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Archive for the ‘Tax Harmonization’ Category

Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University is a big booster of the discredited notion that foreign aid is a cure-all for poverty in the developing world, but he is now branching out and saying silly things about policy in other areas.

In a column for the Financial Times, he complains that tax competition is forcing governments to “race to the bottom” with regards to tax rates. The answer, he wants us to believe, is some sort of global tax cartel. Sort of an “OPEC for politicians” that will facilitate the imposition of higher tax rates.

Only international co-operation can now solve what is becoming a runaway social crisis in many high-income countries. …With capital globally mobile, moreover, governments are now in a race to the bottom with regard to corporate taxation and loopholes for personal taxation of high incomes. Each government aims to attract mobile capital by cutting taxes relative to others. …countries cannot act by themselves. Even the social democracies of northern Europe, with their balanced budgets and high tax rates, are increasingly being pulled into the vortex of tax cutting and the race to the bottom. …recent trends…require increased, not decreased, taxation of higher incomes, including corporate profits; and that tax and regulatory co-ordination across countries are vital to prevent a ruinous fiscal race to the bottom.

If this overwrought rhetoric is true, it would mean that governments have been starved of revenue because of race-to-the-bottom tax cuts for evil corporations and sinister rich people. Well, it is true that tax competition over the past 30-plus years has resulted in lower tax rates. But do lower tax rates mean less tax revenue, as implied by Sachs’ analysis?

At the risk of being impolite and shattering anyone’s illusions, let’s actually see what happened to the overall tax burden on both personal and corporate income.

This chart, showing the average for industrialized nations, shows that Sachs and his ilk are wrong. Way wrong. Tax rates have come down, but the overall tax burden actually has increased. So while there may be a race to less-destructive tax rates, there certainly isn’t a race to bottom for tax revenue.

Hmmm….lower tax rates and higher tax revenue. That seems vaguely familiar. Maybe it has something to do with “supply-side economics.” One can only wonder if Sachs has heard about that strange idea known as the Laffer Curve.

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Regular readers know that I’m a big fan of tax competition because politicians are less likely to misbehave if the potential victims of plunder have the ability to escape across borders.

Here is an excerpt from a superb article by Allister Heath, one of the U.K.’s best writers on economic and business issues.

In a modern, global and open world, states have to compete for people. Weirdly, that is something that a large number of commentators have failed to recognise… They assume implicitly that governments remain quasi-monopolies, as was the case throughout most of human history, with citizens mere subjects forced to put up with poor public services, high taxes, crime, misgovernment and a poor quality of life. Yet the reality is that there is now more competition than ever between governments for human capital, with people – especially the highly skilled and the successful – more footloose and mobile than ever before. This is true both within the EU, where freedom of movement reins, and globally.

…[C]ompetition between governments is as good for individuals as competition between firms is for consumers. It keeps down tax rates, especially on labour and capital, which is good for growth and job creation; states need to produce better services at the cheapest possible cost. And if governments become too irritating or incompetent, it allows an exit strategy. It is strange how pundits who claim to want greater competition in the domestic economy – for example, in banking – are so afraid of competition for people between states, decrying it as a race to the bottom. Yet monopolies are always bad, in every sphere of human endeavour, breeding complacency, curtailing innovation and throttling progress.

…Globalisation is not just about buying cheap Chinese goods: it also limits the state’s powers to over-tax or over-control its citizens.

For those who haven’t seen them before, here are a couple of my videos that elaborate on these critical issues.

First, here’s a video on tax competition, which includes some well-deserved criticism of international bureaucracies and high-tax nations that are seeking to create global tax cartels.

Here’s a video that makes a powerful economic case for tax havens.

But this is not just an economic issue. Here’s a video that addresses the moral issues and explains why tax havens play a critical role in protecting people subject to persecution by venal governments – as well as people living in nations plagued by crime and instability.

And last but not least, this video punctures some of the myths promoted by the anti-tax haven advocates of global tax cartels.

By the way, since the main purpose of this post is to draw your attention to the superb analysis of a British writer, I may as well close by drawing your attention to a couple of speeches by Dan Hannan, a British member of the European Parliament. In a remarkably limited time, he explains what this battle is all about.

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Hello from the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, a 24-square mile enclave centered around Monte Titano in eastern Italy. I’m here for a conference on “Competition and Alliances among States.”

Like many other so-called tax havens, San Marino has been bludgeoned in recent years by politicians from high-tax nations, who resent the flow of jobs and capital to low-tax jurisdictions. This is creating problems for the economy, which is one of the most prosperous in the world.

I will speak later today about the ongoing battle between those who favor tax competition and those who want tax harmonization. Not surprisingly, my presentation will include some jabs at France, Germany, and other high-tax nations, as well as statist international bureaucracies such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But my main goal will be to put this battle in context, pointing out that the attacks against low-tax jurisdictions will get more intense in the future as welfare states begin to fall apart and politicians desperately search for more revenue to delay the day of reckoning.

This is not to imply that San Marino is a laissez-faire paradise. Yes, comparatively low tax rates have generated prosperity, but prosperity generates a lot of tax revenue (the Laffer Curve strikes again!), and the nation’s politicians have succumbed to temptation and spent all the money. Indeed, there is not much difference between the welfare state in San Marino and the one in Italy.

The moral of the story, of course, is that all nations should strive to shrink the overall burden of government. San Marino should try to be more like Hong Kong and less like France. The same is true for the United States.

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There’s a supposed expose in the U.K.-based Daily Mail about how major British companies have subsidiaries in low-tax jurisdictions. It even includes this table with the ostensibly shocking numbers.

This is quite akin to the propaganda issued by American statists. Here’s a table from a report issued by a left-wing group that calls itself “Business and Investors Against Tax Haven Abuse.”

At the risk of being impolite, I’ll ask the appropriate rhetorical question: What do these tables mean?

Are the leftists upset that multinational companies exist? If so, there’s really no point in having a discussion.

Are they angry that these firms are legally trying to minimize tax? If so, they must not understand that management has a fiduciary obligation to maximize after-tax returns for shareholders.

Are they implying that these businesses are cheating on their tax returns? If so, they clearly do not understand the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion.

Are they agitating for governments to impose worldwide taxation so that companies are double-taxed on any income earned (and already subject to tax) in other jurisdictions? If so, they should forthrightly admit this is their goal, notwithstanding the destructive, anti-competitive impact of such a policy.

Or, perhaps, could it be the case that leftists on both sides of the Atlantic don’t like tax competition? But rather than openly argue for tax harmonization and other policies that would lead to higher taxes and a loss of fiscal sovereignty, they think they will have more luck expanding the power of government by employing demagoguery against the big, bad, multinational companies and small, low-tax jurisdictions.

To give these statists credit, they are being smart. Tax competition almost certainly is the biggest impediment that now exists to restrain big government. Greedy politicians understand that high taxes may simply lead the geese with the golden eggs to fly across the border. Indeed, competition between governments is surely the main reason that tax rates have dropped so dramatically in the past 30 years. This video explains.

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Regular readers know that I am a tireless advocate for tax competition, which exists when governments are encouraged to adopt better tax policy in order to attract/retain jobs and investment. In other words, I want governments to compete with each other because that leads to better policy, just as we get better results as consumers when banks, pet stores, hairdressers, and grocery stores compete with each other.

There is powerful evidence that tax competition has generated very good results in the past 30 years. Top personal income tax rates averaged more than 67 percent back in 1980, but thanks in large part to tax competition, the average top tax rate on individuals has fallen to about 41 percent. Corporate tax rates also have dropped dramatically, from an average of around 48 percent (this data is not as easy to pin down) in 1980 to 25 percent today. And we now have more than 30 flat tax nations today, compared to just 3 in 1980.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that greedy politicians don’t like being constrained by tax competition. Politicians didn’t lower tax rates because they wanted to. They only made their tax systems better because they were afraid that jobs and investment would escape to lower-tax jurisdictions. They resent the fact that tax competition makes it hard to engage in class-warfare tax policy.

That’s why many of these politicians are seeking to replace tax competition with some sort of tax cartel. They want to impose rules on the entire world that will make it hard for taxpayers to benefit from better tax policy in another jurisdiction. In effect, they want some form of tax harmonization, which would create an “OPEC for politicians.” And just as the real OPEC extracts more money from energy consumers, a tax cartel would grab more money from taxpayers.

One aspect of this battle is the way proponents of higher taxes try to demonize so-called tax havens. Many of these jurisdictions are very small, but the smart ones nonetheless defend themselves against the attacks coming from the world’s major welfare states. Here’s a good example. Tony Travers of Cayman Finance, the association representing the financial services industry in the Cayman Islands, recently spoke about the left’s campaign against low-tax jurisdictions.

Travers said he believed the widespread negativity was part of well organised and powerful public relations campaigns driven by onshore Treasury, and supranational and domestic regulatory bodies. British politicians such as Emma Reynolds and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and even US President Barack Obama were, he said, examples of politicians that were “blame deflecting … and anxious to obfuscate the failures of their domestic regulatory systems … by suggesting that in some way it is the tax or regulatory system of the offshore financial centre that is at fault.” He claimed the problems they were trying to conceal by their demonisation of offshore centres had their source onshore. He described various socialist activist movements, such as the trade unions, major charities such as Oxfam, and Travers arch nemesis, Richard Murphy of the Tax Justice Network as the “Tax Taliban” .

This fight is occurring at all levels. A new scholarly study from the Instituto Bruno Leoni in Italy digs into the academic debate about tax competition. Written by Dalibor Rohác of London’s Legatum Institute, the report debunks the argument that tax competition somehow is economically inefficient.

The first common argument is that tax competition distorts the allocation of mobile factors of production across countries. The second argument recurrent in the literature says that tax competition can reduce tax revenue and endanger the stability of public finances. The troublesome feature of both of these arguments is that they start from the assumption of government benevolence and omniscience. For instance, the first argument presupposes that the initial allocation of capital between the two countries was optimal and that tax competition is driving it away from the optimum. Likewise, the second argument implicitly assumes that the initial amount raised in taxes corresponded to some well-defined social optimum and therefore that tax competition drives revenue below that optimal level. Hence neither of these arguments holds in the light of basic public choice theory which convincingly demonstrates that governments do have a tendency to overspend and overtax.

Rohác cleverly exposes the other side’s statist agenda. He explains that their main argument is based on the idea that different tax rates in different nations will lead to an inefficient allocation of investment. He then points out that there is a pro-growth way and an anti-growth way of dealing with this supposed problem.

…if the problem of capital misallocation is caused by differences in tax rates among countries, than introducing a maximal rate is a solution that would be equally appropriate. …tax competition might well offer a solution to the alleged problem of misallocation of capital caused by tax differentials. If tax competition was a “race to the bottom,” then the final outcome would actually be a tax rate harmonized across countries and harmonized at a rate of zero per cent, thus eliminating capital tax distortions altogether.

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I’m in Singapore for two days to help fight the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a statist international bureaucracy based in Paris. The OECD has something called a global tax forum, the purpose of which is to harass so-called tax havens in hopes of coercing them into acting as tax collectors for Europe’s decrepit welfare states. Here’s the executive summary from the memo I wrote, which warns low-tax jurisdictions that the OECD may push even harder to undermine fiscal sovereignty because of fears that a GOP takeover of Congress will make it more difficult to push for tax harmonization policies in the future.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has an ongoing project to prop up Europe’s inefficient welfare states by attacking tax competition in hopes of enabling governments to impose heavier tax burdens. This project received a boost when the Obama Administration joined forces with countries such as France and Germany, but the tide is now turning against high-tax nations – particularly as more people understand that such an approach inevitably leads to Greek-style fiscal collapse. Looming political changes in the United States will further complicate the OECD’s ability to impose bad policy. Because of these developments, low-tax jurisdictions should be especially wary of schemes to rush through new anti-tax competition initiatives at the Singapore Global Forum.

The good news is that nothing dramatic took place on the first day of the two-day conference. The OECD continued to bully low-tax jurisdictions to sign information-sharing agreements and the low-tax jurisdictions kept asking for double-taxation agreements so they could get some benefit in exchange for weakening their human rights/financial privacy laws. The OECD and high-tax nations have been ignoring these requests for a two-way street, thus continuing their bad-faith behavior.

For more information on this issue, here’s a link to my video on tax competition, and here are a handful of TV appearances where I discuss the issue. This is a challenging issue to debate, so I’d welcome feedback on which arguments you think are most effective.

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Here’s a Reuters story about the Australian Tax Office harassing Paul Hogan, better known to Americans as Crocodile Dundee, because of a tax dispute. The grinches at the tax office took advantage of Hogan’s return for his mother’s funeral to hold him hostage, refusing to let him leave the country until he coughs up some cash. It appears that the tax police in Australia are just as politicized and above the law as the IRS. Hogan has never been charged with tax evasion and there are plenty of signs that the bureaucrats want to make him a high-profile victim to justify the amount of money that has been squandered in a probe of supposed offshore evasion.

Actor Paul Hogan, star of the “Crocodile Dundee” movies, has vowed to continue fighting the Australian tax office which has barred him from leaving Australia until he pays a massive bill, saying he’s victim of a witch hunt.

Hogan, 70, was served with a departure prohibition order 10 days ago while in Australia to attend his 101-year-old mother’s funeral which has prevented him from leaving to return to Los Angeles where he lives with his wife and son.

The Australian Tax Office refused to comment on reports of seeking tax on A$38 million ($34 million) of allegedly undeclared income from Hogan, saying it cannot give details of individual taxpayers.

But the actor went public in the Australian media this week to put forward his side in his five-year row with the tax office, saying he had done nothing wrong and the tax office was on a witch hunt for a high-profile case.

…”If I was a tax evader, which I’m not, I must be the dumbest one in the world to keep coming back here instead of fleeing to a tax haven … I know they’re absolutely desperate to nail some high-profile character with money to justify the expense to the taxpayer.”

Hogan, who was once a painter on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, is under investigation as part of Australia’s biggest probe into offshore tax evasion, Operation Wickenby.

The operation is budgeted to cost at least $300 million. The tax office has claimed he put tens of millions of dollars in film royalties in offshore tax havens, a claim that he has denied. He has never been charged with tax evasion.

This story is symbolic of a bigger issue, which is the the unfortunate tendency of governments to create ever-more oppressive and misguided laws in response to failures of existing policy. We see this in the failed War on Drugs, which leads to trampling of civil liberties and erosion of privacy. We see it in the failed War on Poverty, which leads to more redistribution that further traps people in dependency. We see it in the failed government-run education system, which wastes more money every year as outcomes remain stagnant and children from poor and minority communities suffer.

In the case of tax policy, politicians impose high tax rates and punitive forms of double taxation. As anybody with a modicum of common sense could predict, this bad tax policy undermines economic performance and drives economic activity to jurisdictions with better tax law. The politicians then have two ways to respond. They can lower tax rates and reform tax systems, an approach that simultaneously would boost growth and improve compliance. Or they can tighten the thumbscrews on taxpayers, trample their rights, and conspire with other high-tax nations to punish the jurisdictions that do have good policy.

Not surprisingly, most politicians choose the latter approach. And the attack on low-tax jurisdictions is a particularly loathsome part of their response. As this video explains, tax competition is a liberalizing force in the world economy and the effort by high-tax nations to penalize so-called tax havens is driven by a statist impulse to prop up decrepit and inefficient welfare states.

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