Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Taxation’

It is disappointing that the bureaucrats at the International Monetary Fund routinely advocate for higher taxes and bigger government in nations from all parts of the world (for examples, see here, here, here, here, here, and here).

It is disturbing that the IMF engages in bailouts that encourage bad fiscal policy by governments and reckless lending policies by financial institutions.

And it is disgusting that those IMF bureaucrats get tax-free salaries and are thus exempt from the damaging consequences of those misguided policies.

One set of rules for the peasants and one set of rules for the elite.

The latest example of IMF misbehavior revolves around the bureaucracy’s criticism of recently announced tax cuts in the United Kingdom.

A BBC report by Natalie Sherman and Tom Espiner summarizes the controversy.

The International Monetary Fund has openly criticised the UK government over its plan for tax cuts…In an unusually outspoken statement, the IMF said the proposal was likely to increase inequality and add to pressures pushing up prices. …Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng unveiled the country’s biggest tax package in 50 years on Friday. But the £45bn cut has sparked fears that government borrowing could surge along with interest rates. …Lord Frost, the former Brexit minister and close ally of Prime Minister Liz Truss, criticised the IMF’s statement. …”The IMF has consistently advocated highly conventional economic policies. It is following this approach that has produced years of slow growth and weak productivity. The only way forward for Britain is lower taxes, spending restraint, and significant economic reform.” …Moody’s credit rating agency said on Wednesday that the UK’s plan for “large unfunded tax cuts” was “credit negative” and would lead to higher, persistent deficits “amid rising borrowing costs [and] a weaker growth outlook”. Moody’s did not change the UK’s credit rating.

So what should be done about the IMF’s misguided interference?

Writing for the Spectator in the U.K., Kate Andrews has some observations about the underlying philosophical and ideological conflict..

…the International Monetary Fund has weighed in on the UK’s mini-Budget, offering a direct rebuke of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s tax cuts. …its spokesperson said…‘Given elevated inflation pressures in many countries, including the UK, we do not recommend large and untargeted fiscal packages at this juncture’… But this rebuke from the IMF is the kind of battle the Truss camp might be happy to have. …The IMF takes a political stance on inequality, viewing its reduction as a good thing in itself. Truss and Kwarteng reject this premise – summed up in the Chancellor’s statement last Friday when he called for the end of redistribution politics – and think it’s far more important to focus on ‘growing the size of the pie.’ The IMF’s ‘intervention’ is likely to become an example of the ‘Treasury orthodoxy’ that Truss was so vocal about during the leadership campaign: her belief that a left-wing economic consensus will not tolerate any meaningful shake-up of the tax code or supply-side reform.

Truss and Kwarteng are correct to reject the IMF’s foolish – and immoral – fixation on inequality.

All you really need to know is that the IMF publishes research implying it is okay to hurt poor people if rich people are hurt by a greater amount.

Let’s close by addressing whether tax cuts are bad for Britain’s currency and financial markets

Paul Marshall explained the interaction (and non-interaction) of fiscal and monetary policy in a column for the U.K.-based Financial Times.

Since 2010, the G7 policy framework has been one of tight fiscal and loose monetary policy. …This combination of fiscal austerity and monetary largesse has not been a success. Austerity has not prevented government debt ratios steadily climbing to historic highs. …Meanwhile quantitative easing has fuelled asset inflation for the super-rich and has more or less abolished risk pricing in financial markets. And…it has produced inflation which is still out of control. But now the global policy consensus is in the process of pivoting… A distinctive feature of the UK’s fiscal pivot is the emphasis on reducing the burden of tax on work and business. This is sensible. …the bigger problem for Liz Truss’s government is the Bank of England. It seems that the governor, Andrew Bailey, did not get the memo. Our central bank has been behind the curve since inflation first started to rise sharply in 2021. …The Bank of England effectively lost control of the UK bond market last Thursday when it raised interest rates by 50 basis points, instead of the 75bp that the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank raised by. Its timidity is now having an impact on both the gilt market and sterling. That is the essential context for the market reaction to the mini-Budget. Once you lose market confidence, it is doubly hard to win it back. …a more muscular stance from the BoE to underpin financial market confidence in the UK, even at the expense of some short-term pain.

He is right.

The Bank of England should be focused on trying to unwind its mistaken monetary policy that produced rising prices. That’s the approach that will strengthen the currency.

And Truss and Kwarteng should continue their efforts for better tax policy so the economy can grow faster.

But better tax policy needs to be accompanied by much-need spending restraint, which is what the United Kingdom enjoyed not only during the Thatcher years, but also under Prime Ministers Cameron and May.

P.S. The IMF also interfered in British politics when it tried to sabotage Brexit.

P.P.S. One obvious takeaway is that the IMF should be eliminated.

Read Full Post »

I strongly supported Brexit in part because I wanted the United Kingdom to have both the leeway and the incentive to adopt pro-market policies.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when subsequent Conservative Prime Ministers did nothing (Theresa May) or expanded the burden of government (Boris Johnson).

Where was the reincarnation of Margaret Thatcher? Didn’t the Tory Party understand the need to restrain big government?

Perhaps my prayers have finally been answered. After jettisoning Boris Johnson (albeit for scandal rather than bad policy), the Tories elected Liz Truss to lead the nation.

And she appointed Kwasi Kwarteng to be Chancellor of the Exchequer (akin to U.S. Treasury Secretary). The two of them have just unveiled some major changes in U.K. fiscal policy.

Allister Heath’s editorial for the Telegraph has a celebratory tone.

…the best Budget I have ever heard a British Chancellor deliver, by a massive margin. The tax cuts were so huge and bold, the language so extraordinary, that at times, listening to Kwasi Kwarteng, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, that I hadn’t been transported to a distant land that actually believed in the economics of Milton Friedman and FA Hayek. …The neo-Brownite consensus of the past 20 years, the egalitarian, redistributionist obsession, the technocratic centrism, the genuflections at the altar of a bogus class war, the spreadsheet-wielding socialists: all were blown to smithereens by Kwarteng’s stunning neo-Reaganite peroration. …All the taboos have been defiled: the fracking ban, the performative 45pc tax rate, the malfunctioning bonus cap, the previous gang’s nihilistic corporation tax and national insurance raids. The basic rate of income tax is being cut, as is stamp duty, that dumbest of levies. …Reforms of this order of magnitude should really have happened after the referendum in 2016, or after Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in 2019… Truss..has a fighting chance to save Britain, and her party, from oblivion.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial has a similarly hopeful tone while also explaining the difference between good supply-side policies and failed Keynesian demand-side policies.

This is a pro-growth agenda that is very different than the tax-and spend Keynesianism that has dominated the West’s economic policies for nearly two decades. …Mr. Kwarteng axed the 2.5-percentage-point increase in the payroll tax imposed by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and canceled a planned increase in the corporate income tax rate to 26% from 19%. …Kwarteng also surprised by eliminating the 45% tax rate on incomes above £150,000. The top marginal rate now will be 40%… A frequent complaint is that there’s no evidence tax cuts for corporations or higher earners will boost demand. Maybe not, but that’s also not the point. Britain doesn’t need a Keynesian demand-side stimulus. It needs the supply-side jolt Ms. Truss is trying to deliver by changing incentives to work and invest. A parallel complaint from the same crowd is that Ms. Truss’s policies—which they just said won’t stimulate demand—will stimulate so much demand the policies will stoke inflation. This has been the experience with debt-fueled fiscal blowouts since the pandemic, but Ms. Truss’s plan is different. She’s not throwing around money to fund consumption. She’s using the tax code to spur production.

The editorial concludes with a key observations.

Britain has become the most important economic experiment in the developed world because Ms. Truss is the only leader willing to abandon a stale Keynesian policy consensus that has produced stagflation everywhere.

Here’s a tweet that captures the current approach, with “liberal” referring to pro-market classical liberalism.

This is the “Singapore-on-Thames” approach that I’ve been promoting for years. Finally!

In a column for Reason, Robert Jackman gives a relatively optimistic libertarian assessment of what to expect from Truss.

…will her arrival in Downing Street bring an end to the big-state, big-spending style of her predecessor? …Within the Westminster village, Truss has long been regarded as a torchbearer for liberty—a reputation that stretches back to her days working at various small-state think tanks. Since entering Parliament in 2010, she has been a member of the Free Enterprise Group… As trade secretary, Truss was responsible for delivering on the good bit of Brexit—jetting around the world to sign tariff-busting trade deals. She was good at it too, quickly securing ambitious agreements with Australia and Japan. …But will Liz Truss’ premiership put Britain back on track to a smaller state? Some things aren’t that simple. …Truss has long been an advocate of relaxing Britain’s punitive planning laws, which would make it easier to build much-needed homes and energy infrastructure.

As you might expect, the analysis from the U.K.-based Economist left much to be desired.

Liz Truss, Britain’s new prime minister, is now implementing Reaganomics…comprising tax cuts worth perhaps £30bn ($34bn) per year (1.2% of gdp)… The fuel that fiscal stimulus will inject into the economy will almost certainly lead the boe to raise interest rates… No matter, say Ms Truss’s backers, because tax cuts will boost productivity. Didn’t inflation fall and growth surge under Reagan? …Ms Truss’s cheerleaders seem to have read only the first chapter of the history of Reaganomics. The programme’s early record was mixed. The tax cuts did not stop a deep recession, yet by March 1984 annual inflation had risen back to 4.8% and America’s ten-year bond yield was over 12%, reflecting fears of another upward spiral in prices. Inflation was anchored only after Congress had raised taxes. By 1987 America’s budget, excluding interest payments, was nearly balanced. By 1993 Congress had raised taxes by almost as much as it had cut them in 1981.

By the way, the article’s analysis of Reaganomics is laughably inaccurate.

Meanwhile, a report in the New York Times, writtten by Eshe Nelson, Stephen Castle and , also has a skeptical tone.

But I’m surprised and impressed that they admit Thatcher’s policies worked in the 1980s.

Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, gambled on Friday that a heavy dose of tax cuts, deregulation and free-market economics would reignite her country’s growth — a radical shift in policy… the new chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, abandoned a proposed rise in corporate taxation and, in a surprise move, also abolished the top rate of 45 percent of income tax applied to those earning more than 150,000 pounds, or about $164,000, a year. He also cut the basic rate for lower earners and cut taxes on house purchases. …It is hard to overstate the magnitude of the policy shift from Mr. Johnson’s government, which just one year ago had announced targeted tax increases to offset its increased public spending… The chancellor’s statement in Parliament on Friday underscored the free-market, small-state, tax-cutting instincts of Ms. Truss, who has modeled herself on Margaret Thatcher, who was prime minister from 1979 to 1990. Thatcher’s economic revolution in the 1980s turned the economy around.

The article includes 11 very worrisome words.

…so far there has been no indication of corresponding spending cuts.

Amen. Tax cuts are good for growth, but their effectiveness and durability will be in question if there is not a concomitant effort to restrain the burden of spending.

Truss and Kwarteng also should have announced a spending cap, modeled on either the Swiss Debt Brake or Colorado’s TABOR.

P.S. In addition to worrying about whether Truss will copy Thatcher’s track record on spending, I’m also worried about her support for misguided energy subsidies.

Read Full Post »

Every American school kid presumably learns about the Boston Tea Party and other events that culminated with the United States gaining independence from from the rule of King George III.

Think of it as America’s first tax revolt.

But that’s not the only interesting story regarding taxes and English royalty.

I wrote in both 2017 and 2020 that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex) were going to suffer some adverse tax consequences by residing in the United States.

The recent death of Queen Elizabeth II gives us another opportunity to comment about tax policy. It seems the royal family has some very nice tax preferences.

For some background, Jyoti Mann reported on the topic for Business Insider.

King Charles III..spent half a century turning his royal estate into a billion-dollar portfolio and one of the most lucrative moneymakers in the royal family business. …Over the past decade, he has assembled a large team of professional managers who increased his portfolio’s value and profits by about 50 percent. …The conglomerate’s holdings are valued at roughly $1.4 billion, compared with around $949 million in the late queen’s private portfolio. These two estates represent a small fraction of the royal family’s estimated $28 billion fortune. …The growth in the royal family’s coffers and King Charles’s personal wealth over the past decade came at a time when Britain faced deep austerity budget cuts. …the Duchy of Cornwall…has funded his private and official spending, and has bankrolled William, the heir to the throne, and Kate, William’s wife. It has done so without paying corporation taxes like most businesses in Britain are obliged to, and without publishing details about where the estate invests its money. …leaked financial documents known as the Paradise Papers revealed that Charles’s duchy estate had invested millions in offshore companies, including a Bermuda-registered business.

Before continuing, I can’t resist making two comments.

First, the United Kingdom has not “faced deep austerity” or “budget cuts.” The most that can be said is that spending “only” grew at the rate of inflation when David Cameron and Theresa May were in charge.

Second, it is not newsworthy that the royal family uses so-called offshore companies. It’s probably safe to say that 99 percent of people with cross-border investments (including people like you and me with IRAs and 401(k)s) benefit from some form of financial interaction with tax-neutral jurisdictions such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

Now let’s peruse a story for the New York Times by Jane Bradley and 

King Charles will not have to pay inheritance tax on the Duchy of Lancaster estate he inherited from the Queen due to a rule allowing assets to be passed from one sovereign to another. Charles automatically inherited the estate, the monarch’s primary source of income… The new king will avoid inheritance tax on the estate worth more than $750 million due to a rule introduced by the UK government in 1993 to guard against the royal family’s assets being wiped out if two monarchs were to die in a short period of time… The clause means that, to help protect its assets, members of the royal family do not have to pay the 40% levy on property valued at more than £325,000 ($377,000) that non-royal UK residents do. …The Queen began voluntarily paying income and capital gains tax on the estate in 1993 and Charles may decide to follow suit.

Let’s focus specifically on the death tax.

Is it unfair for the royal family to benefit from good tax policy (such as no death tax) when other residents of the United Kingdom don’t get the same treatment? The answer is yes, of course.

But the right way to deal with that inequity is for the U.K. to eliminate its death tax, not to extend it to Kings, Queens, and Princes.

Let’s focus, though, on a passage from the article that deserves a lot of attention. We are told that the exemption from the death tax was designed to “guard against the royal family’s assets being wiped out if two monarchs were to die in a short period of time.”

Technically, the assets wouldn’t be wiped out. But that scenario would result in a loss of nearly 65 percent of the family’s wealth.

I’m not expecting anyone to shed many tears about the plight of British royalty.

Instead, I want everyone to think about investors, entrepreneurs, and business owners in the United Kingdom. Is it okay for them to lose 65 percent of their money simply because there are two deaths “in a short period of time”?

The answer is no. The death tax is an evil and destructive tax. That’s true for royalty.

And, notwithstanding predictably bad analysis from the OECD,  it’s true for us peasants as well.

Read Full Post »

I celebrate when my friends on the left stumble into economic insights.

For instance, many of them sound like Milton Friedman when they pontificate in favor of higher tobacco taxes because they want people to smoke fewer cigarettes.

As a libertarian, I don’t think it’s government’s job to control our private lives, but I applaud when people understand that higher taxes on something will lead to less of that thing.

I get frustrated, of course, that they don’t apply that insight in other areas.

After all, if higher taxes on tobacco leads to less smoking, surely it is true that higher taxes on employment leads to less work.

Or less investment, less innovation, less entrepreneurship, etc, etc.

Let’s consider a new example of how this works in the case of sin taxes.

The New York Times has an article by Ted Alcorn about whether higher taxes on alcohol are an appropriate way of dealing with the damage caused by excessive drinking.

Here are some excerpts.

Oregon also has among the highest prevalence of problem drinking in the country. Last year, 2,153 residents died of causes attributed to alcohol, according to the Oregon Health Authority — more than twice the number of people killed by methamphetamines, heroin and fentanyl combined. …policies that experts consider most effective at curbing excessive drinking have been ignored. For example, even as alcohol-related deaths soared to record highs in the last few years, alcohol taxes have fallen to the lowest rates in a generation. …The U.S. Community Preventive Services Task Force, an independent group of experts, has endorsed measures to deter excess drinking, including raising the price of alcohol. …One way that governments can influence the price of alcohol is by taxing its producers or sellers, who pass the cost on to consumers. This is comparable to taxes on tobacco, which scores of studies show to be a powerful tool for reducing smoking. A large body of evidence shows that higher alcohol taxes are associated with less excessive drinking and lower rates of disease and injury deaths.

