Archive for the ‘Taxation’ Category

A couple of decades can make a huge difference in the political and economic life of a jurisdiction.

And here’s something especially amazing from a bit more than five decades in the past. New Jersey used to have no state income tax and no state sales tax.

Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you. The basket case of New Jersey used to be a mid-Atlantic version of New Hampshire. But once the sales tax was imposed in 1966 and the income tax was imposed in 1976, it’s been all downhill ever since.

An article in the City Journal helps to explain the state’s fiscal decay.

Brendan Byrne, a Democratic former governor of the Garden State, …told mayors that the state would need a “large revenue package”… The heart of the package would be a new statewide income tax, which went into permanent effect in 1977. Byrne promised that the additional money would help relieve the high property-tax burden on New Jersey’s citizens… Four decades later, the plan has failed. …politicians and special interests don’t see new streams of tax revenue as a means to replace or eliminate an existing stream, but rather as a way of adding to the public coffers. (For those who entertain fantasies of a value-added tax replacing the federal income tax, take heed.) New Jersey’s income tax started with a top rate of about 2.5 percent; it’s now around 9 percent.

Needless to say, nothing politicians promised has happened.

Property taxes haven’t been reduced. They’ve gone up. The government schools haven’t improved. Instead, the test scores in the state are embarrassing. And debt hasn’t gone down. Red ink instead has skyrocketed.

And what’s amazing – and depressing – is that New Jersey politicians continue to make a bad situation worse. Here are some excerpts from a Bloomberg report.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy proposed taxing online-room booking, ride-sharing, marijuana, e-cigarettes and Internet transactions along with raising taxes on millionaires and retail sales to fund a record $37.4 billion budget that would boost spending on schools, pensions and mass transit. …Murphy, a Democrat…has promised additional spending on underfunded schools and transportation in a credit-battered state with an estimated $8.7 billion structural deficit for the fiscal year that starts July 1. …Murphy said Tuesday in his budget address to lawmakers. “A millionaire’s tax is the right thing to do –- and now is the time to do it.” …The budget…would…restore the state’s sales tax to 7 percent from 6.625 percent… Murphy’s proposal would almost triple the direct state subsidy for New Jersey Transit, which has been plagued by safety and financial issues.

More taxes, more spending, followed by even more taxes and more spending.

I wonder if Greek taxpayers would want to tell their counterparts in New Jersey how that story ends.

Assuming, of course, there are any taxpayers left in the Garden State. There’s already been a big exodus of productive people who are tired of being treated like fatted calves.

And don’t forget that New Jersey taxpayers no longer have unlimited ability to deduct their state and local taxes on their federal tax return. So these tax hikes will hurt much more than past increases.

In any event, taxpayers better escape before the die.

Though I know one guy who won’t be leaving.

P.S. Anybody want to guess whether New Jersey collapses before California, Illinois, or Connecticut? They’re all in the process of committing slow-motion suicide.

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I’m not a fan of international bureaucracies, but they’re not universally bad. Yes, we almost always get a bad policy agenda from the left-leaning political appointees who run these organizations.

But it’s also true that the professional economists at these bureaucracies oftentimes produce solid reasearch. A good example is the new study of the American fiscal system by three economists at the International Monetary Fund.

They start with an observation that should be uncontroversial, but is nonetheless surprising given the tendency of the IMF’s leadership to advocate more taxes.

The consensus is that reducing distortionary taxes on labor and capital income can stimulate economic activity by encouraging an increase in labor supply and higher savings. Indeed, the empirical literature on tax multipliers is vast and points to measurable effects of reducing taxes on output and employment.

I’m delighted by these two sentences. Makes me wonder why the political types who run the IMF overlook these basic insights when they’re bullying governments into enacting higher tax rates!

But let’s set that aside and look at the specific findings in this report. Here’s what the IMF tried to calculate.

We simulate three types of tax policy changes (i) A “middle-class tax cut” which reduces the effective tax rates for households earning between 0.5 to 4 times the median income and is offset by lower government spending; (ii) A “middle-class tax cut” and an EITC expansion that is fully financed by an increase in consumption taxes; (iii) tax cut for high income groups that is also combined with an EITC expansion and financed by a higher consumption tax.

Since I’ve pointed out that not all tax cuts are created equal, I think this kind of research can be very helpful.

Here are the core findings from the IMF’s analysis.

