declare Italy to be their residency for tax purposes.

Here’s how Bloomberg/BNA described the new initiative.

Italy unveiled a plan to allow the ultra-wealthy willing to take up residency in the country to pay an annual “flat tax” of 100,000 euros ($105,000) regardless of their level of income. A former Italian tax official told Bloomberg BNA the initiative is an attempt to entice high-net-worth individuals based in the U.K. to set up residency in Italy… Individuals paying the flat tax can add family members for an additional 25,000 euros ($26,250) each. The local media speculated that the measure would attract at least 1,000 high-income individuals.

Think about this from Donald Trump’s perspective. Would he rather pay $38 million to the ghouls at the IRS, or would he rather make an annual payment of €100,000 (plus another €50,000 for his wife and youngest son) to the Agenzia Entrate?

Seems like a no-brainer to me, especially since Italy is one of the most beautiful nations in the world. Like France, it’s not a place where it’s easy to become rich, but it’s a great place to live if you already have money.

But if Trump prefers cold rain over Mediterranean sunshine, he could also pick the Isle of Man for his new home.

There are no capital gains, inheritance tax or stamp duty, and personal income tax has a 10% standard rate and 20% higher rate.  In addition there is a tax cap on total income payable of £125,000 per person, which has encouraged a steady flow of wealthy individuals and families to settle on the Island.

Though there are other options, as David Schrieberg explained for Forbes.

Italy is not exactly breaking new ground here. Various countries including Portugal, Malta, Cyprus and Ireland have been chasing high net worth individuals with various incentives. In 2014, some 60% of Swiss voters rejected a Socialist Party bid to end a 152-year-old tax break through which an estimated 5,600 wealthy foreigners pay a single lump sum similar to the new Italian regime.

Though all of these options are inferior to Monaco, where rich people (and everyone else) don’t pay any income tax. Same with the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. And don’t forget Vanuatu.

If you think all of this sounds too good to be true, you’re right. At least for Donald Trump and other Americans. The United States has a very onerous worldwide tax system based on citizenship.

In other words, unlike folks in the rest of the world, Americans have to give up their passports in order to benefit from these attractive options. And the IRS insists that such people pay a Soviet-style exit tax on their way out the door.

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Back in 2009, I shared the results of a very helpful study by Pierre Bessard of Switzerland’s Liberal Institute (by the way, “liberal” in Europe means pro-market or “classical liberal“).

Pierre ranked the then-30 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development based on their tax burdens, their quality of governance, and their protection of financial privacy.

Switzerland was the top-ranked nation, followed by Luxembourg, Austria, and Canada.

Italy and Turkey were tied for last place, followed by Poland, Mexico, and Germany.

The United States, I’m ashamed to say, was in the bottom half. Our tax burden was (and still is) generally lower than Europe, but there’s nothing special about our quality of governance compared to other developed nations, and we definitely don’t allow privacy for our citizens (though we’re a good haven for foreigners).

Pierre’s publication was so helpful that I’ve asked him several times to release an updated version.

I don’t know if it’s because of my nagging, but the good news is that he’s in the final stages of putting together a new Tax Oppression Index. He just presented his findings at a conference in Panama.

But before divulging the new rankings, I want to share this slide from Pierre’s presentation. He correctly observes that the OECD’s statist agenda against tax competition is contrary to academic research in general, and also contrary to the Paris-based bureaucracy’s own research!

Yet the political hacks who run the OECD are pushing bad policies because Europe’s uncompetitive governments want to prop up their decrepit welfare states. And what’s especially irksome is that the bureaucrats at the OECD get tax-free salaries while pushing for higher fiscal burdens elsewhere in the world.

But I’m digressing. Let’s look at Pierre’s new rankings.

As you can see, Switzerland is still at the top, though now it’s tied with Canada. Estonia (which wasn’t part of the OECD back in 2009) is in third place, and New Zealand and Sweden also get very high scores.

At the very bottom, with the most oppressive tax systems, are Greece and Mexico (gee, what a surprise), followed by Israel and Turkey.

The good news, relatively speaking, is that the United States is tied with several other nations for 11th place with a score of 3.5.

So instead of being in the bottom half, as was the case with the 2009 Tax Oppression Index, the U.S. is now in the top half.

But that’s not because we’ve improved policy. It’s more because the OECD advocates of statism have been successful in destroying financial privacy in other nations. Even Switzerland’s human rights laws on privacy no longer protect foreign investors.

As such, Pierre’s new index basically removes financial privacy as a variable and augments the quality of governance variable with additional data about property rights and the rule of law.

P.S. When measuring the tax burden, the reason that America ranks above most European nations is not because they impose heavier taxes on rich people and businesses (indeed, the U.S. has a much higher corporate tax rate). Instead, we rank above Europe because they impose very heavy taxes on poor and middle-income taxpayers (mostly because of the value-added tax, which helps to explain why I am so unalterably opposed to that destructive levy).