This all sounds reasonable.

Raise taxes and you save lives.

But it’s not that simple, as J.D. Tuccille explained in Reason a few years ago.

…you don’t need an outright ban on alcohol to fuel the production of bathtub gin and its equivalents. A new report shows that the same result has been achieved in many countries through the imposition of excessively high taxes… World Health Organization (WHO) research, published in 2014 (PDF), …”illicit and informally produced alcohol accounts for nearly a quarter of the alcohol consumed globally.” …What’s the attraction of drinking the local equivalent of bathtub gin when commercially produced products are widely available? “Unrecorded alcoholic beverages are generally less costly than recorded alcohol,” WHO dryly acknowledged in 2014. The IARD report goes into a bit more detail as to why that might be, noting that “these beverages are untaxed and outside of regulated production that can increase cost,” which means there “is often a significant price difference between illicit and legitimate products, driving demand.”

In other words, governments can impose lots of taxes on alcohol, but one consequence is to encourage the black market.

My two cents on this issues is that all taxes should be low, including so-called sin taxes. That is not because I’m oblivious to the damage of drinking, smoking, drugs, or sugar.

My opposition is driven by three factors.

  1. I don’t want politicians having more money to waste.
  2. Sin taxes will encourage problematic black markets..
  3. People should have the freedom to make dumb choices.

I’ll close by addressing a common counter-argument, which is that people who make dumb choices can impose costs on the rest of society.

But if people drive while drunk or stoned, focus on penalizing the people who make those bad choices so that they will have an incentive for more responsible behavior.

And if smokers and gluttons impose high costs on government health programs, maybe that’s yet another reason for restoring free markets in health care.

Simply stated, the answer almost always is less government rather than more government.

Read Full Post »

This probably does not quite belong in my collection of “most depressing charts,” but it is definitely very bad news that taxes now impose a greater burden on the average American household than the combined cost of food, clothing, education, and health care.

This is remarkable, especially since education and health care are needlessly expensive because of government intervention.

The dismal numbers in this chart come from an article in Reason by Elizabeth Nolan Brown.

There are not numbers she pulled out of the air. They are from a new report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Here are some excerpts from Ms. Brown’s article.

New consumer spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides some sobering perspective on how much Americans are paying in taxes. …Overall, taxes accounted for about 25 percent of average consumer spending. …On average, each “consumer unit” paid more than $16,000 in taxes last year. This outpaces average spending on food, clothing, education, and health care combined. …This included $8,561.46 in federal income tax, $2,564.14 in state and local income taxes, $2,475.18 in property taxes, $5,565.45 in Social Security deductions, and $105.21 in other taxes.

Ms. Brown’s article says the total tax burden is more than $16,000 while my chart shows that the average tax burden is approaching $19,000. The difference is that she subtracts out so-called stimulus payments, but I think it is more accurate to view those as handouts rather than as tax rebates.

Regardless, the real burden for the average household is actually higher than either number thanks to an absurdly complex tax system.

Household have to spend time, energy, and money to figure out their taxes. And they also pay indirectly because businesses have to pass on their even-higher tax compliance costs to households.

Finally, we should be asking ourselves whether we are getting the same value from coercive taxes that we get from our voluntary spending on food, clothing, education, and health care. All it takes is one trip to McDonald’s and my answer is no.

Heck, given the grotesque inefficiency of government and the economic harm caused by excessive spending, we get negative value from our taxes.

Read Full Post »

It is easy to criticize the many types of bad tax policy in the United States.

But let’s not forget other nations have bad policy as well. I have written many times, for example, about the stunning greed of many European nations (including effective tax rates of more than 100 percent!).

Today, though, let’s look at a couple of examples from the developing world.

We’ll start in Afghanistan, where we learn that bad tax policy helped bring the Taliban back to power. Here’s some of what Ashley Jackson wrote for CapX.

When the Taliban dramatically gained control of Afghanistan in August 2021, they used bombs and guns to swiftly overcome state security forces. But they also had another valuable and effective weapon at their disposal: taxes. Long before the withdrawal of US troops, the Taliban had developed a remarkably state-like system of taxing citizens on everyday goods like cigarettes and perfume. The money raised turned out to be an essential part of the Taliban’s military strategy… Many of the Afghans we spoke to felt that the Taliban’s taxes were fairer than those imposed by the government, which often involved bribery and complex bureaucracy. By being relatively less onerous and less corrupt, the Taliban exploited widespread Afghan frustration with government incompetence. …One truck driver told us that unlike with the Taliban, he had “to pay a bribe to pay tax to the Afghan government”. …when Afghanistan’s major border crossings and several provincial capitals fell in July 2021, many wondered why they fell so quickly and with relatively little violence. It quickly emerged that local business owners…were motivated to encourage a quick and orderly handover.

One obvious takeaway is that the Taliban tax people are smarter than the ISIS tax people.

Now let’s travel to Africa, where we learn about how high tax burdens make private car ownership well nigh impossible.

Here are some excerpts from Emmanuel Igunza’s report for the BBC.

Owning a car for many Ethiopians – even those with ready cash to spend in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies – remains a pipe dream. “I have been saving for nearly four years now, and I still can’t afford to buy even the cheapest vehicle here,” a frustrated Girma Desalegn tells me….they are prohibitively expensive because the government classifies cars as luxury goods. This means even if a vehicle is second hand, it will be hit with import taxes of up to 200%. …the Toyota Vitz..cost about $16,000 in Ethiopia; in neighbouring Kenya the same car costs not more than $8,000. It seems little wonder that Ethiopia has the world’s lowest rate of car ownership, with only two cars per 1,000 inhabitants… The Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority says both commercial and private vehicles imported into the country can be subjected to five different types of taxes.

The story contains a picture with a caption that is universally applicable.

This sentences matches perfectly with the sentence I shared earlier this month.

P.S. If you want other odd examples of international taxation, click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Read Full Post »

What accounts for Switzerland’s “improbable success“? How did a small, land-locked nation with few natural resources become so successful?

Switzerland routinely ranks very high in international comparisons of economic liberty, so that means that there are many good policies.

But since I’m a public finance economist, I think this map from the Tax Foundation helps to explain why Switzerland is a role model. As you can see, the tax burden on workers is dramatically lower than in other European nations. Indeed, Switzerland is almost 10 percentage points lower than the next-closest country.

The map shows the tax burden on a single worker with no dependents, but you find a similarly large gap when looking at the tax burden on a four-person household.

By the way, Switzerland’s value-added tax is far lower than any other European nation, so ordinary workers aren’t being indirectly pillaged (and tax “progressivity” is very low in Switzerland, so high-income workers are not being pillaged, either).

How does Switzerland succeed in maintaining a relatively low tax burden?

Well, it’s easy to keep taxes under control when there are limits on the burden of government spending.

And, thanks to the nation’s very effective spending cap, you can see from this OECD chart that Switzerland is in a far stronger position than most European nations.

So kudos to Switzerland, which is sometimes thought to be the world’s most libertarian nation.

P.S. The Swiss also deserve praise for maintaining federalism, as well as their private retirement system.

P.P.S. Ireland also is a success story, but it’s not as good as suggested by the above chart.

Read Full Post »

Back in 2014, I shared a meme with a motto that was perfect for Washington, DC.

Today, let’s do something similar. But instead of a motto specifically for America’s unsavory capital, how about one sentence that summarizes the mentality of all governments.

I used a fill-in-the-blank format because there are so many possible answers.

After all, people in government value taxes more than growth, jobs, competitiveness, and all sorts of other factors.

And one of those other factors is public health, as we can see in this report by Rachel Pannett and Julia Mio Inuma in the Washington Post.

Japanese officials, worried about shifting demographics and a sharp decline in sin tax revenue, have come up with an unusual fix for their fiscal woes: encouraging young people to drink more. …Liquor tax revenue in the fiscal 2020 year was about $8.4 billion, a plunge of more than $813 million from the previous year, according to government data. That was the largest decline in three decades — and a cause for alarm for a government facing broad fiscal challenges. …The unorthodox push by bureaucrats to “revitalize the liquor industry” has faced a backlash…on Twitter. …“As long as they can collect taxes, I guess people’s health doesn’t matter.”

When I first saw this story, I thought it was a good fit for one of my columns highlighting “Great Moments in Foreign Government.”

But the final sentence of the excerpt caught my eye and motivated me to take a different approach.

Though the story gets added to my collection of “Strange Moments in Japanese Governance”:

Yet another reminder that you’ve asked a very strange question if more government is the answer.

Read Full Post »

Whenever I discuss the varying types of double taxation on saving and investment (capital gains tax, dividend tax, corporate income tax, death tax, wealth tax, etc), I always emphasize that such levies discourage capital (machinery, tools, technology, etc) which leads to lower levels of productivity.

And lower levels of productivity mean less compensation for workers.

Some of my left-leaning friends dismiss this as “trickle-down economics,” but the relationship between capital and wages is a core component of every economic theory.

Even socialists and Marxists agree that investment is a key to rising wages (though they foolishly think government should be charge of making investments).

I’m providing this background because today’s column explains that politicians made a mistake when they included a tax on “stock buybacks” in the misnamed Inflation Reduction Act.

I’ve written once on this topic, mostly to explain that buybacks should be applauded. They are a way for companies to distribute profits to owners (shareholders) and have the effect of freeing up money for better investment opportunities.

Let’s look at some more recent analysis.

In a column for today’s Wall Street Journal, two Harvard Professors, Jesse Fried and Charles Wang, debunk the anti-buyback hysteria.

A 1% tax on stock buybacks is poised to become law as part of the Inflation Reduction Act just passed by the Senate. This is a victory for critics… But those critics are dead wrong. If anything, American corporations should be repurchasing more stock. Taxing buybacks will increase corporate bloat, lead to higher CEO pay, harm employees and reduce innovation in the economy. …A tax on buybacks will harm shareholders. It creates an incentive for managers to hoard cash, leading to even more corporate bloat and underused stockholder capital. Because CEO pay is tied closely to a firm’s size, this bloating will drive up executive compensation, further hurting investors. …Taxing buybacks will harm employees as well. …Our research shows that 85% of this value flows to employees below the top executive level. Increasing the tax burden will tend to lower equity pay, to the detriment of workers. …A tax that inhibits buybacks will also reduce the capital available to smaller private firms. The cash from shareholder payouts by public companies often flows to private ones, such as those backed by venture capital or private equity. These private firms account for half of nonresidential fixed investment, employ almost 70% of U.S. workers, are responsible for nearly half of business profit, and have been important generators of innovation and job growth. Bottling up cash in public companies will reduce the capital flowing to private ventures—and thus their ability to invest, innovate and hire more workers.

Professor Tyler Cowen of George Mason University makes similar points, in a very succinct manner.

This is flat out a new tax on capital, akin to a tax on dividends. …Are you worried about corporations being too big and monopolistic?  This makes it harder for them to shrink!  Think of it also as a tax on the reallocation of capital to new and growing endeavors.

Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post is far from a libertarian, but even she warned that the hostility to stock buybacks makes no sense.

You’ve probably heard some ranting recently about “stock buybacks,” the term for when a public company repurchases shares of its own stock on the open market. …Why do Democrats hate buybacks so much? …they proposed legislation to ban buybacks. They excoriated companies for returning cash to shareholders… Share buybacks themselves aren’t necessarily bad — particularly when the alternative is wasting investor money… Yelling at companies to stop their buybacks won’t cause them to increase investment… In fact, some policy measures Democrats are considering, ostensibly to discourage firms from returning so much cash to shareholders, would do the opposite.

The only good news to share is that the tax being enacted by Democrats is just 1 percent, so the damage will be somewhat limited (the main economic damage will be because of another provision in the legislation, the tax on “book income“).

Though I suppose we should be aware that a small tax can grow into a big tax (the original 1913 income tax had a top rate of just 7 percent and we all know that the internal revenue code has since morphed into an anti-growth monstrosity).

The bottom line is that the crowd in Washington has made a bad tax system even worse.

P.S. Since we have been discussing how taxes on capital are bad for workers, this is an opportunity to share an old cartoon from the British Liberal Party (meaning “classical liberal,” of course). The obvious message is that labor and capital are complementary factors of production.

And the obvious lesson is that you can’t punish capital without simultaneously punishing labor. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath waiting for Washington to enact sensible tax policy.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday’s column explained that lobbyists are big winners when the size and scope of government increases.

  • For instance, a bigger budget means special interests hire lobbyists to obtain ever-larger slices of pork.
  • Moreover, added red tape means lobbyists get more clients seeking to manipulate the regulatory process.

And Biden’s grossly misnamed Inflation Reduction Act will make both of those problems worse, enabling more corruption.

But there’s a third problem to consider. Biden’s agenda also calls for a massive expansion of special tax privileges.

From a libertarian perspective, I like when the law allows people to keep more of their money.

As an economist, however, I don’t like when people are lured into make inefficient choices simply because of a convoluted tax system.

And, as a decent human being, I despise a process that enriches lobbyists, politicians, and other insiders. This corrupt process is succinctly captured in this flowchart put together by my former colleague Chris Edwards.

Chris’ main point is that we should be reforming and simplifying the tax code rather than dramatically expanding the budget of a corrupt Internal Revenue Service.

You can’t argue with that goal (assuming you want what’s best for the nation). Even folks on the left should agree.

The bottom line is that a complicated and convoluted tax code is great for lobbyists and a boon for corruption.

P.S. If you want to know the world’s most surprising loophole, click here.

P.P.S. Assuming loopholes are properly defined, the ideal policy is to eliminate them in tandem with enactment of lower tax rates.

Read Full Post »

Back in 2009, I narrated a video about the downsides of class-warfare tax policy.

But if you don’t want to spend eight minutes watching the video (or 14 minutes watching this video), here’s a visual that summarizes why high tax rates discourage people from engaging in productive behavior.

The most important thing to understand is that a high marginal tax rate (i.e., the tax rate on earning more money) has a big effect on incentives to work, save, invest, and be entrepreneurial.

But how big is that effect?

Let’s review some new research from Professor Charles Jones.

The classic tradeoff in the optimal income tax literature is between redistribution and the incentive effects that determine the “size of the pie.” …However, what is in some ways the most natural effect on the size of the pie has not been adequately explored. …To the extent that top income taxation distorts…innovation, it can impact not only the income of the innovator but also the incomes of everyone else in the economy. …High incomes are a prize that partly motivates entrepreneurs to turn basic insights into a product or process that ultimately benefits consumers. High marginal tax rates deter this effort and therefore reduce innovation and overall GDP. …For example, consider raising the top marginal tax rate from 50% to 75%. …the change raises about 2.5% of GDP in revenue before the behavioral response. In the baseline calibration…, this increase in the top tax rate reduces innovation and lowers GDP per person in the long run by around 7 percent. …even redistributing the 2.5% of GDP to the bottom half of the population would leave them worse off on average: the 7% decline in their incomes is not offset by the 5% increase from redistribution. In other words, raising the top marginal rate from 50% to 75% reduces social welfare…the rate that incorporates innovation and maximizes the welfare of workers is much lower: the benchmark value is just 9%.

Here’s a table from the study showing how the optimum tax rate is very low if the goal is to help workers and society rather than politicians.

If you want more evidence, there’s a never-ending supply.

But if we want to be concise, start with this list.

Heck, higher tax rates can even hurt your favorite sports team.

P.S. Joe Biden wants people to think that it’s patriotic to pay more tax, though he exempts himself with clever tax planning.

Read Full Post »

The capital gains tax is double taxation, and that’s a bad idea (assuming the goal is faster growth and higher wages).

Let’s consider how it discourages investment. People earn money, pay tax on that money, and then need to decide what to do with the remaining (after-tax) income.

If they save and invest, they can be hit with all sorts of additional taxes. Such as the capital gains tax.

