Topic: International Economics and Development

Another Flat Tax Nation?

Moldova, a former Soviet Republic, is a poor and backwards nation with too much government. Seeking a brighter future, a part of Moldova has declared independence and is calling itself Pridnestrovie. Though this new country has not yet been recognized by the world, Pridnestrovie has wisely decided to implement free market reforms — including a flat tax that has been reduced from 15 percent to 10 percent according to a story from last year in the Tiraspol Times:

Parliament in Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublica approved new lower tax rates for the emerging but unrecognized country. Previously, the nation taxed incomes for physical persons at 15%, but starting next month the rate will be just 10% flat.

…Since its declaration of independence on 2 September 1990, Pridnestrovie has gradually transformed itself from a post-Soviet system to a free, Western-style market based economy. In the process, it has found that a flat tax provides the best incentives for citizens and investors alike.

Hoover Institution political scientist Alvin Rabushka points to a number of different countries in the former Soviet bloc that have adopted some form of flat tax in recent years. In addition to Russia, Pridnestrovie and Slovakia, they are Romania, Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, Serbia and Ukraine.

Not surprisingly, the flat tax is having a positive impact. The Tiraspol Times now reports that tax revenues have more than tripled and lawmakers understand that lower tax rates can lead to more revenue — just as the Laffer Curve illustrates:

Thanks to reform in the tax code, and a lowering of rates, income from taxes has gone up three and a half times in Pridnestrovie, says the parliamentary press service. …Tax revenues went from 63.4 million dollars in 2001 to a whopping 221.6 million dollars in 2006, the last full year for which the numbers are available.

…Key to the reform package were measures which makes filing simpler, as well as a comprehensive program of tax relief. Five taxes which existed before 2001 have now been abolished and instead replaced with a single, simple tax.

…With both personal and corporate tax rates well below those of Ireland, the growth in Pridnestrovie’s tax income is even more impressive. As taxes have been simplified and rates have been lowered, revenues have gone up three and a half times.

Addendum: The good news about Pridnestrovie may not be so good after all. My Cato colleague Justin Logan rained on my flat tax parade by telling me that Pridnestrovie, AKA Tansnistria (I guess even the name of the place is in dispute), is not exactly the Hong Kong of Eastern Europe. The breakaway province has a very poor reputation for corruption. It also is not exactly a role model of democracy, since the boss of the country recently won 103 percent of the vote in one region (eat your heart out, Castro). Alas.

European Union Squanders Money on Self-Promotion and Propaganda, Including Sex Videos

A story in the UK-based Telegraph discusses a new report that exposes the European Union’s expensive propaganda campaign. With a budget of more than $7 billion, the self-promotion effort is hardly trivial:

The European Union is spending £3.8 billion a year on “propaganda” to win over its sceptical citizens… As well as publishing a plethora of pamphlets and employing an army of public relations staff, the EU has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on teaching aids, school trips and even cartoons. According to Lee Rotherham, the author of a new book which examines the EU’s spending on its image, such initiatives are an “outrageous and cynical attempt to brainwash the young”. …Let’s Explore Europe Together, an online teaching aid aimed at nine to 12-year-olds, describes the EU as a “really good plan that had never been tried before”. …In Italy, reports Mr Rotherham, children have been confronted by Camillo e l’Euro in Europa, a cartoon that champions the single currency. …Europe’s Best Successes, a 51-page pamphlet to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the EU, features lines such as “if you are lucky enough to be a citizen of the EU”, and “young people have really benefited from the development of a borderless Europe”. Mr Rotherham also details extensive spending on umbrellas, mouse mats, pencils and other items branded with the EU logo - part of a £2.4 billion budget for European Commission “projects”. He also reveals big grants to think-tanks and EU-funded trips to the European Parliament.

The U.S. government wastes money in similar ways, of course, including propaganda campaigns on behalf of the new Medicare prescription drug entitlement and the President’s no-bureaucrat-left-behind education scheme. But the Europeans seem to have more creativity when it comes to wasting taxpayer money. The UK-based Times reports that part of the European Union’s self-promotion budget was used to produce a sex video. In the understatement of the year, a bureaucrat admitted that the EU is not quite ready to compete with Paris Hilton:

The latest promotional video from Brussels shows European citizens engaged in enthusiastic congress, but it is not the sort of union the founding fathers had in mind. The film, available on the European commission’s space on YouTube, the video website, shows 18 couples having sex. The video opens with a man and woman ripping each other’s clothes off in the bedroom while bottles rattle on a shelf. In the interests of sexual equality, two of the couples are gay. …The video is part of a campaign by Margot Wallstrom, the communications commissioner, to boost interest in the workings of the EU. …The scenes were compiled by the commission’s press unit, using footage from Amélie and All About My Mother. Both films were supported by the EU. Wallstrom’s spokesman was initially unaware of the video’s presence on the site and denied it was in questionable taste. …he added: “We can’t really compete with Paris Hilton yet.” …Godfrey Bloom, a UK Independence party MEP, said: “I suppose this film is appropriate. The EU has been screwing Britain for the past 30 years.”

New Attack Planned Against Low-Tax Jurisdictions

The UK-based Observer reports that Norway’s socialist government is leading a new campaign against low-tax jurisdiction.

The premises are absurd, including the assumption that developing nations will prosper if they get more tax revenue. Moreover, the entire scheme is based on some very dubious “facts,” none of which are substantiated. Most importantly, the article fails to note the many benefits of tax competition, including better tax policy and the protection of human rights:

Plans have been drawn up for an international taskforce to crack down on tax haven abuses orchestrated in large part by bankers, accountants and lawyers in London. As authoritative evidence suggests that $1 trillion of illicit funds flow to secretive havens managed by financiers based in London, New York and Dubai, the Norwegian government is forming a global coalition to ‘facilitate the recovery of assets illicitly stacked away in tax havens’. Several countries are set to join, but Britain, recently classed as an offshore financial centre by the International Monetary Fund, is not among them.

…The imminent formation of an international tax haven taskforce comes as the World Bank, headed by Robert Zoellick, is coming under pressure to establish its first forensic study into the illicit cash flowing out of developing nations. …Exactly 10 times the $100bn spent on aid and debt write-offs by rich countries is siphoned out of developing countries, with corporations responsible for 60 per cent of that figure through a web of trusts, nominee accounts and the flagrant mispricing of goods to escape tax.

…Cracking down on tax havens and the evasion of taxes by some of the world’s biggest companies is seen as the ‘missing link’ in the poverty alleviation agenda. Investigators and lawyers at a conference on the Movement of Illicit Funds in Washington last Thursday confirmed it was corporations and not corrupt politicians in the developing world that accounted for most tax evasion.

Last Wishes for Trade Policy

With 19 months left in the Bush presidency, June 30 marks the unceremonious end of his trade policy. Though things haven’t looked bright on the trade liberalization front for quite a while, there was a time when the agenda had promise and its keepers had enthusiasm. Tomorrow’s expiration of the president’s trade promotion authority, thus, accentuates the sadness of promise unfilled. On top of that, responsibility for trade policy is returning to a Congress that is, perhaps, more skeptical of trade than any Congress since the days of Smoot and Hawley.

The main goal of the administration’s trade policy was a multilateral trade agreement. That proved elusive, and now the Doha Round lies in a cryogenic state. The administration did bring home some bilateral and regional deals that are important, but relative to what could have and should have been accomplished, it ain’t much.

As we enter the post-TPA period, there are four trade agreements that have been signed, but not yet approved by Congress. The congressional leadership today finally came out and said they will not support the deals with Korea or Colombia (as expected). They offered support for Peru and Panama, but we’ll see whether the rank and file goes along. I’m skeptical.

Regrettably, we may have to endure a dark period on trade policy as members of Congress work to outdo each other with ridiculous, self-defeating legislation. The last responsibility of the Bush administration on trade policy, then, is to hold the line against the onslaught of anti-trade, anti-China legislation and make sure none of those bills becomes law.

Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom

The most fascinating story in the world is China today, as the world’s most populous country struggles toward modernity.

The Chinese rulers seem to be trying to emulate Singapore’s success in creating a dynamic modern economy while maintaining authoritarian rule. But can a nation of a billion people be managed as successfully as a city-state? Since 1979 China has liberated its economy, creating de facto and even de jure property rights, allowing the creation of businesses, and freeing up labor markets. The result has been rapid economic growth. China has brought more people out of back-breaking poverty faster than any country in history.

And, as scholars such as F. A. Hayek have predicted, the development of property rights, civil society, and middle-class people has created a demand for political rights as well. Every week there are reports of actual elections for local posts, lawyers suing the government, dissidents standing up and often being jailed, labor agitation, and political demonstrations. It’s reminiscent of the long English struggle for liberty and constitutional government.

And it would be great if it turns out that modern technology can make that struggle shorter than it was in England. A hopeful example was reported this week. According to the Washington Post, hundreds of thousands of “text messages ricocheted around cellphones in Xiamen,” rallying people to oppose the construction of a giant chemical factory. The messages led to “an explosion of public anger,” large demonstrations, and a halt in construction.

Leave aside the question of whether the activists were right to oppose the factory. The more significant element of the story is that, as the Post reported, “The delay marked a rare instance of public opinion in China rising from the streets and compelling a change of policy by Communist Party bureaucrats.”

Cellphones and bloggers fighting against the Communist Party and its Propaganda Department and Public Security Bureau — and the “army of Davids” won. Reporters and editors afraid to cover the story followed it on blogs, even as the censors tried to block one site after another. This isn’t your father’s Red China.

Citizen blogger and eyewitness Wen Yunchao

said he and his friends have since concluded that if protesters had been armed with cellphones and computers in 1989, there would have been a different outcome to the notorious Tiananmen Square protest, which ended with intervention by the People’s Liberation Army and the killings of hundreds, perhaps thousands, in the streets of Beijing.

The cause of freedom is not looking so good in Russia these days. But in China a hundred flowers are blooming, a hundred schools of thought contending.

Zimbabwean Economics Spreads to Capitol Hill

In Zimbabwe, the government is ordering businesses to cut prices and threatening to jail executives who don’t comply, in an attempt to deal with inflation that is now variously estimated at somewhere between 4,000 and 20,000 percent a year.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill both houses of Congress have passed legislation establishing stiff penalties for those found guilty of gasoline price gouging. The bill directs the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department to go after oil companies, traders, or retail operators if they take “unfair advantage” or charge “unconscionably excessive” prices for gasoline and other fuels in an “energy emergency.” (The complex energy legislation is still working its way through both houses, though both have endorsed the price-gouging provisions.)

How’d’ja like to be the bureaucrat charged with enforcing such vague and emotional language, or the businessperson trying not to incur a 10-year jail sentence for doing something “unfair” or “unconscionably excessive”? It’d be sort of like living in, you know, Zimbabwe.

Did Congress offer bureaucrats and businesses any more specific guidance? You bet they did. H.R. 6 and S. 1263 define an ”unconscionably excessive price” as a price that

(A)(i) represents a gross disparity between the price at which it was offered for sale in the usual course of the supplier’s business immediately prior to the President’s declaration of an energy emergency;

(ii) grossly exceeds the price at which the same or similar crude oil, gasoline, or petroleum distillate was readily obtainable by other purchasers in the affected area; or

(iii) represents an exercise of unfair leverage or unconscionable means on the part of the supplier, during a period of declared energy emergency; and

(B) is not attributable to increased wholesale or operational costs outside the control of the supplier, incurred in connection with the sale of crude oil, gasoline, or petroleum distillates.

So that seems reasonable clear: it’s a price that is “gross” or “unfair” or (redundantly enough) “unconscionable.” And it can only happen during a “Federal energy emergency”:

(a) IN GENERAL- If the President finds that the health, safety, welfare, or economic well-being of the citizens of the United States is at risk because of a shortage or imminent shortage of adequate supplies of crude oil, gasoline, or petroleum distillates due to a disruption in the national distribution system for crude oil, gasoline, or petroleum distillates (including such a shortage related to a major disaster (as defined in section 102(2) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act 42 U.S.C. 5122(2))), or significant pricing anomalies in national energy markets for crude oil, gasoline, or petroleum distillates, the President may declare that a Federal energy emergency exists.

In the United States, unlike Zimbabwe, we have the rule of law. That means vague, emotional, and nonsensical laws can only be passed upon a vote of both houses of Congress and the approval of the president.

Mauritius Accelerates Move to Flat Tax

With the world’s list of flat tax nations growing every year, the pressure to adopt good tax policy is becoming more powerful. The latest example comes from the Indian Ocean. Mauritius already had adopted a flat tax, with the new system scheduled to go into effect in 2009. But tax competition is leading the government to implement the pro-growth system even sooner. Tax-news.com reports:

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Economic Development Rama Sithanen has announced the introduction of a flat corporate income tax, as the government strives to create conditions for “robust, sustained and inclusive growth” whilst opening the economy, facilitating business, and accelerating the transition to global competitiveness. …Central to attaining this goal is the reduction of corporate tax to a flat rate of 15%, a measure which has been brought forward by two years to July 1, 2007. This flat rate will also apply for personal income tax. Initially, the government had planned to reduce corporate tax in stages, starting with a cut in the top rate to 22.5% last year, to 20% this year and to 15% by 2009. …the Finance Minister stated….”We…have a system that is now geared towards rewarding effort and entrepreneurship.”