Topic: International Economics and Development

Tax Competition Forces Lower Tax Rates in Germany

The Wall Street Journal celebrates the putative announcement of a nine percentage point reduction in Germany’s corporate tax rate. There is a dark lining to this silver cloud since there are hidden tax increases included in the proposal. The initiative also leaves in place some loopholes that could have been used to finance even lower tax rates, but it is nonetheless encouraging to see that one of Europe’s biggest cheerleaders for tax harmonization is being forced to join the tax-cutting bandwagon: 

Europe’s vibrant tax competition has finally reached Germany, which usually prefers to sit back and tut-tut while its neighbors cut taxes and grow their economies. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet today is expected to slash the top corporate tax rate to 29.8% (the average federal-municipal rate) from 38.7%. That’s still a far cry from flat-tax Slovakia’s 19% or Ireland’s 12.5%. But it would move Germany from the third-highest corporate tax rate in the OECD, after Japan and the U.S., to a more comfortable middle position. …The Finance Ministry missed the opportunity to simplify the tax system in one go. Getting rid of tax exemptions for corporations – thereby broadening the tax base – would have been a useful move. It would have had the added benefit of giving Berlin more room to cut rates beyond the planned nine percentage points. …Over the long run, the corporate tax cuts will likely increase revenues by encouraging economic activity and tax compliance.

The Good News behind Today’s Trade Deficit Report

America’s broadest trade account reached another record deficit in 2006, according to a report this morning from the U.S. Commerce Department. The U.S. current account deficit reached $857 billion last year, which will predictably unleash a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth in Washington today about the alleged failure of U.S. trade policy and the menace the deficit poses to U.S. economic growth.

The deficit doomsayers are wrong yet again. Far from being a sign of failure, today’s report contains a lot of good news if you care about the freedom of Americans to engage in international commerce. U.S. exports of goods and services last year were up by 12.7 percent from 2005, and imports grew by 10.5 percent, stoked by strong demand from American consumers and producers alike. Driving the record deficit last year were continued inflows of foreign capital, including a 67 percent jump in foreign direct investment. Growing levels of trade and foreign investment have boosted U.S. growth, job creation, and rising real wages.

As I have argued for a long time now, the trade deficit does not mean what our politicians and cable commentators keep telling us it means. For example, in a Free Trade Bulletin of mine published this week, I found no evidence that rising trade deficits are associated with slower economic growth. In fact, more robust economic growth typically translates into a rising current account deficit. 

If the expanding current account deficit is a drag on growth, somebody forgot to tell the U.S. economy.

Dice-K Takes American Job

Russell Roberts of George Mason University writes about Japan, China, and the trade deficit scare in the Wall Street Journal. Along the way he notes:

The story of the baseball off-season is the Red Sox spending $100 million to bring Daisuke Matsuzaka from Japan to the United States. Dice-K, as he’s known, is the ultimate import. He takes away a job from an American pitcher.

Russ is mocking the protectionist argument, of course. But he could have drilled in on this point more than he did. We often hear that immigrants “take American jobs.” But really, when America welcomes software engineers from India or magazine editors from England or the laborers who built my house from El Salvador, they don’t necessarily take anybody’s job. An expanding economy–expanding partly because of the immigrants–may well need more engineers, editors, or laborers than it would have needed in the absence of immigration.

But Dice-K actually is taking someone’s job. He’s going to pitch in the major leagues. There’s a fixed number of major league teams, and pretty much a fixed number of pitchers on each team. If the Red Sox hire Dice-K, they’re going to fire or not hire some other pitcher. Probably some good ol’ boy from the American South, whose next best alternative is, yes, being a greeter at Wal-mart. Maybe even one of my Kentucky relatives. Hey, maybe Pat Buchanan’s onto something here…

British Trade Association Warns against Growing Burden of Government

The Institute of Directors is urging the UK government to slow the growth of government in order to protect England from becoming an uncompetitive continental-style welfare state. The group notes that Spain successfully has reduced the burden of government by nearly 11 percentage points of GDP. A smaller burden of spending, the group explains, would facilitate much-needed tax reforms, including a lower corporate rate and the abolition of the death tax. Tax-news.com reports:

As part of its Budget submission, the Institute of Directors (IoD) has warned the UK government that economic policy now stands at a “fork in the road,” and that the level of taxation now stands at a “tipping point” as international companies begin to seek out more tax competitive jurisdictions in increasing numbers. The IoD argues that the UK government now faces a choice of continuing along its present path towards an economy that will mirror that of other EU economies with large governments, or of pursuing polices that aim to reduce the size of the state towards the levels seen in the US, Australia, Ireland and Switzerland, where public spending is between 34% and 37% of GDP. …Miles Templeman, Director General of the IoD commented: “There is nothing inevitable about a rising burden of public spending and taxation. Other countries have achieved huge reductions in the spending to GDP ratio. The UK should take Spanish lessons. Since 1993 public spending in Spain has fallen by 10.8% of GDP – from 48.6% to 37.8% of GDP in 2007. The optimal size of Government in the UK is well below its current size. …Unfortunately, the current size of the state in the UK is not globally competitive.” …The Institute also called on the government to consider its previously announced proposals to simplify the capital gains tax system and abolish inheritance tax, while calling for the proposed planning gain supplement to be abandoned.

Private Education in China — You Read It Here First

Bloomberg’s Singapore-based columnist Andy Mukherjee writes about the private-education boom in China:

At the end of 2005, some 15 million students were enrolled in 77,000 non-state schools. That’s 8 percent of the 197 million Chinese children aged 5 to 14 years. Privately funded schools in India have twice as large a share of the total market.

Expect the gap to close quickly.

Nine years ago, Ma Lei of Fudan University wrote about the growth of private schools in China for Cato Policy Report:

In Wenzhou, more than half of the 600 million RMB spent on education comes from the private sector. That’s a claim that few, if any, communities in the United States can make. …There are more than 2,300 privately run kindergarten classes in Wenzhou, in which more than 90 percent of all children of kindergarten age are enrolled. In addition, there are 21 private high schools, which educate about a quarter of the total high school student population.

James Tooley has also written at length about private education for the poor in Africa and India. His work, and its exciting new directions, are discussed in this Atlantic article.

European Commission Pushes Hypocritical Regulatory Message

The bureaucrats in Brussels are infamous for promulgating directives that add to the regulatory burden in European Union nations. Yet the same bureaucrats are pressuring national governments to adopt deregulation targets. This do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do message certainly rings hollow, though European consumers would benefit if politicians reduced red tape. The EU Observer reports:

EU leaders have agreed to a somewhat stronger goal on cutting red tape in their national legislation, despite previous reluctance to commit to a reduction of 25 percent of administrative burdens. …The move comes after last-minute pressure from the European Commission, urging governments to make a clear commitment to cut national bureaucracy which accounts for half of the bloc’s administrative costs. …Brussels believes red tape reduction would boost the EU economy by the equivalent of 3.5 percent of GDP and free up an estimated €150 billion for investment but only if national targets are included.

Will Halliburton Escape America’s Bad Tax System?

Some politicians are denouncing Halliburton for moving its headquarters to Dubai, but this is not a full-fledged corporate “expatriation.” Halliburton is only moving its headquarters, not its place of incorporation. Under US tax law, Halliburton will continue to be taxed on its worldwide income so long as the company is still chartered in Delaware. The move does not save the company one penny, at least from a tax perspective. To advance the interests of shareholders, however, the company should seek to change its place of incorporation. America’s worldwide tax system, combined with a high corporate tax rate, make it very difficult for multinational companies to compete in global markets. Unfortunately, it is now increasingly difficult to escape the Berlin Wall of American taxation, though Halliburton executives presumably are looking at the options. The politicians, meanwhile, should stop demagoguing the company and instead lower the coporate rate and shift to a territorial tax regime so that American companies can compete on a level playing field. ABC News reports:

The much-maligned defense contractor Halliburton is moving its corporate headquarters from Houston to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. …Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-N.H., called the company’s move “corporate greed at its worst.”  …Fellow Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has investigated contractor fraud, is planning to hold a hearing. “This is a surprising development,” he said. “I want to understand the ramifications for U.S. taxpayers and national security.”