If you want to be wonky, a capital gain occurs when an asset (like shares of stock) climbs in value between when it is purchased and when it is sold.

But stocks rise in value when the market expects a company will generate more income in the future.

Yet that income gets hit by both the corporate income tax and the personal income tax (the infamous double tax on dividends).

So a capital gains tax is a version of triple taxation.

Now that I’ve whined about capital gains taxation, let’s see what happens when a country moves in the right direction.

Professor Terry Moon, from the University of British Columbia, authored a study on the impact of a partial cut in South Korea’s capital gains tax. His abstract succinctly summarizes the results.

This paper assesses the effects of capital gains taxes on investment in the Republic of Korea (hereafter, Korea), where capital gains tax rates vary at the firm level by firm size. Following a reform in 2014, firms with a tax cut increased investment by 34 log points and issued more equity by 9 cents per dollar of lagged revenue, relative to unaffected firms. Additionally, the effects were larger for firms that appeared more cash constrained or went public after the reform. Taken together, these findings are consistent with the “traditional view” predicting that lower payout taxes spur equity-financed investment by increasing marginal returns on investment.

There are several interesting charts and graphs in the study.

But this one is particularly enlightening since we can see big positive results for the firms that were eligible for lower tax rates compared to the ones that still faced higher tax rates.

Richard Rahn wrote about capital gains taxation late last year.

Here are some excerpts from his column in the Washington Times.

Would you vote for a tax that frequently taxes people at an effective rate of 100% or more, misallocates investment, reduces economic growth and job creation, often becomes almost impossible to calculate, and in many cases reduces, rather than increases, revenue for the government? …So-called “capital gains” are price changes most often caused by inflation, which, of course, is caused by incompetent or corrupt governments. …Some countries explicitly allow for the indexing of a capital gain for inflation. Other countries have no capital gains tax at all because they recognize what a destructive tax it is. …The current maximum federal capital gains tax is 23.8%. …“Build Back Better” (BBB) bill would push the top rate to 31.8%…and…citizens of states with high state income tax rates like California, New York, and New Jersey would find themselves paying destructive rates from 43 to 45%.

Needless to say, it is a bad idea to impose a 43 percent-45 percent tax on any type of productive behavior.

But it is downright crazy to impose that type of tax on economic activity (investment) that also gets hit by other forms of tax.

Let’s close with this map from the Tax Foundation. As you can see, some European nations have punitive rates, but countries such as Belgium, Slovakia, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland wisely have chosen not to impose a capital gains tax..

P.S. For more information, I invite people to watch the video I narrated on the topic. And this editorial from the Wall Street Journal also is a good summary of the issue.

P.P.S. Biden wants America to have the world’s worst capital gains tax. To learn why that’s a bad idea, click here and here.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday’s column analyzed some depressing data in the new long-run fiscal forecast from the Congressional Budget Office.

Simply stated, if we leave fiscal policy on auto-pilot, government spending is going to consume an ever-larger share of America’s economy. Which means some combination of more taxes, more debt, and more reckless monetary policy.

Today, let’s show how that problem can be solved.

My final chart yesterday showed that the fundamental problem is that government spending is projected to grow faster than the private economy, thus violating the “golden rule” of fiscal policy.

Here’s a revised version of that chart. I have added a bar showing how fast tax revenues are expected to grow over the next 30 years, as well as a bar showing the projection for population plus inflation.

As already stated, it’s a big problem that government spending is growing faster (an average of 4.63 percent per year) than the growth of the private economy (an average of 3.75 percent per years.

But the goal of fiscal policy should not be to maintain the bloated budget that currently exists. That would lock in all the reckless spending we got under Bush, Obama, and Trump. Not to mention the additional waste approved under Biden.

Ideally, fiscal policy should seek to reduce the burden of federal spending.

Which is why this next chart is key. It shows what would happen if the federal government adopted a TABOR-style spending cap, modeled after the very successful fiscal rule in Colorado.

If government spending can only grow as fast as inflation plus population, we avoid giant future deficits. Indeed, we eventually get budget surpluses.

But I’m not overly concerned with fiscal balance. The proper goal should be to reduce the burden of spending, regardless of how it is financed.

And a spending cap linked to population plus inflation over the next 30 years would yield impressive results. Instead of the federal government consuming more than 30 percent of the economy’s output, only 17.8 percent of GDP would be diverted by federal spending in 2052.

P.S. A spending cap also could be modeled on Switzerland’s very successful “debt brake.”

P.P.S. Some of my left-leaning friends doubtlessly will think a federal budget that consumes “only” 17.8 percent of GDP is grossly inadequate. Yet that was the size of the federal government, relative to economic output, at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Read Full Post »

The Congressional Budget Office has released its new long-run fiscal forecast. Like I did last year (and the year before, and the year before, etc), let’s look at some very worrisome data.

We’ll start with projections over the next three decades for taxes and spending, measured as a share of economic output (gross domestic product). As you can see, the tax burden is increasing, but the spending burden is increasing even faster.

By the way, some people think America’s main fiscal problem is the gap between the two lines. In other words, they worry about deficits and debt.

But the real problem is government spending. And that’s true whether the spending burden is financed by taxes, borrowing, or printing money.

So why is the burden of government spending projected to get larger?

As you can see from Figure 2-2, entitlement programs deserve the lion’s share of the blame. Social Security spending is expanding as a share of GDP, and health entitlements (Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare) are expanding even faster.

Now let’s confirm that the problem is not on the revenue side.

As you can see from Figure 2-7, taxation is expected to consume an ever-larger share of economic output in future decades. And that’s true even if the Trump tax cuts are made permanent.

Having shared three charts from CBO’s report, it’s now time for a chart that I created using CBO’s long-run data.

My chart shows that America’s main fiscal problem is that we are not abiding by fiscal policy’s Golden Rule. To be more specific, the burden of government is projected to grow faster than the economy.

So long as the burden of government is expanding faster than the private sector, that’s a recipe for higher taxes, more debt, and reckless monetary policy.

All of those options lead to the same bad outcome.

Read Full Post »

To begin Part III of this series (here’s Part I and Part II), let’s dig into the archives for this video I narrated back in 2007.

At the risk of patting myself on the back, all of the points hold up very well. Indeed, the past 15 years have produced more evidence that my main arguments were correct.

The good news is that all these arguments helped produce a tax bill that dropped America’s federal corporate tax rate by 14 percentage points, from 35 percent to 21 percent.

The bad news is that Biden and most Democrats in Congress want to raise the corporate rate.

In a column for CapX, Professor Tyler Goodspeed explains why higher corporate tax rates are a bad idea. He’s writing about what’s happening in the United Kingdom, but his arguments equally apply in the United States.

…the more you tax something, the less of it you get. …plans to raise Corporation Tax and end relief on new plant and machinery will result in less business investment – and steep costs for households. …Treasury’s current plans to raise the corporate income tax rate to 25% and end a temporary 130% ‘super-deduction’ for new investment in qualifying plant and machinery would lower UK investment by nearly 8%, and reduce the size of the UK economy by more than 2%, compared to making the current rules permanent. …because the economic costs of corporate taxation are ultimately borne both by shareholders and workers, raising the rate to 25% would permanently lower average household wages by £2,500. …the macroeconomic effects of raising the Corporation Tax rate to 25% would alone offset 40% of the static revenue gain over a 10-year period, and as much as 90% over the long run.

To bolster his argument for good policy on that side of the Atlantic Ocean, he then explains that America’s lower corporate tax rate has been a big success.

Critics of corporate tax reform should look to the recent experience of the United States… At the time, I predicted that these changes would raise business investment in new plant and equipment by 9%, and raise average household earnings by $4,000 in real, inflation-adjusted terms. …By the end of 2019, investment had risen to 9.4% above its pre-2017 level. Investment by corporate businesses specifically was up even more, rising to 14.2% above its pre-2017 trend in real, inflation-adjusted terms. Meanwhile, in 2018 and 2019 real median household income in the United States rose by $5,000 – a bigger increase in just two years than in the entire 20 preceding years combined. …What about corporate income tax revenues? …corporate tax revenue as a share of the US economy was substantially higher than projected, at 1.7% versus 1.4%.