P.P.S. Also in 2009, Pierre Bessard authored a great defense of tax havens for the New York Times.

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While my colleagues are stuck in the cold of Washington for inauguration week, I’m enjoying a few days in the Caribbean. More specifically, I’m sharing my views today on Trump and the global economy at the annual Business Outlook Conference in the British Virgin Islands.

Yes, another example of the sacrifices I make in the battle for liberty.

But it’s fortuitous that I’m here for reasons other than the weather. This is a good opportunity to expose Oxfam. Many people have a vague impression that this group is a well-meaning charity that seeks to help lift up poor people.

If you take a close look at the organization’s activities, however, you’ll see that it’s become a left-wing pressure group.

Consider, for example, Oxfam’s recent report on “Tax Battles,” which discusses the supposed “dangerous global race to the bottom on corporate tax.”

Based on Oxfam’s ideologically driven agenda, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands are the worst of the worst, followed by the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Singapore. The British Virgin Islands, meanwhile, is number 15 on Oxfam’s list.

And what awful sins did BVI and the other jurisdictions commit to get on the list?

Well, the report suggests that their guilty of helping taxpayers minimize their tax burdens.

To create the list, Oxfam researchers assessed countries against a set of criteria that measured the extent to which countries used three types of harmful tax policies: corporate tax rates, the tax incentives offered, and lack of cooperation with international efforts against tax avoidance.

In other words, places with good business tax policy are ostensibly bad because politicians have less money to waste.

By the way, the folks at Oxfam are grotesquely hypocritical.

The world’s most important jurisdiction for corporate tax planning is Delaware and it didn’t even appear on the list. Why? I have no idea.

But I can tell you that there is a single building in Delaware that is home to 285,000 companies according to a report in the New York Times.

1209 North Orange Street… It’s a humdrum office building, a low-slung affair with a faded awning and a view of a parking garage. Hardly worth a second glance. If a first one. But behind its doors is one of the most remarkable corporate collections in the world: 1209 North Orange, you see, is the legal address of no fewer than 285,000 separate businesses. Its occupants, on paper, include giants like American Airlines, Apple, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Ford, General Electric, Google, JPMorgan Chase, and Wal-Mart. These companies do business across the nation and around the world. Here at 1209 North Orange, they simply have a dropbox. …Big corporations, small-time businesses, rogues, scoundrels and worse — all have turned up at Delaware addresses in hopes of minimizing taxes, skirting regulations, plying friendly courts or, when needed, covering their tracks. …It’s easy to set up shell companies here, no questions asked.

Most leftists get upset about Delaware, just like they get upset about BVI and the Cayman Islands.

But Oxfam’s people are either spectacularly clueless or they made some sort of bizarre political calculation to give America a free pass.

For purposes of today’s discussion, however, what matters most is that Oxfam is ideologically hostile to jurisdictions with good policy. The fact that they’re also hypocritical is just icing on the cake.

By the way, putting out shoddy reports is a pattern for the organization.

It recently got a lot of press attention because of a report on “An Economy for the 99 Percent” with the dramatic claim that the world’s 8-richest people have the same wealth as the world’s bottom-50 percent.

Oxfam wants people to somehow conclude that billions of people are poor because those 8 people are rich. But that’s nonsense.

My colleague Johan Norberg has waged a one-man campaign to debunk Oxfam’s shoddy methodology and dishonest implications.

Here are two very clever tweets on the topic.

Amen. Ethical people want to reduce poverty. Envious people want to punish the successful.

And here’s a tweet noting that the classical liberal policies opposed by Oxfam have led to a much better world.

And here’s one of his “Dead Wrong” videos on the topic of inequality and poverty.

And since we’re looking at videos, here’s my video on Obama’s anti-tax haven demagoguery.

You’ll notice that 1209 North Orange Street makes a cameo appearance.

The moral of the story is that BVI (and other so-called tax havens) should be applauded, not criticized.

And Oxfam should end the pretense of being a charity. It’s a left-wing hack organization.

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In the world of tax policy, there’s an intense debate about the “border-adjustable” provision that is part of the tax plan put forth by House Republicans, which basically would tax imports and exempt revenues generated by exports.

It’s a bit wonky, but the simplest explanation is that GOPers want to replace the current corporate income tax with a “destination-based cash flow tax” (DBCFT) that would – for all intents and purposes – tax what is consumed in the United States rather than what is produced in the United States.

I’m very sympathetic to what Republicans are trying to accomplish, particularly their desire to eliminate the tax bias against income that is saved and invested. But I greatly prefer the version of consumption-base taxation found in the flat tax.

My previous columns on the plan have highlighted the following concerns.

  • Left-leaning advocates like “destination-based” tax systems such as the DBCFT because such systems undermine tax competition and give politicians more ability to increase tax rates.
  • The “border adjustability” in the plan is contrary to the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and there’s a significant risk that politicians might try to “fix” the plan by turning it into a value-added tax.

