Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Taxation’

The left is very clever about accepting “compromise,” so long as the result is a larger burden of government.

This is one of the reasons why I’m so concerned about Senator Cruz’s proposal for a value-added tax. Even though he wants a VAT for good reasons (to finance lower tax rates and also to reduce the tax bias against saving and investment), my fear is that the statists will say yes, then quickly use the VAT to finance a big expansion of the welfare state.

Which is exactly what happened in Europe.

Some folks think I’m being paranoid, to which there are two responses. First, there’s the old joke that even paranoid people have enemies.

But the second and more serious response is to point out that lots of statists openly say they want a VAT to make government bigger.

Indeed, some of these folks already are semi-embracing Cruz’s VAT because of their desire to have a new source of revenue for Washington. Consider, for instance, these excerpts from an editorial in USA Today.

The VAT is a kind of national sales tax used by virtually every other nation in the world because it can raise lots of money …partly because deficits are set to explode again as Baby Boomers retire, the VAT is back. Texas Republican Ted Cruz, winner of the Iowa GOP caucuses, is proposing a VAT… The concept has a lot going for it. …Cruz’s plan is flawed, but he’s on to something. A more progressive, phased-in VAT deserves to be part of any future conversation

You don’t have to read between the lines to understand that the editors at USA Today want a VAT to expand the public sector. The editorial even favorably cites Senator Cardin and former Treasury official Michael Graetz.

Do they want a VAT for the same reasons as Senator Cruz?

Not exactly. Senator Cardin acknowledges that the VAT could lead to a spigot of new tax revenue (“enacting a consumption tax could mean enacting a new and easy-to-adjust lever to raise taxes irresponsibly”), but he claims to have a mechanism that supposedly will guard against ever-higher tax burdens.

The Progressive Consumption Tax Act addresses this concern with a circuit breaker that returns overages from the PCT to taxpayers when revenues exceed predetermined levels.

This is a joke. The politicians in Washington get to set the “predetermined levels,” so it goes without saying that those levels will go from predetermined to redetermined in a blink of an eye, just as we’ve seen in other nations.

And what about Michael Graetz’s plan? Well, here are a few excerpts from an article he wrote.

…tax increases will be necessary to…address the nation’s unsustainable fiscal condition fairly… With this plan in place, our ability to raise additional revenue would be increased…

To be fair, Graetz is not a leftist. He basically wants a VAT because it’s a less-destructive way of financing bigger government.

I agree. It’s highly likely that a $100 billion VAT hike would do less damage than a $100 billion increase in income taxes, but why on earth would anyone want higher taxes to fund bigger government, particularly when we know sensible entitlement reforms could fix the nation’s long-run fiscal problem?

No wonder Avik Roy, writing for Forbes, is so worried about a VAT.

Sen. Ted Cruz…favors replacing the corporate income tax with what Cruz calls a “business flat tax,” and what Canadians and Europeans call a “value-added tax.” But the real debate isn’t about terminology; it’s about whether or not Cruz’s approach would drive an explosion of government taxes—and spending—over the mid- to long-term.

One reason it’s a money machine is that it’s actually a hidden tax on wages and salaries.

…businesses would no longer be able to deduct the cost of labor. As my colleague Ryan Ellis has detailed, that amounts to a “16 percent wage tax withheld at the employer level under the Cruz plan.”

And that creates a very large tax base, so any increase in the tax rate transfers a lot of money from the private sector to Washington.

…the most important problem with the Cruz plan is how Democrats would take advantage of it. Cruz envisions a VAT tax rate of 16 percent. But his plan would hand progressives a simple tool to raise taxes to far higher rates in the future. …the vast majority of federal revenue will hit voters indirectly, because it will come from businesses. From a political standpoint, Cruz’s plan would pave the way to higher tax rates in the future. …every one percent increase in the VAT would yield $1.6 trillion in new revenue over a decade. The temptation for a Democratic president and Congress to raise VAT rates to higher levels will be enormous.

And Avik echoes one of my concerns, warning that a VAT will greatly undermine and perhaps even kill any opportunity for genuine entitlement reform.

Under Cruz’s tax system, there would be absolutely no pressure on Washington to reform Medicare and Medicaid. Why reform entitlements when you can simply increase the “business flat tax” rate from 16 percent to 17 percent to 18 percent to 19 percent? This is exactly what has happened in Canada and Europe, where VAT rates started out low, and have gone up and up over time.

I should point out (as he does in his column) that Avik supports Marco Rubio, so he has a political motive to trash the VAT.

Indeed, he even makes some anti-VAT arguments that strike me as unfair, so I’ve omitted them from this analysis.

But the parts I have shared are completely accurate and they are more than adequate to make a very powerful case against giving Washington a new source of revenue.

Let’s close with some wisdom from the 1980s. I wrote that one of America’s worst presidents wanted a VAT to expand the welfare state. And I also mentioned that one of the best presidents in American history was on the right side of the issue. And it’s worth listening to the Gipper’s wisdom on this issue.

P.S. Here’s a short update to my recent post about the craziness of Keynesian economics. You may recall that the economic illiterates at the International Monetary Fund said diverting money from the private sector to finance government outlays on refugees would be good for growth.

Well, we now have estimates of how much will be spent on this so-called stimulus.

Shelter, medical care and integration policies for refugees will cost the German state €22 billion in 2016, and €27.6 billion in 2017.

Gee, according to the perpetual motion machine of Keynesianism, maybe the German government should put the entire population on welfare and the economy will really boom.

Read Full Post »

What’s the difference between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton?

I suspect that most people would cite differences in personal ethics, but I’m a policy wonk so I actually think the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination are two peas in a pod.

The only real difference is that Sanders is more open about his statist beliefs and is more anxious to adopt bad policies as quickly as possible.

But since I don’t want to become Greece, I have a hard time being impressed by politicians who bicker about the best route and best speed to get to the wrong destination.

Consider, for example, their views on corporate taxation. And let’s look specifically at the issue of how to deal with corporate inversions.

First, some background. The Wall Street Journal opines about the logical argument – and fiduciary obligation – for companies to escape America’s awful corporate tax system.

A major U.S. company merges with a foreign firm in part to avoid America’s punishing corporate tax code, and the politicians who refuse to reform the code denounce the company for trying to stay competitive. …Sigh. …Let’s try to explain one more time why it makes perfect business—and moral—sense… The U.S. federal corporate income tax rate is 35%. The Irish rate is 12.5%. …A CEO obliged to act in the best interests of shareholders cannot ignore this competitive reality.

All this makes great sense, and I’ve made similar arguments.

But what do Sanders and Clinton think? Well, the editorial skewers the two leading Democratic candidates for their vacuous demagoguery.

…none of this business logic impresses Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, who helped to write the U.S. tax code as Senators but are now competing as presidential candidates to see who can demagogue more ferociously against American employers.Neither one wants to reform the tax code to make U.S. tax rates more competitive with the rest of the world. Instead they want to raise the costs of doing business even further. Mrs. Clinton’s solution is to raise taxes on investors with higher capital-gains taxes, block inversion deals, and apply an “exit tax” to businesses that manage to escape. Mr. Sanders would go further and perform an immediate $620 billion cashectomy on U.S. companies. The Vermonter would tax the money U.S. firms have earned overseas, even though that income has already been taxed in foreign jurisdictions.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think the ideas being peddled by Clinton and Sanders will lead to more and better jobs in the United States.

Which is why, when given the chance to  write about this topic for Fortune, I suggested that it would be best to actually fix the tax code rather than blaming the victim.

Some U.S. politicians respond to these mergers with demagoguery about “economic treason,” but that’s silly. These corporate unions are basically the business version of a couple in a long-distance relationship that decides to live where the economic outlook is brighter after getting married. So instead of blaming the victims, the folks in Washington should do what’s right for the country by trying to deal with the warts that make America’s tax system so unappealing for multinational firms.

And what are those warts?

The same ones any sensible person would identify. First, America’s corporate tax rate is absurdly anti-competitive.

With a 35% levy from Washington, augmented by smaller state corporate taxes, the combined burden is more than 39%. In Europe, by contrast, the average corporate tax rate has now dropped below 24%. And the average corporate rate for Asia’s major economies is even lower.

Second, we have a peculiarly self-destructive practice of wanting to tax income earned in other countries.

…the IRS also imposes tax on income earned in other nations. Very few nations impose a system of “worldwide taxation,” mostly for the simple reason that the income already is subject to tax in the nations where it is earned.

So here’s the bottom line.

The combination of a high rate and worldwide taxation is like a one-two punch against the competitiveness of U.S.-domiciled firms, so it’s easy to understand why inversions are so attractive. They’re a very simple step to protect the interests of workers, consumers and shareholders. …Let’s hope politicians put aside class warfare and anti-business demagoguery and fix the tax system before it’s too late.

By the way, even a columnist for the New York Times agrees with me. He has a piece on the inversion issue that is not very favorable to companies, and it certainly reads like he’s in favor of governments having more money, but he can’t help but come to the right conclusion.

Ultimately, the only way inversions will stop is when the corporate tax code changes so it becomes more attractive for American companies to be American companies.

And I can’t resist closing with a great blurb from George Will’s most recent column.

Having already paid taxes on it where it was earned, the corporations sensibly resist having it taxed again by the United States’ corporate tax, the highest in the industrial world.

Amen.

Will succinctly brings together the two most important things to understand about this issue. First, the income earned by American companies in other nations already is subject to tax, and, second, companies understandably don’t want it taxed again by the world’s highest corporate tax rate.

P.S. I’ve made the serious point that Sanders isn’t really a socialist, at least based on his voting record and what he proposes today. Instead, he’s just a conventional statist with mainstream (among leftists) views about redistribution.

Yet because he calls himself a socialist, that leads to amusing moments when other Democrats are asked to identify how he’s different. I’ve already mocked Debbie Wasserman Schultz for her inability to answer that question.

Now let’s see Hillary Clinton dance and dodge. The parts worth watching are all in the first half of the video.

Too bad Chris Matthews didn’t actually press her to answer the question. Though I’m vaguely impressed that she actually knows there are such a thing as libertarians.

P.P.S. While Hillary is clueless, there’s another Clinton that actually has some semi-sensible views about corporate taxation.

Read Full Post »

This isn’t intentional, but there’s been a European theme to this week’s posts. I wrote yesterday about economic chaos in France, and the previous day I wrote about the grim consequences of Italian statism.

Today, we’re going to look at Greece. In the past, I’ve explained that Greece is special, albeit in a bad way. But I’ve also asserted that Greece could be rejuvenated and could deal with its debt with the right reforms.

Heck, Greece could even renege on its debt and still enjoy an economic renaissance if it adopted the right policies. That’s the message of this short video narrated by Garett Jones of George Mason University

So the $64 question (actually, the $231,199,453,552 question according to the latest projection of Greek debt) is whether Greece will do the right kind of reform.

Unfortunately, it appears that all the bailouts have subsidized bad policy. Writing for National review, a journalist from Greece explains that his government is adding more and more taxes onto an overburdened private sector.

…the new austerity measures, which are often amusingly termed reforms, are for the most part tax increases — which may not be popular, but which conform to SYRIZA’s ideological creed. The new package agreed to by SYRIZA and Greece’s creditors is about 90 percent new taxes or tax increases and 10 percent reforms. The tax increases have the benefit of protecting SYRIZA’s core constituency, which is the public-sector employees. Despite the collapse of public revenue and the overall dismal economic outlook, the SYRIZA government plans to increase the salaries of public-sector employees (by as much as 8 percent) and carry on with 45,000 new hires in 2016. Meanwhile, in the private sector, SYRIZA has increased taxes on all sorts of things and is planning to double the taxation of farmers. It has increased business taxes and also demanded the pre-payment of business taxes. It has increased the VAT on almost all goods, and it is defining affluence down so as to increase income taxes for a greater number of taxpayers. And although Greece has probably the highest social-security contributions in Europe, SYRIZA is planning to increase these contributions even more, despite the fact that pensioners now outnumber those who are still employed in the private sector.

More pensioners that private-sector employees?!?

Wow, even I’m shocked by that factoid. There definitely are far more people riding in the wagon than pulling the wagon when you add up pensioners, bureaucrats, and welfare recipients.

So you can understand why Greece is almost surely doomed.

Especially when you consider that many of the people leaving Greece are the productive ones (i.e., those who normally would be pulling the wagon). Here are some passages from a story in the New York Times from last year.

From 2010 to 2013, about 218,000 Greeks emigrated, according to an estimate from the Greek statistics agency. Nearly half of them went to Germany. …Resentments against Germany — Greece’s most powerful creditor — quickly fade when it comes to the prospect of a regular paycheck. Many of those leaving Greece are highly educated professionals and scientists seeking greater opportunity and better pay. An estimated 135,000 Greeks with post-secondary degrees have left since 2010 and are working abroad, according to Lois Labrianidis, an economic geographer and official in Greece’s Economy Ministry. “We think this is human capital that is crucial for the development of the country,” Mr. Labrianidis told me recently, calling the departures a “major blow.” …While much of the attention on recent Greek emigration has focused on the highly educated, I’ve been surprised by the number of working-class Greeks I’ve met who left due to financial desperation.

But there’s one group of people who aren’t leaving.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that they are the bureaucrats. As noted in this report from the U.K.-based Telegraph, their privileged position is zealously protected by vote-buying politicians.

The other thing most people in the area seem to agree on is that the biggest impediment to progress is the size of Greece’s public sector. The country has a population of 10 million, of which 2.5 million are pensioners, one million are government employees and two million work in the private sector. A further 1.7 million are unemployed. The rest are children or students. “So you can see why the current situation is unsustainable,” says Tryfon. “The only solution is for the public sector to be cut back. But every government since the crisis has chosen to raise taxes, while doing little to stimulate the private sector because they only want to protect votes.” “…Public sector employees and pensioners are the first to get paid and the only ones to get paid on time. We need investment into the private sector, but there is no motivation for companies to come to Greece…” a company would be nuts to invest in a politically unstable country, creaking under debt and crippled by an incredibly punitive tax regime. “What business will invest in a Greece when it takes six months to set up a company compared to Cyprus where it takes 15 minutes?” asks Dimitris Karkavitsas, an investment banker-turned-strawberry farmer. …the young engineer, says everyone who tries to make it in the private sector gets strangled. “The tax is killing us,” he says. …In the meantime, the public sector remains a massive beast.

Moreover, when you set up a company in Cyprus, there’s never a risk that you’ll be required to provide disgusting forms of DNA  as part of bureaucratic requirements.

Yet rather than be outraged by overpaid and meddlesome bureaucrats, I suspect most Greeks probably think how they can get on that gravy train. Which explains why, in an interview, I said the Greeks shouldn’t be allowed to “loot and mooch their way through life.”

Until and unless they learn that lesson, the nation is doomed to societal collapse.

P.S. Another sign of Greece’s moral and fiscal bankruptcy is that pedophiles can get disability payments.

P.P.S. To offset the grim message of today’s column, let’s also enjoy some Greek-related humor.

This cartoon is quite  good, but this this one is my favorite. And the final cartoon in this post also has a Greek theme.

We also have a couple of videos. The first one features a video about…well, I’m not sure, but we’ll call it a European romantic comedy and the second one features a Greek comic pontificating about Germany.

Last but not least, here are some very un-PC maps of how various peoples – including the Greeks – view different European nations.

Read Full Post »

My views on the value-added tax are very simple and straightforward.

If we completely eliminated all income-based taxes, I would be willing to accept a VAT (or even a national sales tax) as a revenue source for government.

But unless that happens, I’m unalterably opposed because it’s far too risky to give politicians two major sources of tax revenue. Just look at what happened in Europe (and Japan). Before the VAT, the burden of government spending wasn’t that much higher in Europe than it was in the United States. Once VATs were adopted, however, that enabled a vast expansion of the welfare state.

This is why I’m worried about the Rand Paul and Ted Cruz tax plans. On paper, both plans are very good, dramatically lowering income tax rates, significantly curtailing double taxation, and also abolishing the corporate income tax. But I don’t like that they both propose a VAT to help make up the difference. It’s not that I think they have bad intentions, but I worry about what happens in the future when a bad President takes office and has the ability to increase both the income tax and the value-added tax. When the dust settles, we’re France or Greece!

By contrast, if we do some type of tax reform that doesn’t include a VAT, the worst thing that could happen when that bad president takes office is that we degenerate back to the awful tax code we have today. Which would be unfortunate, but not nearly as bad as today’s income tax with a VAT on top.

Bad since I’ve already addressed this issue, let’s focus on a part of the Paul and Cruz tax plans that has received very little attention.

Both of them propose to get rid of the payroll tax, which is the part of your paycheck that goes to “FICA” and is used to help fund Social Security and Medicare.

Alan Viard of the American Enterprise Institute has a column in U.S. News & World Report that explores the implications of this repeal.

Would you like to see the FICA item on your pay stub go away and be able to keep the 7.65 percent that the payroll tax takes out of your paycheck? If so, Republican presidential candidates Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have a deal for you – each of them has proposed getting rid of the tax. The senators’ plans would also eliminate the other 7.65 percent that the government collects from your employer, which you ultimately pay in the form of lower wages.

That sounds good, right? After all, who wouldn’t like to keep 15.3 percent of their income that is now being siphoned off for entitlement programs.

But here’s the catch. As Alan explains, other revenue sources would be needed to finance those programs, particularly Social Security.

The payroll tax finances two large benefit programs – 6.2 percent goes to Social Security and 1.45 percent goes to Medicare Part A. If the payroll tax went away, we would have to find another way to pay for those benefits. Paul and Cruz would turn to a value added tax, known as a VAT. …using it to pay for Social Security would have repercussions for the program that the candidates haven’t thought through. …once the payroll tax was gone, Social Security would no longer be a self-financed program with its own funding source. Instead, it would draw on the same general revenues as other government programs.

Viard thinks there are two problems with using VAT revenue to finance Social Security.

First, it means that there’s no longer a limit on how much money can be spent on the program.

…having a separate funding source for Social Security has been good budgetary policy. It’s kept the program out of annual budget fights while controlling its long-run growth – Social Security spending is limited to what current and past payroll taxes can support.

Second, replacing the payroll tax with a VAT eliminated the existing rationale for how benefits are determined.

And that will open a potential can of worms.

…what would happen to the benefit formula if the payroll tax disappeared and Social Security was financed by general revenue from the VAT? Paul and Cruz haven’t said. …One option would be to switch to a completely different formula, maybe a flat monthly benefit for all retirees. …that would be a big step, cutting benefits for high-wage workers and posing tricky transition issues.

I imagine there are probably ways to address these issues, though they might wind up generating varying degrees of controversy.

But I’m more concerned with an issue that isn’t addressed in Viard’s article.

I worry that eliminating the payroll tax would make it far harder to modernize Social Security by creating a system of personal retirement accounts.

With the current system, it would be relatively easy to give workers an option to shift their payroll taxes into a retirement account.

If the payroll tax is replaced by a VAT, by contrast, that option no longer exists and I fear reform would be more difficult.

By the way, this is also the reason why I was less than enthused about a tax reform plan proposed by the Heritage Foundation that would have merged the payroll tax into the income tax.

Yes, I realize that genuine Social Security reform may be a long shot, but I don’t want to make that uphill climb even more difficult.

The bottom line is that I don’t want changes to payroll taxes as part of tax reform, particularly when it would only be happening to offset the adverse distributional impact of the VAT, which is a tax that shouldn’t be adopted in the first place!

Instead, let’s do the right kind of tax reform and leave the payroll tax unscathed so we’ll have the ability to do the right kind of Social Security reform.

P.S. Some of you may be wondering why Senators Paul and Cruz included payroll tax repeal in their plans when that leads to some tricky issues. The answer is simple. As I briefly noted above, it’s a distribution issue. The VAT unquestionably would impose a burden on low-income households. That would not be nice (and it also would be politically toxic), so they needed some offsetting tax cut. And since low-income households generally don’t pay any income tax because of deductions, exemptions, and credits, repealing the payroll tax was the only way to address this concern about fairness for the less fortunate.

P.P.S. Since we have a “pay-as-you-go” Social Security system, with benefits for current retirees being financed by current workers, some people inevitably ask how those benefits will be financed if younger workers get to shift their payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts. That’s what’s known as the “transition” issue, and it’s a multi-trillion-dollar challenge. But the good news (relatively speaking) is that coming up with trillions of dollars over several decades as part of a switch to personal accounts will be less of a challenge than coming up with $40 trillion (in today’s dollars) to bail out a Social Security system that is actuarially bankrupt.

P.P.P.S. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyhow) that class-warfare taxation is Obama’s (and Hillary’s) ostensible solution to Social Security’s shortfall.

Read Full Post »

In recent years, I’ve argued that America’s corporate tax system must be very bad if companies are not only redomiciling in places like Cayman and Bermuda, but also inverting to countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom.

Well, the same thing happens at the state level. Yes, companies (as well as entrepreneurs and investors) usually move from high-tax states to low-tax states, with zero-income tax jurisdictions like Texas reaping a windfall of new jobs.

But when a big company like General Electric announces that it will move its headquarters from Connecticut to a state like Massachusetts, that’s a damning indictment of Connecticut. After all, Massachusetts doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a low-tax refuge.

The always-superb editorial page of the Wall Street Journal looks at the big-picture implications.

Hard to believe, but Connecticut was once a low-tax haven in the Northeast. Its business climate has grown so hostile in recent years, however, that General Electric on Wednesday announced that it will move its headquarters to Boston. When Taxachusetts becomes a reprieve, Governor Dan Malloy ought to know Connecticut has a problem.

Exactly.

And what’s really amazing is that Connecticut didn’t even have an income tax as recently as 1990.

But once politicians got the power to impose that levy, the state has been in a downward spiral.

And it doesn’t appear that the decline will end anytime soon.

… last summer…Connecticut’s legislature grabbed an additional $1.3 billion in tax hikes, the fifth increase since 2011. …The state’s $40.3 billion two-year budget boosted the top marginal tax rate on individuals earning more than $500,000 to 6.99% from 6.7% and 6.5% in 2010. Mr. Malloy also extended for the second time a 20% corporate surtax that his Republican predecessor Jodi Rell had imposed in 2009. …The tax hikes have failed to cure Connecticut’s chronic budget woes.

Of course they haven’t. Raising taxes to cure an over-spending problem is like trying to douse a fire with gasoline.

But the tax-happy politicians have one achievement. They’ve managed to drive the economy into the dumps.

Since 2010 the…State has recorded zero real GDP growth, the lowest in the nation save Louisiana (-0.7%) and Maine (-0.6%). Connecticut is one of only four states (Illinois, Vermont, West Virginia) whose populations have declined since 2012.

Notwithstanding all this bad economic news, politicians in Hartford continue to spend like there’s no tomorrow.

Over the next two years spending is set to rise by $1.5 billion, including $700 million in higher personnel costs. Pension payments are soaring. Connecticut’s pension system is 48% funded, third worst in the country after Illinois and Kentucky.

Good grief, as Charlie Brown might say. The bottom line is that the productive people who are left in Connecticut should make plans to leave before it’s too late.

By the way, there are two other noteworthy observations in the WSJ‘s editorial.

First, I like the fact that General Electric has escaped the fiscal hell-hole of Connecticut, but I’m not a fan of the company because it likes to feed at the public trough.

And, indeed, it will be getting special privileges from Massachusetts.

Mr. Immelt says GE, which has been headquartered in Fairfield since 1974, selected Boston after considering…a “package of incentives” valued at as much as $145 million.

Huh, whatever happened to the quaint notion that the laws should apply equally to everyone? Why should GE enjoy one set of rules while other companies labor under a different set of rules?

I imagine Voltaire is spinning in his grave.

Second, even though Massachusetts was foolish enough to engage in favoritism for GE, the state actually isn’t as bad as its reputation.

As the WSJ explains, it has a flat tax for households and it also has been cutting its corporate rate.

Massachusetts has the lowest taxes in the Northeast outside of New Hampshire… The Tax Foundation ranks Massachusetts’s business tax climate 25th in the country, ahead of Georgia (39), Connecticut (44), Rhode Island (45) and New York (49). Massachusetts has worked to shake its high-tax image by cutting its corporate rate to 8% from 9.5% and flat income tax to 5.15% from 5.3% in 2008. In the same period, Connecticut has raised its corporate rate to 9% from 7.5% and its top income tax rate to 6.99% from 5%.

Wow, I’m embarrassed that I used to live in Connecticut.

Though, in my defense, I was a kid when my family escaped from New York and Connecticut was a zero-income tax state when that happened.

Now, though, Connecticut merely serves as a bad example.

There are two broad lessons from this episode.

  1. A state that doesn’t have an income tax should never allow the adoption of that awful levy. I’m thinking specifically of the folks in the Pacific Northwest since some of the big spenders in the state of Washington are advocating for that levy. And add Wyoming and Alaska to that list since politicians in those states over-spent when energy prices were high and some of them are now pushing to impose an income tax since tax receipts from energy are no longer climbing.
  2. A state with a flat tax should never allow the introduction of multiple rates. It’s remarkable that Massachusetts has a flat tax (thanks to an old provision in the state’s Constitution), but the key lesson is that the flat tax has made it difficult for leftist politicians to raise the rate since all taxpayers would be adversely impacted (this is also why it’s been difficult for big spenders in Illinois to raise tax rates). In a system with graduated rates, by contrast, it’s much easier for politicians to play the divide-and-conquer game and selectively raise some tax rate.

I’ll close with one additional observation that this story is yet another example of why federalism is good.

We get to learn the damaging impact of high taxes and excessive spending thanks to the fact that we still have some government taking place at the state and local level.

And this explains why our statist friends want centralization. If there’s a one-size-fits-all policy of high taxes and wasteful spending, it’s much harder to move across national borders than it is to move across state borders. That insulates politicians (though not fully since there are varying amounts of tax competition between nations, both for investment and people) from the consequences of their reckless behavior.

Read Full Post »

It’s not my role to pick sides in political fights, but I am very interested in trying to make bad ideas radioactive so that politicians won’t be tempted to do the wrong thing.

This is why I’m a big fan of the no-tax-hike pledge. The folks in Washington salivate at the prospect of getting more of our money, but they are less likely to act on their desires if they’re scared that breaking their promises means they’ll lose the next election.

It’s also why I want the value-added tax (VAT) to become a third-rail issue. Simply stated, it would be a catastrophic mistake to give Washington an additional source of tax revenue. Especially since the European evidence shows that it’s a money machine to expand the welfare state.

Given my concerns, I was understandably distressed that two lawmakers (and presidential candidates) who normally support smaller government, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, decided to include the VAT in their tax reform proposals.

But maybe I’ll get my wish after all. It seems that support for the VAT is becoming a big problem.

A report in the Wall Street Journal discusses this development.

The crux of the current dispute is Mr. Cruz’s business flat tax proposal. Under the plan, businesses would pay a 16% tax on their adjusted gross revenues after first subtracting payments to other businesses, but not profits or wages. Economically, that’s equivalent to a value-added tax.

It’s not just equivalent. It is a value-added tax, specifically a “subtraction-method” VAT.

Which is why Senator Cruz is vulnerable to criticism from both political rivals and advocates of small government..

“Republican candidates today try to hide their support for the value-added tax by renaming it a Business Flat Tax,” Mr. Rubio said. “But don’t be fooled. If it acts like a VAT, taxes like a VAT, and grows government like a VAT—it’s a VAT.” …Conservatives have long been dubious about value-added taxes, worrying that they might grow over time because less transparent taxes can be politically easier to increase, especially after their creators leave office.

There’s also a story in Politico about the VAT suddenly becoming a big part of the GOP nomination fight.

On Monday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) lobbed an opening salvo in what’s likely to become a new front of disagreement in the GOP primary race: taxes. “Believe it or not, multiple Republican candidates for president support new taxes on the American people,” Rubio said at an economic town hall in Sarasota, Florida. “Some even support imposing a new tax that generations of conservatives have fought against, called a Value Added Tax.” …Cruz has gone to great lengths to avoid calling this idea a value-added tax, or VAT—which has suspiciously European connotations—instead terming it a crisply Republican-sounding “business flat tax.” But economists widely agree it’s a VAT. …Stephen Moore defended the plan (and also another similar proposal from Sen. Rand Paul). That provoked strong responses from National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru and the Cato Institute’s Daniel Mitchell.

There’s also been strong responses from folks who are perplexed that pro-VAT politicians are pretending that they don’t support a VAT.

Here’s how Josh Barro opened his column on this topic in the New York Times.

Like Rand Paul before him, Ted Cruz is promoting a tax plan that relies heavily on a value-added tax, or VAT. And like Mr. Paul, Mr. Cruz is not calling his VAT a VAT.

For what it’s worth, I don’t care what it’s called. I’m just worried that otherwise sensible people think it might be a good idea to give a new source of tax revenue to Washington.

Sort of like giving an alcoholic the keys to a liquor store. Or a book of matches to a pyromaniac.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute also is uncomfortable with the notion of giving Washington a major source of additional tax revenue.

…once the VAT is put in place, it is practically impossible to get rid of it. In countries that have it, the VAT rises over time incrementally and gives government immense power. Cruz and Paul are in favor of smaller government, but their suggested VATs would expand government clout. …parliaments, congresses, and assemblies don’t get rid of other taxes. They add the VAT on top of existing levies. …Due to their hidden nature, VATs tend to grow over time… From 1975 to the present, VAT rates have risen in the U.K. from 8% to 20%. …when imposed in 1967, Denmark’s VAT was 10%; it is now 25%… In 1968, Germany levied a 10% VAT…their VAT has risen “only” to 19%… Cruz and Paul make the VAT the centerpiece of their tax-reform plans. But America needs to move away from European policies, not towards them.

And former Congressman Chris Chocola (and former head of the Club for Growth) has similar concerns. He’s a supporter of Marco Rubio, so he obviously has a political interest in undermining other candidates in the GOP race, but what he wrote for National Review is spot on.

Liberals have dreamed of imposing a VAT for decades. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi says that “a value-added tax plays into” her vision of tax reform. President Obama has called a VAT a “novel” idea. The Left loves that a VAT can raise enormous sums of money for the government in a hidden way. Because it’s embedded in the cost of everything we buy, Washington can increase the VAT rate and then blame businesses for the higher consumer prices they bring. …in fact, high consumption taxes are what allowed European governments to grow so large. Once countries like France realized that there was a limit to how much money they could squeeze from the income tax, they used the VAT to extract resources from a broader swath of the population.

Bartlett Cleland of the Institute for Policy Innovation adds to these arguments.

The VAT is attractive to those who…[w]ant to grow government… Whether or not those proposing such taxes are interested in expanding the scope of government is almost irrelevant, because once the tools for such expansion are in place they can be used by future politicians to grow government subtly.  Similarly, whether a tax is labeled as a VAT or not is also irrelevant if the function is the same—for example by not allowing companies to deduct wages.

Last but not least, Irwin Stelzer makes a very important observation in an article for the Weekly Standard.

The VAT would give politicians and lobbyists an entirely new tax system that could be used (just like the income tax) to swap loopholes for campaign cash.

…a VAT…will not eliminate income taxes, or the IRS, or the K Street lobbyists that thrive on writing special provisions into the code to advantage their clients at the expense of the ordinary taxpayer. It will, instead, massively multiply the number of rules-writing revenue agents and further enrich their special-privilege-seeking lobbyists.

With this in mind, he poses a hypothetical question.

…if you believe that (1) a consumption tax would completely replace all income taxes, rather than be added to our current tax code, (2) arguments on behalf of children, health advocates, safety advocates, the elderly, and others would fall on deaf political ears, and (3) the K Street crowd would quietly sublet their spaces to worthier tenants and, like the obsolete old soldiers they will have become, simply fade away, then by all means support an American value-added tax.

Stelzer offers some sage advice in his conclusion.

…lack of transparency is the politicians’ friend and makes it far easier to raise VAT rates than income tax rates. Perhaps it would be best if presidential wannabes would get on with the hard, tedious work of reforming our hideous tax code rather than adding a consumption tax to our burdens.

Speaking of which, the folks at National Review have a solution to this mess. They correctly note that a VAT would be a huge mistake.

…a key feature of Cruz’s plan: its reliance on a value-added tax. …The wage earner would pay the tax through either lower wages or higher prices or both (relative to what they would be without this new tax). …The effective tax on labor income would be much higher than the headline…rate. …It is the hidden nature of the tax that has traditionally worried conservatives. Most people would not know what their wages would have bought them if this tax were lower, or if it did not exist. …it might prove much easier for politicians— say, a liberal successor to President Cruz — to raise this tax over time… The fact that European countries use this tax to finance their swollen welfare states reinforces this fear.

So they outline a way to fix what’s wrong with the plans that contain a VAT.

…there is a way for Cruz to retain the economic and fiscal advantages of his proposal while eliminating this danger. (This road lies open for Senator Paul, too.) …let businesses deduct wages when they pay their taxes and use the income tax to make up for it. This modification would keep the effective rate of taxes on labor income the same; it would just make it transparent. …it would make it a little less likely that over time government would grow larger and larger and taxes climb higher and higher.

Let’s close with (at least to me) a very persuasive point.

I wrote two months ago that one of America’s most statist presidents, Richard Nixon, supported a VAT.

Now let’s see what one of America’s best presidents, Ronald Reagan, had to say about that levy.

…a value-added tax actually gives a government a chance to blindfold the people and grow in stature and size. …the other thing with that tax is, it’s hidden in the price of a product. And that tax can quietly be increased, and all the people know is that the price went up, and they don’t know whether the price went up because somebody got a raise, or whether the company wanted to increase profits, or whether it was government. …I think I’ve said before, taxes should hurt in the sense that people should be able to see them and know what they’re paying.

Amen.

If you need more information, here’s my video on the VAT.

P.S. If you don’t believe Irwin Stelzer’s argument that a VAT would morph into a Byzantine mess, check out this recent article from the EU Observer that’s entitled, “EU’s new VAT rules forcing thousands out of business.”

P.P.S. And if you don’t believe the VAT is a money machine for bigger government, check out this data from the IMF.

P.P.P.S. Marco Rubio is right to criticize plans that include a VAT, but that doesn’t mean his plan is free of warts. For what it’s worth, the candidate with the best plan is Ben Carson. Not that anyone’s decision should be based solely on tax policy.

Read Full Post »

When I compared the tax reform proposals of various 2016 presidential candidates last month, Ben Carson got the best grade by a slight margin.

But I’ve now decided to boost his overall grade from a B+ to A-, or perhaps even A, because he’s finally released details and that means his grade for “specificity” jumps from a C to A-.

Here’s some of what’s been reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Monday called for imposing a 14.9% flat tax rate on income, ending taxes on capital gains and dividends and abolishing the charitable deduction and all tax credits.

By the way, the reporter goofed. Carson is proposing to end double taxation of dividends and capital gains, but all income would be taxed. What the reporter should have explained is that capital and business income would be taxed only one time.

But I’m digressing. Let’s review some additional details.

Mr. Carson’s flat tax would apply only to income above 150% of the poverty level… In some respects, Mr. Carson’s plan is similar to those of the other candidates, all of whom want to lower tax rates… But he goes farther, particularly with his willingness to rip up parts of the tax system that have been in place for a century. …In addition to eliminating the charitable deduction and investment taxation, Mr. Carson would also repeal the estate tax, the mortgage-interest deduction, the state and local tax deduction,  depreciation rules and the alternative minimum tax.

Wow, no distorting preferences for charity or housing. And no double taxation of any form, along with expensing instead of depreciation. Very impressive.

Carson has basically put forth a pure version of the plan first proposed by economists at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

Perhaps most important of all, Carson’s plan is a flat tax and just a flat tax. He doesn’t create any new taxes that could backfire in the future.

Here’s what the Carson campaign wrote about his flat tax compared to the plans put forth by Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

Unlike proposals advanced by other candidates, my tax plan does not compromise with special interests on deductions or waffle on tax shelters and loopholes. Nor does it falsely claim to be a flat tax while still deriving the bulk of its revenues through higher business flat taxes that amount to a European-style value-added tax (VAT). Adding a VAT on top of the income tax would not only impose an immense tax increase on the American people, but also become a burdensome drag on the U.S. economy.

I would have used different language, warning about the danger of a much-higher future fiscal burden because Washington would have both an income tax and a VAT, but the bottom line is that I like Carson’s plan because the worst outcome is that future politicians might eventually recreate the current income tax.

What I don’t like about the Paul and Cruz plans, by contrast, is that future politicians could much more easily turn America into France or Greece.

Here’s my video that explains why the flat tax is the best system (at least until we shrink the federal government to such a degree that we no longer need any form of broad-based taxation).

P.S. If you want to get hyper-technical, Carson’s plan may not be a pure flat tax because he would require a very small payment from everybody (akin to what Governor Bobby Jindal proposed). Though if the “de minimis” payment is a fixed amount (say $50 per adult) rather than a second rate (say 1% on the poor), then I certainly would argue it qualifies as being pure.

P.P.S. Carson still has a chance to move his overall grade to A or A+ if he makes the plan viable by proposing an equally detailed plan (presumably consisting of genuine entitlement reform and meaningful spending caps) to deal with the problem of excessive government spending.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,962 other followers

%d bloggers like this: