Dan Mitchell: I’m a big fan of tax competition!

Another Victory for Tax Competition

I’m a big fan of tax competition.

Why? Because politicians are far more likely to keep tax rates low when they are afraid that jobs and investment can move to countries (or states) with better tax system.

It also explains why tax rates fell dramatically around the world after Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher triggered a virtuous cycle of jurisdictional competition.

And it explains why politicians are fighting to curtail tax competition. They want taxpayers to be akin to captive customers. When that happens, they can push tax rates back up.

Given my cheerleading for tax competition, you won’t be surprised to learn that I get a jolt of pleasure anytime I read about a government being pressured to lower tax rates.

Which is why I’m going to share some excerpts from a story in the New York Times.

Dubai started the new year by suspending its 30 percent tax on alcohol, a move that could help the Gulf emirate attract more tourists and businesses amid growing regional competition. Dubai removed the tax on Sunday, along with the fee for a license that individuals need to buy alcohol, local beverage distributors said. …Offering significantly cheaper liquor is likely to bolster Dubai’s position as the Middle East’s center for tourism and business at a time when economists are warning of a global economic slowdown that could dent spending on travel and leisure. …The changes are likely to give a boost to the local hospitality industry… The decision was the latest in a series of measures that appear to be designed to cement Dubai’s position as the dominant hub for tourism and investment in the Middle East. …Dubai is facing increasing competition from Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

I’ve been to Dubai a few times, but never Qatar or Saudi Arabia, so I can’t personally comment on the relative attractiveness of the three jurisdictions.

But I’m glad that they feel pressure to compete with each other. The net result is more liberty.

P.S. I can’t resist pointing out that our leftist friends should not be overly upset about tax competition. After all, even data from the OECD shows that governments are collecting more money now that tax rates have significantly dropped. Though that data may not be very convincing if folks on the left are motivated by something other than greed for more tax revenue.

 

 

 

Defending the (Prudent Understanding of the) Laffer Curve

I’ve written dozens of articles about the Laffer Curveand most of that verbiage can be summarized in these five points.

  • The Laffer Curve helps to illustrate that excessive tax rates result in less taxable activity.
  • All public finance economists – even those on the left – agree there is a Laffer Curve.
  • The Laffer Curve does not mean tax cuts are self-financing or that tax increases lose revenue.
  • Different types of taxes produce different responses, so there is more than one Laffer Curve.
  • There is a real debate about the shape of the Laffer Curve and the ideal point on the curve.

The fifth point recognizes that well-meaning and knowledgeable people can vigorously disagree.

Do changes in tax policy have big effects or small effects on the economy? How much revenue feedback will occur if there is a change in tax rates?

Just a couple of examples of questions that I have endlessly debated with reasonable folks on the left.

But let’s focus today on the unreasonable left. Or, to be more specific, let’s look at an editorial from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Here are some portions of that newspaper’s simplistic screed.

…the deficit explosion…effectively disproved his theory that cutting taxes on the rich would increase government tax revenue. …Laffer continues to be unchastened…, even as Britain reels from a leadership shuffle caused by the catastrophic application of his very theories. Hand it to Laffer: Seldom does someone who is so often proven wrong have the gumption to maintain he’s right…His famous “Laffer curve” presumes to prove that tax cuts for the rich will spur economic investment, causing such strong economic growth that the government’s tax revenue would actually rise instead of falling. …Yes, the economy was robust in the 1980s after Reagan’s historic tax cuts. But that’s also when the era of big budget deficits began. …congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump in 2017 slashed corporate taxes in what they claimed was a necessary economy-booster… Then-Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin’s famous vow that the tax-cut plan would “pay for itself” in growth — the very definition of Laffer’s theory — has since been exposed as the voodoo it always was.

Almost every sentence in the above excerpt cries out for correction.

For instance, Reagan and his team never claimed that the 1981 tax cuts would be self-financing (though IRS data shows that lower tax rates on the rich did produce more revenue).

There were big deficits because of the 1980-1982 double-dip recession, and that spike in red ink mostly took place before Reagan’s tax cuts went into effect.

And it’s absurd to blame the United Kingdom’s political instability on tax cuts that never occurred.

If Secretary Mnunchin claimed the entire tax cut would pay for itself, he clearly deserves to be mocked, but it’s worth noting that the lower corporate tax rate from the 2017 reform is very close to being self-financing.

Not that we should be surprised. Both the IMF and OECD have research showing that lower corporate tax rates do not necessarily lead to lower corporate tax revenues.

The bottom line is that the editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch obviously puts ideology above accuracy.

P.S. I can’t resist sharing one other excerpt from the editorial.

“The Kansas Experiment,” was a debacle. The state’s economy didn’t skyrocket, but the deficit did, forcing deep cuts to education before the legislature finally acknowledged defeat and reversed the tax cuts.

Once again, the editors are showing that ideology trumps accuracy. Here’s what really happened in Kansas. I hope we can have more defeats like that! Though I’ll be the first to admit that North Carolina is a much better role model.

Corporate Tax Rates and Taxable Income

In the case of business taxation, the most visually powerful evidence for the Laffer Curve is what happened to corporate tax revenue in Ireland after the corporate tax rate was slashed from 50 percent to 12.5 percent.

Tax revenue increased dramatically. Not just in nominal terms. Not just in inflation-adjusted terms.

Corporate receipts actually climbed as a share of GDP.

And this was during the decades when economic output was rapidly expanding.

In other words, the Irish government got a much bigger slice of a much bigger pie after tax rates were dramatically lowered.

Now let’s look at some evidence from a new study. Three professors from the University of Utah (Jeffrey Coles, Elena Patel, and Nather Seegert), and a Treasury Department economist (Matthew Smith) estimated what happens to taxable income for U.S. companies when there is a change in the corporate tax rate.

In response to a 10% increase in the expected marginal tax rate, private U.S. firms decrease taxable income by 9.1%, which indicates a discernibly more elastic response than prevailing estimates. This response reflects a decrease in taxable income of 3.0%arising from real economic responses to a firm’s scale of operations and 6.1% arising from accounting transactions via (for example) revenue and expense timing. Responsiveness to the corporate tax rate is more elastic if a firm uses cash (9.9%) rather than accrual accounting (7.4%), if the firm is small (9.9%) rather than large (8.6%), and if the firm discounts future cash flows at a lower rate.

The paper is filled with equation, graphs, and jargon, but the above excerpt tells us everything we need to know.

When tax rates go up, taxable income goes down (both because there is less economic activity and because companies have more incentive to manipulate the tax code).

Thus confirming what I wrote back in 2016 about taxable income being the key variable.

By the way, this does not mean that lower tax rates lead to more revenue. Or that higher tax rate produce less revenue.

Such big swings only happen in rare circumstances.

But it does mean that politicians will not grab as much money as they hope when they increase tax rates. And that they won’t lose as much revenue as they fear when they lower tax rates (and we saw that most recently with the 2017 tax reform).

I’ll close by noting that this is additional evidence for why we should be thankful that Biden’s proposal for higher corporate tax rates was not enacted.

P.S. The chart at the beginning of this column may be the most visually powerful evidence for the corporate Laffer Curve. The most empirically powerful evidence, however, comes from very unlikely sources – the pro-tax IMF and the pro-tax OECD.

March 3, 2021

President Biden c/o The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

______________________________

Dan Mitchell shows how ignoring the Laffer Curve is like running a stop sign!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out this sentence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Laffer Curve, Part I: Understanding the Theory

Uploaded by  on Jan 28, 2008

The Laffer Curve charts a relationship between tax rates and tax revenue. While the theory behind the Laffer Curve is widely accepted, the concept has become very controversial because politicians on both sides of the debate exaggerate. This video shows the middle ground between those who claim “all tax cuts pay for themselves” and those who claim tax policy has no impact on economic performance. This video, focusing on the theory of the Laffer Curve, is Part I of a three-part series. Part II reviews evidence of Laffer-Curve responses. Part III discusses how the revenue-estimating process in Washington can be improved. For more information please visit the Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s web site: http://www.freedomandprosperity.org

Part 2

Part 3

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

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

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

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

___________________________

Thank you so much for your time. I know how valuable it is. I also appreciate the fine family that you have and your commitment as a father and a husband.

Sincerely,

Everette Hatcher III, 13900 Cottontail Lane, Alexander, AR 72002, ph 501-920-5733,

Williams with Sowell – Minimum Wage

Thomas Sowell

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By WALTER WILLIAMS

—-

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