If you want more evidence about what happened to corporate tax revenue in America after the Trump tax reform, click here.

Another victory for the Laffer Curve.

Not that we should be surprised. Even pro-tax bureaucracies such as the International Monetary Fund and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have found that lower corporate rates produce substantial revenue feedback.

So let’s hope neither the United States nor the United Kingdom make the mistake of undoing progress.

P.S. The specter of a higher corporate tax in the United Kingdom is especially bizarre. Voters chose Brexit in part to give the nation a chance to break free of the European Union’s dirigiste approach. But instead of adopting pro-growth policies (the Singapore-on-Thames approach), former Prime Minister Boris Johnson opted to increase the burden of taxes and spending. Hopefully the Conservative Party will return to Thatcherism with a new Prime Minister (and hopefully American Republicans will return to Reaganism!).

Read Full Post »

Adding to already voluminous research in the area (including studies from AustraliaCanadaGermany, and the United Kingdom), I wrote yesterday about a new study showing that lower corporate tax rates produce more economic growth.

Not that these results should be a surprise.

Anyone with a basic understanding of economics realizes that taxes discourage the activity that is being taxed (something politicians understand when they discuss levies on tobacco).

And the higher the tax, the greater the damage.

Today, let’s revisit the 2017 Trump tax cuts, particularly the reduction in the corporate tax rate.

The International Monetary Fund has published new research on the issue, looking specifically at the impact of cross-border investment. Here are some excerpts from the study, which was written by Thornton Matheson, Alexander Klemm, Laura Power, and Thomas Brosy.

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) sharply reduced effective corporate income tax rates on equity-financed US investment. This paper examines the reform’s impact on US inbound foreign direct investment (FDI) and investment in property, plant and equipment (PPE) by foreign-owned US companies. …We find that both PPE investment and FDI financed with retained earnings responded positively to the TCJA reform, but FDI financed with new equity or debt did not. …the increase in PPE investment after TCJA was driven by general economic growth. In regressions of FDI financed with retained earnings, however, tax coefficients were robust to inclusion of macroeconomic controls. As the literature predicts, EATRs have a greater impact on cross-border investment than EMTRs.

These results are interesting, but not overwhelming.

So why am I citing this research?

Because of the following chart, which shows two very important and very desirable results of the 2017 tax bill.

  • First, we see lower average tax rates and lower marginal tax rates for the three types of business financing on the right.
  • Second, we can see from “EMTR debt finance” on the left that the legislation significantly reduced the tax code’s bias for debt.

Here’s the chart, with the blue bars representing pre-2017 tax rates and the orange bars showing today’s tax rates.

The bottom line is that the 2017 law moved tax policy in the right direction. In a big way.

We got lower rates and moved closer to neutrality.

And I say that as someone who has no problem criticizing some of the other policies we got during that era.

Read Full Post »

Here is the argument why corporate tax rates should be as low as possible.

In an ideal world, there would be no corporate income tax (or any income tax).

But I’ll gladly accept any movement in the right direction, which is why the reduction in the corporate tax rate was the crown jewel of Trump’s 2017 tax plan.

The bad news is that Biden wants to undo much of that progress.

Today, let’s look at some new academic evidence on the issue. A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, authored by Professors James Cloyne, Joseba Martinez, Haroon Mumtaz, and Paolo Surico, finds that lower corporate rates are especially beneficial for long-run prosperity.

We use…post-WWII U.S. data on output, taxes, productivity and R&D spending to estimate the dynamic effects of income tax changes…and focus on personal and corporate income tax changes separately. …In Figure 1, we present our first set of main results. The figure contains two columns. On the left, we show the IRFs to a reduction in the average corporate tax rate. On the right, we show the results for a reduction in the average personal tax rate. …The first row in Figure 1 reveals that, following a shock to corporate and personal income taxes, the average tax rates decline temporarily. …The second row in Figure 1 shows the impulse response functions for the percentage response of real GDP. … Looking at the first column it is clear that, despite the transitory nature of the corporate tax reduction, there are very persistent effects on real GDP, whose short-run increase of 0.5% persists throughout the ten year period shown in the figure. In other words, the corporate income tax cut has disappeared after 5 years, but the effect on the level of economic activity is still sizable and significant after 8 years. …A similar picture emerges for productivity, as shown in the third row of Figure 1. Both tax rate cuts boost productivity on impact, with the size of the initial response to a personal income tax cut being much larger than for a cut to corporate taxes. On the other hand, the effects of corporate tax cuts grow over time and remain significant even after 10 years.

Here’s the aforementioned Figure 1 from their research.

I’ll conclude by noting that permanent tax cuts are much better than temporary tax cuts.

But if taxes are being cut, regardless of duration, the goal should be to get the most bang for the buck. And there’s plenty of evidence (from the United States, AustraliaCanadaGermany, and the United Kingdom) that lowering corporate tax rates is a smart place to start.

P.S. It’s unfortunate that Biden wants a higher corporate tax burden in the United States. It’s even more disturbing that he wants a global tax cartel so the entire world has to follow in his footsteps. But he apparently does not understand the topic.

Read Full Post »

The people of Chile elected a Bernie Sanders-style leftist last December and one of his crazy ideas is a wealth tax. In a discussion with Axel Kaiser, I explain why this destructive levy is misguided.

A wealth tax would be bad news in Chile. It also would be bad news in the United States.

Indeed, there is no country in the world where it wouldn’t be bad news (including Switzerland).

As I noted in the above video clip, an annual tax on wealth is economically akin to a tax on saving and investment.

And the effective tax rate can be confiscatory. Especially when you consider the impact of other taxes, such as dividend taxes, capital gains taxes, and income taxes (and don’t forget the corporate income tax and death tax!).

The chart shows that the severity of the tax varies depending on the rate of wealth tax and the change in the value of a taxpayer’s assets.

And it only includes the impact of the wealth tax and personal income tax.

Yet even with that limitation, it is still very easy to wind up with effective tax rates of more than 100 percent.

You don’t need to be a wild-eyed supply-sider to conclude this will undermine growth by discouraging people from saving and investing.

Daniel Savickas of the Taxpayer Protection Alliance wrote about this unfair and punitive levy earlier this year.

Here are excerpts from his column for Real Clear Markets.

A wealth tax means it would no longer be worthwhile for many to invest in the economy. People invest with the hopes of making money on that investment and accept they will have to pay a percentage on gains once it’s sold off. However, with repeated taxes in the interim just for holding the stock, many investments cease making financial sense. As a result, many startup companies will end up losing access to capital at a critical time. A wealth tax will end up punishing small businesses more so than the super wealthy. …The economy has taken a beating lately and – given recent inflationary trends – does not seem to be getting a break any time soon. Policymakers should be focusing on how to alleviate those pains. A wealth tax would go after the people who take risks and invest their money in our companies and our jobs. This approach would never be helpful, but is especially harmful at a time like this.

The bottom line is that a wealth tax would be very bad news. It would weaken the United States economy. And it would have an even worse impact on Chile’s economy (particularly when combined with Boric’s other bad policies).

P.S. There’s definitely not a libertarian argument for a wealth tax, and I also have explained why there is not a conservative argument for this invasive levy.

Read Full Post »

I’ve written a few columns that explain tax principles, but this video from the Tax Foundation may be the best place to start if you have friends or colleagues who need to learn the basics.

As part of the article that accompanies the video, the Tax Foundation explains that not all taxes are created equal. In other words, some taxes impose more damage than other taxes.

And this chart from the article is a nice summary of the three types of tax, along with the potential damage caused by varying ways of collecting tax.

As a general rule, this chart is totally accurate.

Corporate income taxes, gross receipts taxes (mentioned here), and wealth taxes do a lot of economic damage on a per-dollar-collected basis.

But I want to add a caveat to the first column.

As currently designed, there’s no question that the personal income tax and the corporate income tax are very bad taxes.

But it is possible to dramatically reduce the damage imposed by those levies. For instance, the personal income tax could be largely defanged if the current system was repealed and replaced by a simple and fair flat tax.

Likewise, it’s possible to reform the corporate income tax (full expensing, territoriality, no double tax on dividends, etc) so that it does comparatively little damage.

By the way, I’m sure the experts at the Tax Foundation would agree with these observations, so I’m augmenting rather than criticizing.

And since I’m doing some augmenting, another observation is that the first two taxes on the bottom row generally are very similar, at least with regard to their economic impact (and also similar to a properly designed individual income tax).

Here’s some of what I wrote in a column back in 2012.

…anything that expands the “tax wedge” between pre-tax income and post-tax consumption is going to impose similar levels of economic harm. Here’s a simple example. If I earn $100, does it matter to me if the government takes $25 as I earn that income (either with a payroll tax or income tax) or as I spend that income (either with a sales tax or value-added tax)? Is there any reason that my incentives to earn and produce will be altered by shifting from one approach to the other?

I explain that the answer is no. My incentive to earn income is affected by my ability to use income to enjoy consumption. But if taxes take a big bite, I’ll have less reason to be productive, regardless of how politicians collect the tax.

For what it is worth, I’ve used Belgium as an example to explain why shifting from payroll taxes to sales taxes, or vice-versa, is not a recipe for greater prosperity.

P.S. Those who want more advanced primers on taxes and growth should click here and here.

Read Full Post »

I’ve written many times about the importance of low tax rates, specifically low marginal tax rates on productive activity such as work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship.

And I’ve explained that it is especially beneficial to have low tax burdens to attract people who play a big role in boosting economic growth.

The bottom line is that everyone should want their state or their country to be a magnet for the best and brightest.

Having more highly successful people is a great shortcut for boosting everyone’s income.

Today, we’re going to look at more evidence on this topic. In a working paper for the Harvard Business School, Sari Pekkala Kerr, Çağlar Özden, William Kerr, and Christopher Parsons examine the migratory patterns of highly skilled workers.

Highly skilled workers play a central and starring role in today’s knowledge economy. Talented individuals make exceptional direct contributions—including breakthrough innovations and scientific discoveries… The exceptional rise in the number of high-skilled migrants to OECD countries is the result of several forces, including increased efforts to attract them by policymakers as they recognize the central role of human capital in economic growth… For example, immigrants account for some 57 percent of scientists residing in Switzerland, 45 percent in Australia, and 38 percent in the United States (Franzoni et al. 2012). In the United States, 27 percent of all physicians and surgeons and over 35 percent of current medical residents were foreign born in 2010. …the global migration rate of inventors in 2000 stood at 8.6 percent, at least 50 percent greater in share terms than the average for high-skilled workers as a whole.

In the contest to attract skilled migrants, some nations do a better jobs than others.

…among OECD destinations, the distribution of talent remains skewed. Four Anglo-Saxon countries—the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia—constitute the destination for nearly 70 percent of high-skilled migrants (to the OECD) in 2010. The United States alone has historically hosted close to half of all high-skilled migrants to the OECD and one-third of high-skilled migrants worldwide.

Here’s a chart looking specifically at inventors.

So why do some nations get disproportionate numbers of skilled migrants.

As you might suspect, these highly productive people want to earn more money. And keep more money.

The core theoretical framework for studying human capital flows dates back to at least John Hicks (1932), who noted that “differences in net economic advantages, chiefly differences in wages, are the main causes of migration.” …the United States has a very wide earnings distribution and low tax levels and progressivity, especially compared to most source countries, including many high-income European countries. As a result, we can see why the United States would attract more high-skilled migrants, relative to low-skilled migrants and relative to other high-income countries.

Notice, by the way, that low-tax Singapore and low-tax Switzerland also are big winners in the above chart. Indeed, they may be ahead of the United States after adjusting for population.

The obvious takeaway is that the United States should not throw away its competitive advantage. Yet another reason to reject Joe Biden’s class-warfare fiscal agenda.

 

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why are people leaving the City?

Some of it was temporary, caused by the pandemic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

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

Read Full Post »

Yesterday’s column discussed Caterpillar’s decision to move its headquarters from high-tax Illinois to low-tax Texas.

Today, we have more bad news for the Prairie State.

A major investment fund, Citadel, also has decided to leave Illinois.

Is the company moving to a different high-tax state, perhaps California or New York? Maybe Connecticut or New Jersey?

Nope. Citadel is going to Florida, a state famous for having no income tax.

The Wall Street Journal opined this morning about Citadel’s move.

The first step to recovery is supposed to be admitting you have a problem. But Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker still won’t, even after billionaire Ken Griffin on Thursday said he’s moving his Citadel hedge fund and securities trading firm to Miami from Chicago. …Meantime, Democrats in Springfield continue to threaten businesses and citizens with higher taxes… It’s no wonder so many companies and people are leaving, and mostly to low-tax states. …In 2020, $2.4 billion in net adjusted gross income moved to Florida from Illinois, about $298,000 per tax filer. …Mr. Griffin has spent tens of millions of his personal fortune trying to rescue Illinois from bad progressive governance. Maybe he figures it’s time to cut his losses.

Other (former) Illinois residents cut their losses last decade.

Scott Shackford of Reason shared grim data at the end of 2020 about the ongoing exodus from Illinois.

For the seventh year in a row, census figures show residents moving out of Illinois in significant numbers. …Perhaps demanding that your excessively taxed residents give the government even more money is not the best way to keep those residents in your state… Over the course of the last decade, Illinois lost more than a quarter-million people…not even California…has seen Illinois’ population loss. …Government leaders have responded not with better fiscal management (the state’s powerful unions blocked pension reforms), but with more taxes and fees, even as residents leave.

The bottom line is that Illinois is currently losing people and businesses.

Just as it lost people and businesses last decade.

And you can see from this map that taxpayers also were fleeing the state earlier this century.

I’m guessing the state’s hypocritical governor probably thinks this is a good thing because the people who left probably didn’t vote for tax-and-spend politicians.

But that’s a very short-sighted viewpoint.

After all, parasites need a healthy host. If you’re a flea or a tick, it’s bad news if you’re on a dog that dies.

As Michael Barone noted many years ago, that’s a lesson that Illinois politicians haven’t learned.

Read Full Post »

I wrote a couple of days ago about California’s grim future.

But now I’ll share some good news. No matter how bad California gets, the Golden State probably won’t have to worry about people and businesses fleeing to Illinois.

That’s because the Prairie State is an even bigger mess. If California is committing “slow motion suicide,” Illinois is opting for the quickest-possible fiscal demise.

Politicians in Springfield (the Illinois capital) have a love affair with higher taxes. A very passionate love affair.

But the state’s productive people have a different point of view. More and more of them have been escaping.

And they are now being joined by the state’s most-famous company, as Matt Paprocki of the Illinois Policy Institute explains in a column for the Washington Post.

When Boeing announced last month that it was moving its headquarters from Chicago to Arlington, Va., it sent shudders through the Illinois business community and state capital. But last week, when the heavy-equipment manufacturer Caterpillar said it was moving its headquarters to Texas, it felt more like a bulldozer ramming into the news. …If you’re an Illinois business owner or resident, as I am, the economics of staying are tough and the enticements to move away are many. …According to the U.S. Census Bureau, last year the state had the third-largest loss of residents due to domestic migration in the nation (-122,460), trailing only California and New York.

It’s easy to understand why people and businesses are leaving.

In 2017, Illinois lawmakers raised the personal income tax rate to 4.95 percent, from 3.75 percent, and hiked the corporate rate to 7 percent, from 5.25 percent. When J.B. Pritzker took office as governor in 2019, he passed another 24 tax and fee hikes costing taxpayers over $5 billion. …With 278,475 regulatory restrictions and requirements — double the national average — Illinois has the third most heavily regulated environment in the country. …Illinois owes over $139 billion in state pension debt as of last year, and local governments owe about $75 billion, which is the primary driver for Illinois’ spiraling property taxes, second-highest in the nation.

Mr. Paprocki offers all sorts of suggestions for reform, including a spending cap.

But the chances of pro-growth reform are effectively zero. The governor is a hard-core leftist (as well as a hypocrite) and the state legislature is controlled by government employee unions.

So if you’re hoping for a TABOR-style spending cap, there’s little reason to be optimistic.

And if you’re hoping for reforms that will improve the state’s “least friendly” tax climate, don’t hold your breath.

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

I’ve already shared the “feel-good story” for 2022, so today I’m going to share this year’s feel-good map.

Courtesy of the Tax Foundation, here are the states that have lowered personal income tax rates and/or corporate income tax rates in 2021 and 2022. I’ve previously written about these reforms (both this year and last year), but more and more states and lowering tax burdens, giving us a new reason to write about this topic.

The map is actually even better than it looks because there are several states that don’t have any income taxes, so it’s impossible for them to lower rates. I’ve labelled them with a red zero.

And when you add together the states with no income tax with the states that are reducing income tax rates, more than half of them are either at the right destination (zero) or moving in that direction.

That’s very good news.

And here’s more good news from the Tax Foundation. The flat tax club is expanding.

I prefer the states with no income taxes, but low-rate flat taxes are the next best approach.

P.S. According to the Tax Foundation, New York and Washington, D.C. have moved in the wrong direction. Both increased income tax burdens in 2021. No wonder people are moving away.

P.P.S. If I had to pick the states with the best reforms, I think Iowa and Arizona belong at the top of the list.

Read Full Post »

Good tax policy should strive to solve the three major problems that plague today’s income tax.

  1. Punitive tax rates on productive behavior.
  2. Double taxation of saving and investment
  3. Corrupt, complex, and inefficient loopholes.

Today, let’s focus on the second item. If the goal is to minimize the economic damage of taxation, both labor and capital should be taxed at the lowest-possible rate.

But, as illustrated by the chart, the internal revenue code imposes widespread “double taxation” on income that is saved and invested.

Actually, it’s more than double taxation. Between the capital gains tax, corporate income tax, double tax on dividends, and death tax, there are multiple layers of tax on income from saving and investment.

So even if statutory tax rates are low, effective tax rates can be very high when you consider how the IRS gets several bites at the apple.

This is why good tax reform plans eliminate the tax bias against capital.

But we don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good. Simply lowering tax rates on capital also would be a step in the right direction.

And such an approach would produce meaningful economic benefits, as explained in a new Federal Reserve study by Saroj Bhattarai, Jae Won Lee, Woong Yong Park, and Choongryul Yang.

…capital tax cuts, as expected, have expansionary long-run aggregate effects on the economy. For instance, with a permanent reduction of the capital tax rate from 35% to 21%, output in the new steady state, compared to the initial steady state, is greater by 4.24%… A reduction in the capital tax rate leads to a decrease in the rental rate of capital, raising demand for capital by firms. This stimulates investment and capital accumulation. A larger amount of capital stock, in turn, makes workers more productive, raising wages and hours. Finally, given the increase in the factors of production, output expands.

This is all good news.

But our left-leaning friends might not be happy because some people get richer faster than other people get richer.

This aggregate expansion however, is coupled with worsening…inequality in our model. For instance, skilled wages increase by 4.66% while unskilled wages increases by only 0.56%, driven by capital-skill complementarity.

For what it is worth, I agree with Margaret Thatcher about adopting policies that help all groups enjoy higher living standards.

Here’s a chart for wonky readers. It shows how quickly the economy grows depending on how lower capital taxes are offset.

 

And here’s some of the explanatory text.

The main takeaway if that you get the most growth when you also lower the burden of redistribution spending.

The three financing schemes under consideration…produce different effects on aggregate output because each scheme influences workers’ labor supply decisions differently. …lump-sum transfer cuts…boosts unskilled hours and in turn, contributes to greater aggregate output… In comparison, a rise in the labor or consumption tax rate decreases the effective wage rate (as is well-understood) and additionally, weakens the wealth effect for the unskilled household. These two mechanisms work together to generate a smaller aggregate expansion under the distortionary tax adjustments. …we show that the capital tax cut has different welfare implications for each type of household depending on time horizon and policy adjustments. …The tax reform benefits the skilled households the most when transfers adjust, whereas the unskilled households prefer distortionary financing to avoid a significant reduction in transfer incomes.

The secondary takeaway from this research is that it would be bad for the economy (and bad for both rich people and poor people) if Joe Biden’s class-warfare tax policy was enacted.

But if you read this, this, this, and this, you already knew that.

Read Full Post »

Back in 2018, I shared some academic research on the relationship between state tax rates and the performance of professional football teams.

The main takeaway is that teams based in high-tax states did not win as many games, on average, as teams based in low-tax states.

So if you want your favorite team to win, support better tax policy.

Though there are no guarantees. A team from high-tax California just won the Super Bowl, so it goes without saying that taxes are not the only factor that determines team success.

But it presumably means that teams in states like California and New York have to overcome a built-in disadvantage.

Let’s take a look at some new research on this issue. Professor Erik Hembre of the University of Illinois at Chicago authored a study that’s been published by International Tax and Public Finance.

Here’s the question he wanted to answer.

Do higher state income taxes harm firms? …This paper examines the state income tax burden in a unique market, professional sports, where teams—the capital in question—are highly immobile and players—the labor—are highly mobile to test whether higher state income tax hinders team performance. Anecdotal evidence suggests higher state income taxes disadvantage professional sports teams. Across the four major US sports leagues, of the forty-nine franchises with long championship droughts, only four are from states that do not have an income tax, while twenty are from the highest taxed states.

Here’s his methodology, which takes advantage of the fact that free agency gave players new-found ability to play where they could keep more of their earnings.

To test the link between state income taxes and team performance, this paper analyzes team performance in the four major US professional sports leagues: the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), the National Hockey League (NHL), and Major League Baseball (MLB). To address concerns that the association between team performance and income tax rates may be coincidental, I examine how the tax rate effect changed with the adoption of free agency. Achieving free agency has been a milestone for players’ associations, paramount both for increasing player mobility across teams and for forcing teams to compete for player services without restrictions.

Since athletes respond to incentives (just like entrepreneurs, inventors, and scientists), we should not be surprised that Prof. Hembre found that teams in lower-tax states now enjoy more success.

I compare the link between tax rates and team winning percentage before and after the introduction of free agency in each league using within-team variation in top state marginal income tax rates. Prior to free agency, there was a small positive association between income tax rates and winning. After the introduction of free agency, changes in state income tax rates significantly influence team performance. Each percentage point increase in the top marginal income tax rate is associated with a 0.70 percentage point decrease in win percentage. The tax rate effect on team performance is robust to a variety of specifications, such as controlling for sales and property taxes or alternative tax rate measures. Changing the outcome measure to be championships or finals appearances also yields similar results. The estimated effect size is non-trivial. The main analysis effect size of − 0.70 means that a one standard deviation increase in tax rate will result in 2.05 fewer wins over an 82 game season. …Figure 3 presents the annual point estimates (훽2) and 95% confidence intervals of the income tax rate effects between 1980 and 2017. …in all 9 years prior to any league having free agency, there was a positive income tax effect estimate. This relationship changed shortly after the introduction of free agency and since 1990 the annual income tax effect has remained negative.

Here’s the aforementioned Figure 3 for my wonky readers.

As a fan of better tax policy, I like Prof. Hembre’s findings.

As a fan of the New York Yankees, I don’t like his findings

P.S. Here’s one final tidbit that will appeal to fans of the Raiders.

Considering an extreme case, the recent relocation of the Oakland Raiders from a high income tax state (California) to a no income tax state (Nevada) projects a winning percentage increase of 8.6 percentage points or about 1 game per NFL season

P.P.S. I’ll close by reiterating my caveat about taxes being just one piece of the puzzle. After all, I speculated that taxes may have played a role in LeBron James going from Cleveland to Miami many years ago. But he has since migrated to high-tax California. Though many pro athletes have moved away from the not-so-Golden States, so the general points is still accurate.

P.P.P.S. I feel sorry for Cam Newton, who paid a marginal tax rate of nearly 200 percent on his bonus for playing in the 2016 Super Bowl.

P.P.P.P.S. Taxes also impact choices on how often to box and where to box.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Needless to say, these principles also apply in other nations.

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

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

What accounts for his most recent error?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

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

That was the bad news.

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

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

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

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

And now we have another report that reaches similar conclusions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

That was before they enacted VATs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that still true?

Of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: