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Posts Tagged ‘Laffer Curve’

My main goal for fiscal policy is shrinking the size and scope of the federal government and lowering the burden of government spending.

But I’m also motivated by a desire for better tax policy, which means lower tax rates, less double taxation, and fewer corrupting loopholes and other distortions.

One of the big obstacles to good tax policy is that many statists think that higher tax rates on the rich are a simple and easy way of financing bigger government.

I’ve tried to explain that soak-the-rich tax policies won’t work because upper-income taxpayers have considerable ability to change the timing, level, and composition of their income. Simply stated, when the tax rate goes up, their taxable income goes down.

And that means it’s not clear whether higher tax rates lead to more revenue or less revenue. This is the underlying principle of the Laffer Curve.

For more information, here’s a video from Prager University, narrated by UCLA Professor of Economics Tim Groseclose.

An excellent job, and I particularly like the data showing that the rich paid more to the IRS following Reagan’s tax cuts.

But I do have one minor complaint.

The video would have been even better if it emphasized that the tax rate shouldn’t be at the top of the “hump.”

Why? Because as tax rates get closer and closer to the revenue-maximizing point, the economic damage becomes very significant. Here’s some of what I wrote about that topic back in 2012.

…labor taxes could be approximately doubled before getting to the downward-sloping portion of the curve. But notice that this means that tax revenues only increase by about 10 percent. …this study implies that the government would reduce private-sector taxable income by about $20 for every $1 of new tax revenue. Does that seem like good public policy? Ask yourself what sort of politicians are willing to destroy so much private sector output to get their greedy paws on a bit more revenue.

The key point to remember is that we want to be at the growth-maximizing point of the Laffer Curve, not the revenue-maximizing point.

P.S. Here’s my video on the Laffer Curve.

Since it was basically a do-it-yourself production, the graphics aren’t as fancy as the ones you find in the Prager University video, but I’m pleased that I emphasized on more than one occasion that it’s bad to be at the revenue-maximizing point on the Laffer Curve.

Not as bad as putting rates even higher, as some envy-motivated leftists would prefer, but still an example of bad tax policy.

P.P.S. Switching to a different topic, it’s been a while since I’ve mocked Sandra Fluke, a real-life Julia.

To fix this oversight, here’s an amusing image based on Ms. Fluke’s apparent interest in becoming a politician.

Fluke Filing Fee

But she’s apparently reconsidered her plans to run for Congress and instead now intends to seek a seat in the California state legislature.

She’ll fit in perfectly.

If you want to see previous examples of Fluke mockery, check out this great Reason video, this funny cartoon, and four more jokes here.

P.P.P.S. And since I’m making one of left-wing women, we may as well include some humor about Wendy Davis.

Check out this excerpt from a story in the Daily Caller.

A dating service that pairs wealthy “sugar daddies” with “sugar babies” for “mutually beneficial dating arrangements” has endorsed Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. SeekingArrangement.com’s Friday announcement followed a recent report in the Dallas Morning News which detailed a number of discrepancies in Davis’ personal narrative, including that she left a man 13 years her senior the day after he made the last payment for her Harvard Law School education. “Wendy Davis is proof that the sugar lifestyle is empowering,” seeking arrangements founder and CEO Brandon Wade said in his endorsement.

Mr. Wade obviously is a clever marketer, but he may also be a closet libertarian.

After all, he also mocked Obamacare with an ad telling young women to join his site so they could find a sugar daddy to pay for the higher premiums caused by government-run healthcare.

Then again, I’ve also speculated that Jay Leno and Bill Maher may be closet libertarians, so I may be guilty of bending over backwards to find allies.

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Why do statists support higher tax rates?

The most obvious answer is greed. In other words, leftists want more tax money since they personally benefit when there’s a larger burden of government spending. And the greed can take many forms.

They may want bigger government because they’re welfare recipients getting handouts.

They may want bigger government because they are overpaid bureaucrats administering ever-growing programs.

They may want bigger government because they’re lobbyists manipulating the system and it’s good to have more loot circulating.

They may want bigger government because they’re one of the many interest groups feeding at the federal trough.

Or they may want bigger government because they are politicians seeking to buy votes.

But greed isn’t the only answer.

Some statists want higher tax rates for reasons of spite and envy.

Consider this poll from the United Kingdom. It shows that an overwhelming majority of Labour voters want higher tax rates even if the government doesn’t collect any money.

Class Warfare UK Tax Poll

These numbers are remarkable.  It’s not just that the Labour Party is filled with people who want to punish success, I’m also dismayed to see that 16 percent of Tory voters and 35 percent of UKIP voters also want class-warfare tax hikes solely as an instrument of envy (though, given the mentality of some of their leaders, I’m pleasantly surprised that “only” 29 percent of Lib Dems are motivated by spite).

What about Americans? Do they have the same mentality?

We don’t have identical polling data, so it’s hard to say. But it would be very interesting to show leftists the IRS data from the 1980s, which unambiguously demonstrates that rich people paid more tax after Reagan dramatically lowered the top rate, and then see how they would answer the same question.

If they’re motivated by greed, they would favor Reagan’s tax cuts. But if they’re motivated by envy, like leftists in the United Kingdom, they’ll be against Reagan’s lower tax rates.

Unfortunately, there’s at least one prominent statist in America who has the same views as England’s Labour Party voters. Pay close attention at the 4:20 mark of this video.

Yes, you heard correctly. President Obama wants higher tax rates and class-warfare tax policy even if the government doesn’t collect any additional money.

Which means, of course, that he’s willing to undermine American competitiveness and reduce economic output solely to penalize entrepreneurs, investors, small business owners, and other “rich” taxpayers.

Remarkable.

P.S. By the way, the poll of UK voters wasn’t merely a theoretical question. UK Laffer Curve Class WarfareThe previous Labour Party government raised the top tax rate from 40 percent to 50 percent near the end of last decade and there’s very strong evidence that this tax hike failed to raise any revenue. In all likelihood, the then-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, imposed the class-warfare policy in hopes of gaining votes in the upcoming election.

P.P.S. Notwithstanding their many flaws, at least the folks who work for left-leaning international bureaucracies acknowledge the Laffer Curve and generally argue against pushing tax rates above the revenue-maximizing level.

Since it takes a lot to be to the left of the United Nations, that gives you an idea of where Obama (and UK Labour Party voters) are on the ideological spectrum. Which is why I made the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that Birthers accuse Obama of being born in Denmark rather than Kenya.

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The business pages are reporting that Chrysler will be fully owned by Fiat after that Italian company buys up remaining shares.

I don’t know what this means about the long-term viability of Chrysler, but we can say with great confidence that the company will be better off now that the parent company is headquartered outside the United States.

This is because Chrysler presumably no longer will be obliged to pay an extra layer of tax to the IRS on any foreign-source income.

Italy, unlike the United States, has a territorial tax system. This means companies are taxed only on income earned in Italy but there’s no effort to impose tax on income earned – and already subject to tax – in other nations.

Under America’s worldwide tax regime, by contrast, U.S.-domiciled companies must pay all applicable foreign taxes when earning money outside the United States – and then also put that income on their tax returns to the IRS!

And since the United States imposes the highest corporate income tax in the developed world and also ranks a dismal 94 out of 100 on a broader measure of corporate tax competitiveness, this obviously is not good for jobs and growth.

No wonder many American companies are re-domiciling in other countries!

Maybe the time has come to scrap the entire corporate income tax. That’s certainly a logical policy to follow based on a new study entitled, “Simulating the Elimination of the U.S. Corporate Income Tax.”

Written by Hans Fehr, Sabine Jokisch, Ashwin Kambhampati, Laurence J. Kotlikoff, the paper looks at whether it makes sense to have a burdensome tax that doesn’t even generate much revenue.

The U.S. Corporate Income Tax…produces remarkably little revenue – only 1.8 percent of GDP in 2013, but entails major compliance and collection costs. The IRS regulations detailing corporate tax provisions are tome length and occupy small armies of accountants and lawyers. …many economists…have suggested that the tax may actually fall on workers, not capitalists.

Regarding who pays the tax, shareholders bear the direct burden of the corporate tax, of course, but economists believe workers are the main victims because the levy reduces investment, which then means lower productivity and lower wages.

Statists would like us to believe that capitalists and workers are enemies, but that’s utter nonsense. Both prosper by cooperating. There’s a very strong correlation between a nation’s capital stock (the amount of investment) and the compensation of its workers.

So it’s no surprise to see that’s precisely what the authors found in their new research.

This paper posits, calibrates, and simulates a multi-region, life-cycle dynamic general equilibrium model to study the impact of U.S. and global corporate tax reforms. …when wage taxation is used as the substitute revenue source, eliminating the U.S. corporate income tax, holding other countries’ corporate tax rates fixed, engenders a rapid and sustained 23 to 37 percent higher capital stock… Higher capital per worker means higher labor productivity and, thus, higher real wages.

The impact is significant, both for worker compensation and overall economic output.

…real wages of unskilled workers wind up 12 percent higher and those of skilled workers 13 percent higher. …on balance, output rises – by 8 percent in the short term, 10 percent in the intermediate term, and 8 percent in the long term… The economy’s endogenous expansion expands existing tax bases, with the increased revenue making up for roughly one third the loss in revenue from the corporate income tax’s elimination.

By the way, the authors bizarrely then write that “we find no Laffer Curve,” but that’s presumably because they make the common mistake of assuming the Laffer Curve only exists if a tax cut fully pays for itself.

laffer curveBut that’s only true for the downward-sloping side of the Laffer Curve.

In other cases (such as found in this study), there is still substantial revenue feedback.

And I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that full repeal of the corporate income tax doesn’t raise revenue. The Tax Foundation, after all, estimates that the revenue-maximizing rate is about 14 percent.*

Now that I’m done nit-picking about the Laffer Curve, let’s now look at one additional set of results from this new study.

…each generation, including those initially alive, benefits from the reform, with those born after 2000 experiencing an 8 to 9 percent increase in welfare.

I should point out, incidentally, that economists mean changes in living standards when they write about changes in “welfare.” It’s a way of measuring the “well being” of society, sort of like what the Founders meant when they wrote about “the general welfare” in the Constitution.

But, once again, I’m digressing.

Let’s focus on the main lesson from the paper, which is that the corporate income tax imposes very high economic costs. Heck, even the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (which is infamous for wanting higher tax burdens on companies) admitted that the levy undermines prosperity.

The study even finds that workers would be better off if the corporate income tax was replaced by higher wage taxes!

To learn more about the topic, here’s a video I narrated many years ago about cutting the corporate income tax. There was less gray in my hair back then, but my analysis still holds today.

* For the umpteenth time, I want to emphasize that the goal should not be to maximize revenue for politicians. Instead, we should strive to be on the growth-maximizing point of the Laffer Curve.

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The title of this piece has an asterisk because, unfortunately, we’re not talking about progress on the Laffer Curve in the United States.

Instead, we’re discussing today how lawmakers in other nations are beginning to recognize that it’s absurdly inaccurate to predict the revenue impact of changes in tax rates without also trying to measure what happens to taxable income (if you want a short tutorial on the Laffer Curve, click here).

But I’m a firm believer that policies in other nations (for better or worse) are a very persuasive form of real-world evidence. Simply stated, if you’re trying to convince a politician that a certain policy is worth pursuing, you’ll have a much greater chance of success if you can point to tangible examples of how it has been successful.

That’s why I cite Hong Kong and Singapore as examples of why free markets and small government are the best recipe for prosperity. It’s also why I use nations such as New Zealand, Canada, and Estonia when arguing for a lower burden of government spending.

And it’s why I’m quite encouraged that even the squishy Tory-Liberal coalition government in the United Kingdom has begun to acknowledge that the Laffer Curve should be part of the analysis when making major changes in taxation.

UK Laffer CurveI don’t know whether that’s because they learned a lesson from the disastrous failure of Gordon Brown’s class-warfare tax hike, or whether they feel they should do something good to compensate for bad tax policies they’re pursuing in other areas, but I’m not going to quibble when politicians finally begin to move in the right direction.

The Wall Street Journal opines that this is a very worthwhile development.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has cut Britain’s corporate tax rate to 22% from 28% since taking office in 2010, with a further cut to 20% due in 2015. On paper, these tax cuts were predicted to “cost” Her Majesty’s Treasury some £7.8 billion a year when fully phased in. But Mr. Osborne asked his department to figure out how much additional revenue would be generated by the higher investment, wages and productivity made possible by leaving that money in private hands.

By the way, I can’t resist a bit of nit-picking at this point. The increases in investment, wages, and productivity all occur because the marginal corporate tax rate is reduced, not because more money is in private hands.

I’m all in favor of leaving more money in private hands, but you get more growth when you change relative prices to make productive behavior more rewarding. And this happens when you reduce the tax code’s penalty on work compared to leisure and when you lower the tax on saving and investment compared to consumption.

The Wall Street Journal obviously understands this and was simply trying to avoid wordiness, so this is a friendly amendment rather than a criticism.

Anyhow, back to the editorial. The WSJ notes that the lower corporate tax rate in the United Kingdom is expected to lose far less revenue than was predicted by static estimates.

The Treasury’s answer in a report this week is that extra growth and changed business behavior will likely recoup 45%-60% of that revenue. The report says that even that amount is almost certainly understated, since Treasury didn’t attempt to model the effects of the lower rate on increased foreign investment or other “spillover benefits.”

And maybe this more sensible approach eventually will spread to the United States.

…the results are especially notable because the U.K. Treasury gnomes are typically as bound by static-revenue accounting as are the American tax scorers at Congress’s Joint Tax Committee. While the British rate cut is sizable, the U.S. has even more room to climb down the Laffer Curve because the top corporate rate is 35%, plus what the states add—9.x% in benighted Illinois, for example. This means the revenue feedback effects from a rate cut would be even more substantial.

The WSJ says America’s corporate tax rate should be lowered, and there’s no question that should be a priority since the United States now has the least competitive corporate tax system in the developed world (and we rank a lowly 94 out of the world’s top 100 nations).

But the logic of the Laffer Curve also explains why we should lower personal tax rates. But it’s not just curmudgeonly libertarians who are making this argument.

Writing in London’s City AM, Allister Heath points out that even John Maynard Keynes very clearly recognized a Laffer Curve constraint on excessive taxation.

Supply-side economist?!?

Even Keynes himself accepted this. Like many other economists throughout the ages, he understood and agreed with the principles that underpinned what eventually came to be known as the Laffer curve: that above a certain rate, hiking taxes further can actually lead to a fall in income, and cutting tax rates can actually lead to increased revenues.Writing in 1933, Keynes said that under certain circumstances “taxation may be so high as to defeat its object… given sufficient time to gather the fruits, a reduction of taxation will run a better chance than an increase of balancing the budget. For to take the opposite view today is to resemble a manufacturer who, running at a loss, decides to raise his price, and when his declining sales increase the loss, wrapping himself in the rectitude of plain arithmetic, decides that prudence requires him to raise the price still more—and who, when at last his account is balanced with nought on both sides, is still found righteously declaring that it would have been the act of a gambler to reduce the price when you were already making a loss.”

For what it’s worth, Keynes also thought that it would be a mistake to let government get too large, having written that “25 percent [of GDP] as the maximum tolerable proportion of taxation.”

But let’s stay on message and re-focus our attention on the Laffer Curve. Amazingly, it appears that even a few of our French friends are coming around on this issue.

Here are some passages from a report from the Paris-based Institute for Research in Economic and Fiscal Issues.

In an interview given to the newspaper Les Echos on November 18th, French Prime Minister Jean -Marc Ayrault finally understood that “the French tax system has become very complex, almost unreadable, and the French often do not understand its logic or are not convinced that what they are paying is fair and that this system is efficient.” …The Government was seriously disappointed when knowing that a shortfall of over 10 billion euros is expected in late 2013 according to calculations by the National Assembly. …In fact, we have probably reached a threshold where taxation no longer brings in enough money to the Government because taxes weigh too much on production and growth.

This is a point that has also been acknowledged by France’s state auditor. And even a member of the traditionally statist European Commission felt compelled to warn that French taxes had reached the point whether they “destroy growth and handicap the creation of jobs.”

But don’t hold your breath waiting for good reforms in France. I fear the current French government is too ideologically fixated on punishing the rich to make a shift toward more sensible tax policy.

P.S. The strongest single piece of evidence for the Laffer Curve is what happened to tax collections from the rich in the 1980s. The top tax rate dropped from 70 percent to 28 percent, leading many statists to complain that the wealthy wouldn’t pay enough and that the government would be starved of revenue. To put it mildly, they were wildly wrong.

I cite that example, as well as other pieces of evidence, in this video.

P.P.S. And if you want to understand specifically why class-warfare tax policy is so likely to fail, this post explains why it’s a fool’s game to target upper-income taxpayers since they have considerable control over the timing, level, and composition of their income.

P.P.P.S. Above all else, never forget that the goal should be to maximize growth rather than revenues. That’s because we want small government. But even for those that don’t want small government, you don’t want to be near the revenue-maximizing point of the Laffer Curve since that implies significant economic damage per every dollar collected.

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We have an amazing man-bites-dog story today.

Let’s begin with some background information. A member of the European Commission recently warned that:

“Tax increases imposed by the Socialist-led government in France have reached a “fatal level”…[and] that a series of tax hikes since the Socialists took power 14 months ago – including €33bn in new taxes this year – threatens to “destroy growth and handicap the creation of jobs”.

Given the pervasive statism of the European Commission, that was a remarkable admission.

But the Commissioner who issued that warning, Olli Rehn, is Finnish, so French politicians presumably don’t listen to his advice any more than they listen to the thoughtful, well-meaning, and generous suggestions I make.

Indeed, based on the actions of the current President and the former President, we can say with great confidence that French politicians compete over who can pursue the most misguided policies.

But maybe, just maybe, there are some people inside France who realize the house of cards is in danger of collapse.

Here are some excerpts from a story I never thought I would read. At least one senior official in France has woken up to the dangers of ever-rising taxes and an always-growing burden of government spending.

France’s state auditor urged the government Tuesday to redouble efforts to limit spending rather than increases taxes… The head of the state auditor, Didier Migaud, said the interruption in deficit reduction stemmed primarily from lower-than-expected tax revenue, due to the weak economy. Yet, he said “the spiraling welfare debt was particularly abnormal and particularly dangerous.” During his first year in power, President François Hollande relied on large tax increases to plug holes in public finances, including social programs such as pensions, unemployment benefits and health care. But economic stagnation in 2012, coupled with a mild recession at the start of 2013, has waylaid the plan, while both companies and households are crying foul over what some have called “a tax overdose.” Mr. Migaud added his voice, saying: “The strategy of fixing the system by collecting new revenue is reaching its limits.”

Before any further analysis, I have to make one correction to the story. Hollande’s plan was not “waylaid” by a recession. Instead, his policies doubtlessly helped cause a recession. You don’t impose huge tax hikes on productive behavior without some sort of negative impact on economic performance.

So the “holes in public finances” are at least partially a result of the Laffer Curve. As I’ve repeatedly warned, higher tax rates rarely – if ever – collect as much money as politicians expect.

Returning to the specific case of France, the fiscal variable that should set off the most alarm bells is that the burden of government spending has soared to 57 percent of GDP. And based on projections from the BIS, OECD, and IMF, that number is going to get even worse in the future.

This is the data that presumably has convinced Monsieur Migaud that France is approaching the point of no return on taxes and spending.

Interestingly, the French people may be ahead of their politicians. Polling data from 2010 and 2013 show that ordinary people very much understand the need to limit the size and scope of government.

Heck, a majority of French people have said they would be interested in escaping to the United States if they had the opportunity. And successful people already have been leaving the country because of punitive tax rates.

But I’m not sure I believe the aforementioned polls. If the French people genuinely have sound views, why do they keep electing bad politicians? Of course, the same thing could be said about the United States, so perhaps I shouldn’t throw stones in my glass house.

P.S. My favorite example of government running amok in France is the law threatening three years in jail if you say your husband is a fat slob or if you accuse your wife of being a nag.

P.P.S. The most vile French official may be the current Prime Minister, who actually had the gall to complain that some of his intended victims weren’t quietly entering the slaughterhouse.

P.P.P.S. Just in case you think I’m exaggerating about France being a fiscal hellhole, more than 8,000 households last year were subjected to a tax burden of more than 100 percent . Obama must be very envious.

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I recently speculated whether Detroit’s fiscal problems should be a warning sign for the crowd in Washington.

The answer, of course, is yes, though it’s not a perfect analogy. The federal government is in deep trouble because of unsustainable entitlement programs while Detroit got in trouble because of a combination of too much compensation for bureaucrats and too many taxpayers escaping the city.

A better analogy might be to compare Detroit to other local governments. Some large cities in California already have declared bankruptcy, for instance, and you can find the same pattern of overcompensated bureaucrats and escaping taxpayers.

And the same thing may happen to New York City if the next Mayor is successful in pushing for more class-warfare tax policy. Here are some excerpts from an excellent New York Post column by Nicole Gelinas.

Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio…thinks New York can hike taxes on the rich and not suffer… De Blasio’s scheme is this: Hike income taxes by 13.8 percent on New Yorkers making above half a million dollars annually. …After five years, de Blasio would let this tax surcharge lapse, and — he says — find another way to pay.

But there’s a big problem with de Blasio’s plan. Rich people are not fatted calves meekly awaiting slaughter.

In 2009, the top 1 percent of taxpayers (the 34,598 households making above $493,439 annually) paid 43.2 percent of city income taxes (they made 33.9 percent of income), according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. Each of these families paid an average $75,477. No, most people won’t up and leave (though if 20 percent did, they’d leave New York with less money than before the tax hike). But they can rearrange their incomes. Unlike most of us, folks making, say, $10 million have considerable control over how and when they get paid. That’s because much of their money comes from cashing out a partnership, or selling stock or a house or a painting. To avoid a tax hike, it’s easy enough for them to pay themselves earlier by selling their stuff earlier — before the tax hike. The city made $800 million in extra taxes last year because rich people sold their stuff before President Obama increased investment taxes in December. Or, people can pay themselves later — after the five years’ worth of higher taxes are up.

Gelinas makes some very important points. She warns that the city would have less money if just 20 percent of rich people escaped. She doesn’t think that will happen, but she does explain that rich people can stay but take some simple steps to reduce their taxable income.

This is because rich people are different from the rest of us. As I’ve previously explained with IRS data, they get the vast majority of their income from business and investment sources rather than from wages and salaries.

This means, as Gelinas notes, they have considerable control over the timing, level, and composition of their income.

So if Mr. de Blasio wins and succeeds in pushing through his tax agenda, don’t expect to see much – if any – additional revenue. This will be a tailor-made example of the Laffer Curve in action.

In this video on class warfare taxation, I explain that the Laffer Curve is one of five reasons why soak-the-rich taxes are misguided.

I’ll close by addressing a common argument from folks on the left. They assert that places such as New York City (or states such as California) can impose higher taxes because they provide more in exchange.

I sort of agree, though not with the notion that people are getting “more in exchange” from the politicians in New York City and California.

Instead, it’s clear that some people are willing to pay more because they like the non-political features of NYC and the Golden State. For those who like museums, fancy dining, and Broadway shows, there’s no easy substitute for New York City. And for people who like the ocean and a Mediterranean climate, it’s hard to compete with California.

But there are limits. Last month, I shared a very powerful map from the Tax Foundation showing there’s been a huge shift of taxable income out of New York and California between 2000 and 2010.

Governor Jerry Brown recently succeeded in pushing through a huge tax hike in California, so I expect even more people will leave that state, regardless of the climate.

And if Mr. de Blasio is elected and imposes a big tax hike in New York City, I suspect some rich people will decide enough is enough.

No, they won’t move to Connecticut or New Jersey, both of which have become high-tax nightmares in recent decades. But there are a good handful of zero-income tax states, and the rich folks in New York City will figure out that there are also good restaurants in places such as West Palm Beach, Florida, and Austin, Texas.

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I’m not a big fan of the European Commission. For those not familiar with this entity, it’s sort of the European version of the executive-branch bureaucracy we have in Washington. And like their counterparts in Washington, the Brussels-based bureaucracy enjoys a very lavish lifestyle while pushing for more government and engaging in bizarre forms of political correctness.

But just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, it appears that the European Commission is right once every century. Or perhaps once every millennium would be more accurate. Regardless, here are parts of a story I never thought would appear in my lifetime.

Olli Rehn: “Taxes shouldn’t be any higher than this”

According to the UK-based Independent, the European Commission – or at least one European Commissioner – now realizes that there’s such a thing as too much tax.

Tax increases imposed by the Socialist-led government in France have reached a “fatal level”, the European Union’s commissioner for economic affairs said today. Olli Rehn warned that a series of tax hikes since the Socialists took power 14 months ago – including €33bn in new taxes this year – threatens to “destroy growth and handicap the creation of jobs”.

Wow, that sounds like something I might have said.

But even though I endorsed him, Hollande has ignored my advice.

President Hollande has kept his electoral promise to attack French deficits and accumulated debt. He has done so, however, almost entirely by tax increases rather than by cuts in a state apparatus which swallows 56.6 per cent of the country’s GDP.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that tax hikes haven’t worked. Deficits today are still far higher than they were before the financial crisis. Yet the crazy French are not slowing down.

it has emerged that final budget plans for 2014 will include at least €6bn in tax rises. This figure does not include the impact of a programmed rise in the basic rate of VAT from 19.6 per cent to 20 per cent from January next year. …Mr Hollande’s 75 per cent “temporary” tax on incomes over €1m – also blocked by constitutional objections – may also finally take effect in 2014.

Geesh, no wonder even European bureaucrats are saying enough is enough.

Just like the IMF said that Greece had reached the tipping point where taxes were too high.

Just like the United Nations acknowledged the Laffer-Curve insight that taxes can be too high.

Just like the OECD admitted that better tax policy leads to more taxable income.

Just like the European Central Bank found big Laffer-Curve responses to changes in tax policy.

Hmmm…, makes you begin to think there’s a pattern and that people finally understand the Laffer Curve. Though let’s not get too optimistic since this common-sense observation about tax rates, taxable income, and tax revenue has not had any impact on the pro-tax bureaucrats at the Joint Committee on Taxation in Washington. But that’s a separate story.

I feel guilty about writing something favorable about the European Commission, so I want to close with some information showing that this bureaucracy is on the wrong side more than 99 percent of the time. Which should surprise anyone since it is headed by a former Maoist (who is eminently forgettable – other than the fact that he is unintentionally engaged in a contest to see who can be the most laughable European bureaucrat).

Let’s look at some highlights from the past few years.

European Commission bureaucrats lash out at credit rating companies for warning that governments may not be able to pay their bills.

European Commission bureaucrats squander millions of dollars on empty political correctness as they publish calendars that omit Christmas.

European Commission bureaucrats pissed away millions of dollars to create a green-skinned “Mr. Fruitness” superhero.

European Commission bureaucrats wasted money on comic books portraying themselves as super heroes.

But let’s set aside their perks and boondoggles and instead look at the bad policies generated by this army of paper pushers.

The European Commission pushes for tax harmonization because it is “unfair” for some nations to have lower taxes.

The European Commission advocates gender quotas at private businesses.

The European Commission is hostile to entrepreneurship and supports ever-higher levels of regulation and red tape.

The European Commission supports higher taxes as a “solution” to overspending by national governments.

The European Commission has decided that taxpayer-funded vacations are a human right.

The European Commission finances killing ducks at the absurd price of $750 each.

In other words, the crowd in Brussels is just as wasteful as the folks in Washington. And just as profligate as the people in Paris. And just as reckless as the group in London. And…well, you get the idea.

P.S. While the purpose of this post is to congratulate the European Commission on a rare bit of sanity, it’s worth noting that there’s another bureaucracy in Brussels called the European Parliament. I don’t think they’ve ever displayed any evidence of sanity. But since it doesn’t have much power, it also has little opportunity to do really stupid things. That being said, they enjoy a level of pampering that must make American lawmakers green with envy.

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It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that the United States has the world’s worst corporate tax system.

We definitely have the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world, and we may have the highest corporate tax rate in the entire world depending on how one chooses to classify the tax regime in an obscure oil Sheikdom.

But America’s bad policy goes far beyond the rate structure. We also have a very punitive policy of “worldwide taxation” that forces American firms to pay an extra layer of tax when competing for market share in other nations.

And then we have rampant double taxation of both dividends and capital gains, which discourages business investment.

No wonder a couple of German economists ranked America 94 out of 100 nations when measuring the overall treatment of business income.

So if you’re an American company, how do you deal with all this bad policy?

Well, one solution is to engage in a lot of clever tax planning to minimize your taxable income. Though that’s probably not a successful long-term strategy since the Obama Administration is supporting a plan by European politicians to create further disadvantages for American-based companies.

Another option is to somehow turn yourself into a foreign corporation. You won’t be surprised to learn that politicians have imposed punitive anti-expatriation laws to make that difficult, but the crowd in Washington hasn’t figured out how to stop cross-border mergers and acquisitions.

And it seems that’s a very effective way of escaping America’s worldwide tax regime. Let’s look at some excerpts from a story posted by CNBC.

Some of the biggest mergers and acquisitions so far in 2013 have involved so-called “tax inversions” – where a US acquirer shifts overseas, to Europe in particular, to pay a lower rate.

The article then lists a bunch of examples. Here’s Example #1.

Michigan-based pharmaceuticals group Perrigo has said its acquisition of Irish biotech company Elan will lead to re-domiciling in Ireland, where it has given guidance it expects to pay about 17 per cent in tax, rather than an estimated 30 per cent rate it was paying in the US. Deutsche Bank estimates Perrigo will achieve tax savings of $118m a year as a result.

And Example #2.

New Jersey-based Actavis’s acquisition of Warner Chilcott in May – will also result in a move to Ireland, where Actavis’s tax rate will fall to about 17 per cent from an effective rate of 28 per cent tax, and enable it to save an estimated $150m over the next two years.

Then Example #3.

US advertising company Omnicom has said its $35bn merger with Publicis will result in the combined group’s headquarters being located in the Netherlands, saving about $80m in US tax a year.

Last but not least, Example #4.

Liberty Global’s $23bn acquisition of Virgin Media will allow the US cable group to relocate to the UK, and pay its lower 21 per cent tax rate of corporation tax.

And we can expect more of these inversions in the future.

M&A advisers say the number of companies seeking to re-domicile outside the US after a takeover is rising. …Increased use of tax inversion has coincided with an intensifying political debate on US tax – with Democrats, Republicans and the White House agreeing that the current code, which imposes a top rate of 35 per cent but offers a plethora of tax breaks, is in need of reform.

I’ll close with a very important point.

It’s not true that the current code has a “plethora of tax breaks.” Or, to be more specific, there are lots of tax breaks, but the ones that involve lots of money are part of the personal income tax, such as the state and local tax deduction, the mortgage interest deduction, the charitable contributions deduction, the muni-bond exemption, and the fringe benefits exclusion.

There are some corrupt loopholes in the corporate income tax, to be sure, such as the ethanol credit for Big Ag and housing credits for politically well-connected developers. But if you look at the Joint Committee on Taxation’s list of so-called tax expenditures and correct for their flawed definition of income, it turns out that there’s not much room to finance a lower tax rate by getting rid of unjustified tax breaks.

So does this mean there’s no way of fixing the problems that cause tax inversions?

If lawmakers put themselves in the straitjacket of “static scoring” as practiced by the Joint Committee on Taxation, then a solution is very unlikely.

But if they choose to look at the evidence, they’ll see that there are big Laffer-Curve effects from better tax policy. A study from the American Enterprise Institute found that the revenue-maximizing corporate tax rate is about 25 percent while more recent research from the Tax Foundation puts the revenue-maximizing tax rate for companies closer to 15 percent.

I should hasten to add that the tax code shouldn’t be designed to maximize revenues. But when tax rates are punitively high, even a cranky libertarian like me won’t get too agitated if politicians wind up with more money as a result of lowering tax rates.

You might think that’s a win-win situation. Folks on the right support lower tax rates to get more growth and folks on the left support the same policy to raise more tax revenue.

But there’s at least one person on Washington who wants high tax rates even if they don’t raise additional revenue.

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The budget deficit this year is projected to be significantly smaller than it has been in recent years and some of our statist friends claim that this shows the desirability and effectiveness of higher taxes.

I’m not persuaded, mostly because our big long-run fiscal challenge is a rising burden of government spending. And the fact that federal tax revenue is gradually climbing back to the historical norm of about 18 percent of GDP doesn’t change the fact that we have a looming entitlement crisis – as illustrated by very sobering estimates from the BIS, OECD, and IMF.

I discuss the implications of tax revenue in this interview Charles Payne of Fox News.

There was no opponent to debate, so here are some additional details on issues that were discussed in the interview.

Taxes debt europeHigher taxes lead to higher spending – The evidence from Europe is very compelling about the tendency of politicians to spend more money whenever more revenue is an option. Heck, even the New York Times accidentally admitted that tax hikes encourage bigger budgets rather than less red ink. It’s theoretically possible, of course, for politicians to raise revenue without raising spending, but the starve-the-beast research suggests it’s quite unlikely.

Retroactive tax hikes can raise revenue…in the short run – I think California voters made a big mistake last November when they voted to impose a top state income tax rate of 13.3 percent. And that punitive regime almost surely won’t raise much if any revenue in the long run as high-income people flee the state. But that’s a long-run effect. In the short run, the Prop 30 tax hike will generate revenue – particularly since the tax hike was retroactive. As I said in the interview, there aren’t supply-side effects when higher tax rates are imposed on income that was earned in the past. But it’s just a matter of time until the Laffer Curve bites politicians in the butt.

Nothing else matters if government spending grows faster than the private sector – Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but regular readers know that I hope “Mitchell’s Golden Rule” will be my legacy to fiscal policy. To be more specific, good things happen in the long run if government spending grows by, say, 2 percent each year and the private sector expands faster, perhaps 5 percent annually. Click here to see a video that shows how nations such as Canada and New Zealand made big progress by fulfilling the rule. Unfortunately, the United States has headed in the opposite direction during the Bush-Obama years.

P.S. If the United States had implemented something similar to Switzerland’s successful spending cap, we would be in a far stronger fiscal policy position today.

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I’m thinking of inventing a game, sort of a fiscal version of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

Only the way it will work is that there will be a map of the world and the winner will be the blindfolded person who puts their pin closest to a nation such as Australia or Switzerland that has a relatively low risk of long-run fiscal collapse.

That won’t be an easy game to win since we have data from the BIS, OECD, and IMF showing that government is growing far too fast in the vast majority of nations.

We also know that many states and cities suffer from the same problems.

A handful of local governments already have hit the fiscal brick wall, with many of them (gee, what a surprise) from California.

The most spectacular mess, though, is about to happen in Michigan.

The Washington Post reports that Detroit is on the verge of fiscal collapse.

After decades of sad and spectacular decline, it has come to this for Detroit: The city is $19 billion in debt and on the edge of becoming the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy. An emergency manager says the city can make good on only a sliver of what it owes — in many cases just pennies on the dollar.

This is a dog-bites-man story. Detroit’s problems are the completely predictable result of excessive government. Just as statism explains the problems of Greece. And the problems of California. And the problems of Cyprus. And the problems of Illinois.

I could continue with a long list of profligate governments, but you get the idea. Some of these governments are collapsing at a quicker pace and some at a slower pace. But all of them are in deep trouble because they don’t follow my Golden Rule about restraining the burden of government spending so that it grows slower than the private sector.

Detroit obviously is an example of a government that is collapsing sooner rather than later.

Why? Simply stated, as the size and scope of the public sector increased, that created very destructive economic and political dynamics.

More and more people got lured into the wagon of government dependency, which puts an ever-increasing burden on a shrinking pool of producers.

Meanwhile, organized interest groups such as government bureaucrats used their political muscle to extract absurdly excessive compensation packages, putting an even larger burden of the dwindling supply of taxpayers.

But that’s not the main focus of this post. Instead, I want to highlight a particular excerpt from the article and make a point about how too many people are blindly – perhaps willfully – ignorant of the Laffer Curve.

Check out this sentence.

Property tax collections are down 20 percent and income tax collections are down by more than a third in just the past five years — despite some of the highest tax rates in the state.

This is a classic “Fox Butterfield mistake,” which occurs when someone fails to recognize a cause-effect relationship. In this case, the reporter should have recognized that tax collections are down because Detroit has very high tax rates.

The city has a lot more problems than just high tax rates, of course, but can there be any doubt that productive people have very little incentive to earn and report taxable income in Detroit?

And that’s the essential insight of the Laffer Curve. Politicians can’t – or at least shouldn’t – assume that a 20 percent increase in tax rates will lead to a 20 percent increase in tax revenue. They also have to consider the degree to which a higher tax rate will cause a change in taxable income.

In some cases, higher tax rates will discourage people from earning more taxable income.

In some cases, higher tax rates will discourage people from reporting all the income they earn.

In some cases, higher tax rates will encourage people to utilize tax loopholes to shrink their taxable income.

In some cases, higher tax rates will encourage migration, thus causing taxable income to disappear.

Here’s my three-part video series on the Laffer Curve. Much of this is common sense, though it needs to be mandatory viewing for elected officials (as well as the bureaucrats at the Joint Committee on Taxation).

P.S. Just in case it’s not clear from the videos, we don’t want to be at the revenue-maximizing point on the Laffer Curve.

P.P.S. Amazingly, even the bureaucrats at the IMF recognize that there’s a point when taxes are so onerous that further increases don’t generate revenue.

P.P.P.S. At least CPAs understand the Laffer Curve, probably because they help their clients reduce their tax exposure to greedy governments.

P.P.P.P.S. I offered a Laffer Curve lesson to President Obama, but I doubt it had any impact.

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In a recent interview with the BBC, I basically accused UK Prime Minister David Cameron of being a feckless and clueless demagogue who is engaged in a desperate effort to resuscitate his political future.

Two peas in a pod

I shouldn’t have been so kind. Cameron manages to combine bad policy and bad morality in a way that is embarrassing even for a politician.

Writing for the Daily Telegraph, Janet Daley eviscerates Cameron’s puerile approach to fiscal policy, beginning with some mockery of his class-warfare approach to tax enforcement.

David Cameron said something last week that was the precise opposite of the truth…the Prime Minister said was: “If you want a low-tax economy, you have to collect the taxes that are owed.” When what he should have said, of course, was: “If you want to collect the taxes that are owed, you have to have a low-tax economy.” Mr Cameron’s statement was one of the more subtle threats contained in the declaration by the G8 – which was pretty much all they could agree on – that they are now the rightful owners of all the wealth produced by anyone except for certain exemptions that they will, subject to minimal notice, decide upon. His remark, presumably designed to provide moral justification for the unprecedented levels of shared surveillance and breaches of data protection that governments are preparing to launch, actually stood on its head the truth about effective tax collection. Which is that the lower rates of taxation are, the less likely it is that payment of them will be avoided or evaded.

She also makes some very astute points about other issues, including the Laffer Curve.

The introduction of the 50p rate of income tax caused two-thirds of those earning a million pounds per year simply to disappear from the reach of HM Revenue & Customs. Whereas under the previous highest tax level of 40p, 16,000 people were prepared to declare earnings of one million pounds, that number shrank to only 6,000 after Gordon Brown, bless him, raised it to 50p. Result: the Treasury lost £7 billion in revenue.

Ms. Daley also comments on tax compliance and the risks of letting governments destroy financial privacy as part of their efforts to undermine tax competition.

If people regard levels of tax as fair (in the true sense of the word, not the Left-wing sense, which actually means “vindictive”), they will not go to expensive and dangerous lengths to escape from paying. The more punitive and discouraging of wealth-creation taxes are, the more they are avoided by stealth or geographical relocation – or by the even more economically disastrous measure of people being disinclined to increase their own productivity. Ah yes, but isn’t this the problem that those heads of government are determined to address? Rather than lowering taxes to levels that those who are taxed find acceptable, they will simply close off all the avenues of escape. There is to be no more possibility, by international agreement (which is to say, the coercion of smaller, less rich countries), of geographical movement for tax advantage.

She closes by opining on why this is really a debate about the burden of government spending and whether taxpayers exist to feed the spending appetites of politicians.

If you eliminate tax competition – if you create a uniform, universally policed tax standard – it is the poorer countries that suffer because they are deprived of the capacity to attract foreign capital. …What is at the heart of all this is the growth of governments: the treasuries of the world are becoming needier and greedier. …Underlying almost all political debate on this matter now is the unspoken assumption that privately owned wealth is inherently evil, and that its only moral justification is to provide revenue that governments can redistribute. …let me remind you of what you may actually believe, shocking as it may sound in the context of prevailing public discourse. Are you ready? It is not the primary function of business to provide funds for politicians to spend.

Amen. The statists and collectivists that dominate the political elite treat us like a herd of cattle to be milked and slaughtered.

We need tax havens in order to impose at least a tiny bit of restraint on the greed of the political class. These low-tax jurisdictions aren’t a sufficient condition to save us from statism, but they sure as heck are a necessary condition.

P.S. Who moved farther in the wrong direction, U.S. Republicans who went from Reagan to Bush or U.K. Tories who went from Thatcher to Cameron?

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Two of my favorite things in life are the Laffer Curve and the Georgia Bulldogs.

So you know I’m going to approve when an economics professor from the University of Georgia writes a column about the power of the Laffer Curve.

And since I’m a libertarian and the specific issue is about curtailing the foolish Drug War, it goes without saying that this is something that belongs on this blog. Especially when we get to celebrate some evidence that statists are acknowledging that tax rates matter!

Here are some excerpts from Jeffrey Dorfman’s column at Real Clear Markets.

Now that the state will let people legally purchase marijuana for recreational use (medicinal use was already legal), the state wants to collect tax revenue from the new industry. What is fascinating about this is that many people who have probably long argued against the concept of the Laffer Curve are suddenly embracing it. …the politicians in Colorado are openly discussing the fact that if they set the tax rate too high on marijuana, people will buy it on the illegal market and avoid the taxes. If the tax rate is set too low, potential tax revenue that is to be designated for school construction would be left on the table. They are searching for just the right tax rate that will bring in the most new tax revenue. In other words, they have accepted the Laffer Curve. The exact same arguments apply to income taxes. If too high a tax rate is levied, people will search for ways around it (loopholes, less work effort, and outright tax fraud). Taxes too low will not produce sufficient tax revenue to fund government. The ideal income tax rate is in the middle somewhere.

I have to interrupt at this point. Professor Dorfman isn’t saying that the goal is to maximize revenue, but I’m worried some people may jump to the wrong conclusion.

The ideal point on the Laffer Curve is very low, sufficient to raise the modest amount of revenue needed to finance the legitimate – and very limited – functions of government.

Let’s continue with another excerpt.

Tax PotThere is an old saying that politics makes strange bedfellows. This is a classic such case. Now that liberals have found a business they like, businesses should be protected from excessive taxes. Suddenly people do respond to taxes by changing their behavior. Finally, we have agreement that incentives matter and taxing something means there will be less of the item that got taxed. Getting liberals to agree with these usually conservative beliefs more broadly is by no means certain. After all, liberals have long held that high cigarette and gas taxes encourage people to change their behavior, convincing people to smoke less and drive more fuel-efficient cars. Yet these same liberals have refused to believe that high income taxes encourage people to earn less (taxable) income. Conservatives, whether in favor of legalizing marijuana or not, should applaud the liberals who now agree with them that tax rates matter to businesses and people and that the Laffer Curve is a reality.

So does this mean that leftists are waking up to reality?

The answer is yes and no. There are some advocates of class warfare who want higher tax rates even if the government doesn’t collect any additional revenue. If you think I’m exaggerating and such people don’t exist, watch this video – especially beginning about the 4:30 mark.

But there are other leftists who are more reasonable, even among those working for traditionally statist international bureaucracies.

Unfortunately, the ideological left still controls the Joint Committee on Taxation, the congressional bureaucracy that refuses to acknowledge that changes in tax policy can impact economic performance.

Maybe they’ll be less dogmatic if we send them to Colorado for some “field research”?

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Last month, Amity Shlaes came to Cato to discuss her superb new book about Calvin Coolidge.

I heard her discuss the book back in January while participating in Hillsdale College’s conference on the 100th anniversary of the income tax, but the book is so rich with information that I was glad for the opportunity to listen to her provide additional insights on a great President.

I also got to provide some commentary on the book and the lessons that we can learn from the Coolidge era.

I managed to talk for more than 15 minutes, but I could have boiled my remarks down to these two points.

  1. Small government is the best way to achieve competent and effective government. Coolidge and his team were able to monitor government and run it efficiently because the federal budget consumed only about 5 percent of GDP. But when the federal budget is 23 percent of GDP, by contrast, it’s much more difficult to keep tabs on what’s happening – particularly when the federal government operates more than 1,000 programs. Even well-intentioned bureaucrats and politicians are unlikely to do a good job, as illustrated by this Eric Allie cartoon.
  2. Higher tax rates don’t automatically lead to more tax revenue. Coolidge and his Treasury Secretary practiced something called “scientific taxation,” but it’s easier just to call it common sense. Since Amity’s book covered the data from the 1920s, I shared with the audience some amazing data from the 1980s showing that lower tax rates on the “rich” led to big revenue increases.

But if you don’t believe me, listen to these powerful remarks from “Silent Cal.”

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I feel like I’m on the witness stand and I’m being badgered by a hostile lawyers. Readers keep asking me to identify the revenue-maximizing point on the Laffer Curve.

But I don’t like that question. In the past, I’ve explained that the growth-maximizing point on the Laffer Curve is where enough revenue is raised to finance the legitimate – and limited – functions of government.

And one of the earliest posts on this blog explained that we don’t want to maximize tax revenue.

But I still get versions of this question, including a few that accuse me of dodging the issue.

So what the heck, I may as well give an answer to the question. But I won’t give my answer. Instead, I’ll provide the analysis of a Nobel Prize winner.

James Mirrlees won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1996 and he’s researched this issue, starting with a left-of-center perspective.

Many economists, including Mirrlees, want to use the tax system to achieve a higher degree of equality than would otherwise obtain. This means taking a substantial amount of the additional income of high-income people, which would imply high marginal tax rates on them. But when the government imposes such high marginal tax rates on the highest-income people, it reduces the incentive of the most productive people to be productive. …Economists have long wanted to figure out the optimum, but until Mirrlees’s work no one had been able to solve it.

And what did Mirrlees find? Well, notwithstanding his own preferences, he calculated that the tax rate should be no higher than 20 percent.

Mirrlees started with no presumption against high marginal tax rates. Indeed, he has been an adviser to Britain’s Labour Party, which for decades imposed marginal tax rates in excess of 80 percent. But Mirrlees found that the top marginal tax rate should be only about 20 percent; and moreover, it should be about the same 20 percent for everyone. In short, Mirrlees’s work justified what is now known as a “flat tax,” more appropriately called a “flat tax rate.” Mirrlees wrote, “I must confess that I had expected the rigourous analysis of income taxation in the utilitarian manner to provide arguments for high tax rates. It has not done so.”

Not only a rate of 20 percent, but a flat tax!

Too bad the Labour Party politicians don’t listen to his advice. Heck, the Conservative Party politicians don’t follow his advice either.

But at least we have a rigorous estimate of the revenue-maximizing point on the Laffer Curve.

Though I hasten to add that it’s not the ideal tax rate. As the risk of being repetitive, the tax system should only fund the legitimate functions of government. For much of our history, the government only consumed about 10 percent of economic output and we didn’t need any broad-based tax. So you know where I stand.

That being said, it’s clearly destructive to have tax rates that are above both the growth-maximizing level and the revenue-maximizing level. And that’s where we stand now.

For more information, here’s my video on the Laffer Curve.

And if you want to learn specifically why Obama’s class-warfare agenda is misguided, here’s my Laffer-Curve-lesson-for-Obama post.

P.S. The Tax Foundation has estimated that the revenue-maximizing corporate tax rate is 14 percent.

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Art Laffer has a guaranteed spot in the liberty hall of fame because he popularized the common-sense notion that you can’t make any assumptions about tax rates and tax revenue without also figuring out what happens to taxable income.

Lot’s of people on the left try to denigrate the “Laffer Curve,” but it’s worth noting that even left-wing economists now admit that you don’t maximize revenue with a 100 percent tax rate.*

Indeed, I think the only people who now cling to that absurd view are the bureaucrats at the Joint Committee on Taxation.

But this post isn’t about the Laffer Curve. It’s about a disappointing column that Art Laffer wrote for today’s Wall Street Journal.

The issue is whether states should have the power to impose taxes on sales that take place outside their borders. Art starts the column with a very good point about the link between growth and living standards.

After enjoying an average growth rate above 3.5% per year between 1960 and 1999, Americans have had to make do with less than one-half that pace since 2000. The consequences are already dramatic and will become even more so over time. Overall we are 20% poorer today than we would be had the pre-2000 growth rate persisted.

That’s a great point. I’ve also tried to get people to focus on the importance of long-run growth.

Heck, just look at what’s happened in Hong Kong and Singapore and you’ll agree.

In his column, Art also correctly defines good tax policy.

The principle of levying the lowest possible tax rate on the broadest possible tax base is the way to improve the incentives to work, save and produce—which are necessary to reinvigorate the American economy and cope with the nation’s fiscal problems.

But he then asserts that an Internet sales tax cartel somehow will result in better policy.

…there are reforms that can alleviate the problems associated with declining sales-tax bases and, at the same time, allow the states to move closer to a pro-growth tax system. One such reform would be to have Internet sellers collect the sales taxes that are owed by in-state consumers when they purchase goods over the Web. So-called e-fairness legislation addresses the inequitable treatment of retailers based on whether they are located in-state (either a traditional brick-and-mortar store or an Internet retailer with a physical presence in the state) or out of state (again as a brick-and-mortar establishment or on the Internet). …The exemption of Internet and out-of-state retailers from collecting state sales taxes reduced state revenues by $23.3 billion in 2012 alone, according to an estimate by the National Conference of State Legislatures. The absence of these revenues has not served to put a lid on state-government spending. Instead, it has led to higher marginal rates in the 43 states that levy income taxes.

This is a very disappointing collection of sentences. Let’s review.

1. States have declining sales-tax bases because state lawmakers treat that levy the same way that politicians in Washington treat the income tax – they put in loopholes in exchange for campaign cash and political support. For them to complain about declining sales-tax bases is sort of like the old joke about the guy who murders  his parents and then asks the court for mercy because he’s an orphan.

2. Art offers zero evidence that state governments would use the additional revenue from a state sales tax cartel to reduce income tax rates. What’s next, a column saying we should have a value-added tax because the politicians may use the revenue to get rid of the income tax? Yeah, good luck with that approach.

3. Why is it “inequitable” for there to be different tax policies in different states? That’s another way of describing federalism, and it’s something we should be celebrating and promoting. Particularly since it promotes tax competition, which is one of the most effective ways of restraining the greed of the political class.

4. The Internet sales tax cartel being promoted by Art and various politicians requires that governments have the ability to tax sales that tax place outside their borders. That’s an assault of sovereignty, particularly since out-of-state merchants will be coerced into being tax collectors for a distant government. This is the same dangerous ideology that is used by high-tax governments to promote global anti-tax competition policies.

5. Art offers zero evidence that the absences of a state sales tax cartel has led to higher income tax rates. Yes, some states have raised tax rates in recent years, but others have lowered tax rates.

For more information on why a sales tax cartel among the states would be a bad idea, here’s my short speech to an audience on Capitol Hill.

*This should be an obvious point, but I can’t resist emphasizing that maximizing revenue should not be the goal of fiscal policy.

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Back in 2010, I wrote a post entitled “What’s the Ideal Point on the Laffer Curve?

Laffer CurveExcept I didn’t answer my own question. I simply pointed out that revenue maximization was not the ideal outcome.

I explained that policy makers instead should seek to maximize prosperity, and that this implied a much lower tax rate.

But what is that tax rate, several people have inquired?

The simple answer is that the tax rate should be set to finance the legitimate functions of government.

But that leads to an obvious follow-up question. What are those legitimate functions?

According to my anarcho-capitalist friends, there’s no need for any public sector. Even national defense and courts can be shifted to the private sector.

In that case, the “right” tax rate obviously is zero.

But what if you’re a squishy, middle-of-the-road moderate like me, and you’re willing to go along with the limited central government envisioned by America’s Founding Fathers?

That system operated very well for about 150 years and the federal government consumed, on average, only about 3 percent of economic output. Historical Burden of Federal SpendingAnd even if you include state and local governments, overall government spending was still less than 10 percent of GDP.

Moreover, for much of that time, America prospered with no income tax.

But this doesn’t mean there was no tax burden. There were excise taxes and import taxes, so if the horizontal axis of the Laffer Curve measured “Taxes as a Share of GDP,” then you would be above zero.

Or you could envision a world where those taxes were eliminated and replaced by a flat tax or national sales tax with a very low rate. Perhaps about 5 percent.

So I’m going to pick that number as my answer, even though I know that 5 percent is nothing more than a gut instinct.

For more information about the growth-maximizing size of government, watch this video on the Rahn Curve.

There are two key things to understand about my discussion of the Rahn Curve.

First, I assume in the video that the private sector can’t provide core public goods, so the discussion beginning about 0:33 will irk the anarcho-capitalists. I realize I’m making a blunt assumption, but I try to keep my videos from getting too long and I didn’t want to distract people by getting into issues such as whether things like national defense can be privatized.

Second, you’ll notice around 3:20 of the video that I explain why I think the academic research overstates the growth-maximizing size of government. Practically speaking, this seems irrelevant since the burden of government spending in almost all nations is well above 20 percent-25 percent of GDP.

But I hold out hope that we’ll be able to reform entitlements and take other steps to reduce the size and scope of government. And if that means total government spending drops to 20 percent-25 percent of GDP, I don’t want that to be the stopping point.

At the very least, we should shrink the size of the state back to 10 percent of economic output.

And if we ever get that low, then we can have a fun discussion with the anarcho-capitalists on what else we can privatize.

P.S. If a nation obeys Mitchell’s Golden Rule for a long enough period of time, government spending as a share of GDP asymptotically will approach zero. So perhaps there comes a time where my rule can be relaxed and replaced with something akin to the Swiss debt brake, which allows for the possibility of government growing at the same rate as GDP.

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Because I’ve been sharing good news recently – which definitely is not my normal style, I joked the other day I must be on coke, in love, or rolling in money. For example:

Well, the drugs, love, and money must still be in my system because I’m going to share some more good news. Our lords and masters in Washington have taken a small step in the direction of recognizing the Laffer Curve.

Here are some details from a Politico report.

Here’s one Republican victory that went virtually unnoticed in the slew of budget votes last week: The Senate told the Congressional Budget Office it should give more credit to the economic power of tax cuts. It won’t have the force of law, but it was a big symbolic win for conservatives — because it gave them badly needed moral support in an ongoing war to get Washington’s establishment number crunchers to take their economic ideas more seriously. The amendment endorsed a model called “dynamic scoring,” which assumes that tax cuts will pay for at least part of their cost by generating more economic activity. The measure by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) called on CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation to include “macroeconomic feedback scoring” in all future estimates of tax legislation. …Portman eked out a narrow 51-48 victory in the final series of budget votes that started around 3 a.m. on Saturday.

Just in case you missed it, this modest victory for common sense took place in the Senate. You know, the place controlled by Harry Reid of Cowboy Poetry fame.Laffer Curve

To be sure, it’s not quite time to pop open the champagne.

The vote was a symbolic victory for the think tanks and lawmakers on the right who have been fighting for years to force CBO and JCT to officially endorse the idea that people spend more and invest more when they owe the government less. …Conservatives’ ideas, including revenue-generating tax cuts and a more market-oriented health care system, can only work if tax policy changes people’s behavior — and that’s just not how CBO views the world.

I’ve been very critical of both CBO and JCT, so I’m one of the people in “think tanks” the article is talking about.

P.S. Chuck Asay has a good cartoon mocking the CBO.

P.P.S. I’ll repeat, for the umpteenth time, that we want to recognize the insights of the Laffer Curve in order to facilitate lower tax rates, not because we want to maximize revenue for the government.

P.P.P.S. Dynamic scoring is a double-edged sword. If the statists control everything, they’ll use the process to justify more spending using discredited Keynesian economics.

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If I live to be 100 years old, I suspect I’ll still be futilely trying to educate politicians that there’s not a simplistic linear relationship between tax rates and tax revenue.

You can’t double tax rates, for instance, and expect to double tax revenue. Simply stated, there’s another variable – called taxable income – that needs to be added to the equation. This simple insight is what gives us the Laffer Curve.

This is common sense in the business community. No restaurant owner would ever be foolish enough to think that revenues will double if all prices increase by 100 percent. People in the real world know that this would mean lower sales.

At best, revenues will rise by much less than 100 percent in that scenario. And if sales drop by enough, revenues may actually fall.

Perhaps because so few of them have business experience, it seems that politicians have a hard time grasping this simple concept.

The latest examples come from Europe, where the never-ending greed for more revenue has resulted in the imposition of financial transaction taxes.

So how’s that working out? Are politicians collecting the revenue they expected?

Hardly. Here are some of the details from a City A.M. column.

…taxes on financial transactions across Europe have devastated market activity and failed to raise as much as politicians hoped, according to new figures out yesterday.

The article cites three powerful examples, starting with Hungary.

Hungary implemented a 0.1 per cent tax at the start of the year. But it raised less than half the revenue the state had hoped for, bringing in 13bn Hungarian Forints (£36m) in January.

Wow, less than 50 percent of the revenue that politicians were expecting. But the politicians probably don’t care about the collateral damage they’re imposing on the economy because they’ll get to buy votes with another 13 billion Forints (about $55 million).

Popeye Laffer CurveNow let’s see how the French are doing.

France forged ahead on its own, introducing a 0.2 per cent tax on sales of shares of major firms. But that only raised €200m (£169.4m) from August to November, well below to €530m expected.

Gee, what a shame, the politicians in Paris are only getting about one-third as much money as they were expecting. That’s even worse than Hungary.

But they’ll surely squander that bit of cash as fast as possible.

Our last example comes from Italy. There are no revenue numbers yet, but the decline in financial activity suggests this tax also will be a flop.

And Italy launched its FTT this month. Figures from TMF Group suggest it has cut trading volumes by 38 per cent already

Though politicians may decide it’s a success since they may get more than 50 percent of what they were originally estimating.

That kind of forecasting error would get somebody fired at any private business, but being a politician means never having to say you’re sorry.

And it certainly never means learning from mistakes. The evidence on the Laffer Curve is ubiquitous, with powerful examples in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Spain, as well as Bulgaria and Romania. Or states such as IllinoisOregonFlorida, Maryland, Washington, DC, and New York.

P.S. Even President Obama has sort of acknowledged the supply-side principles that are the basis of the Laffer Curve.

P.P.S. Remember that the goal of good tax policy is NOT to maximize revenue.

P.P.P.S. I warned the European Union’s Taxation Commissioner about the dangers of a tax on financial transactions last year. Needless to say, my sage counsel appears to have been ignored.

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Cigarette butt, to be more specific.

All over the world, governments impose draconian taxes on tobacco, and then they wind up surprised that projected revenues don’t materialize. We’ve seen this in Bulgaria and Romania, and we’ve seen this Laffer Curve effect in Washington, DC, and Michigan.

Even the Government Accountability Office has found big Laffer Curve effects from tobacco taxation.

And now we’re seeing the same result in Ireland.

Here are some details from an Irish newspaper.

…new Department of Finance figures showing that tobacco excise tax receipts are falling dramatically short of targets, even though taxes have increased and the number of people smoking has remained constant…the latest upsurge in smuggling…is costing the state hundreds of millions in lost revenue. Criminal gangs are openly selling smuggled cigarettes on the streets of central Dublin and other cities, door to door and at fairs and markets. Counterfeit cigarettes can be brought to the Irish market at a cost of just 20 cents a pack and sold on the black market at €4.50. The average selling price of legitimate cigarettes is €9.20 a pack. …Ireland has the most expensive cigarettes in the European Union, meaning that smugglers can make big profits by offering them at cheaper prices.

I have to laugh at the part of the article that says, “receipts are falling dramatically short of targets, even though taxes have increased.”

This is what’s called the Fox Butterfield effect, when a leftist expresses puzzlement about something that’s actually common sense. Named after a former New York Times reporter, Irish Tax Kisswho was baffled that more people were in prison at the same time that crime rates were falling, it also shows up in tax policy when statists are surprised that tax revenues don’t automatically rise when tax rates become oppressive.

Ireland, by the way, should know better. About the only good policy left in the Emerald Isle is the low corporate tax rate. And as you can see in this video, that policy has yielded very good results.

My favorite example from that video, needless to say, is what happened during the Reagan years, when the rich paid much more to the IRS after their tax rates were slashed.

P.S. You won’t be surprised to learn that a branch of the United Nations is pushing for global taxation of tobacco. To paraphrase Douglas McArthur, “Bad ideas never die, they become global.”

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Regular readers know that I’m a big advocate of the Laffer Curve, which is the common-sense notion that higher tax rates will cause people to change their behavior in ways that reduce taxable income.

Laffer CurveBut that doesn’t mean “all tax cuts pay for themselves.” Yes, that happened when Reagan lowered tax rates on the “rich” in the 1980s, but there are also tax cuts that generate little or no revenue feedback.

The key thing to understand is that revenue feedback is driven by the degree to which a tax cut leads to more taxable income. And you tend to get bigger changes in taxable income when you lower rates on taxpayers who have considerable control over the timing, level, and composition of their income.

Who are those taxpayers?

Most of us don’t fall in that category. Cutting my tax rate, for instance, probably won’t have much impact on taxable income. My salary from Cato is already established, so there’s not much opportunity for a “supply-side” effect. Every so often I can earn some extra money by writing an article or giving a speech, but (unfortunately!) not enough for it to make a difference even if my incentives are altered.

But investors, entrepreneurs, corporate managers, and small business owners are among those who do have considerable flexibility to respond when incentives change.

Consider this new research from the Tax Foundation, which finds big “supply-side” responses from a lower corporate tax rate. Let’s start with their description of the problem.

The United States currently imposes the highest statutory corporate tax rate in the developed world. …the steep rate discourages U.S. companies from investing as much as they would otherwise and reduces their competitiveness in international markets. …A major barrier to cutting the U.S. corporate tax rate, however, is the reported revenue cost. According to conventional revenue analyses, such as those performed by Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), a lower corporate tax rate would be an expensive revenue loser.

The Tax Foundation then explains why the current revenue-estimating system is misguided.

In reality, the trade-off posited by conventional revenue estimates is misleading. The estimates overstate the revenue cost of cutting the corporate rate and overstate the potential revenue gains from increasing it, because they ignore tax-induced growth effects. Most notably, Congress’s JCT has adopted the static assumption that tax changes have absolutely no impact, for good or ill, on total production, employment, investment, consumption, and other macroeconomic aggregates. …The static assumption has the advantage of simplicity, and it is not too far from the truth for tax changes that either have little impact on incentives at the margin or affect parameters that do not respond much to incentives. This is an extremely unrealistic assumption, however, in the case of the corporate income tax rate.

Bingo. You can click here for more information on why the Joint Committee on Taxation is wrong, and you may be interested to know that fewer than 15 percent of CPAs agree with the JCT’s assumptions.

Using more realistic assumptions, the Tax Foundation calculates the real-world impact of a lower corporate tax rate.

The Tax Foundation’s dynamic simulation model provides quantitative estimates of the growth and revenue effects. The model estimates, for example, that cutting the federal corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent would raise GDP by 2.2 percent, increase the private-business capital stock by 6.2 percent, boost wages and hours of work by 1.9 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively, and increase total federal revenues by 0.8 percent.

Indeed, they look at a wide range of options and show us “static” estimates based on JCT-type methodology and “dynamic” estimates based on a model that includes changes in taxable income.

Tax Foundation Corporate Tax Revenue-Maximizing Rate

One very important point is that the Tax Foundation looks at the impact of a lower corporate tax rate on all forms of tax revenue.

Federal receipts include many taxes, fees, and payments other than the corporate income tax, such as the personal income tax, payroll taxes, and excises. The size of the economy strongly influences the amounts these taxes, fees, and other payments collect. This is relevant because of the corporate income tax’s big GDP effects. A wide range of federal receipts will expand when a lower corporate income tax rate grows the economy but shrink when a higher corporate income tax downsizes the economic pie.

The study then mentions that the revenue-maximizing corporate tax rate is 14 percent, but warns that this doesn’t mean policy makers should make that their goal.

Although a corporate rate of 14 percent would maximize federal receipts, counting all types of federal revenue, it would not be the optimal rate for the economy unless very little value is placed on people’s incomes and the quantities of goods and services they can consume or invest. The model estimates that while cutting the corporate rate from the revenue-maximizing rate of 14 percent to zero would cost $9 billion of federal revenue, GDP would rise by roughly $300 billion, a payoff of about 33 to 1.

Amen to that point. Our goal isn’t to maximize revenue for the clowns in Washington. The ideal point on the Laffer Curve is where you maximize growth.

If you want my two cents on the topic, you maximize growth when you raise the revenue needed to finance the legitimate functions of government – and that requires a lots less revenue than we’re collecting now according to scholarly evidence on the “Rahn Curve.”

Finally, the Tax Foundation research points out that there’s a difference between the short-run revenue-maximizing rate and the long-run revenue-maximizing rate.

The federal corporate income tax is unusual because the feedbacks there are so strong that cutting the tax’s rate would, over a broad range, more than pay for itself in terms of federal revenues, with the bonus of lifting the incomes and productivity of people throughout the economy. Nevertheless, a corporate rate cut would reduce federal revenues during a transition period, because the rate cut would begin immediately, while it would take several years for the capital stock to expand sufficiently in response to the new incentives to generate the growth needed to return revenues to their prior level.

This chart illustrates this point, using the example of a 25 percent rate.

Tax Foundation Corporate Tax Long-Run Revenue Impact

In other words, the goal of good policy should be to improve the economy’s long-run performance. Over time, that results in more taxable income – a point that even the Congressional Budget Office acknowledges.

The one partial exception to this relationship between good tax policy and long-run tax revenue is the capital gains tax. Lowering that levy can cause big changes to short-run revenue because investors have complete control over when to sell assets. But the reason to lower – or ideally eliminate – that tax is to boost long-run prosperity.

So why aren’t policy makers embracing a lower corporate tax rate? On the right, there should be lots of support because of hostility to high tax rates. And on the left, there should be lots of support because of a desire for more tax revenue. Seems like a match made in Heaven.

But that assumes that folks on the left are motivated by a desire to maximize tax revenue. If you want to know the biggest obstacle to sensible tax policy, pay close attention beginning at the 4:34 mark of this video.

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All statists want much bigger government, but not all of them are honest about how to finance a Greek-sized welfare state.

The President, for instance, wants us to believe that the rich are some sort of fiscal pinata, capable of generating endless amounts of tax revenue.

Using IRS tax data, I’ve shown that this is a very inaccurate assumption. And I’ve also used IRS data to show the President that there are big Laffer-Curve effects when you try to rape and pillage high-income Americans.

Heck, even the Europeans have realized that you can only squeeze so much blood from that stone.

Notwithstanding the misleading rhetoric from the Obama Administration, there are some honest folks on the left who understand and acknowledge that you can’t have bigger government unless you put ordinary people on the chopping block.

The New York Times seems really fixated on screwing Joe Lunchbucket. Here are some excerpts from an editorial in today’s paper.

…new taxes on high-income Americans are a matter of necessity and fairness; they are also a necessary precondition to what in time will have to be tax increases on the middle class. …As the economy strengthens and the population ages, more taxes will be needed from further down the income scale… But there will never be a consensus for more taxes from the middle class without imposing higher taxes on wealthy Americans, who have enjoyed low taxes for a long time.

What’s particularly interesting about this editorial is that the New York Times is very explicit about political strategy. They support more class-warfare taxes in order to set the stage for higher taxes on the middle class.

We can’t say we haven’t been warned.

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What’s the revenue-maximizing tax rate?

Since I’m interested in the growth-maximizing tax rate instead, I don’t think that’s even a legitimate question.

That being said, it seems like everyone – both on the left and on the right – should agree that it makes no sense to set tax rates so high that the government loses revenue.

That implies, after all, that the tax system is so punitive that the revenue-raising impact of the higher tax rate is more than offset by the revenue-losing impact of lower taxable income.

But if you ask five economists to identify the revenue-maximizing point, you’ll probably get nine answers.

But one thing we can say for sure is that the revenue-maximizing tax rate on Manny Pacquiao is less than 39.6 percent.

Here are some details from Yahoo Sports.

Manny Pacquiao’s chief adviser insisted Monday that the Filipino superstar’s preference is for his next bout – a fifth fight against Juan Manuel Marquez – to take place away from Las Vegas, with the off-shore Chinese gambling resort of Macau emerging as the “favorite.” The Dec. 8 fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez was held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. (AP)Michael Koncz told Yahoo! Sports that the 39.6 percent tax rate Pacquiao would face if he were to fight again in the U.S. makes a fall bout in Las Vegas “a no go.” Promoter Bob Arum…said Pacquiao would not have to pay taxes if the fight takes place in casinos in either Singapore or Macau. “Manny can go back to Las Vegas and make $25 million, but how much of it will he end up with – $15 million?” Arum said. “If he goes to Macau, perhaps his purse will only be $20 million, but he will get to keep it all, so he will be better off.”

This is just an isolated example, to be sure, but I’ve already shared IRS data confirming that the rich have tremendous control over the timing, level, and composition of their income.

And just as is the case with athletes like Pacquiao (and soccer players), wealthy investors and entrepreneurs also have the ability to take advantage of tax competition by shifting economic activity to jurisdictions with better tax policy.

Indeed, these are some of the reasons why upper-income taxpayers wound up paying more money to the IRS after Reagan cut the top tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent.

Sadly, Barack Obama seems to have a hard time grasping the relationship between tax rates, taxable income, and tax revenue – even though I prepared a simple lesson to help him understand the that there’s not a simplistic linear relationship.

So maybe this short video will help him understand the basic concept of the Laffer Curve.

Then again, maybe the President understands, but just doesn’t care. He’s already stated, after all, that he favors more punitive tax policies even if the government doesn’t collect any extra revenue.

P.S. Just in case you’re not convinced by some IRS data and the experiences of a boxer, there is lots of empirical evidence for the Laffer Curve.

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Daniel Hannan is a member of the European Parliament from England. He is one of the few economically sensible people in that body, as demonstrated in these short clips of him speaking about tax competition and deriding the European Commission’s corrupt racket.

And as you can see from his latest article in the UK-based Telegraph, he’s also very wise on issues of class warfare tax policy and Laffer Curve responses to punitive taxation.

France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, is shifting his fortune to Belgium. Gérard Depardieu, the country’s greatest actor (figuratively and literally)is moving to Russia. And, if rumours are to be believed, Nicolas Sarkozy is planning a new career in London. That’s the problem with very high taxes – they don’t redistribute wealth; they redistribute people. …the rich don’t sit around waiting to be taxed. …many financiers can open their businesses abroad simply by opening their laptops. The result of a hike in tax rates is thus often a fall in tax revenue – which means, of course, that the rest of us end up paying more to cover the share of the departed plutocrats.

Hannan understands that rich people have considerable control over the timing, level, and composition of their income, which is precisely why there are powerful Laffer Curve effects when politicians go after the so-called rich (as I tried to explain in a lesson for President Obama).

But Hannan also makes a good point about complexity.

The complexity of a tax system is every bit as damaging to competitiveness as the overall tax rate. The more convoluted the tax code becomes, the more time we have to take off work to comply with it.Tolley’s Tax Handbook is now 11,500 pages long, twice what it was when Gordon Brown became chancellor, and the number of tax lawyers has increased commensurately. …The very wealthy, who can afford ingenious tax advisers and high upfront fees, turn this complexity to their advantage, sheltering their assets in various pockets unintentionally created by government schemes. Again, the rest of us then have to pay more to make up their portion.

Since we have 72,000 pages of complexity and corruption in our tax code, I can’t help but comment that the Brits are lucky that they “only” have 11,500 pages (assuming, of course, that the methodology in both page counts is similar).

In both cases, though, Hannan is right in stating that complexity benefits those who can hire lots of tax lawyers, financial planners, accountants, and other tax advisers.

The answer, of course, is a flat tax. Hannan doesn’t explicitly embrace that option, but he does write about the benefits of lower rates and fewer distortions.

There is one other point he makes that is worth noting. He cites a former Labour Party politician who explicitly was willing to have less prosperity if it meant more equality.

You might, of course, agree with Roy Hattersley, who once said that he’d rather have 5% more equality than 10% more prosperity. That is a respectable position, but at least be honest about it. Wealth taxes create more equal, but poorer societies.

Margaret Thatcher eviscerated that destructive mentality many years ago in this famous speech, but this is an area where proponents of limited government need to do more work.

There are plenty of well-meaning people who mistakenly think the economy is a fixed pie. If we want to help them understand the benefits of small government and free markets, we need to come up with more effective ways of educating them about the important implications of even small differences in economic growth.

I try to make that point in this PBS interview, but I suspect these charts comparing North Korea and South Korea and comparing Chile, Argentina, and Venezuela are much more compelling.

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I’ve already condemned the foolish people of California for approving a referendum to raise the state’s top tax rate to 13.3 percent.

This impulsive and misguided exercise in class warfare surely will backfire as more and more productive people flee to other states – particularly those that don’t impose any state income tax.

We know that people cross state borders all the time, and it’s usually to travel from high-tax states to low-tax states. And we’ve already seen some evidence that the state’s new top tax rate is causing a loss of highly valued jobs.

This mobility of labor and talent is one of the reasons why California is going to get a very painful lesson about the Laffer Curve.

Politicians (with help from short-sighted voters) can raise tax rates. But they can’t force people to earn income.

Now it looks like one of the super-rich is fed up and looking to make himself less vulnerable to California’s kleptocrats.

Here are some excerpts from an ESPN story.

Phil Mickelson said he will make “drastic changes” because of federal and California state tax increases. …The 42-year-old golfer said he would talk in more detail about his plans — possibly moving away from California or even retiring from golf… Mickelson said. “I’ll probably talk about it more in depth next week. …There are going to be some drastic changes for me because I happen to be in that zone that has been targeted both federally and by the state and, you know, it doesn’t work for me right now. So I’m going to have to make some changes.” …”If you add up all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and the state, my tax rate’s 62, 63 percent,” said Mickelson, who lives in Rancho Santa Fe. “So I’ve got to make some decisions on what I’m going to do.”

He’s actually overstating his marginal tax rate. I suspect it’s closer to 50 percent.

California politicians got too greedy and now they may get 13.3 percent of nothing

But so what? It’s still outrageous and immoral that government is confiscating one-half of the income he generates.

Heck, medieval serfs were virtually slaves, yet they only had to give at most one-third of their output to the Lord of the Manor.

I hope he’s serious and that he escapes from the Golden State’s fiscal hell-hole.

And if he does, what will it mean for California government finances?

Well, here’s what Wikipedia says about his income.

According to one estimate of 2011 earnings (comprising salary, winnings, bonuses, endorsements and appearances) Mickelson was then the second-highest paid athlete in the United States, earning an income of over $62 million, $53 million of which came from endorsements.

Now let’s bend over backwards to make sure we’re not exaggerating. Notwithstanding the Wikipedia estimate, let’s assume his annual taxable income will be only $40 million for 2013 and beyond.

With a 10.3 percent top tax rate, California would collect about $4.12 million per year. And Mickelson apparently thought that was tolerable.

But guess how much the politicians will collect if he leaves the state? I’m tempted to say zero, but they may still get some revenue because of California-based tournaments and other factors.

Find Phil Mickelson

I can say with great confidence, however, that California won’t collect $5.32 million, which is probably what the politicians assumed when they seduced voters into approving the 13.3 percent tax rate.

After all, that assumption only works if Mickelson is willing to be a fiscal slave for Jerry Brown and the rest of the crooks in Sacramento.

As such, I’ll also state with certainty that California’s politicians won’t collect $4 million if Mickelson leaves for another state. Or $3 million. Or $2 million. Or even $1 million.

The best they can hope for is that Mickelson decides to stay in the state while also reducing his taxable income. In that scenario, the politicians might still pocket a couple of million dollars.

Not as much as they collected when the tax rate was 10.3 percent, and far less than what they erroneously assumed they would get with a 13.3 percent rate.

Regardless of Mickelson’s ultimate decision, California is going to be in trouble because most rich people – whether they’re golfers, celebrities, investors, or entrepreneurs – have considerable control over the timing, level, and composition of their income. And they can afford to move.

This is why you don’t want to be on the downward-sloping portion of the Laffer Curve. Everyone’s a loser, both politicians and taxpayers.

So we’re going to see the Laffer Curve get revenge on California and I’ll be first in line to say “serves you right, you blood-sucking parasites.”

If you want more information, here’s my video on the Laffer Curve.

And if you want to watch the full three-part series, they’re all included in this Laffer Curve lesson that I put together for the President. He seems oblivious to real-world evidence, but others may find the information useful.

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Back in mid-2010, I wrote that Portugal was going to exacerbate its fiscal problems by raising taxes.

Needless to say, I was right. Not that this required any special insight. After all, no nation has ever taxed its way to prosperity.

We’re now at the end of 2012 and Portugal is still saddled with a weak economy. And the higher taxes haven’t resulted in less red ink. Indeed, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, government debt has jumped from 93 percent of GDP in 2010 to 124 percent of GDP this year.

Why did higher taxes backfire in Portugal? For the same reasons that higher taxes have failed in Greece, Spain, Bulgaria, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and so many other nations.

  • Higher taxes undermine incentives for productive behavior, thus reducing an economy’s potential for growth. This means less economic output, which also means a smaller tax base. This Laffer Curve effect doesn’t necessarily mean less revenue, but it certainly means that tax increases rarely raise as much money as initially projected.
  • Higher taxes usually are a substitute for the real solution of spending restraint (i.e., Mitchell’s Golden Rule). Politicians oftentimes refuse to reduce the burden of government spending because of an expectation of additional tax revenue. Heck, in many cases, higher taxes trigger an increase in the size and scope of the public sector.

So did Portugal learn any lessons from this failed experiment in Obamanomics?

Hardly. Indeed, the government plans to double down on this approach – even though it’s increasingly apparent that higher tax burdens won’t translate into much – if any – additional tax revenue. Here are some excerpts from a report in the Financial Times.

Lisbon plans to lift income tax revenue by more than 30 per cent, raising the effective average rate by more than a third from 9.8 to 13.2 per cent. Anyone receiving more than the minimum wage of €485 a month, including pensioners, will also pay an extraordinary tax of 3.5 per cent on their income. …the steep tax increases facing many families have made the outlook for 2013 – the third consecutive year of austerity, recession and rising unemployment – the grimmest yet. Total tax revenue has fallen considerably below target this year, forcing the government to implement additional austerity measures… The coalition will be relying on increased state revenue to account for about 80 per cent of the fiscal adjustment required in 2013 – a reversal of the original bailout plan, in which consolidation was to be achieved mainly through spending cuts.

Amazing. The government imposes huge tax hikes, which don’t generate any positive results. Yet even though “tax revenue has fallen considerably below target,” confirming that there are significant Laffer Curve issues, the government chooses to repeat the snake-oil fiscal therapy of higher taxes.

Anybody want to guess what’s going to happen? The answer, of course, is that this will further dampen incentives to generate income and comply with the government’s fiscal demands.

The latest increases have stretched the tax system to the limit, says Carlos Loureiro, a tax partner at Deloitte. “The current model is exhausted. We need to do something different,” he says. “Any further increase in tax rates is unlikely to result in increased revenue.” Income from value added tax, the government’s biggest source of tax revenue representing about 36 per cent of the total, has been falling since 2008, despite a sharp increase in the rate – the main rate is now 23 per cent. Both the government and the European Commission have acknowledged the risks of depending on increased tax revenue, which is more growth sensitive, to meet fiscal targets and contingency spending cuts amounting to 0.5 per cent of national output have prepared in case of another tax shortfall.

I almost want to laugh at the part of the excerpt which notes that tax revenue “has been falling…despite a sharp increase in the rate.”

Maybe it’s time for these fiscal pyromaniacs to realize that revenues might be falling because rates are higher. In other words, Portugal not only isn’t at the ideal point on the Laffer Curve (collecting the amount of revenue needed to finance legitimate activities of government), it may even be past the revenue-maximizing part of the curve.

To be fair, there are lots of factors that determine economic performance, so higher tax burdens are just one possible explanation for why the tax base is shrinking or stagnant.

The one thing we can state with certainty, though, is that Portugal’s fiscal problem is too much government spending. The failure to address this problem then leads to very unpleasant symptoms, such as lots of red ink and self-destructive class-warfare tax policy.

If all that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s also a description of what President Obama is proposing for the United States.

Ummm…shouldn’t they be targeting politicians?

P.S. I don’t want to imply that Portugal is a total basket case. True, I’m not optimistic about the country’s future, but at least some lawmakers now acknowledge that Keynesian spending was a big mistake. And there are even signs that Portuguese officials are beginning to realize that lower tax rates should be part of the solution. But good policy may be impossible since so many people now have a moocher mentality.

P.P.S. At the risk of bearing bad news to close the year, research from both the Bank for International Settlements and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows the United States actually faces a bigger long-run fiscal challenge than Portugal.

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Back in September, I shared a very good primer on the capital gains tax from the folks at the Wall Street Journal, which explained why this form of double taxation is so destructive.

I also posted some very good analysis from John Goodman about the issue.

Unfortunately, even though the United States already has a very anti-competitive system – as shown by these two charts, some folks think that the tax rate on capital gains should be even higher.

And it looks like they’re going to succeed, either because we go over the fiscal cliff or because Republicans acquiesce to Obama’s punitive proposal.

But this won’t be good for American competitiveness. Here’s some of what my colleague Chris Edwards just wrote about the issue.

Capital Gains Rates US v OECDNearly every country has reduced tax rates on individual long-term capital gains, with some countries imposing no tax at all. …If the U.S. capital gains tax rate rises next year as scheduled, it will be much higher than the average OECD rate. …Capital gains taxes raise less than five percent of federal revenues, yet they do substantial damage. Higher rates will harm investment, entrepreneurship, and growth, and will raise little, if any, added federal revenue. …Figure 1 shows that the U.S. capital gains tax rate of 19.1 percent in 2012 is higher than the OECD average rate of 16.4 percent.  These figures include both federal and average state-level tax rates on long-term capital gains. Next year, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts will push up the U.S. rate by 5 percentage points, and the new investment tax imposed under the 2010 health care law will push up the rate another 3.8 percent. As a result, the top U.S. capital gains tax rate will be 27.9 percent, which will be far higher than the OECD average. The federal alternative minimum tax and other provisions can increase the U.S. capital gains tax rate even higher.

The worst country is Denmark, at 42 percent, followed by France (32.5 percent), Finland (32 percent), Sweden and Ireland (both 30 percent), and the United Kingdom and Norway (both 28 percent).

Every other developed nations will have a capital gains tax rate below the United States level. And even some of those above the U.S. level often have provisions that spare many taxpayers from this pernicious form of double taxation.

Some countries have exemptions for smaller investors. In Britain, for example, individuals can exempt from tax the first $17,000 of capital gains each year. Eleven OECD countries do not impose taxes on longterm capital gains, nor do some jurisdictions outside of the OECD, such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Thailand.

The nations on the list that don’t tax capital gains are Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Korea, Switzerland, and Turkey.

I’m not surprised to see Switzerland on that list since that nation has some very sensible fiscal policies. And the Netherlands, notwithstanding its welfare state and long-run fiscal challenges, is very focused on global competitiveness.

But who would have thought Greece had any good policies?!? Or Belgium? Though maybe that’s one of the reasons why many successful French taxpayers are choosing that nation as a refuge.

Heck, even Russia has abolished its capital gains tax.

In his paper, Chris also gives a good explanation of the underlying tax theory in the capital gains tax debate. Simply stated, the statists like the “Haig-Simons” approach because it justifies class-warfare tax policy.

To maximize growth, we should “tax the fruit of the tree, but not the tree itself.” That is, we should tax the flow of consumption produced by capital assets, not the capital that will provide for future consumption. A Haig-Simons tax base—which includes capital gains—taxes the tree itself.  Why does a Haig-Simons tax base garner support if it is impractical and anti-growth? It appears to be because the liberal idea of “fairness” includes heavy taxation of high earners. Since high earners save more than others, they would be taxed heavily under a Haig-Simons tax base. …Today, many economists favor shifting from an income to a consumption tax base… Under a consumption tax base, savings would not be double-taxed, and capital gains would not face separate taxation because the cashflow from realized gains would be taxed when consumed. With regard to “fairness,” a Haig-Simons tax base penalizes frugal people and rewards the spendthrift. That’s because earnings are taxed a second time when saved, while immediate consumption does not face a further tax. That makes no sense because it is frugal people—savers—who are the benefactors of the economy since their funds get invested in the new businesses and new capital equipment that generates growth.

The right approach is to have a “consumption tax base,” which simply is another way of saying that income shouldn’t be taxed more than one time (as shown in this flowchart).

My video elaborates on all these issues and explains why the right capital gains tax rate is zero.

Writing about the death tax yesterday, I mentioned that it also is a perverse form of double taxation. And just as with the death tax, it’s worth noting that all the major pro-growth tax reform plans  – such as the flat tax or national sales tax – also have no capital gains tax.

It’s bad enough when the IRS gets to tax our income one time. They shouldn’t be allowed more than one bite of the apple.

P.S. Chris makes a very important point about higher capital gains taxes collecting little, if any revenue. Simply stated, there’s a large Laffer Curve effect since investors can choose not to sell an asset if the tax penalty is too high.

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Like most people, I’m a sucker for a heartwarming story around the holidays.

Sometimes, you get that nice feeling when good things happen to good people, like you find at the end of a classic movie like “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

But since I’m a bit of a curmudgeon, I also feel all warm and fuzzy when bad things happen to bad people.

That’s why I always smile when I read stories about taxpayers moving across borders, thus preventing greedy tax-hiking politicians from collecting more revenue.

“Where’s our tax revenue?!?”

I’m glad when that happens to French politicians. I’m glad when it happens to Italian politicians. I’m glad when it happens to Illinois politicians. And British politicians. And Spanish politicians. And Maryland politicians. I could continue, but I think you get the point.

I’m even glad when it happens to the politicians in Washington.

I smile because I envision the moment when some budget geek tells these sleazy politicians that projected revenues aren’t materializing and they don’t have more money to spend.

So I wish I could be a fly on the wall when this moment of truth happens to California politicians. They convinced voters in the state to enact Prop 30, a huge tax increase targeting those evil, awful, bad rich people.

Governor Brown and his fellow kleptocrats in Sacramento doubtlessly are salivating at the thought of more money to waste.

But notwithstanding a satirical suggestion from Walter Williams, there aren’t guard towers and barbed-wire fences surrounding the state. Productive people can leave, and that’s happening every day. And they take their taxable income with them.

Usually in ways that don’t attract attention. But sometimes a bunch of them leave at the same times, and that is newsworthy. Here’s an example of that happening, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Chevron Corp. will move up to 800 jobs – about a quarter of its current headquarters staff – from the Bay Area to Houston over the next two years but will remain based in San Ramon, the oil company told employees Thursday. …The company already employs far more people in Houston – about 9,000 full-time employees and contractors – than it does in San Ramon.

We don’t know a lot of details, but these were positions at the company’s headquarters and they were “technical positions dealing with information and advanced energy technologies…tied to Chevron’s worldwide oil exploration and production business.”

Let’s assume these highly skilled employees earn an average of $250,000. I imagine that’s a low-ball estimate, but this is just for purposes of a thought experiment. Now multiply that average salary by 800 workers and you get $200 million of income.

And every penny of that $200 million no longer will be subject to tax by the kleptocrats in the state’s capital.

In other words, we’re seeing the Laffer Curve in action.

Politicians can raise tax rates all day long, but that doesn’t automatically translate into more tax revenue. Politicians keep forgetting that taxable income is not a fixed variable.

What’s happening in a big way with Chevron is happening in small ways every single day with investors, entrepreneurs, small business owners, and other “rich’ people.

That’s good for the people escaping. And it also will warm my heart when California’s despicable politicians discover next year that there’s an “unexpected” revenue shortfall.

P.S. It’s just an anecdote that the Chevron jobs are going to Texas. But when you add together a bunch of anecdotes, you get data. And according to the data, Texas is kicking the you-know-what out of California. Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned?

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Another Frenchman has “gone Galt.”

First, it was France’s richest entrepreneur.

Now, it’s the nation’s most famous actor. Gerard Depardieu has officially announced – in a letter to France’s thuggish Prime Minister – that he is tired of paying 85 percent of his income to finance the vote-buying actions of France’s kleptocratic political elite.

Instead, he is going to move to Belgium (which is hardly a tax haven, but there’s an old line about how you should surround yourself with fat people if you want to look skinny).

Here are some of the amusing details from the UK-based Telegraph.

DepardieuThe French actor whose eccentric personality has come to symbolise a certain, old fashioned form of Gallic love for good food and the pleasures in life, also known as a “bon vivant,” said he is finished with the country, in a letter published in the Journal du Dimanche.It is addressed to Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French prime minister, who called Depardieu “pathetic” for wanting to move just over the French border to the wealthy Belgian town of Néchin, where he will evade the current Left-leaning government’s tax hikes.”I am handing over to you my passport and social security, which I have never used,” he said. …The actor asserts he has always been an upstanding citizen, deserving “respect,” and who has employed 80 people, always paid his taxes, and “never killed anybody.” He said he paid 85 per cent of his income in taxes in 2012, and over 45 years, has paid 145 million Euros – or £118 million – in taxes. …”I leave because you consider that success, creation, talent, difference, in fact, should be sanctioned,” he writes.

Gee, why is Depardieu complaining? In an act of generosity and mercy, France’s President has said he doesn’t want anybody to pay more than 80 percent of their income to the state. So if Gerard is paying 85 percent this year, he’ll get a tax cut!

Methinks that Depardieu doesn’t trust Hollande, Ayrault, and the rest of the thieves. In any event, it’s obvious – and understandable – that he resents the French government’s attack on “success, creation, talent.”

So we’re going to see the Laffer Curve in action. Depardieu has pad nearly $200 million to the French tax authorities over the past several decades. Now that the French government has tightened the screws even further, he’s going to pay them a lot less.

Maybe there’s a lesson there for Obama. But I’ve already tried to educate our taxer-in-chief about these issues, so I doubt this new evidence from France will make any difference.

“Dan, you are such a giver!”

P.S. Going Galt is a bit of a national pastime in France. In 1999, Laetitia Casta was chosen to be “Marianne,” the symbol of France. A couple of years later, as my friend Veronique de Rugy wrote, she decided to move to the United Kingdom to escape confiscatory taxation.

Because I’m a selfless person and a bit of an expert on tax havens, I hereby offer Laetitia my services to help with her tax planning.

I’m even willing to work 24/7 to help her protect her earnings, even if it requires an overnight stay.

No sacrifice is too great, after all, to help the cause of freedom.

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Atlas is shrugging and Dan Mitchell is laughing.

I predicted back in May that well-to-do French taxpayers weren’t fools who would meekly sit still while the hyenas in the political class confiscated ever-larger shares of their income.

But the new President of France, Francois Hollande, doesn’t seem overly concerned by economic rationality and decided (Obama must be quite envious) that a top tax rate of 75 percent is fair.” And patriotic as well!

French Prime Minister: “I’m upset that the wildebeest aren’t remaining still for their disembowelment.”

So I was pleased – but not surprised – when the news leaked out that France’s richest man was saying au revoir and moving to Belgium.

But he’s not the only one. The nation’s top actor also decided that he doesn’t want to be a fatted calf. Indeed, it appears that there are entire communities of French tax exiles living just across the border in Belgium.

Best of all, the greedy politicians are throwing temper tantrums that the geese have found a better place for their golden eggs.

France’s Prime Minister seems particularly agitated about this real-world evidence for the Laffer Curve. Here are some excerpts from a story in the UK-based Telegraph.

“No fair!”

France’s prime minister has slammed wealthy citizens fleeing the country’s punitive tax on high incomes as greedy profiteers seeking to “become even richer”. Jean-Marc Ayrault’s outburst came after France’s best-known actor, Gerard Dépardieu, took up legal residence in a small village just over the border in Belgium, alongside hundreds of other wealthy French nationals seeking lower taxes. “Those who are seeking exile abroad are not those who are scared of becoming poor,” the prime minister declared after unveiling sweeping anti-poverty measures to help those hit by the economic crisis. These individuals are leaving “because they want to get even richer,” he said. “We cannot fight poverty if those with the most, and sometimes with a lot, do not show solidarity and a bit of generosity,” he added.

In the interests of accuracy, let’s re-write Monsieur Ayrault’s final quote from the excerpt. What he’s really saying is: “We cannot buy votes and create dependency if those that produce, and sometimes produce a lot, do not act like morons and let us rape and pillage without consequence.”

So what’s going to happen? Well, I wrote in September that France was going to suffer a fiscal crisis, and I followed up in October with a post explaining how a bloated welfare state was a form of economic suicide.

Yet French politicians don’t seem to care. They don’t seem to realize that a high burden of government spending causes economic weakness by misallocating labor and capital. They seem oblivious  to basic tax policy matters, even though there is plenty of evidence that the Laffer Curve works even in France.

So as France gets ever-closer to fiscal collapse, part of me gets a bit of perverse pleasure from the news. Not because of dislike for the French. The people actually are very nice, in my experience, and France is a very pleasant place to visit. And it was even listed as the best place in the world to live, according to one ranking.

But it helps to have bad examples. And just as I’ve used Greece to help educate American lawmakers about the dangers of statism, I’ll also use France as an example of what not to do.

P.S. France actually is much better than the United States in that rich people actually are free to move across the border without getting shaken down with exit taxes that are reminiscent of totalitarian regimes.

P.P.S. This Chuck Asay cartoon seems to capture the mentality of the French government.

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Obama’s main goal in the fiscal cliff negotiations is to impose a class-warfare tax hike.

He presumably thinks this will give the government more money to spend, but recent evidence from the United Kingdom suggests that he won’t get nearly as much money as he thinks.Laffer Curve

Why? Because there’s this thing called the Laffer Curve. It shows that it is naive to believe that there is a linear relationship between tax rates and tax revenue. To accurately predict what will happen to revenues when there is a change in tax policy, you also have to estimate what will happen to taxable income.

And when you’re trying to stick it to the “rich,” you need to understand that they have tremendous control over the timing, level, and composition of their income. So unlike the rest of us, they can respond very easily when the government goes after them.

The Wall Street Journal opines on what recently happened across the Atlantic.

A funny thing often happens on the way to soaking the rich: They don’t stick around for the bath. Take Britain, where Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs service reports that the number of taxpayers declaring £1 million a year in income fell by more than 60% in fiscal 2010-2011 from the year before. That was the year that millionaires became liable for the 50% income-tax rate that Gordon Brown’s government introduced in its final days in 2010, up from the previous 40% rate. Lo, the total number of millionaire tax filers plunged to 6,000 in 2010-2011, from 16,000 in 2009-2010. The new tax was meant to raise about £2.5 billion more revenue. So much for that. In 2009-2010 British millionaires contributed about £13.4 billion to the public coffers, or just under 9% of the total tax liability of all taxpayers that year. At the 50% rate, the shrunken pool yielded £6.5 billion, or about 4.4%.

In case you think this is just a special case, the United States conducted a similar experiment in the 1980s, except we lowered tax rates instead of raising them. And as you can see in this “lesson” post I wrote for the President, we got the same results as the United Kingdom, except in reverse. More rich people, more taxable income, and more tax revenue.

Here’s a chart showing what happened in the U.K. It shows tax revenue for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, followed by a projection for 2010-2011, and then the real-world numbers.

UK Laffer Curve

Now time for some important caveats. There are lots of things that determine taxable income for the rich, so we have no way of precisely knowing the extent to which the higher tax rate caused taxable income – and therefore tax revenue – to fall. The economy’s weak performance may have played a role, though the recession in the U.K. occurred in 2008 and 2009, so you would expect taxable income to climb for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

It’s also possible that some of the revenue loss was the result of income shifting rather than a genuine decline in the amount of economic activity.

But we do know that the same pattern keeps appearing in nation after nation, whether we’re looking at Italy, France, or Spain. Or states such as IllinoisOregonFlorida, Maryland, and New York.

You mess with the Laffer Curve and it will get its revenge.

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