Here’s what I said about the proposal in a recent interview for CNBC.

This provision is not in Trump’s plan, but I’ve been acting on the assumption that the soon-to-be President eventually would embrace the Better Way Plan simply because it presumably would appeal to his protectionist sentiments.

So I’m quite surprised that he’s just poured cold water on the plan. Here are some excerpts from a report in the Wall Street Journal.

President-elect Donald Trump criticized a cornerstone of House Republicans’ corporate-tax plan… The measure, known as border adjustment, would tax imports and exempt exports as part of a broader plan to encourage companies to locate jobs and production in the U.S. But Mr. Trump, in his first comments on the subject, called it “too complicated.” “Anytime I hear border adjustment, I don’t love it,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Friday. …Retailers and oil refiners have lined up against the measure, warning it would drive up their tax bills and force them to raise prices because they rely so heavily on imported goods.

If we read between the lines, it appears that Trump may be more knowledgeable about policy than people think.

Proponents of the Better Way Plan sometimes use protectionist-sounding rhetoric to sell the plan (e.g., taxing imports, exempting exports), but they argue that it’s not really protectionist because the dollar will become more valuable.

But Trump apparently understands this nuance and doesn’t like that outcome.

Independent analyses of the Republican tax plan say it would lead the dollar to appreciate further—which would lower the cost of imported goods, offsetting the effects of the tax on retailers and others. In his interview with the Journal on Friday, Mr. Trump said the U.S. dollar was already “too strong” in part because China holds down its currency, the yuan. “Our companies can’t compete with them now because our currency is too strong. And it’s killing us.”

I don’t agree with Trump about trade deficits (which, after all, are mostly the result of foreigners wanting to invest in the American economy), but that’s a separate issue.

When I talk to policy makers and journalists about this issue, one of the most common questions is why the DBCFT would cause the dollar to rise.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Martin Feldstein addresses that topic.

…as every student of economics learns, a country’s trade deficit depends only on the difference between total investment in the country and the saving done by its households, businesses and government. This textbook rule that “imports minus exports equals investment minus savings” is not a theory or a statistical regularity but a basic national income accounting identity that holds for every country in every year. That holds because a rise in a country’s investment without an equal rise in saving means that it must import more or export less. Since a border tax adjustment wouldn’t change U.S. national saving or investment, it cannot change the size of the trade deficit. To preserve that original trade balance, the exchange rate of the dollar must adjust to bring the prices of U.S. imports and exports back to the values that would prevail without the border tax adjustment. With a 20% corporate tax rate, that means that the value of the dollar must rise by 25%.

This is a reasonable description, though keep in mind that there are lots of factors that drive exchange rates, so I understand why importers are very nervous about the proposal.

By the way, Feldstein makes one point that rubs me the wrong way.

The tax plan developed by the House Republicans is similar in many ways to President-elect Trump’s plan but has one additional favorable feature—a border tax adjustment that exempts exports and taxes imports. This would give the U.S. the benefit that other countries obtain from a value-added tax (VAT) but without imposing that extra levy on domestic transactions.

The first sentence of the excerpt is correct, but not the second one. A value-added tax does not give nations any sort of trade benefit. Yes, that kind of tax generally is “border adjustable” under WTO rules, but as I’ve previously noted, that doesn’t give foreign production an advantage over American production.

Here’s some of what I wrote about this issue last year.

For mercantilists worried about trade deficits, “border adjustability” is seen as a positive feature. But not only are they wrong on trade, they do not understand how a VAT works. …Under current law, American goods sold in America do not pay a VAT, but neither do German-produced goods that are sold in America. Likewise, any American-produced goods sold in Germany are hit be a VAT, but so are German-produced goods. In other words, there is a level playing field. The only difference is that German politicians seize a greater share of people’s income. So what happens if America adopts a VAT? The German government continues to tax American-produced goods in Germany, just as it taxes German-produced goods sold in Germany. …In the United States, there is a similar story. There is now a tax on imports, including imports from Germany. But there is an identical tax on domestically-produced goods. And since the playing field remains level, protectionists will be disappointed. The only winners will be politicians since they have more money to spend.

If you want more information, I also discuss the trade impact of a VAT in this video.

For what it’s worth, even Paul Krugman agrees with me on this point.

P.S. It is a good idea to have a “consumption-base” tax (which is a public finance term for a system that doesn’t disproportionately penalize income that is saved and invested). But it’s important to understand that border adjustability is not necessary to achieve that goal. The flat tax is the gold standard of tax reform and it also is a consumption-based tax. The difference is that the flat tax is an “origin-based” tax and the House plan is a “destination-based” tax.

P.P.S. Speaking of which, proponents of the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act are using a destination-based scheme in hopes of creating a nationwide sales tax cartel so that states with high rates can make it much harder for consumers to buy goods and services where tax rates are lower.

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