The model generates positive effects on growth, consumption and investment that are broadly in line with the recent empirical literature on PIT multipliers. Despite the positive macro response, supply side effects are never strong enough to prevent cuts from being revenue losing (i.e., tax cuts do not “pay for themselves”). …A tax cut for the middle-class, financed from a lump-sum reduction in government spending, results in a loss of revenues of 0.8 percent of GDP but raises the steady state GDP by just under 1 percent after 5 years (i.e., a personal income tax multiplier of 1.1). …growth effects are smaller when lower personal income taxes are paid for with a VAT. …Tax cuts for higher income groups tend to have a stronger aggregate impact than tax cuts for the middle class. Indeed, in the simple case where the tax cuts are paid for by lump sum cuts in government spending, the personal income tax multiplier is around 3. … tax cuts that are incident on high income households increase income polarization.

This all makes sense. Lower tax rates are good for growth, particularly if offset by reductions in the burden of government spending.

And since lower tax rates are only self-financing in very rare circumstances, I have no problem with the conclusion about lower revenues.

Indeed, the concluding section about “income polarization” was the only part of the above excerpt that rubbed me the wrong way. And even then, I’m only irked because of the implication that lower tax rates might be a bad idea if the rich get richer faster than the poor get richer.

While I like the overall findings, I want to focus on two details from the study.

First, let’s look at the results for middle-class tax cuts. The IMF researchers looked at two versions, with one tax cut financed by lower spending and the other tax cut financed by higher consumption taxation.

As you can see from these two charts, you get more growth and higher wages when you simultaneously reduce taxes and spending.

Second, let’s look at the IMF’s comparison of middle-class tax cuts and tax cuts for high-income people. The conclusion is that you get more bang-for-the-buck when lowering tax rates at the top.

…there are larger growth effects when the tax cut is incident on the higher income groups. The reasons behind this are two-fold: First, the top quintile responds to lower taxes by saving more which, in the closed economy version of the model, leads to more capital formation and a decline in the equilibrium real interest rate. Second, those receiving a reduction in their tax rate supply more high-skilled labor which helps boost output.

By the way, I should hasten to add that this isn’t an argument against middle-class tax relief. As far as I’m concerned, all taxpayers are sending too much money to politicians.

I’m merely highlighting this analysis because some types of tax cuts have larger growth effects. For what it’s worth, I’m not even sure I agree with the IMF’s analysis of why lower tax rates on the rich produce more growth. I suspect the main reason for the stronger results is that high-income taxpayers have much greater ability to change their behavior in response to altered incentives.

In any event, here’s the IMF’s comparison of the two types of tax cuts and what happens to output, consumption, and investment.

P.S. Since we’re discussing the occasional good work of international bureaucracies, here’s my favorite World Bank study and here’s my favorite OECD study.

P.P.S. I’ve never seen any good research from the United Nations. I’m not claiming there’s never been an economically sound study from that bureaucracy. All I’m saying is that I’ve never run across an example.

P.P.P.S. I don’t know if the European Central Bank should be characterized as an international bureaucracy, but it definitely has the highest percentage of quality research (see here, here, here, here, here, and here for examples).

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The Swiss people are normally very sensible when asked to vote in national referendums. Here are some recent results.

Though my favorite referendum result occurred several years before I started writing on this site.

Given all these results, you won’t be surprised to learn that Switzerland is near the top in rankings of economic freedom, trailing only Hong Kong, Singapore, and New Zealand.

But this does not mean that Switzerland is a libertarian nation. At least not in an ideological sense. And we have two new referendum results that underscore this point.

This past weekend, Swiss voters had an opportunity to get rid of the central government’s value-added tax, personal income tax, and corporate income tax.

Ending those taxes would be a libertarian fantasy, but the initiative to extend the levies was easily approved.

More than 84% of voters have renewed the government’s right to tax its citizens and companies for another 15 years. This is a unique feature of Switzerland’s political system of direct democracy and federalism.  …rejection would have been a nightmare for the government. …said Finance Minister Ueli Maurer in January. “If voters were to say no, the Swiss government wouldn’t have enough funds and there’s no way we could find another source of revenue or introduce spending cuts of the same order.”

Voters were swayed by arguments that a no vote would cause too much fiscal disruption. Slashing the central government’s budget by 60 percent might appeal to ideological libertarians, but it didn’t fly with don’t-rock-the-boat Swiss voters.

The direct federal tax and the sales tax together contributed about two-thirds of the Swiss central government’s budget, bringing in around 43.5 billion Swiss francs ($44.25 billion) in 2016. …Should voters reject the measure, the government would have to slash spending by more than 60 percent practically overnight or find new sources of revenue, Maurer told reporters.

Here’s a pie chart showing the revenue sources for the central government.

I would have voted no, of course, and I wish more Swiss voters had lined up against the initiative.

Not because I would have thought that an immediate 60-percent reduction in the size of the central government was feasible. But a larger share of no votes at least would have sent a signal to politicians in Bern that frugality is a good idea.

There was another referendum over the weekend that also produced an unfortunate result. Swiss voters approved continuing subsidies for state-run media.

The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, Switzerland’s public broadcaster is largely funded by a broadcasting fee. This fee, known colloquially as Billag, the name of the agency that collects it, is paid by most companies and essentially every household. The No Billag initiative, is a bid to do away with fee. …the No Billag vote was rejected by 71.6% of voters.

The margin of defeat is especially disappointing since libertarians actively campaigned for this initiative.

Switzerland, like many European nations, has certain television and radio channels that are run by the government. …Together with other classical liberals in Switzerland, Frédéric Jollien is fighting against the royalties imposed by the government for media consumption. 450 Swiss Francs, the equivalent of €382 or $456, is the annual fee that consumers are required to pay, regardless if they want state-run TV and radio channels or not. …Journalists (who, by the way, are exempt from paying this fee) are releasing heavy verbal fire on the campaigners. They claim it would cause massive unemployment in the media sector, that it is anti-democratic, and that it would enable big foreign companies to take over the Swiss market.

Alas, the fear campaign succeeded.

But I hasten to add that this doesn’t mean Switzerland is turning towards statism. I suspect the real story is that the Swiss are content with the status quo.

And the status quo (especially by European standards) is a practical form of libertarianism.

Here’s some of what Dan Hannan wrote last year.

I have always loved Switzerland…its devolved decision-making, its entrenched Euroskepticism. …I am a Helvetophile for many of the same reasons as America’s Founders. James Madison was fascinated by the way Switzerland had “no concentered authority, the Diets being only a Congress of Delegates from some or all of the Cantons.” …George Mason was entranced by the militia system: “Every Husbandman will be quickly converted into a Soldier, when he knows & feels that he is to fight for his own. It is this which preserves the Freedom and Independence of the Swiss Cantons, in the midst of the most powerful Nations.” …Switzerland has stubbornly retained its sovereignty, despite being surrounded by the EU. …Swiss democracy is direct, decentralized and devolved. Most fiscal decisions are taken locally. Result? Swiss voters are the happiest in Europe, their economy is the freest, and their state budget the smallest.

And let’s not forget that Switzerland is still a bright spot on gun rights.

In February 2011, Swiss citizens voted in a referendum that called for a national gun registry and for firearms owned by members of the military to be stored in public arsenals. …Hermann Suter, who at the time was vice president of the Swiss gun-rights group Pro Tell, told the BBC then. “The gun at home is the best way to avoid dictatorships—only dictators take arms away from the citizens.” Apparently many of his fellow Swiss agreed. The referendum was easily defeated. Gun ownership in the country has deep historic roots… guns are popular… Children as young as 12 are taught how to shoot…and are encouraged to participate in highly popular target-shooting competitions. The country’s cultural attachment to firearms resembles America’s in some ways…it has the third-highest rate of private gun ownership in the world… The Swiss Defense Ministry estimates that there are 2 million privately owned weapons in the country of 8.3 million people.

Yet there’s almost no gun-related crime.

Switzerland has a low rate of gun crime, and hasn’t seen a mass shooting since 2001.

And let’s not forget that the fiscal burden of government in Switzerland is comparatively modest.

Not by libertarian standards. Not by historical standards.

But compared to other European nations, Switzerland is a fiscal Shangi-La. The tax burden is lower, and spending consumes a smaller share of economic output.

And this translates into lower levels of red ink.

P.S. I find Switzerland to be a very interesting case study, for reasons noted above and also on issues such as decentralization, privacy rights, gun rights, and private retirement savings. But I’m a policy wonk, so I’m drawn to unusual examples. What does surprise me is that other people must be interested in the country as well. My 2011 column comparing Switzerland and the United States is the 7th-most-viewed piece in the history of this site.

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The worst-international-bureaucracy contest is heating up.

In recent years, the prize has belonged to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for reasons outlined in this interview. Indeed, I’ve even argued that subsidies for the OECD are the worst expenditure in the federal budget, at least when measured on a damage-per-dollar-spent basis.

