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Updated: 2 hours 28 min ago

The Upside-Down Logic of Subsidized Birth Control

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 12:36pm

When writing about the Obamacare and its birth-control mandate, I’ve made a handful of observations.

President Trump recently announced that his Administration would relax the mandate. I think that is good news for the above reasons.

Critics are very upset. But rather than argue about the desirability of insurance coverage and the wisdom of Washington mandates, they’re actually claiming that the White House has launched some sort of war on birth control. I’m not joking.

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe analyzes the issue. He starts by observing that nobody is proposing to ban birth control

…the Supreme Court ruled, in Griswold v. Connecticut, that government may not ban anyone from using contraceptives. …That freedom is a matter of settled law, and hasn’t been challenged in the slightest by President Trump or his administration.

He then points out that some folks on the left have gone ballistic.

Hillary Clinton accused Trump of showing “blatant disregard for medicine, science, & every woman’s right to make her own health decisions.” Elizabeth Warren, denouncing “this attack on basic health care,” claimed that the GOP’s top priority is to deprive women of birth control.

Their arguments, however, are utter nonsense. If Person A no longer has to subsidize Person B, that doesn’t mean Person B can’t buy things. It simply means there won’t be third-party payer.

Jacoby agrees.

News flash to Warren, et al.: There is no attack on health care, and no in America is being deprived of birth control. You are losing nothing but the power to force nuns to pay for your oral contraceptives. …As a matter of economics and public policy, the Affordable Care Act mandate that birth control be supplied for free is absurd. …Especially since birth control will remain as available and affordable as ever.

Indeed, the Trump Administration was actually far too timid. There should be no birth-control mandate for any insurance plan. It should be something negotiated by employers and employees.

…the new White House rule leaves the birth-control mandate in place. Trump’s “tweak won’t affect 99.9 percent of women,” observes the Wall Street Journal, “and that number could probably have a few more 9s at the end.” Washington will continue to compel virtually every employer and insurer in America to supply birth control to any woman who wants one at no out-of-pocket cost.

Jacoby closes his column with some very sensible observations and recommendations.

…there is no legitimate rationale for such a mandate. Americans don’t expect to get aspirin, bandages, or cold medicine — or condoms — for free; by what logic should birth control pills or diaphragms be handed over at no cost? …By and large, birth control is inexpensive; as little as $20 a month without insurance. …access to birth control, as the Centers for Disease Control reported in 2010, was virtually universal before Obamacare. The White House is right to end the burden on religious objectors. But it is the birth-control mandate itself that should be scrapped. Contraception is legal, cheap, and available everywhere. Why are the feds meddling where they aren’t needed?

The last sentence is key. The federal government (heck, no level of government) should be involved with birth control. They shouldn’t ban it. And they shouldn’t mandate it, either.

Is Trump Right about America Being the “Highest Taxed Nation”?

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 12:42pm

In my ideal world, we’re having a substantive debate about corporate tax policydouble taxationmarginal tax rates, and fundamental tax reform (plus spending restraint so big tax cuts are feasible).

Sadly, we don’t live in my ideal world (other than my Georgia Bulldogs being undefeated). So instead of a serious discussion about things that matter, there’s a big fight in Washington about the meaning of Donald Trump’s words.

Politico has a report on this silly controversy. Here are some of highlights.

“We are the highest taxed nation in the world,” President Donald Trump has repeated over and over again. …He said it at a White House event last Friday. He’s tweeted it, repeated it in television interviews and declared it at countless rallies. It is his go-to talking point, his favorite line… It is also false — something fact checkers have been pointing out since 2015.

This fight revolves around the fact that Trump is referring to corporate taxes, but generally, does not make that explicit. So you have exchanges like this.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sought for the second time in less than a week to defend the comment… “We are the highest taxed corporate tax [sic] in the developed economy. That’s a fact,” Sanders said when pressed on the comment during a briefing. “But that’s not what the president said,” a reporter retorted. “That’s what he’s talking about,” Sanders responded. “We are the highest taxed corporate nation.” “But that’s not what he said. He said we’re the highest taxed nation in the world,” said the reporter, Trey Yingst.

 Sigh. What a silly exchange. It reminds me of the absurd debate about “what the definition of is is” during the Clinton years.

I start with the assumption that all politicians aggressively manipulate words, either deliberately or instinctively. Or maybe just out of sloppiness.

So let’s look at three bits of data, starting with the numbers that are least favorable to Trump. Here’s a chart from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It’s definitely not my favorite international bureaucracy, but it has good apples-to-apples figures for developed nations. And you can see that the United States (highlighted in red) definitely does not have the highest overall tax burden.

For what it’s worth, we should be happy about these numbers. Indeed, I think they help to explain why Americans are much more prosperous than our European friends. And it’s also worth noting that Trump – at best – is being sloppy when he asserts that America is the “highest taxed nation.”

The President’s defenders can argue, with some legitimacy, that he often makes that claim while talking about business taxation. In those cases, it’s presumably obvious that “highest taxed” is a reference to corporate rates.

And if that’s the case, looking at a second set of numbers, the President is spot on. The United States unambiguously has the highest corporate tax rate among developed nations. And the U.S. may even have the highest corporate rate in the entire world depending on how certain severance taxes in developing nations are categorized.

Moreover, the United States has a very onerous system of worldwide taxation, accompanied by rules that rank very near the bottom.

In other words, Trump has a very strong case, but he undermines his argument when he doesn’t explicitly state that he’s talking about corporate taxation.

There’s even a third set of numbers that Trump could cite when discussing the “highest taxed nation.” As I’ve noted before, the United States actually has the most “progressive” tax system in the developed world.

But the President shouldn’t cite me when he can easily use quotes and data from the Washington Post on September 19, 2012.

The United States has by far the most progressive income, payroll, wealth and property taxes of any developed country.

Or the same newspaper on April 4, 2013.

…the American system remains the most progressive tax system in the developed world.

Or the Washington Post on April 5, 2013.

A few readers were surprised by my mention Thursday that the U.S. tax code…is actually the most progressive in the developed world. But it’s true! …Our top 10 percent…pays a much higher share of the tax burden than the upper classes in other countries do.

Here’s the most relevant chart.

These numbers may not be terribly relevant for the current controversy since Trump’s tax plan is focused more on business taxpayers rather than individual taxpayers.

But our friends on the left are very anxious to impose more class-warfare taxation, so we should file this data for future reference.

P.S. The April 4, 2013, story in the Washington Post includes this very important passage.

…social democracies like France, Germany and Sweden have actively regressive systems heavily reliant on value-added taxes.

This reinforces what I’ve repeatedly noted, which is that Europe’s costly welfare states are financed by lower-income and middle-class taxpayers (in large part because of punitive value-added taxes). The bottom line is that we should listen to Bernie Sanders and become more like Europe. But only if we want ordinary citizens to pay much higher taxes and to accept much lower living standards.

Higher Tax Rates = Fewer Superstar Innovators

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 12:32pm

shared some academic research last year showing that top-level inventors are very sensitive to tax policy and that they migrate from high-tax nations to low-tax jurisdictions.

Now we have some new scholarly research showing that they also migrate from high-tax states to low-tax states.

Let’s look at some of the findings from this new study, which was published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. We’ll start with the issue the economists chose to investigate.

…personal taxes vary enormously from state to state. These geographical differences are particularly large for high income taxpayers. …the average tax rate (ATR) component due solely to state individual income taxes for a taxpayer with income at the 99th percentile nationally in 2010…in California, Oregon, and Maine were 8.1%, 9.1%, and 7.7%, respectively. By contrast, Washington, Texas, Florida, and six other states had 0 income tax. Large differences are also observed in business taxes. …Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota had corporate income taxes rates of 12%, 9.99%, and 9.8%, respectively, while Washington, Nevada, and three other states had no corporate tax at all. And not only do tax rates vary substantially across states, they also vary within states over time. …If workers and firms are mobile across state borders, these large differences over time and place have the potential to significantly affect the geographical allocation of highly skilled workers and employers across the country.

Here’s a map showing the tax rates on these very successful taxpayers, as of 2010. Many of these states (CaliforniaIllinoisNew Jersey, and Connecticut) have moved in the wrong direction since that time, while others (such as North Carolina and Kansas) have moved in the right direction.

Anyhow, here’s more information about the theoretical issue being explored.

Many states aggressively and openly compete for firms and high-skilled workers by offering low taxes. Indeed, low-tax states routinely advertise their favorable tax environments with the explicit goal of attracting workers and business activity to their jurisdiction. Between 2012 and 2014, Texas ran TV ads in California, Illinois and New York urging businesses and high-income taxpayers to relocate….In this paper, we seek to quantify how sensitive is internal migration by high-skilled workers to personal and business tax differentials across U.S. states. Personal taxes might shift the supply of workers to a state: states with high personal taxes presumably experience a lower supply of workers for given before-tax average wage, cost of living and local amenities. Business taxes might shift the local demand for skilled workers by businesses: states with high business taxes presumably experience a lower demand for workers, all else equal.

And here’s their methodology.

We focus on the locational outcomes of star scientists, defined as scientists…with patent counts in the top 5% of the distribution. Using data on the universe of U.S. patents filed between 1976 and 2010, we identify their state of residence in each year. We compute bilateral migration flows for every pair of states (51×51) for every year. We then relate bilateral outmigration to the differential between the destination and origin state in personal and business taxes in each year. …Our models estimate the elasticity of migration to taxes by relating changes in number of scientists who move from one state to another to changes in the tax differential between the two states.

So what did the economists find? Given all the previous research on this topic, you won’t be surprised to learn that high tax rates are a way of redistributing people.

We uncover large, stable, and precisely estimated effects of personal and business taxes on star scientists’ migration patterns. …For the average tax rate faced by an individual at the 99th percentile of the national income distribution, we find a long-run elasticity of about 1.8: a 1% increase in after-tax income in state d relative to state o is associated with a 1.8 percent long-run increase in the net flow of star scientists moving from o to d. …To be clear: The flow elasticity implies that if after tax income in a state increases by one percent due to a personal income tax cut, the stock of scientists in the state experiences a percentage increase of 0.4 percent per year… We find a similar elasticity for state corporate income tax… In all, our estimates suggest that both the supply of, and the demand for, star scientists are highly sensitive to state taxes.

Wonky readers may appreciate these graphs from the study.

For everyone else, the important lesson from this research is that high tax rates discourage productive behavior and drive away the people who create a lot of value.

Two years ago, I shared some research showing that entrepreneurs flee high-tax nations to low-tax jurisdictions. Now we know the same thing happens with top-level inventors.

And let’s not forget that it’s even easier for investment to cross borders, which is why high corporate tax rates and high levels of double taxation are so damaging to U.S. workers and American competitiveness.

P.S. I don’t expect many leftists to change their minds because of this research. Some of them openly admit they want high tax rates solely for reasons of spite. Sensible people, by contrast, should be even more committed to pro-growth tax reform.

Big Government: Puerto Rico’s Man-Made Disaster

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 12:28pm

Puerto Rico is getting lots of attention because Hurricane Maria caused a tremendous amount of economic damage.

That leads to an important discussion about the role of government – particularly the federal government – when there is a natural disaster (and a secondary discussion about the silly Keynesian argument that disasters are good for prosperity).

But let’s focus today on a man-made disaster. Puerto Rico is the Greece of America, and it was a fiscal mess well before the hurricane hit. Indeed, there’s already been partial-bailout legislation from Washington.

The Wall Street Journal opined wisely on the topic, starting with the observation that we shouldn’t feel too much sympathy for investors who purchased bonds from the island’s profligate government.

…they knew what they were getting into. Lenders piled into Puerto Rican bonds that paid high yields that are “triple tax-exempt”—they can’t be taxed by federal, state or local governments in the U.S. Yet lenders also knew that the Puerto Rican government was heading toward a debt crisis. The economy has been contracting for a decade, and the commonwealth has $48 billion in unfunded pensions on top of $72 billion in bond debt. Creditors bet that the high yield was worth the political risk, but the music was bound to stop. One lesson of the last decade that creditors don’t want to learn, even after Detroit and Greece, is that sovereign debt to lousy governments is high risk. The abrogation of debt contracts that will now take place is regrettable, but there is a price for betting on politicians.

It would be a nice lesson if investors learned not to trust governments, especially the ones most prone to destructive statist policies.

But that doesn’t address the underlying problem of how to generate growth in Puerto Rico. The answer, needless to say, is free markets and small government.

…the territory will have to grow faster. This is where bankruptcy alone is inadequate. Puerto Rico will have to cut taxes on investment, rationalize welfare programs that deter working, and pare back labor protections that make France look like Hong Kong. If Mr. Rossello won’t do it, then the control board will have to. Puerto Rico will continue to flounder even with reduced debt if labor participation remains stuck at 40% and unemployment is in the double digits.

Unfortunately, the government has been doubling down on bad policy.

Investor’s Business Daily delves deeper into the issue of how big government is strangling prosperity.

The key is to create the correct incentives for the island’s people to encourage — rather than discourage — their policymakers to implement necessary and difficult reforms. This is particularly true with regard to pension reform. …Emphasis should instead be put on the many necessary changes to Puerto Rican labor laws, welfare programs and business and tax regulations which could spur more private sector business and job creation, encourage more people to work, and allow economic growth to resume. …Changes to U.S. laws and regulations discouraging labor force participation in Puerto Rico, such as the high minimum wage and easier eligibility for Social Security disability benefits for Spanish speakers, would also help greatly. And most importantly, Puerto Rico’s lingering pension crisis must be solved, both because of its fiscal significance and because it illustrates the lack of political courage and imagination by the government and the oversight board. …economic activity in Puerto Rico is now so severely depressed by a heavy government presence.

And even the most establishment-leaning Economist noted that government dependency is a major problem.

The island is distinguished by its poverty and joblessness, which are far worse than in any of the 50 states. The territory’s economy, moreover, has fallen further behind the national one over the past three decades. Bad government—not just locally, but also federally—is largely to blame. …Puerto Rico’s annual income per person was around $12,000 in 2004, less than half that of Mississippi, the poorest state. More than 48% of the island’s people live below the federally defined poverty line.

Why is income so low and why is there so much poverty?

Simply stated, idleness is being heavily subsidized. The welfare state reduces labor supply on the mainland. And the same thing happens in Puerto Rico.

Half the working-age men in Puerto Rico do not work. …Many things have gone wrong. Most important, however, is that the United States government assumed too big a role in the Puerto Rican economy, and its largesse enabled the commonwealth’s government to do the same. …the island’s economy is now lost in a thicket of bad incentives…an oversized welfare state…transfers…make up more than 20% of the island’s personal income. These federal handouts…by Puerto Rican economic standards, they are huge. And the more a man or woman earns through paid work, the more they decrease. …federal disability allowances are much higher than the United States average as a share of wages and pension income. Unsurprisingly, therefore, one in six working-age men in Puerto Rico are claiming disability benefits. …For many people, …the money that can be earned through federal transfers and a little informal work is more than the market wage—and requires much less effort.

In other words, Puerto Rico is just another layer of evidence on the well-established link between government and poverty.

And when people do have jobs, all too often they are employed by a bloated and inefficient government bureaucracy.

Puerto Rico’s bloated government… Around 30% of the territory’s jobs are in the public sector. Among other things, a big and coddled bureaucracy undermines Puerto Rico’s educational achievements…nearly half those on the education department’s payroll are not teachers; quality has fallen because of low accountability and mismanagement. …As he walked through Aguadilla’s town hall recently, Mr Méndez…says, is that “All they want to do is find security only. They have no ambition…Everybody wants to work for the government.” Manuel Reyes, of the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, also sees little hope that the government’s role will shrink.

It’s almost as if Puerto Rico is a perfect storm (no pun intended) of bad policy.

The solution is – or should be – obvious. And it’s the same one I suggested for Greece. Allow the government to default on existing debt, but only in exchange for pro-market reforms such as a long-run spending cap, privatization, a freeze on the size and compensation of the island’s bloated bureaucracy, and elimination of destructive regulation.

For all intents and purposes, Puerto Rico should become the Hong Kong of America. The island does have substantial autonomy and local policymakers have demonstrated that they sometimes are willing to do the right thing (they made Puerto Rico a legal tax haven for U.S. citizens). Now it’s time to make a great leap forward.

Child Labor, Economic Development, and the Folly of Good Intentions

Sun, 10/08/2017 - 12:58pm

One of my great frustrations (and there are many) is that the conventional wisdom about economic history oftentimes is wrong. It is very common for students to learn things that simply are not true.

Let’s add to that list by looking at the issue of child labor. The conventional wisdom is that child labor was a regular feature of an oppressive capitalist system and that children were eventually saved from abuse thanks to government intervention.

Hardly. Child labor was – and still is, in some places – a way for desperately poor people to stay alive and perhaps create a stepping stone for a better future. And capitalism-enabled prosperity is the best way to end the unfortunate practice.

I previously cited some World Bank research, in a postscript to a column on bureaucracy, showing that restrictions on child labor had negative long-run effects on income for poor people.

Let’s augment that research. Here are some passages from a very sobering study about the unintended consequences of restricting child labor (h/t: Dev Patel via Tyler Cowen).

While bans against child labor are a common policy tool, there is very little empirical evidence validating their effectiveness. In this paper, we examine the consequences of India’s landmark legislation against child labor, the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986. Using data from employment surveys conducted before and after the ban, and using age restrictions that determined who the ban applied to, we show that child wages decrease and child labor increases after the ban.

Some basic economic analysis shows why this happens.

…families use child labor to reach subsistence constraints and where child wages decrease in response to bans, leading poor families to utilize more child labor.

And it’s worth noting that there are all sorts of harmful secondary effects.

The increase in child labor comes at the expense of reduced school enrollment. We also examine the effects of the ban at the household level. Using linked consumption and expenditure data, we find that along various margins of household expenditure, consumption, calorie intake and asset holdings, households are worse off after the ban.

The bottom line on this issue is that some children are born to very poor families in very poor nations. In those tragic situations, child labor is a matter of survival rather than a lifestyle choice.

I don’t think that the businesses employing children are noble. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them mistreat kids. And even the nice ones probably would seem horrifying to those of us lucky enough to live in rich western nations.

But I also don’t believe in putting good intentions above real-world results. Businesses that employ child labor are offering a better (or, to be more accurate, offering a less-worse) opportunity for people stuck in horrid poverty. Capitalism is the only effective escape from economic misery.

Let’s close with some libertarian satire. It’s focused more on sweatshops, but it also applies to child labor (and “neoliberal” refers to “classical liberal” rather than modern leftism).

For what it’s worth, child labor was ubiquitous in the western world prior to the explosive growth that was unleashed by free markets and limited government.

If we want poor children in poor families from poor nations to have a better life, we should urge the same policies in the developing world. Assuming we prefer good results over good intentions, of course.

Prostitution Is Sad and Tragic…but Should Be Legal

Sat, 10/07/2017 - 12:44pm

While I focus on economic issues, particularly what’s happening with fiscal policy, I maintain my libertarian “cred” by periodically pointing out that victimless crimes should be legalized. Even if I don’t particularly like the activities.

  • I don’t approve of drugs and I’ve never used drugs, but I think the social harm of prohibition is greater than the social harm of legalization.
  • I don’t particularly like alcohol and I am almost a teetotaler, but I’m glad there’s now a consensus that the social harm of prohibition was greater than the social harm of legalization.
  • I find gambling to be boring and I worry about people who ruin their family’s finances by over-indulging, but the social harm of prohibition is greater than the social harm of legalization.

And now it’s time to dive into the issue of prostitution. Intellectually speaking, of course (even though people don’t like economists pontificating about sex).

It’s becoming an issue because some governments in the United States are looking to legalize sexual/monetary relations between consenting adults. Such as Washington, DC, which is famous for a different form of prostitution.

A D.C. lawmaker has proposed a bill aimed at decriminalizing sex work in the nation’s capital. David Grosso (I-At-Large) introduced the Reducing Criminalization to Improve Community Health and Safety Amendment Act of 2017 on Thursday. He said he developed the bill after working with the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition. “I believe that we as a society are coming to realize that excessive criminalization is causing more harm than good, from school discipline to drug laws to homelessness,” said Grosso.

And Hawaii.

Hawaii lawmakers are considering decriminalizing prostitution in the Aloha State after House Speaker Joseph Souki introduced a bill. …Transgender activist Tracy Ryan says she’s pushing the bill because transgender women in the sex trade are disproportionately impacted by criminalization laws. …Souki says he takes no position on the bill, but he introduced it as a favor to Ryan.

So what should lawmakers decide?

The Economist has a very sensible view on legalization.

…the sheer seediness of prostitution is just one reason governments have long sought to outlaw it, or corral it in licensed brothels or “tolerance zones”. NIMBYs make common cause with puritans, who think that women selling sex are sinners, and do-gooders, who think they are victims. …for many, both male and female, sex work is just that: work. …We have dissected data on prices, services and personal characteristics from one big international site that hosts 190,000 profiles of female prostitutes… The results show that gentlemen really do prefer blondes, who charge 11% more than brunettes. …Prostitutes themselves behave like freelancers in other labour markets. They arrange tours and take bookings online, like gigging musicians. They choose which services to offer, and whether to specialise. They temp, go part-time and fit their work around child care. …Moralisers will lament the shift online because it will cause the sex trade to grow strongly. …But everyone else should cheer. Sex arranged online and sold from an apartment or hotel room is less bothersome for third parties than are brothels or red-light districts. Above all, the web will do more to make prostitution safer than any law has ever done. …Governments should seize the moment to rethink their policies. Prohibition, whether partial or total, has been a predictable dud. It has singularly failed to stamp out the sex trade. …And prohibition has ugly results. Violence against prostitutes goes unpunished because victims who live on society’s margins are unlikely to seek justice, or to get it. …Criminalisation of clients perpetuates the idea of all prostitutes as victims forced into the trade. Some certainly are—by violent partners, people-traffickers or drug addiction. But there are already harsh laws against assault and trafficking. …When Rhode Island unintentionally decriminalised indoor prostitution between 2003 and 2009 the state saw a steep decline in reported rapes and cases of gonorrhoea. Prostitution is moving online whether governments like it or not. If they try to get in the way of the shift they will do harm.

My view, for what it’s worth, is that prostitution is sad and tragic in probably 95 percent of cases. But adding criminal penalties on top of the human cost doesn’t make a bad situation any better.

Prohibition may not stop prostitution, but it does make violence more likely.

Being a sex worker in the United States…means that you are likely vulnerable to extreme rates of physical, sexual and emotional violence, facilitated by the criminalization of the sex trade and the social stigma associated with those who engage in it. Sex worker advocates and the World Health Organization alike have recommended a fix that could dramatically improve sex worker safety, which has been proven to work in other parts of the world: decriminalize sex work. …in the U.S., …the rate of violence against sex workers is four times higher than it is in places where commercial sex is legal. …A study from the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project found 46% of sex workers experienced violence in the course of their work. Another study from SWP found that an overwhelming majority of street-based sex workers — 80% — reported being threatened or beaten. …Decriminalization of sex work would have a clear effect on sex worker safety, according to SWOP-USA communications director Katherine Koster, and it could be the key to reducing the threat of violence. …Koster told Mic. “When New Zealand decriminalized sex work, 70% of advocates, sex workers and social service providers who work with sex workers said that sex workers were more likely to reach out to the police if they experienced violence.”

Here’s a chart from the article.

This is simple common sense. In a legal market, it’s much easier for prostitutes to control their environment and to know the identity of customers. Both of those factors make crime more risky for bad guys.

Legalization not only would reduce violence against sex workers, it probably would reduce overall sex crimes.

 Does prostitution increase or decrease sex crimes? …Our research focuses on indoor prostitution. In states where prostitution is illegal, indoor prostitution usually occurs in strip clubs, gentlemen’s clubs, and as part of escort services. Indoor prostitution may increase sex crimes if prostitution reinforces the view of women as objects and therefore encourages violence against women. Alternatively, prostitution may reduce sex crimes if it is a substitute for sex crimes. In addition, indoor prostitution establishments may keep potential sex-crime offenders away from potential victims, leading to further substitution away from sex crimes. Our analysis benefits from a unique data set with daily precinct-level information for New York City (NYC). …We exploit exogenous variation in the date of registration of indoor prostitution establishments to provide causal evidence of these establishments on sex crimes using crime data at the daily level. …We find that the presence of an indoor prostitution establishment in a given precinct leads to a 0.4 percent daily reduction in sex crimes per precinct. …We find that sex crime is reduced since potential sex offenders are indoor prostitutes’ customers. …the results suggest that potential sex offenders prefer to use the services offered by these establishments rather than committing sex crimes. Furthermore, these results suggest that sex crimes and indoor prostitution are substitutes.

Unsurprisingly, former President Jimmy Carter isn’t on the right side. Though he wants to shift the punishment.

If paying for sex is normalized, then every young boy will learn that women and girls are commodities to be bought and sold. There is a much better policy option. …Pioneered in Sweden and adopted most recently in Canada and France, this strategy involves decriminalizing prostituted women and offering them housing, job training and other services. Instead of penalizing the victims, however, the approach treats purchasing and profiting from sex acts as serious crimes. …demand for prostitution has fallen dramatically under this model. Conversely, Germany and New Zealand, which have legalized all aspects of prostitution, have seen an increase in sex trafficking and demand for sexual services. Critics of the Nordic model assert that mature adults should be free to exchange money for sex. This argument ignores the power imbalance that defines the vast majority of sex-for-cash transactions, and it demeans the beauty of sexual relations when both parties are respected.

I actually like the world that Carter envisions. But wishing and hoping isn’t going to make the sex trade disappear.

Though prostitutes may get replaced by robots at some point. Needless to say, they don’t like competition.

Europe’s first sex robot brothel has been forced to move after real-life prostitutes complained sex dolls were stealing their trade. …the brothel, not far from La Rambla in the heart of the city has now moved to a mystery new location with a receptionist saying the address would only be given out to paying customers. Prostitutes who work in the city with Aprosex – the Association of Sex Professionals – objected saying a doll cannot match the services of a real person and denigrates real sex workers to merely being an object. …Janet, a prostitute with over 30 years in the industry, who works in the city’s Raval district said: “It is another strategy of the patriarchy that presents us as objects without rights or soul. A privilege of the wealthy classes.” …Municipal police in the Catalonian capital also launched an investigation into the legality of the brothel which offered clients sex with realistic state-of-the-art polymer sex dolls after it opened late last month. …The brothel offered the services of four life-like dolls which cost around £4,373 ($4,300, €5,000) to produce and are made in the US and made out of thermoplastic elastomer, charging punters around £105 (€120) for two hours.

Now that we’ve spent time looking at the serious side of the issue, let’s look at the quirky interaction of the world’s oldest profession and the world’s second-oldest profession. The Daily Caller reports on what’s being proposed in Germany.

The German Green Party wants to grant people with severe health issues taxpayer-funded access to prostitutes. Green Party Spokeswoman Elisabeth Scharfenberg imagines a system where doctors can issue prescriptions to sick people who can’t afford prostitutes on their own account. …The idea is modeled upon a similar system in the Netherlands, where people can receive need-based state grants with a medical note stating they can’t get sexual satisfaction any other way.

Taxpayer-financed hookers already exist in the United Kingdom, so I guess I’m not surprised that German politicians are contemplating something similar.

And since German politicians have figured out innovative ways of taxing hookers (the Spanish government has a more conventional approach), maybe it’s only fair that tax money gets plowed back into the industry.

In Nevada, for what it’s worth, prostitution gets a special tax loophole.

Meanwhile, Russia’s boss actually advertises on behalf of his nation’s streetwalkers.

President Putin bragged that Russian prostitutes were “without question the best in the world” yesterday.

Incidentally, since Putin already has recognized the Laffer Curve, he also should realize that it applies to…umm…adult entertainment. Indeed, excess taxation of prostitution has led to novel forms of tax avoidance in other countries.

By the way, here’s a tidbit from that Hawaii decriminalization story I already referenced.

The proposal also would end a state law that says police officers can’t have sex with prostitutes in the course of investigations.

P.S. Our left-wing friends have a strange fascination with prostitution.

Demographic Change and Entitlement Disaster

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 12:39pm

Imagine that we’re in a parallel universe and that you’re the lookout on the Titanic. But in this make-believe world, you have all sorts of fancy radar that allows you to detect icebergs with lots of advance notice. Furthermore, imagine that you detect danger and give lots of warning to the Captain and other officers.

How would you feel if they then decided to ignore your warnings and continued on their course to disaster? You’d probably tear your hair out in frustration.

And that’s a pretty good description of how I feel about the easy-to-predict, visible-to-the-naked-eye, baked-in-the-cake, bound-to-happen fiscal crisis that will occur because of the combination of demographic change and poorly designed entitlement programs.

It’s happening in the United States. It’s happening in Europe. It’s happening in Asia. Heck, this is a worldwide problem.

Simply stated, welfare states were created back when everyone assumed that there would always be a “population pyramid,” which means relatively few old people (who collect a lot of money from entitlement programs) at the top, plenty of workers (also known as taxpayers) in the middle, and lots of children (i.e., future taxpayers) at the bottom.

In that world, a modest-sized welfare state isn’t a good idea, but at least it is mathematically sustainable.

Today, by contrast, such a welfare state is a problem because we’re living longer and having fewer children.

And in the future, that kind of welfare state is a recipe for a Greek-style fiscal crisis because demographic trends will be even less favorable. To be blunt, there won’t be enough people pulling the wagon compared to the mass of people riding in the wagon.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, here’s some additional data on this global problem. We’ll start with this look at how the population pyramid is becoming a population cylinder. The key thing to notice is the growth of the over-65 cohort.

And here’s a different way of looking at the same data, but stretching out to 2100.

I didn’t add a red line at age 65, but it’s easy to see that the number of older people will dramatically increase without a concomitant increase in the number of working-age people who are expected to pay the taxes to finance pensions and health care.

So what’s all this mean? Here’s a sobering thought from Prospect.

The ageing populations of the advanced economies and the larger emerging ones combines with past falls in the birth rate to mean that the share of total world population who are of prime working age has been falling since 2012. After a four-decade rise, the trend has reversed with that fall projected to last throughout the 2020s, 2030s and 2040s. A slower-growing global workforce will be a big challenge for the global economy.

A “big challenge” may win the prize for understatement.

Bloomberg has a column on the implications of this massive demographic shift. Notice the data on the number of workers per retiree in various nations.

Rising dependency ratios — or the number of retirees per employed worker — provide one useful metric. In 1970, in the U.S., there were 5.3 workers for every retired person. By 2010 this had fallen to 4.5, and it’s expected to decline to 2.6 by 2050. In Germany, the number of workers per retiree will decrease to 1.6 in 2050, down from 4.1 in 1970. In Japan, the oldest society to have ever existed, the ratio will decrease to 1.2 in 2050, from 8.5 in 1970. Even as spending commitments grow, in other words, there will be fewer and fewer productive adults around to fund them.

The bottom line is that there are enormous unfunded liabilities.

Arnaud Mares of Morgan Stanley analyzed national solvency, or the difference between actual and potential government revenue, on one hand, and existing debt levels and future commitments on the other. The study found that by this measure the net worth of the U.S. was negative 800 percent of its GDP; that is, its future tax revenue was less than committed obligations by an amount equivalent to eight times the value of all goods and services America produces in a year. The net worth of European countries ranged from about negative 250 percent (Italy) to negative 1,800 percent (Greece). For Germany, France and the U.K., the approximate figures were negative 500 percent, negative 600 percent and negative 1,000 percent of GDP.

Wow, it’s depressing that the long-run outlook for the United States is worse than it is for some of Europe’s most infamous welfare states. Though I guess we shouldn’t be totally surprised since I’ve already shared similarly grim estimates from the IMFBIS, and OECD.

I’ll close with some (sort of) good news.

Notwithstanding some of the estimates I’ve shared, America actually is in better shape than these other nations. If we enact genuine entitlement reform, ideally sooner rather than later, the long-run numbers dramatically improve because spending and debt no longer would be projected to rise so dramatically (whereas government already is an enormous burden in Europe).

This isn’t idle theory. Policymakers don’t have much control over demographics, but they can reduce the fiscal impact of demographic change by adopting better policy.

To cite the most prominent examples, jurisdictions such as Hong Kong and Singapore have very long lifespans and very low birthrates, yet their public finances don’t face nearly as much long-run pressure because they never made the mistake of setting up western-style welfare states.

The solution, therefore, is for America and other nations to copy these successful jurisdictions by replacing tax-and-transfer entitlements with systems based on private savings.

P.S. For what it’s worth, I’m not overflowing with optimism that we’ll get the reforms that are needed with Trump in the White House.

The Goal of Business Tax Reform Should Be Enhanced Competitiveness, Not More Loot for Politicians

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 12:08pm

The Republican tax plan is based on some very attractive principles.

Unfortunately, the GOP isn’t planning to completely fix these policies, largely because there’s no commitment to control government spending. But any shift toward better tax policy will be good for the nation.

Another goal to add to the above list is that Republicans want to create a level playing field for American-based firms by replacing “worldwide taxation” of business income with “territorial taxation” of business income.

For those who have wisely avoided the topic of international business taxation, here’s all you need to know: Worldwide taxation means a company that earns income in another country is taxed both by the government where the income is earned and by the government back home. Territorial taxation, by contrast, is simply the common-sense notion that income is taxed only by the government where the income is earned.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, two authors explain how America’s anti-competitive system of worldwide taxation undermines U.S.-domiciled companies.

…earlier this month Iconix , the U.S.-based company that owns the rights to Charles Schulz’s comic characters, announced it will sell them to Canada’s DHX Media. That makes Charlie Brown America’s latest expatriate. It’s a clear signal that U.S. corporate taxes are nudging business elsewhere. …why? In part because the U.S. corporate tax system hampers U.S.-based businesses by subjecting them to world-wide taxation. Canada’s aggregate corporate taxes are about 10 percentage points lower. …America’s high corporate tax rate and its practice of taxing international income is out of step with the rest of the world. The solution is so clear even a cartoon character should grasp it: Cut tax rates and adopt a system for taxing international income that more closely resembles those used by the country’s international competitors.

Indeed, it’s worth noting that the entire “inversion” controversy only exists because of America’s worldwide tax regime.

Simply stated, American-domiciled multinationals have a big competitive disadvantage compared to their foreign rivals. So it’s understandable that many of them try to protect shareholders, workers, and consumers by arranging (usually through a merger) to become foreign companies.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the Republican tax reform plan ostensibly will shift America to a territorial tax system. As explained above, this is the sensible notion of letting other nations tax income earned inside their borders while the IRS would tax the income earned by companies in the United States.

This would be good for competitiveness, particularly since the United States is one of only a handful of nations that impose a worldwide tax burden on domestic firms.

But not everybody likes the idea of territorial taxation.

One reason for opposition is that some people see corporations primarily as sources of tax revenue. So when there are discussions of international tax, their mindset is nations should compete on grabbing the most money. I’m not joking.

European Union regulators’ tax crackdown on Amazon.com Inc. — like the EU’s case against Apple Inc. — should spur U.S. policy makers to address companies’ aggressive offshore tax-avoidance strategies before it’s too late, experts said. …“Really, what we are seeing is a race by the different taxing jurisdictions to claim a share of the tax prize represented by the largely untaxed streams of income that U.S. multinationals have engineered for themselves,’’ said Ed Kleinbard, a professor at the University of Southern California and the former chief of staff for Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation. “If the United States doesn’t join the race, it will just lose tax revenue to more aggressive host countries around the world.’’ The EU rulings “do make it clear that if we are not interested in protecting our corporate tax base, other countries will be more than happy to tax the income,’’ said Kimberly Clausing, a professor of economics at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

Call me crazy, but I think American policymakers should be in a race to create jobs, boost investment, and increase wages. And that means doing the opposite of what these supposed experts want.

Unsurprisingly, left-wing groups also are opposed to territorial taxation. Here are some passages from a report published by the Hill.

One hundred organizations, including a number of progressive groups and labor unions, are urging Congress to reject a major international tax change proposed in Republicans’ framework for a tax overhaul. In a letter dated Monday, the groups speak out against the framework’s move toward a “territorial” tax system that would largely exempt American companies’ foreign profits from U.S. tax. …”Ending taxation of offshore profits would give multinational corporations an incentive to send jobs offshore, thereby lowering U.S. wages,” they wrote.

Both assertions in that excerpt are wrong and/or misleading.

First, territorial taxation doesn’t mean that profits are exempt from tax. It simply means that the IRS doesn’t impose an additional layer of tax on income that already has been subject to the tax system of another country.

And other countries impose plenty of tax on American firms operating overseas.

Second, the incentive to shift job overseas is caused by America’s high corporate tax rate. That’s what makes it attractive for firms to operate in other nations.

Worldwide taxation is not the way to fix that bias since foreign-domiciled companies wouldn’t be impacted and they easily can sell into the American market.

By the way, the Republican tax plan doesn’t even create a real territorial tax system. Returning to the Bloomberg story cited above, the GOP proposal basically copies a very bad idea that was being pushed a few years ago by the Obama Administration.

…the GOP tax framework contemplates a so-called “minimum foreign tax’’ on multinationals’ future earnings that would apply in cases where a company’s effective tax rate fell below a pre-determined threshold.

To be fair, the Republican approach is less punitive that what Obama wanted.

Nonetheless, I worry that if Republicans adopt some sort of global minimum tax, it will just be a matter of time before that rate increases. In which case a shift toward territoriality actually plants a seed for a more onerous worldwide system!

Without knowing what will happen in the future, there’s no right or wrong answer, but I’m wondering whether the smart approach is to simply leave the current system in place. Yet, it’s based on worldwide taxation, but at least companies have deferral, which creates de facto territoriality for firms that manage their affairs astutely.

Such a shame that the GOP isn’t capable of simply doing the right thing.

Now There Are Four: Another Honest Liberal Debunks Gun Control

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 12:21pm

Over the years, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find intellectuals on the left who are willing to risk opprobrium from their ideological peers by acknowledging that gun control doesn’t make sense.

  • In 2012, I shared some important observations from Jeffrey Goldberg, a left-leaning writer for The Atlantic. In his column, he basically admitted his side was wrong about gun control.
  • Then, in 2013, I wrote about a column by Justin Cronin in the New York Times. He self-identified as a liberal, but explained how real-world events have led him to become a supporter of private gun ownership.
  • Most recently, in 2015, I shared a column by Jamelle Bouie in Slate. Bouie addresses the left’s fixation on trying to ban so-called assault weapons and explains that such policies are meaningless.

Now we have another addition to the list.

In a must-read column in the Washington Post, Leah Libresco admits that the research shows that gun control simply doesn’t work. She starts by openly confessing her bias.

Before I started researching gun deaths, gun-control policy used to frustrate me. I wished the National Rifle Association would stop blocking common-sense gun-control reforms such as banning assault weapons, restricting silencers, shrinking magazine sizes and all the other measures that could make guns less deadly.

She then points out that she and other researchers did a thorough investigation of gun deaths and found that restrictions on gun ownership would not have saved lives.

…my colleagues and I at FiveThirtyEight spent three months analyzing all 33,000 lives ended by guns each year in the United States, and I wound up frustrated in a whole new way. We looked at what interventions might have saved those people, and the case for the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence.

She looked at international data and the case for gun control evaporated.

I researched the strictly tightened gun laws in Britain and Australia and concluded that they didn’t prove much about what America’s policy should be. Neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun related-crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans. Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress. And in both Australia and Britain, the gun restrictions had an ambiguous effect on other gun-related crimes or deaths.

She also looked at some of the proposals advanced by U.S. advocates of gun control and discovered they don’t work.

…no gun owner walks into the store to buy an “assault weapon.” It’s an invented classification that includes any semi-automatic that has two or more features, such as a bayonet mount, a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher mount, a folding stock or a pistol grip. But guns are modular, and any hobbyist can easily add these features at home, just as if they were snapping together Legos. …silencers limit hearing damage for shooters but don’t make gunfire dangerously quiet. An AR-15 with a silencer is about as loud as a jackhammer. Magazine limits were a little more promising, but a practiced shooter could still change magazines so fast as to make the limit meaningless.

Sounds like Ms. Libresco has reached the same conclusion as firearms expert Larry Correia.

So what’s her bottom line? Well, Libresco still doesn’t like guns, but she’s intellectually honest about the fallacy of gun control.

By the time we published our project, I didn’t believe in many of the interventions I’d heard politicians tout. I was still anti-gun, at least from the point of view of most gun owners, and I don’t want a gun in my home, as I think the risk outweighs the benefits. But I can’t endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them.

Very well stated.

Let’s close with two infographics from Reddit‘s libertarian page. I can’t personally vouch for every factoid, but based on what I’ve previously shared (see hereherehere, and here), I would be quite surprised if this information isn’t accurate.

And here’s the second one.

P.S. If you want to laugh at the dishonest (or naive) liberals, watch this amusing video to see how they think gun control works in their fantasy world (and here’s a more somber video that makes the same point). And for unintentional humor, Trevor Noah’s naiveté is always funny.

Then give your leftist friends this IQ test on gun control and see if they can figure out the right answer.

Libertarian Doofus Strikes Again

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 12:13pm

I’ve shared a couple of amusing posts featuring Libertarian Jesus (see here and here), both of which make the point that compassion isn’t demonstrated by redistributing someone else’s income.

So it’s time to create a parallel character. We’ll call him Libertarian Doofus.

He already made one appearance in my libertarian humor collection, showing that he has a one-track mind, but not like most men.

Now Libertarian Doofus strikes again (as usual, credit belongs to Reddit‘s libertarian page). He’s somehow captured the imagination of a lovely young lass.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that he’s too myopic to take advantage of the situation.

Given the poor track record of the Federal Reserve, the corruption of Washington insiders, and the brutality of the income tax and IRS, can we really fault Doofus for being distracted from amorous pursuits?

And here’s how Doofus got to where he is today. He began as a clean-cut, well-adjusted lad. And then…

No wonder people roll their eyes when Doofus shows up for Thanksgiving dinner.

Finally, Doofus may not socially adept, but he is popular with the ladies. Though, once again, he is so focused on liberty that other opportunities go to waste.

This probably isn’t a good advertisement for libertarianism!

It’s like admitting we’re misfits with no social life.

So I’ll end by noting that libertarians sometimes do seize opportunities.

Tax Cuts, Cherry-Picked Data, and Interesting Admissions

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 12:52pm

There are several challenges when trying to analyze the impact of policy on economic performance.

One problem is isolating the impact of a specific policy. I like Switzerland’s spending cap, for instance, but to what extent is that policy responsible for the country’s admirable economic performance? Yes, I think the spending cap helps, but Switzerland also many other good policies such as a modest tax burdenprivate retirement accounts, open trade, and federalism.

Another problem is the honest and accurate use of data. You can make any nation look good or bad simply by choosing either growth years or recession years for analysis. This is known as “cherry-picking” data and I try to avoid this methodological sin by looking at multi-year periods (or, even better, multi-decade periods) when analyzing various policies.

But not everyone is careful.

Jason Furman, who was Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during Obama’s second term, has a column in today’s Wall Street Journal. What immediately struck me is how he cherry-picked data to bolster his claim that the government shouldn’t reduce its claim on taxpayers. Here’s his core argument.

…the 1981 and 2001 model of tax cuts makes no sense in today’s fiscal environment. Tax revenue as a percentage of gross domestic product is lower today than it was when Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush cut taxes.

And here the chart he shared, which apparently is supposed to be persuasive.

But here’s the problem. If you look at OMB data for the entire post-World War II era, tax revenues have averaged 17.2 percent of GDP. If you look at CBO data, which starts in 1967, tax revenues, on average, have consumed 17.4 percent of GDP.

So Furman’s implication that tax receipts today are abnormally low is completely wrong.

Moreover, he shows the projection for 2017 tax receipts, which is appropriate, but he neglects to mention that the Congressional Budget Office’s forecast for the next 10 years shows revenues averaging 18.1 percent of GDP (or the 30-year forecast that shows revenues becoming an even bigger burden).

In other words, a substantial tax cut is needed to keep the tax burden from climbing well above the long-run average.

Furman’s slippery use of data is disappointing, but it’s also inexplicable. He could have offered some effective and honest arguments against tax cuts, most notably that reducing revenues is problematical since Trump and Republicans seem unwilling to restrain the growth of government spending.

Let’s close by looking at a few other interesting passages from his column.

I found this sentence to be rather amusing since he’s basically admitting that Obamanomics was a failure.

Growth has been too low for too long and raising it should be a top priority.

He then asserts that tax cuts never pay for themselves. I would have agreed if he wrote “almost never,” or if he wrote that the new GOP package won’t pay for itself. But his doctrinaire statement is belied by data from the United StatesCanada, and United Kingdom.

…no serious analyst has ever claimed that tax cuts generate enough growth to pay for themselves.

By the way, Furman openly admits the Laffer Curve is real. And if the Joint Committee on Taxation shows revenue feedback of 20 percent-30 percent when scoring the Republican plan, that will represent huge progress.

Estimates by a wide range of economists and the nonpartisan scorekeepers at the Joint Committee on Taxation have found that the additional growth associated with well-designed tax reform may offset 20% to 30% of the gross cost of tax cuts—not counting dynamic feedback.

Last but not least, he comes out of the tax-increase closet by embracing the truly awful Simpson-Bowles budget plan.

The economy needs a fiscal plan that combines an increase in revenues with entitlement reforms that protect the poor a la Simpson-Bowles.

As I’ve explained before, Simpson-Bowles is best characterized as lots of new revenue on the tax side and plenty of gimmicky provisions on the spending side (rather than genuine reform).

P.S. Even though Republicans are not serious about controlling spending and even though I don’t think the GOP tax cut will come anywhere close to “paying for itself,” the tax cuts are still a good idea. Both to generate growth and also because reduced tax receipts hopefully will translate into pressure to control spending at some point.

An Important Lesson about Corporate Income Tax Rates, Double Taxation, Competitiveness, and Tax Revenue

Sun, 10/01/2017 - 12:59pm

For months, I’ve been arguing that the big reduction in the corporate tax rate is the most important part of Trump’s tax agenda.

But not because of politics or anything like that. Instead, my goal is to enable additional growth by shifting to a system that doesn’t do as much damage to investment and job creation. A lower rate is consistent with good theory, and there’s also recent research from Australia and Germany to support my position.

Especially since the United States is falling behind the rest of the world. America now has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world and arguably may have the highest rate in the entire world.

Needless to say, this is a self-inflicted wound on U.S. competitiveness.

But since the numbers I’ve been sharing are now a few year’s old, let’s now update some of this data.

Check out these four charts from a new OECD annual report on tax policy changes (the same one that I cited a few days ago when explaining that European-sized government means a suffocating tax burden on the poor and middle class).

Here’s the grim data on the corporate income tax rate (the vertical blue bars). As you can see, the United wins the booby prize for having the highest rate.

But here’s some “good news.” When you add in the second layer of tax on corporate income, the United States is “only” in third place, about where we were back in 2011.

France imposes the highest combined rate on corporate and dividend income (no surprise since the nation’s national sport is taxation), while Ireland is in second place (the corporate rate is very low, but personal rates are high and dividends receive no protection from double taxation).

For what it’s worth, I think it’s incredibly bad policy when governments are skimming 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent, and even 60 percent of the income being generated by business investment.

Particularly since high rates don’t translate into high revenue. Check out this third chart. You’ll notice that revenues are relatively low in the United States even though (or perhaps because) the tax rate is very high.

But our final chart provides the strongest evidence. Just like the IMF, the OECD is admitting that tax revenues have remained constant over time, even though (or because) corporate tax rates have plunged.

 

In other words, the Laffer Curve is alive and well.

Incidentally, the global shift to lower tax rates hasn’t stopped. I wrote back in May about plans for lower corporate tax burdens in Hungary and the United Kingdom and I noted last November that Croatia was lowering its corporate rate.

And, thanks to liberalizing effect of tax competition, more and more nations are hopping on the tax cut bandwagon.

Consider what’s happening in Sweden.

Sweden’s center-left minority government is proposing a corporate tax cut to 20 percent from 22 percent, Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson and Financial Markets Minister Per Bolund said on Monday… “With the proposals we want to strengthen competitiveness and create a more dynamic business climate,” they said… The proposed corporate tax cut would be…implemented on July 1, 2018.

Or what’s taking place in Belgium.

…government ministers finally reached agreement on a number of reforms to the Belgian tax and employment systems. …Belgium is to slash corporation tax from 34% to 29% next year. By 2020 corporation tax will have been cut to 25%. …Capital gains tax on the first 627 euros of dividends from shares disappears, a measure intended to encourage share ownership.

Or what’s looming in Germany.

Germany will likely need to make changes to its corporation tax system in coming years in response to growing tax competition from other countries, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Wednesday… “I expect there will be a need to take action on corporation tax in coming years because in some countries, from the U.S. to Britain, but also on other continents, there are many considerations where we can’t simply say we’ll ignore them,” Schaeuble told a real estate conference.

This brings a smile to my face. Greedy politicians are being pressured to cut tax rates, even though they would prefer to do the opposite. Let’s hope the United States joins this “race to the bottom” before it’s too late.

Four (Past) Presidents Debunk the Case for Higher Taxes

Sat, 09/30/2017 - 12:49pm

I’m currently in Iceland for a conference organized by the European Students for Liberty. I spoke earlier today on the case for lower taxes and I made six basic points.

Sadly, not everyone agrees with my views, either in Iceland or the United States.

Regarding the latter, Robert Samuelson expressed a contrary position last month when writing about the tax debate in the Washington Post.

…we need higher, not lower, taxes. …We are undertaxed. Government spending, led by the cost of retirees, regularly exceeds our tax intake.

After reading his column, I thought about putting together a detailed response. I was especially tempted to debunk the carbon tax, which is his preferred way of generating additional tax revenue.

But then it occurred to me that could make an “appeal to authority.” In my Iceland presentation today, I cited very wise words from four former presidents on tax policy. And their statements are all that we need to dismiss Samuelson’s column.

We’ll start with Thomas Jefferson, who argues for small government and against income taxation.

We then take a trip through history so we can see what Grover Cleveland said about the topic.

Simply stated, he viewed any taxes – above what was needed to finance a minimal state – as “ruthless extortion.”

The great Calvin Coolidge said the same thing about four decades later.

Last but not least, the Gipper addresses Samuelson’s point about the difference between taxes and spending.

Reagan is right, of course. The burden of federal spending is the problem whether looking at pre-World War II data or post-World War II data.

Four good points of view from four good Presidents.

The only missing component is that I need to find a President who correctly explains that higher taxes will lead to higher spending and more red ink.

Good News for the United States in Updated Rankings for Economic Freedom

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 12:13pm

new annual edition of Economic Freedom of the World has been released.

The first thing that everyone wants to know is how various nations are ranked.

Let’s start at the bottom. I can’t imagine that anybody will be surprised to learn that Venezuela is in last place, though we don’t know for sure the worse place in the world since the socialist hellholes of Cuba and North Korea weren’t included because of a lack of acceptable data.

At the other end, Hong Kong is in first place, where it’s been ranked for decades, followed by Singapore, which also has been highly ranked for a long time. Interestingly, the gap between those two jurisdictions is shrinking, so it will be interesting to see if Singapore grabs the top spot next year.

New Zealand and Switzerland are #3 and #4, respectively, retaining their lofty rankings from last year.

The biggest news is that Canada plunged. It was #5 last year but now is tied for #11. And I can’t help but worry what will happen in the future given the leftist orientation of the nation’s current Prime Minister.

Another notable development is that the United Kingdom jumped four spots, from #10 to #6. If that type of movement continues, the U.K. definitely will prosper in a post-Brexit world.

And if we venture outside the top 10, I can’t help but feel happy that the United States rose from #16 to #11. And America’s ranking didn’t jump merely because other nations adopted bad policy. The U.S. score increased from 7.75 in last year’s report to 7.94 in this year’s release.

A few other things that grabbed my attention are the relatively high scores for all the Baltic nations, the top-20 rankings for Denmark and Finland, and Chile‘s good (but declining) score.

Let’s take a look at four fascinating charts from the report.

We’ll start with a closer look at the United States. As you can see from this chart, the United States enjoyed a gradual increase in economic freedom during the 1980s and 1990s, followed by a gradual decline during most of the Bush-Obama years. But in the past couple of years (hopefully the beginning of a trend), the U.S. score has improved.

Now let’s shift to the post-communist world.

What’s remarkable about nations from the post-Soviet Bloc is that you have some big success stories and some big failures.

I already mentioned that the Baltic nations get good scores, but Georgia and Romania deserve attention as well.

But other nations – most notably Ukraine and Russia – remain economically oppressed.

Our next chart shows long-run developments in the scores of developed and developing nations.

Both sets of countries benefited from economic liberalization in the 19890s and 1990s. But the 21st century has – on average – been a period of policy stagnation.

Last but not least, let’s look at the nations that have enjoyed the biggest increases and suffered the biggest drops since 2000.

A bunch of post-communist nations are in the group that enjoyed the biggest increases in economic liberty. It’s also good to see that Rwanda’s score has jumped so much.

I’m unhappy, by contrast, so see the United States on the list of nations that experienced the largest reductions in economic liberty since the turn of the century.

Greece’s big fall, however, is not surprising. And neither are the astounding declines for Argentina and Venezuela (Argentina improved quite a bit in this year’s edition, so hopefully that’s a sign that the country is beginning to recover from the horrid statism of the Kirchner era).

Let’s close with a reminder that Economic Freedom of the World uses dozens of variables to create scores in five major categories (fiscal, regulatory, trade, monetary, and rule of law). These five scores are then combined to produce a score for each country, just as grades in five classes might get combined to produce a student’s grade point average.

This has important implications because getting a really good score in one category won’t produce strong economic results if there are bad scores in the other four categories. Likewise, a bad score in one category isn’t a death knell if a nation does really well in the other four categories.

As a fiscal policy wonk, I always try to remind myself not to have tunnel vision. There are nations that may get good scores on fiscal policy, but get a bad overall score because of poor performance in non-fiscal variables (Lebanon, for instance). Similarly, there are nations that get rotten scores on fiscal policy, yet are ranked highly because they are very market-oriented in the other four variables (Denmark and Finland, for example).

The Problem Is Tax Hells, not Tax Havens

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 12:05pm

Not everybody appreciates my defense of tax havens.

I don’t mind these threats and attacks. I figure the other side would ignore me if I wasn’t being at least somewhat effective in the battle to preserve tax competition, fiscal sovereignty, and financial privacy.

That being said, it’s definitely nice to have allies. I’ve cited Nobel laureates who support jurisdictional competition, and also shared great analysis in support of low-tax jurisdictions from top-flight financial writers such as Allister Heath and Pierre Bessard.

Now we have a new video from Sweden’s Johan Norberg. Johan’s latest contribution in his Dead Wrong series is a look at tax havens.

Johan packs an incredible amount of information in an 88-second video.

  1. He points out that stolen data from low-tax jurisdictions mostly reveals that politicians are the ones engaging in misbehavior, a point I’ve made when writing about pilfered data from Panama and the British Virgin Islands.
  2. He makes the critical point that tax competition “restrains the greed of government,” a point that the New York Times inadvertently confirmed.
  3. He also makes the key point that tax havens actually are good for the economies of high-tax nations because they serve as platforms for investment and job creation that otherwise might not occur.
  4. Moreover, he notes that the best way to boost tax compliance is by having honest government and low tax rates.

The bottom line is that tax competition and tax havens promote better policy since they discourage politicians from imposing high tax rates and double taxation.

But this isn’t merely an economic and tax issue. There’s also a very strong moral argument for tax havens since those jurisdictions historically have respected the human right of financial privacy.

For those who care about global prosperity, the real target should be tax hells rather than tax havens.

This is a message I will continue to deliver, whether to skeptics in the media or up on Capitol Hill.

P.S. If you prefer an eight-minute video over an 88-second video, here’s my two cents on the importance of tax competition.

CF&P Praises Tax Reform Framework

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 4:18pm

Center for Freedom and Prosperity

For Immediate Release
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
202-285-0244

www.freedomandprosperity.org

CF&P Praises Tax Reform Framework
Follows Pro-Growth Principles, But Detailed Plan Will Need to Tread Carefully on Global Tax Rules

(Washington, D.C., Wednesday, September 27) The Center for Freedom & Prosperity (CF&P) is pleased that the “Big Six” today released a pro-growth framework for tax reform. The pressure is now on Congress to finalize the details and deliver a bold plan for the American people.

While President Trump’s call for a hyper-competitive 15 percent corporate tax rate was preferable, slashing the current rate to 20 percent and removing the anchor from U.S. businesses that is the current worldwide tax system will supercharge the economy and lead to more jobs and higher wages for American workers. The U.S. has long been an outlier in taxing its companies on worldwide earnings, so the move to a territorial system is overdue. However, the inclusion of a global minimum tax provides cause for concern. Lawmakers must tread carefully such that they do not follow organizations like the EU and the OECD down the road of trying to thwart tax competition instead of focusing on maintaining a sensible tax system that will attract business and investment.

Other positive, pro-growth provisions of the framework include the elimination of the death tax, reduction of loopholes and carve-outs for special interests, and simplification of the individual tax code with lower rates for individuals and families. Unfortunately, there was no mention of territoriality on the individual side of the tax code, nor repeal of the destructive Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act that has devasted Americans working and living abroad. It is up to Congress to insist on these changes as part of any final plan.

CF&P President Andrew Quinlan commented, “The tax code hasn’t seen a major overhaul in over 30 years. We look forward to working with leaders at the White House and in Congress to finally deliver pro-growth tax reform that meets the high expectations of the American people.”

CF&P Chairman Dan Mitchell offered the following statement: “The three most exciting provisions in the plan are cutting the corporate tax rate, ending the death tax, and getting rid of the state and local deduction. All these initiative would move the code closer to a simple and fair flat tax.”

 

The Center for Freedom & Prosperity is a Washington, DC-based think-tank dedicated to the promotion of tax competition, financial privacy, and fiscal sovereignty.

For additional comments:
Andrew Quinlan can be reached at 202-285-0244, [email protected]

###

How the United Kingdom Can Prosper in a Post-Brexit World

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 2:41pm

Since I’m in London for a couple of speeches, I’ve taken advantage of this opportunity to make sure I’m up to speed on Brexit.

Regular readers may recall that I supported the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union. Simply stated, the European Union is a slowly sinking ship. Getting in a lifeboat doesn’t guarantee a good outcome, I noted, but at least there’s hope.

The European Union’s governmental manifestations…are – on net – a force for statism rather than liberalization. Combined with Europe’s grim demographic outlook, a decision to remain would guarantee a slow, gradual decline. A vote to leave, by contrast, would create uncertainty and anxiety in some quarters, but the United Kingdom would then have the ability to make decisions that will produce a more prosperous future. Leaving the EU would be like refinancing a mortgage when interest rates decline. In the first year or two, it might be more expensive because of one-time expenses. In the long run, though, it’s a wise decision.

Others reached the same conclusion.

“Black Swan” author Nassim Nicholas Taleb…told CNBC’s “Power Lunch” the EU has become a “metastatic and rather incompetent bureaucracy” that is too intrusive. “The way they’ve been building it top down from Brussels is doomed to fail. This is 2016. They are still thinking 1950 economics,” said Taleb, who is also the author of “Antifragile” and is an advisor to Universa Investments. Taleb has warned about an EU breakup for some time, calling it a horrible, stupid project back in 2012.

That being said, there is a lot of angst in the U.K. about what will happen during the divorce process, in part because of the less-than-stellar performance of the Tory leadership.

There are three things, however, that British politicians need to remember.

First, the EU bureaucrats are terrified at the prospect of losing $10 billion of annual payments from the U.K., which is why they are desperately trying to convince politicians in London to cough up a big pile of money as part of a “divorce” settlement.

And “desperately” is probably an understatement.

The UK…contributions to the EU do come to over €10 billion a year. That is a substantial fiscal hole for the European Commission to plug… The Commission would prefer not to reduce expenditure since the structural funds and agricultural subsidies it distributes help to justify the EU’s existence. …it is not surprising that the Brexit divorce bill has become a sticking point in the negotiations. If the amount is big enough, it could tide the EU over for a few years. In Brussels, a problem kicked down the road is treated as a problem solved. This gives the British some leverage because it is most unlikely that the Commission will have lined up any new sources of funding, or agreed what it can cut, before March 29, 2019, when negotiations have to be completed. With no deal, the EU might end up with nothing at all.

Second, European politicians are terrified that the U.K., which already has the world’s 10th-freest economy, will slash tax rates and become even more competitive in a post-Brexit world.

If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe European officials who say the same thing.

European leaders will insist that the UK rules out tax dumping as part of any trade deal struck during Brexit negotiations… Matthias Machnig, the German deputy economy minister, called for a “reasonable framework” in tax and regulation, and warning “a race to the bottom in tax and regulation matters would make trade relations difficult”. Donald Tusk, the European Council president, also warned this morning that a deal must “…encompass safeguards against unfair competitive advantages through, inter alia, fiscal, social and environmental dumping”. The fear is that unless the trade deal which binds the UK into the European standards on tax, competition and state aid the UK will lead a regulatory “race to the bottom”.

Third, failure to reach a deal (also know as a “hard Brexit”) isn’t the end of the world. It’s not even a bad outcome. A hard Brexit simply means that the U.K. trades with Europe under the default rules of the World Trade Organization. That’s not complete, unfettered free trade, but it means only modest trade barriers. And since Britain trades quite successfully with the rest of the world under those rules, there’s no reason to fear a collapse of trade with Europe.

Moreover, don’t forget that many industries in Europe will pressure their politicians to continue free trade because they benefit from sales to U.K. consumers.

Around one in seven German cars is exported to the UK. Around 950,000 newly registered vehicles in the UK last year were made in Germany. As many as 60,000 automotive jobs in Germany are dependent on exports to the UK. Deloitte have explored the potential effect of a “tariff war” on the industry. …German politicians are realising this. The Bavarian Minister for Economic Affairs, Ilse Aigner, has said that “Great Britain is one of the most important trading partners in Bavaria. We must do everything we can to eliminate the uncertainties that have arisen.” …The Minister is correct. …A comprehensive free trade agreement is not only vital, but should be easy to achieve. In other words, spiteful protectionism from the Commission would accomplish nothing but impoverishing all sides.

The bottom line is that the U.K. has plenty of negotiating power to get a good outcome.

So what does this mean? How should British politicians handle negotiations, considering that they would like free trade with Europe?

Part of the answer is diplomatic skill. British officials should quietly inform their counterparts that they understand a hard Brexit isn’t a bad outcome. And they should gently remind EU officials that a hard Brexit almost certainly guarantees a more aggressive agenda of tax cuts and deregulation.

But remember that it’s in the interest of U.K. policymakers to adopt good policy regardless of what deal (if any) is made with the European bureaucrats.

The first thing that should happen is for British politicians to adopt a low-tax model based on Singapore. Some experts in the U.K. are explicitly advocating this approach.

I call this the Singapore effect. When Singapore separated from the Malaysian Federation in 1965, it apparently faced a grim future. But the realisation that no one was going to do it any favours acted as a spur to effective government – with spectacular results. We could do the same. We need a strategy that lays out the path to reductions in corporation tax, lower personal tax.

Marian Tupy of the Cato Institute explains why copying Singapore would be a very good idea.

Why Singapore? Let’s look at a couple of statistics. In 1950, GDP per capita adjusted for inflation and purchasing power parity was $5,689.91 in Singapore. It was $11,920.58 in the U.K. Average income in Singapore, in other words, amounted to 48 percent of that in the U.K. In 2016, income in Singapore was $82,168.33 and $42,287.17 in the U.K. Put differently, Singaporeans earned 94 percent more than the British. During the intervening years, Singaporean incomes rose by 1,344 percent, while British incomes rose by 256 percent. …the “threat” of Singaporean tax rates and regulatory framework ought not to be a mere negotiating strategy for the British government vis-a-vis the EU. It ought to be a goal of the British decision makers—regardless of what the EU decides!

Here’s a chart from Marian’s article.

Or the U.K. could copy Hong Kong, as a Telegraph columnist suggests.

Our political leaders still seem to lack a vision of what Britain can achieve outside the EU… Perhaps they are lacking in inspiration. If so, …Hong Kong…is now one of the richest places in the world, with income per capita 40 per cent higher than Britain’s.

And much of the credit belongs to John Cowperthwaite, who unleashed great prosperity in Hong Kong by limiting the role of government.

Faced with…the approach being taken in much of the West: deficit financing, industrial planning, state ownership of industry, universal welfare and higher taxation. How much of this did the British civil servant think worth transposing to Hong Kong? Virtually nothing. He had a simple alternative: government spending depended on government revenues, and this in turn was determined by the strength of the economy. Therefore, the vital task for government was to facilitate growth. …He believed in the freest possible flow of goods and capital. He kept taxes low in order that savings could be reinvested in businesses to boost growth. …Cowperthwaite’s view was that higher government spending today destroys the growth of tomorrow. Indeed, over the last 70 years Hong Kong has limited the size of the state to below 20 per cent of GDP (in Britain it is over 40 per cent) and growth has been substantially faster than in the UK. He made a moral case for limiting the size of government, too.

In other words, the United Kingdom should seek comprehensive reforms to reduce the burden of government.

That includes obvious choices like lower tax rates and less red tape. And it also means taking advantage of Brexit to implement other pro-market reforms.

One example is that the U.K. will now be able to assert control over territorial waters. That should be immediately followed by the enactment of a property rights-based system for fisheries. It appears that Scottish fishermen already are agitating for this outcome.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation says the UK’s exit from the European Union will boost jobs in the sector, reports The Guardian. It’s chief executive Bertie Armstrong said the exit will give them “the ability to recover proper, sustainable, rational stewardship through our own exclusive economic zone for fisheries”.

Let’s close with some Brexit-related humor.

I already shared some examples last year, and we can augment that collection with this video. It’s more about USexit, but there’s some Brexit material as well.

And here’s some more satire, albeit unintentional.

The President of the European Commission is so irked by Trump’s support for Brexit that he is threatening to campaign for secession in the United States.

In an extraordinary speech the EU Commission president said he would push for Ohio and Texas to split from the rest of America if the Republican president does not change his tune and become more supportive of the EU. …A spokesman for the bloc later said that the remarks were not meant to be taken literally, but also tellingly did not try to pass them off as humorous and insisted the EU chief was making a serious comparison.

I have no idea why Juncker picked Ohio and Texas, but I can state with full certainty that zero people in either state will care with a European bureaucrat thinks.

And speaking of accidental satire, this tweet captures the mindset of the critics who wanted to pretend that nativism was the only reason people were supporting Brexit.

“The EU is an economic catastrophe unfolding in slow motion at huge scale!” “The only reason anyone wants to leave the EU is racism!”

— Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) July 3, 2016

Last but not least, we have another example of unintentional humor. The pro-tax bureaucrats at the OECD are trying to convince U.K. lawmakers that tax cuts are a bad idea.

The head of tax at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which advises developed nations on policy, said the UK could use its freedom from EU rules to slash corporate tax but the political price would be high. …”A further step in that direction would really turn the UK into a tax haven type of economy,” he said, adding that there were practical and domestic political barriers to doing this. …The UK is already in the process of cutting its corporate tax rate to 17 percent.

Though maybe I shouldn’t list this as unintentional humor. Maybe some British politicians will be deterred simply because some tax-free bureaucrats in Paris expressed disapproval. If so, the joke will be on British workers who get lower wages as a result of foregone investment.

By the way, here’s a reminder, by Diana Furchtgott-Roth in the Washington Examiner, of why Brexit was the right choice.

As we celebrate Independence Day on July 4, we can send a cheer across the pond to the British, who declared independence from the European Union on June 23. For the British, that means no more tax and regulatory harmonization without representation. Laws passed by Parliament will no longer have to be EU-compatible. It even means they will be able to keep their high-efficiency kettles, toasters, hair dryers and vacuum cleaners. As just one example of the absurdity of EU regulation, vacuum cleaners with over 1600 watts were banned by Brussels in 2014, and those over 900 watts are scheduled to be phased out in 2017. Brussels bureaucrats say that these vacuum cleaners use too much energy. No matter that the additional energy cost of a 2300-watt vacuum cleaner compared with a 1600-watt model is less than $20 a year, that it takes more time to vacuum with a low-energy model, and, most important, people should be able to choose for themselves how they want to spend their time and money. I, for one, prefer less time housecleaning.

Amen. As much as I despise the busybodies in Washington for subjecting me to inferior light bulbssubstandard toiletssecond-rate dishwashersweak-flow showerheads, and inadequate washing machines, I would be far more upset if those nanny-state policies were being imposed by some unaccountable international bureaucracy.

Michigan’s Pro-Market Revival

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 12:44pm

Perhaps because there’s no hope for genuine Obamacare repeal and limited hope for sweeping tax reform, I’m having to look outside of Washington for good news.

wrote the other day about the very successful tax reforms in North Carolina. So now let’s travel to the Midwest.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page has a very upbeat assessment of Michigan’s turnaround, though it starts by noting that many states teach us lessons on what shouldn’t happen.

…states can provide instructive policy lessons for better and sometimes worse—see the fiscal crack-ups in Connecticut and Illinois.

I definitely agree about the fiscal disasters of Connecticut and Illinois. And Michigan used to be in that group.

Former Michigan Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm was a progressive specialist in using the tax code to politically allocate capital, which depressed and distorted business investment. Between 2002 and 2007, Michigan was the only state to experience zero economic growth. …misguided policies were arguably bigger contributors to Michigan’s slump. Between 2002 and 2007, Michigan’s manufacturing grew at a third of the rate of the Great Lakes region. …In 2007 Democrats increased the state income tax to 4.35% from 3.9%. They also enacted a new business tax with a 4.95% tax on income, a 0.8% gross-receipts tax, plus a 21.99% surcharge on business tax liability. …Michigan’s economy plunged amid the national recession with unemployment hitting 14.9% in June 2009.

But Michigan has experienced a remarkable turnaround in recent years.

Michigan…offers a case study in the pro-growth potential of business tax reform. …Mr. Snyder’s first major undertaking with his Republican legislature was to replace the cumbersome state business tax with a 6% corporate tax and trim the individual rate to 4.25%. Michigan’s corporate-tax ranking jumped to seventh from 49th in the Tax Foundation’s business tax climate rankings. …They also reformed state-worker pensions. After the 2012 midterm elections, Republicans passed right-to-work legislation that lets workers choose whether to join unions. In 2014 state voters approved a ballot measure backed by the governor to repeal the personal-property tax for small businesses and manufacturers.

These reforms already are paying dividends.

In 2011 Michigan added jobs for the first time in six years, and it has since led the Great Lakes region in manufacturing growth. Unemployment has fallen below the national average to 3.9% even as the labor-force participation rate has ticked up. …Unemployment in the Detroit metro area has fallen to 3.2% from 11.4% six years ago. Businesses in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids say they can’t find enough workers. Perhaps they should try recruiting in Chicago or New Haven.

As a fiscal wonk, I’m delighted by tax cuts and tax reform. That being said, I want to specifically focus on the reform of bureaucrat pensions in the Wolverine State.

It was mentioned as an aside in the WSJ editorial, but it may be even more important than tax changes in the long run. We’ll start with a short video the Mackinac Center produced to helped stimulate debate.

Here’s some of what Investor’s Business Daily wrote about the recent reforms.

We’ll start with a description of the problem that existed.

For years, Michigan had been racking up pension liabilities for public school teachers that it had no money to pay for. By 2016, the state’s unfunded liability had reached $29 billion — which meant state was funding only 60% of its pension obligations. …Michigan is hardly the only state to have made this mistake. Pressured by public sector unions, state lawmakers boosted retirement benefits, using wildly unrealistic forecasts for investment returns and wage growth to justify them.

And here are the admirable reforms that were enacted.

So what did Michigan do to avoid Illinois’ fate? It embraced bold pension reforms that will protect taxpayers and provide a solid retirement benefit to teachers. …it’s shifting its public school teachers toward defined contribution plans. All new hires will be automatically enrolled in a 401(k)-type plan with a default 10% contribution rate. Teachers will still be able to opt for a traditional defined benefit pension, but one that splits costs 50-50 between workers and the state, and includes safeguards that will prevent the funding ratio from dropping below 85%.

The experts at Reason also weighed in on the topic.

Pension analysts from the Reason Foundation (which publishes this blog and advocated for passage of SB 401) say no other state in the country has embraced reforms that go as far as Michigan’s. …new hires will be enrolled in a 401(k)-style pension plan, giving those workers the chance to control their own retirement planning while removing the threat of future unfunded liabilities. …What makes the Michigan proposal unique is it allows future hires to choose a so-called “hybrid” pension system retaining some elements of the old system with a provision requiring pension system to be shuttered if the gap between the fund’s liabilities and assets falls below 85 percent for two consecutive years. The mixed approach, allowing teachers to choose between a traditional pension and a 401(k)-style retirement plan, could be a model for other states to follow as they grapple with similar pension troubles.

Though the bill isn’t a panacea.

Paying down those obligations will take time—all current teachers and public school employees will remain enrolled in the current pension system and retirees will continue to collect benefits from it—but [it]…would make a big difference in the state’s long-term fiscal outlook.

Here’s a chart from the Mackinac Center showing how pensions became a growing problem. Unwinding this mess understandably won’t happen overnight.

But at least Michigan lawmakers took a real step in the right direction.

The same principle applies in Washington. Reforms to Medicare and Social Security wouldn’t change payments to existing retirees. And older workers generally would stick with the status quo.

But proposed entitlement reforms would lead to substantial long-run savings as younger workers are given the freedom to participate in new systems.

Four Quirky Moments in Overseas Taxation

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 12:34pm

In my research and travels, I come across all sorts of strange stories about tax policy.

While I’m quite amused by these oddball examples, I actually prefer writing about overseas tax policies that provide teachable moments about big issues such as the Laffer Curvetaxes and growthtax competition, and how higher tax burdens “feed the beast” by enabling more government spending.

Let’s look at some new examples and see what we can learn about politicians and fiscal policy.

We’ll start with a Bloomberg story from the Ukraine, where taxpayers go above and beyond to escape extortionary taxes on foreign vehicles.

Take a close look at the cars crawling through Kiev’s traffic-laden streets and you’ll notice something odd: a surprisingly large number of them aren’t registered in Ukraine. The explanation isn’t a sudden inflow of tourists, but rather a work-around by local drivers who crave foreign-made vehicles and refuse to pay restrictively high import duties to buy them. Instead, schemes have popped up where buyers effectively acquire cars from nearby nations and bring them across the border on temporary arrangements. They must then leave and re-enter Ukraine every year, or sometimes more frequently. “It’s amazing,” said Oleksandr Zadnipryaniy, a 30-year old entrepreneur who paid about $3,000 for a second-hand Opel Vectra from Lithuania. “Taxes are exorbitant. Why must poorer Ukrainians pay three times as much as richer Europeans?”

The answer to Mr. Zadnipryaniy’s question is that they don’t pay the tax. At least not if this chart is any indication.

Needless to say, I’m on the side of taxpayers and don’t have sympathy for the politicians, who are motivated by a desire to extract revenue and curry favor with domestic interest groups.

Such cars represent a headache for the government. Dodging import duties trims budget revenue… Cracking down is also tricky. …Drivers blame the government, accusing it of pandering to local car lobbies by setting high import duties.

Now let’s shift to another story about tax avoidance, though this one doesn’t have a happy ending.

The BBC reports that a big tax hike may put an end to “booze cruises” from Finland to Estonia

The Estonian government is set to impose a 70% rise in taxation on alcoholic drinks in July, Finnish broadcaster YLE reports. It’s a blow to drinkers from Finland who, since Estonian independence in 1991, have taken the short 54-mile (87km) ferry trip from Helsinki to Tallinn to enjoy prices which are less than half of those back home. …a 12-euro crate of beer will increase to 18 euros, making the concept of the money-saving “booze cruise” much less inviting.

But fortunately Finns still have an option.

Finnish tourist Erno Sjogren said that the tax rise might make him think again – but not on giving up the concept. Speaking to Helsingin Sanomat as he loaded his car outside an Estonian supermarket, he said he would consider taking his trade to Latvia instead – a 2.5-hour drive cross-country from the ferry port in the Estonian capital. The Latvian town of Ainazi is already benefitting, Helsingen Sanomat says, with the appropriately named SuperAlko store visible from the Estonian border and offering cheaper prices than its Baltic neighbours.

Let’s toast to tax competition!

Last but not least, I’m a giant fan of decentralization and a partial fan of secession (done properly and for good reasons), but you don’t automatically get results.

Consider what’s happening in Scotland, as reported by the U.K.-based Times.

Nicola Sturgeon has given her clearest indication to date that Scots will be in line for substantial income tax rises next year. In an interview due to be published today the first minister dismissed suggestions that a high-tax agenda would deter businesses, arguing instead that paying for good public services could be just as attractive to investors and people as low taxes. Ms Sturgeon’s comments came as the Scottish parliament backed a motion calling for higher taxes to pay for public services.

Ugh. I’m sympathetic to Scottish independence, but stories like this make me pessimistic about what will happen if politicians like Sturgeon are in charge of an independent nation.

Assuming, of course, she’s actually ignorant enough to believe that investors want higher taxes.

And I haven’t written about whether Catalonia should be independent of Spain, but this blurb from the EU Observer leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Catalonia’s regional government said Monday that increases in staff at the tax office, from 321 to 800, have made the Spanish region ready to collect taxes for an independent Catalonia if citizens vote for independence on 1 October. A law to organise the referendum will be to a vote on Wednesday, but the national government in Madrid has dismissed the bill as a way to “cheat democracy”.

Technically, this won’t be bad news if the 479 new tax bureaucrats replace a similar number (or larger number) of officials that formerly harassed people on behalf of the national government in Madrid.

But I’m automatically suspicious that politicians and bureaucrats will maneuver to be the winners of any change. This isn’t an argument against secession, but it is a warning that independence won’t yield economic benefits if there’s no reduction in the burden of government.

Advocates of an independent Catalonia should first and foremost be making plans to unleash the private sector, to make themselves the Hong Kong or Singapore of Europe.

Assuming, of course, that they would want their new country to be highly ranked by Economic Freedom of the World.

A Libertarian Paradise in…Nigeria?!?

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 12:25pm

Whenever someone accuses me of being too dogmatically opposed to government, I tell them that I only got 94 out of 160 possible points when I took Professor Bryan Caplan’s Libertarian Purity Quiz.

That’s barely 70 percent, which makes it seem like I’m some sort of squishy moderate even though I have a nice list of government departments and agencies I want to abolish.

And whenever someone accuses me of being insufficiently opposed to government, I point out that my score on Professor Caplan’s quiz is good enough – albeit just barely – for me to be categorized as a hard-core libertarian.

So does this mean I’m a principled moderate, if such a creature even exists?

Actually, it simply means that I’m not an “anarcho-capitalist,” which is the term for people who think all government can be abolished (sort of like the “more libertarian than thou” character in this amusing list of the 24 types of libertarians). If you want to get a perfect score on the Libertarian Purity Quiz, you have to favor abolishing the Department of Defense, the court system, and every other vestige of government.

That being said, I like that there are people pushing the envelope for more liberty. And I tell my anarcho-capitalist friends that we should all work together to get rid of 90 percent of government and then we can quibble over the rest.

Moreover, when I spoke earlier this year at the conference celebrating the 2nd-anniversary of Liberland, I pointed out that there are plenty of examples of how the private sector successfully carries out functions that most people think can only be handled by government.

Which leads me to the focus of today’s column. The U.K.-based Guardian has a fascinating story about a very successful Nigerian church.

The Redeemed Christian Church of God’s international headquarters in Ogun state has been transformed from a mere megachurch to an entire neighbourhood, with departments anticipating its members’ every practical as well as spiritual need. A 25-megawatt power plant with gas piped in from the Nigerian capital serves the 5,000 private homes on site, 500 of them built by the church’s construction company. New housing estates are springing up every few months where thick palm forests grew just a few years ago.

To most people, this story is probably interesting because of what it says about Nigeria and religion.

But since I’m a wonky libertarian, what grabbed my attention was the fact that the church – for all intents and purposes – was building an anarcho-capitalist society.

Education is provided, from creche to university level. The Redemption Camp health centre has an emergency unit and a maternity ward. …“If you wait for the government, it won’t get done,” says Olubiyi. So the camp relies on the government for very little – it builds its own roads, collects its own rubbish, and organises its own sewerage systems. And being well out of Lagos, like the other megachurches’ camps, means that it has little to do with municipal authorities. …according to the head of the power plant, the government sends the technicians running its own stations to learn from them. …the camp’s security is mostly provided by its small army of private guards in blue uniforms.

To be sure, it’s not a purely anarcho-capitalist society. The Nigerian government still has ultimate power to enforce laws.

But from a practical, day-to-day perspective, the church has set up a private city governed by private contract and voluntary cooperation. Sort of a Nigerian version of Galt’s Gulch.

And it’s definitely worth pointing out that it is far more successful than traditional Nigerian cities (and it sounds like it works better than many American cities!).

P.S. Anarcho-capitalism is susceptible to satire, as you can see from this clever video about Somalia and this ad for libertarian breakfast cereal.

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