But the International Monetary Fund stepped up its game in 2017, pushing statism to a much higher level.

  • In June, I wrote about the IMF pushing a theory that higher taxes would improve growth in the developing world.
  • In July, I wrote about the IMF complaining that tax competition between nations is resulting in lower corporate tax rates.
  • In October, I wrote about the IMF asserting that lower living standards are desirable if everyone is more equally poor.
  • Also in October, I wrote about the IMF concocting a measure of “fiscal space” to justify higher taxes across the globe.
  • In November, I wrote about the IMF publishing a study expanding on its claim that equal poverty is better than unequal prosperity.

And the IMF is continuing its jihad against taxpayers in 2018.

The head bureaucrat at the IMF just unleashed a harsh attack on the recent tax reform in the United States, warning that other nations might now feel compelled to make their tax systems less onerous.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said the Trump administration’s $1.5 trillion tax cut could prompt other nations to follow suit, fueling a “race to the bottom” that risks hemming in public spending. …It also will fuel inflation, she said. “What we are beginning to see already and what is of concern is the beginning of a race to the bottom, where many other policy makers around the world are saying: ‘Well, if you’re going to cut tax and you’re going to have sweet deals with your corporates, I’m going to do the same thing,”’ Lagarde said.

Heaven forbid we have lower tax rates and more growth!

Though the really amazing part of that passage is that Ms. Lagarde apparently believes in the silly notion that tax cuts are inflationary. Leftists made the same argument against the Reagan tax cuts. Fortunately, their opposition we ineffective, Reagan slashed tax rates and inflation dramatically declined.

What’s also noteworthy, as illustrated by this next excerpt, is that Lagarde doesn’t even bother with the usual insincere rhetoric about using new revenues to reduce red ink. Instead, she openly urges more class-warfare taxation to finance ever-bigger government.

The IMF chief’s blunt assessment follows an unusually public disagreement between the fund and President Donald Trump’s administration last fall over an IMF paper arguing that developed nations can share prosperity more evenly, without sacrificing growth, by shifting the income-tax burden onto the rich. Competitive tax cuts risk holding back governments in spending on anything from defense and infrastructure to health and education, Lagarde said.

What makes her statements so absurd is that even IMF economists have found that higher taxes and bigger government depress economic activity. But Ms. Largarde apparently doesn’t care because she’s trying to please the politicians who appointed her.

By the way, keep in mind that Ms. LaGarde’s enormous salary is tax free, as are the munificent compensation packages of all IMF employees. So it takes enormous chutzpah for her to push for higher taxes on the serfs in the economy’s productive sector.

But it’s not just Lagarde. We also have a new publication by two senior IMF bureaucrats that urges more punitive taxes on saving and investment.

Although Thomas Piketty has famously proposed a coordinated global wealth tax of the wealthiest at two percent, there are now very few effective explicit wealth taxes in either developing or advanced economies. Indeed between 1985 and 2007, the number of OECD countries with an active wealth tax fell from twelve to just four. And many of those were, and are, of limited effectiveness. …This hot topic of how tax systems can assist in addressing excessive increases in wealth inequality was discussed at the regular IMF-World Bank session on taxation last October. …some among the very rich recognize some social benefit from being taxed more heavily (for instance, Bill Gates’ father). Perhaps then there is more that can be done to foster that sense of social responsibility… The exchange of tax information between countries is a powerful tool…and perhaps ultimately game-changing approach to the taxation of the wealthy…we do see good cause to be less pessimistic than even a few years ago.

Once again, we can debunk the IMF by….well, by citing the IMF. The professional economists at the bureaucracy have produced research showing that discriminatory taxes on capital are very bad for prosperity.

But the top bureaucrats at the organization are driven by either by statist ideology or by self interest (i.e., currying favor with the governments that decide senior-level slots).

The bottom line is that perhaps the IMF should be renamed the Anti-Empirical Monetary Fund.

And with regards to worst-international-bureaucracy contest, I fully expect the OECD to quickly produce something awful to justify its claim to first place.

P.S. I’m not a fan of the United Nations, but that bureaucracy generally is too ineffective to compete with the IMF and OECD.

P.P.S. The World Bank also does things I don’t like (as well as some good things), but it generally doesn’t push a statist policy agenda, at least compared to the nefarious actions of OECD and IMF.

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I strongly applauded the tax reform plan that was enacted in December, especially the lower corporate tax rate and the limit on the deduction for state and local taxes.

But I’m not satisfied. Our long-run goal should be fundamental tax reform. And that means replacing the current system with a simple and fair flat tax.

And the recent tax plan only took a small step in that direction. How small? Well, the Tax Foundation just calculated that it only improved the United States from #30 to #25 in their International Tax Competitiveness Ranking. In other words, we have a long way to go before we catch up to Estonia.


It’s possible, of course, to apply different weights and come up with a different list. I think the Tax Foundation’s numbers could be improved, for instance, by including a measure of the aggregate tax burden. And that presumably would boost the U.S. score.

But the fact would remain that the U.S. score would be depressingly low. In other words, the internal revenue code is still a self-imposed wound and huge improvements are still necessary.

That’s why we need another round of tax reform, based on the three core principles of good tax policy.

  1. Lower tax rates
  2. Less double taxation
  3. Fewer loopholes

But how is tax reform possible in a fiscal environment of big government and rising deficits?

This is a challenge. In an ideal world, there would be accompanying budget reforms to save money, thus creating leeway for tax reform to be a net tax cut.

But even in the current fiscal environment, tax reform is possible if policy makers finance pro-growth reforms by closing undesirable loopholes.

Indeed, that’s basically what happened in the recent tax plan. The lower corporate rate was financed by restricting the state and local tax deduction and a few other changes. The budget rules did allow for a modest short-run tax cut, but the overall package was revenue neutral in the long run (i.e., starting in 2027).

It’s now time to repeat this exercise.

The Congressional Budget Office periodically issues a report on Budget Options, which lists all sort of spending reforms and tax increases, along with numbers showing what those changes would mean to the budget over the next 10 years.

I’ve never been a huge fan of this report because it is too limited on the spending side. You won’t find fleshed-out options to shut down departments, for instance, which is unfortunate given the target-rich environment (including TransportationHousing and Urban DevelopmentEducationEnergy, and Agriculture).

And on the tax side, it has a lengthy list of tax hikes, generally presented as ways to finance an ever-expanding burden of government spending. The list must be akin to porn for statists like Bernie Sanders.

It includes new taxes.

And it includes increases in existing taxes.

But the CBO report also includes some tax preferences that could be used to finance good tax reforms.

Here are four provisions of the tax code that should be the “pay-fors” in a new tax reform plan.

We’ll start with two that are described in the CBO document.

Further reductions in itemized deductions – The limit on the state and local tax deduction should be the first step. The entire deduction could be repealed as part of a second wave of tax reform. And the same is true for the home mortgage interest deduction and the charitable contributions deduction.

Green-energy pork – The House version of tax reform gutted many of the corrupt tax preferences for green energy. Unfortunately, those changes were not included in the final bill. But the silver lining to that bad decision is that those provisions can be used to finance good reforms in a new bill.

Surprisingly, the CBO report overlooks or only gives cursory treatment to a couple of major tax preferences that each could finance $1 trillion or more of pro-growth changes over the next 10 years.

Municipal bond interest – Under current law, there is no federal tax on the interest paid to owners of bonds issued by state and local governments. This “muni-bond” loophole is very bad tax policy since it creates an incentive that diverts capital from private business investment to subsidizing the profligacy of cities like Chicago and states like California.

Healthcare exclusion – Current law also allows a giant tax break for fringe benefits. When companies purchase health insurance plans for employees, that compensation escapes both payroll taxes and income taxes. Repealing – or at least capping – this exclusion could raise a lot of money for pro-growth reforms (and it would be good healthcare policy as well).

What’s potentially interesting about the four loopholes listed above is that they all disproportionately benefit rich people. This means that if they are curtailed or repealed and the money as part of tax reform, the left won’t be able to argue that upper-income taxpayers are getting unfair benefits.

Actually, they’ll probably still make their usual class-warfare arguments, but they will be laughably wrong.

The bottom line is that we should have smaller government and less taxation. But even if that’s not immediately possible, we can at least figure out revenue-neutral reforms that will produce a tax system that does less damage to growth, jobs, and competitiveness.

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According to bureaucrats at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, so-called tax havens are terrible and should be shut down. Their position is grossly hypocritical since they get tax-free salaries while pushing for higher taxes on everyone else, but not very surprising since the OECD’s membership is dominated by increasingly uncompetitive European welfare states.

Many economists, by contrast, view tax havens favorably since they discourage politicians from over-taxing and over-spending (thus protecting nations from “goldfish government“).

I agree with this economic argument for tax havens, but I also think there’s a very strong moral argument for these jurisdictions since there are so many evil and incompetent governments in the world.

But I don’t want to rehash the argument about the desirability of tax havens in this column. Instead, we’re going to focus on a nation that is becoming the world’s premier “offshore” center.

But it’s not a Caribbean island or a micro-state in Europe.

Instead, as noted in a recent Bloomberg editorial, the United States is now the magnet for global investment.

…the U.S. is becoming one of the world’s best places to hide money from the tax collector. …Congress rejected the Obama administration’s repeated requests to make the necessary changes to the tax code. As a result, the Treasury cannot compel U.S. banks to reveal information such as account balances and names of beneficial owners. The U.S. has also failed to adopt the so-called Common Reporting Standard, a global agreement under which more than 100 countries will automatically provide each other with even more data than FATCA requires. …the U.S. is rapidly becoming the new Switzerland. Financial institutions catering to the global elite, such as Rothschild & Co. and Trident Trust Co., have moved accounts from offshore havens to Nevada, Wyoming and South Dakota. New York lawyers are actively marketing the country as a place to park assets. …From a certain perspective, all this might look pretty smart: Shut down foreign tax havens and then steal their business.

The Economist also identified the U.S. as a haven.

America seems not to feel bound by the global rules being crafted as a result of its own war on tax-dodging. It is also failing to tackle the anonymous shell companies often used to hide money. …All this adds up to “another example of how the US has elevated exceptionalism to a constitutional principle,” says Richard Hay of Stikeman Elliott, a law firm. …America sees no need to join the CRS. …reciprocation is patchy. It passes on names and interest earned, but not account balances; it does not look through the corporate structures that own many bank accounts to reveal the true “beneficial” owner; and data are only shared with countries that meet a host of privacy and technical standards. That excludes many non-European countries. …The Treasury wants more data-swapping and corporate transparency, and has made several proposals to bring America up to the level of the CRS. But most need congressional approval, and politicians are in no rush to enact them. …Meanwhile business lobbyists and states with lots of registered firms, led by Delaware, have long stymied proposed federal legislation that would require more openness in corporate ownership. (Incorporation is a state matter, not a federal one.) …America is much safer for legally earned wealth that is evading taxes… It has shown little appetite for helping enforce foreign tax laws.

And here are some passages from a recent column in Forbes.

…foreign financial institutions are required to report the identities and assets of United States taxpayers to the IRS. Meanwhile, U.S. financial institutions cannot be compelled to reveal the same information to foreign countries. Additionally, the United States has not adopted the Common Reporting Standard. …So, the United States government obtains tax and wealth information from other countries, but fails to share information about what occurs in the U.S. with those other counties. …the U.S. is among the top five best countries for setting up anonymous shell companies. Tax havens deliver a set of benefits including secrecy, potential tax minimization, and the ability of the wealthy to access their monies from anywhere in the world. For a substantial percentage of the global super-rich, the United States is regularly unmatched.

Here’s some of what was reported by the U.K.-based Financial Times.

South Dakota is best known for its vast stretches of flat land and the Mount Rushmore monument… Yet despite its small town feel, Sioux Falls has become a magnet for the ultra-wealthy who set up trusts to protect their fortunes from taxes… Assets held in South Dakotan trusts have grown from $32.8bn in 2006 to more than $226bn in 2014, according to the state’s division of banking. The number of trust companies has jumped from 20 in 2006 to 86 this year. The state’s role as a prairie tax haven has gained unwanted attention… The Boston Consulting Group estimates that there is $800bn of offshore wealth in the US, nearly half of which comes from Latin America. …Bruce Zagaris, a Washington-based lawyer at Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, says the US offshore industry is even bigger than people realise. “I think the US is already the world’s largest offshore centre. It has done a real good job disabling competition from Swiss banks.”

If this sounds like the United States is hypocritical, that’s a very fair accusation.

Indeed, it was the topic of an entire panel at an Offshore Alert conference. If you have a lot of interest in this topic, here’s the video.

This is an odd issue where I agree with statists (though only with regard to which jurisdictions are “havens”). For instance, the hard-left Tax Justice Network has calculated that the United States is not the biggest offshore jurisdiction. But America is close to the top.

In the TJN’s most-recent Financial Secrecy Index, the United States ranks #2. They think that’s a bad thing (indeed, one of their top people actually asserted that all income belongs to the government), but I’m happy we’ve risen in the rankings.

TJN also has specific details about U.S. law and I think they’ve put together a reasonably accurate summary.

The bottom line is that America is a haven, though it’s probably worth noting that we’ve risen in the rankings mostly because other nations have been coerced into weakening their human rights laws on financial privacy, not because the United States has improved.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, TJN and I part ways on whether it’s good for the United States to be a tax haven.

I already explained at the start of this column why I like tax havens and tax competition. Simply stated, it’s good for taxpayers and the global economy when governments are forced to compete.

But there’s also a good-for-America argument. Here’s the data from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis on indirect investment in the U.S. economy. As you can see, cross-border flows of passive investment have skyrocketed. It’s unknown how much of this increase is due to overall globalization and how much is the result of America’s favorable tax and privacy rules for foreigners.

But there’s no question the U.S. economy benefits enormously from foreigners choosing to invest in America.

All of which helps to explain why it would be a big mistake for the United States to ratify the OECD’s Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters.

Unless, of course, one thinks it would be good to undermine American competitiveness by creating a global tax cartel to enable bigger government.

P.S. The OECD doesn’t like me, but I don’t like them either.

P.P.S. The TJN folks and OECD bureaucrats claim that their goal is to reduce tax evasion. My response is that a global tax cartel is a destructive way of achieving that goal. There’s a much better option available.

P.P.P.S. Rand Paul is one of the few heroes on this issue.

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Judged by the amount of attention various provisions produced, last year’s fight over tax reform was about reducing the corporate tax rate and limiting the deduction for state and local taxes.

But there were many other important changes, including a a big increase in the standard deduction (i.e., the amount households can protect from the IRS), a shift that will reduce the number of people who utilize itemized deductions.

A report in the Washington Post suggests that this reform could hurt charities.

Many U.S. charities are worried the tax overhaul bill signed by President Trump…could spur a landmark shift in philanthropy, speeding along the decline of middle-class donors… The source of concern is how the tax bill is expected to sharply reduce the number of taxpayers who qualify for the charitable tax deduction — a big driver of gifts to nonprofits. …the number of people who qualify for the charitable deduction is projected to plummet next year from about 30 percent of tax filers to as low as 5 percent. That’s because the new tax bill nearly doubles the standard deduction and limits the value of other deductions, such as for state and local taxes.

Many charities opposed this change.

One study predicts that donations will fall by at least $13 billion, about 4.5 percent, next year. …“The tax code is now poised to de-incentivize the heart of civic action in America,” said Dan Cardinali, president of Independent Sector, a public-policy group for charities, foundations and corporate giving programs. “It’s deeply disturbing.”  The tax bill’s treatment of charities led the Salvation Army to express serious concerns, and it’s why United Way opposed the legislation, as did the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Cardinali’s group turned its home page — normally a place for a feel-good story — into a call to protest, with the banner headline: “KILL THE TAX REFORM BILL.” …Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), the main tax bill writer in the House…argued that people would soon have more money to donate because of the economic growth driven by the bill’s tax cuts

As an aside, here’s the part of the story that most irked me.

“The government has always seen fit to reward the goodness of Americans with a tax incentive,” said Lt. Col. Ron Busroe, development secretary at the Salvation Army.

Huh, how is it goodness if people are only doing it because they’re being bribed by the tax code?

But let’s stick with our main topic of whether the tax bill will hurt the non-profit sector.

A Bloomberg column also hypothesized that the GOP tax reform will be bad news for charities.

Will Americans give as generously now that the incentives have completely shifted? Recent research provides little hope for them. …last year’s tax reform…doubled the standard deduction, effectively eliminating most taxpayers’ ability to itemize deductions via contributions to charity…. Tax cost refers to the actual, post-tax price that someone pays when they make a donation. Imagine someone with a marginal tax rate of 25 percent. Every dollar donated only “costs” the taxpayer 75 cents after he or she takes the charitable deduction. …What happens when you change these “tax costs”? …Almost everyone who studied taxpayer behavior found that the charitable deduction encouraged people to donate more than they would if it didn’t exist. But studies yielded very different price elasticity figures ranging from -0.5 (a dollar in lost tax revenue generates an additional 50 cents in donations) to -4.0 (every dollar in forgone tax revenue generates a whopping four dollars of donations). A recent meta-analysis of approximately 70 of these studies yielded a price elasticity a median of -1.2. A recent study by Nicholas Duquette of the University of Southern California…examined how taxpayer contributions changed after the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which increased the tax cost of giving by dramatically lowering marginal tax rates. The result was eye-popping: A 1 percent rise in the tax cost of giving caused charitable donations to drop 4 percent.

I agree that lower tax rates increase the “tax cost” of giving money to charity.

And Reagan’s tax policy (the 1981 tax bill as well as the 1986 tax reform) had a huge impact. In 1980, it only cost 30 cents for a rich person to give a dollar to charity. By 1988, because of much lower tax rates, it cost 72 cents to give a dollar to charity.

Yet I’m a skeptic of Duquette’s research for the simple reason that real-world data shows that charitable contributions rose after Reagan slashed tax rates.

What Duquette overlooks is that charitable giving also is impact by changes in disposable income and net wealth. So the “tax cost” of donations increased, but that was more than offset by a stronger economy.

So our question today is whether we’re going to see a repeat of the 1980s. Will a reduction in the tax incentive for charitable giving be offset by better economic performance?

Some research from the Mercatus Center suggests that the non-profit sector should not fear reform.

…one study by William C. Randolph casts doubt on the claim that the deduction increases giving in the long run. Randolph’s paper analyzes both major tax reforms in the 1980s and follows individuals for 10 years, finding that taxpayers alter the timing of their giving in response to changes in tax policy, but not necessarily the total amount of giving. …lower-income households also donate to charities in large numbers. …However, very few of them benefit in terms of their tax burden, because many lower-income households have no positive tax liability. …For the 80 percent of middle-income filers who do not currently claim the charitable deduction, any cut in marginal tax rates is a pure benefit. Most taxpayers would be better served by eliminating the charitable contributions deduction and using the additional revenue to lower tax rates.

I would put this more bluntly. Only about 30 percent of taxpayers itemize, so 70 percent of taxpayers are completely unaffected by the charitable deduction. Yet many of these people still give to charity.

And they’ll presumably give higher donations if the economy grows faster.

This is one of the reasons the Wall Street Journal opined that tax reform will be beneficial.

…nonprofits…sell Americans short by assuming that most donate mainly because of the tax break, rather than because they believe in a cause or want to share their blessings with others. How little they respect their donors. …Americans don’t need a tax break to give to charities, which should be able to sell themselves on their merits. …The truth is that Americans will donate more if they have more money. And they will have more money if tax reform, including lower rates and simplification, helps the economy and produces broader prosperity. The 1980s were a boom time for charitable giving precisely because so much wealth was created. Like so many on the political left, the charity lobby doesn’t understand that before Americans can give away private wealth they first have to create it.

A column in the Wall Street Journal also augments the key points about generosity and giving patterns.

…a drop in the amount of deductible gifts does not necessarily mean an equivalent drop in actual giving. …recessions aside, Americans have steadily increased their giving despite numerous tax law changes. Individual donations increased by 4% in 2015 and another 4% in 2016. If donations continue to increase at such rates, it won’t take long to make up for changes brought about by tax reform. …Americans have continued to give to charities no matter what benefits the tax code conveys on them for doing so.

Last but not least, Hayden Ludwig, writing for the Washington Examiner, explains that charitable contributions increase as growth increases.

Liberal groups such as the National Council of Nonprofits claim that the plan will be “disastrous” for charities… The thrust of the Left’s argument is that allowing Americans to keep more of their money makes them stingier, and high taxes are needed to force Americans to take advantage of charitable tax write-offs. It’s ironic that anyone in the nonprofit sector, which is built entirely on the generosity of individuals and corporations, can argue that higher taxes encourage charity – or that charity needs to be legislated. …if the Left’s argument about tax incentives is true, we should see sharp declines in charitable donations after every tax cut in U.S. history. We don’t. According to a 2015 report in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, individuals’ charitable giving rose four percent in 1965 and more than two percent in 1966, following the Kennedy and Johnson tax cuts of 1964 and 1965, respectively. Between the Reagan tax cuts in 1981 and 1986, individual giving rose a whopping 21 percent from $119.7 billion to $144.9 billion. By 1989, individual giving grew another 4.7 percent. …The reason is simple: Prosperity and generosity are inextricably linked.

Amen. Make America more prosperous and two things will happen.

Fewer people will need charity and more people will be in a position to help them.

I’ll conclude by noting that the charitable deduction is the itemized deduction I would abolish last. Not because it is necessary, but because it doesn’t cause macroeconomic harm. The state and local tax deduction, by contrast, is odious and misguided because it subsidizes bad policy and the home mortgage interest deduction is harmful since it is part of a tax code that tilts the playing field and artificially lures capital from business investment to residential real estate.

Things to keep in mind for the next round of tax reform.

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