Topic: International Economics and Development

NZ’s Richest Woman Escapes High Taxes

Tax competition is a marvelous liberalizing force. Every time a taxpayer leaves a high-tax jurisdiction for a low-tax jurisdiction, bad policy is punished and good policy is rewarded.

New Zealand’s richest woman is the latest tax expatriate, as reported by The Press:

Reclusive Kathmandu founder Jan Cameron has moved to Tasmania after spending more than 30 years in Christchurch, where she built a $275 million business fortune. Starting with a small shop in Linwood, Cameron turned her outdoor-clothing and equipment venture into one of the country’s best-known brands, with outlets in New Zealand, Australia and Britain.

The Press understands Cameron had looked at staying in New Zealand after selling Kathmandu last year and planned to donate a portion of her annual income from her investments to charities. But under the New Zealand tax regime, all the money she gave away over an $1800 threshold would be taxed, so she opted to move to Australia, where there is no limit.

…PricewaterhouseCoopers tax specialist John Shewan said he was not surprised by Cameron’s decision. “It does underline how careful we need to be if we want to retain high-net-worth individuals,” he said. “We need to have a tax-friendly environment. Sadly, we don’t have that at the moment.”

Shewan said Cameron would pay no tax on her overseas investments under new Australian tax rules. ”Australia has stolen a march on us in terms of attracting high-net-worth individuals,” he said.

Czech Tax Reform

Because of the tenuous nature of the current government, plans for a flat tax may be postponed. But as the Prague Post explains, the government’s fall-back position is big, pro-growth tax cuts and expenditure limitations — so taxpayers will win regardless of the outcome:

Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek’s Cabinet, which won a slim vote of confidence Jan. 19, was voted into office thanks to an ambitious plan centered on economic reforms. …[T]he government plans to pursue canceling taxes on dividends and capital gains, as well as inheritance and gift taxes and the property transfer tax. …The Cabinet plans to reduce the share of mandatory expenditures on the overall state budget from its current 70 percent to below 50 percent by 2010. …The Cabinet’s weak support in the Parliament also makes it unlikely that the flat tax will be put in effect anytime soon.

The French Tax Debate

Shocking as it may seem, one of France’s presidential candidates actually is talking about tax cuts. And the current president endorsed a big reduction in the corporate tax rate. No tax cuts have actually been implemented, but perhaps some people in France have finally realized that it is better to reward rather than punish productive behavior.

The Wall Street Journal opines

Ms. Royal’s foray into these waters came, as much else in recent weeks, awkwardly. Socialist Party chief François Hollande, who is also Ms. Royal’s personal partner and the father of their four children, floated a plan to raise taxes on people earning above €4,000 a month. This was quickly panned as a tax hike that soaks the middle classes. Taken by surprise, Ms. Royal tried to distance herself from his proposal, but her campaign was soon put on another back foot when details of their own personal wealth were leaked to the press.

…Mr. Sarkozy has taken advantage. Building on the momentum from his formal nomination by the ruling center-right party last week, and with an emerging lead in the polls, he used a front-page interview in Tuesday’s Le Monde to push for cuts in income taxes and — the real whammy in France — social charges. His proposals are modest, but break a taboo in France — something that this son of Hungarian and Jewish immigrants specializes in.

…Mr. Sarkozy isn’t a Thatcherite by a long stretch, nor would being one help him in the eyes of French voters. He doesn’t dare support revoking the 35-hour workweek; he wants only to relax the law, even though it is widely seen as a failure. When he was briefly finance minister in 2004, he showed an interventionist streak that appeared to betray a lack of true understanding about how a market economy really works.

U.S. Posturing for a Fight at the WTO

Regarding the antidumping dispute concerning “zeroing,” which I’ve argued could shake the very foundations of the multilateral trading system, we have this development (see last item).  It is becoming evident that the United States will attempt to discredit the WTO Appellate Body’s logic in its latest rebuke of U.S. zeroing practices. 

It may take a year or more before we get there, but we appear to be headed for a confrontation with the dispute settlement system that could leave that institution weakened and U.S. credibility further damaged.  And that could invite consequences far worse than a stalled or derailed Doha Round.

More to come.

Switzerland Provides Refuge for Victims of Fiscal Oppression

Tax-news.com reports on the influx of wealthy foreigners seeking to benefit from Switzerland’s attractive tax laws for non-citizens. Driven in large part by competition among cantons, this system enables highly productive people to escape excessive taxation in other nations. High-tax European welfare states despise this policy, not surprisingly, but Swiss lawmakers understandably ignore these complaints. Indeed, as reported by the International Herald Tribune, one Swiss official even explained that there is no such thing as a “just” tax:

“It’s not a question of justice or injustice; there’s no just tax,” said Jean- Daniel Gerber, head of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.

Legendary French music and film superstar Johnny Hallyday and English pop star James Blunt are not unique in their desire to escape the high-tax regimes of their home countries. Switzerland has become a popular haunt for a variety of sports starts, rock stars and tycoons, notably Michael Schumacher, the former Formula One world champion, and Boris Becker, the Grand Slam tennis champion, rock star Phil Collins and Ingvar Kamprad, founder of the furniture chain Ikea.

Well over 3,500 wealthy foreigners have taken advantage of fiscal deals offered by Swiss cantons, paying an average of CHF75,000 each in tax on earnings of CHF300 million annually, according to Swissinfo. While individual deals vary, a typical agreement will see the individual pay tax on a multiple of the the value of their property or living expenses.

Swiss cantons are permitted an unusual amount of freedom from central government to set their own tax rates under the 2001 Tax Harmonisation Act, which has established a direct link between voters and tax policy and has helped to encourage tax competition within Switzerland for wealthy individuals and holding companies.

At least eighteen out of Switzerland’s 24 cantons planned to cut rates of taxation in 2006, led by Obwalden, which cut the corporate tax to 6.6% in January 2006, the lowest rate in Switzerland. Obwalden also cut tax for individuals earning over CHF300,000 by 1% to 2.35% and reduced property tax.

The system has also attracted criticism from the European Union. While Switzerland is not a member of the EU, it is party to a free trade agreement with Brussels dating back to 1972 and the European Commission has told Berne that it thinks certain aspects of Switzerland’s tax system are “incompatible” with this agreement and distort trade within the EU. To date, EC pressure on Switzerland to change its tax system has been firmly resisted by the Swiss government, with President Micheline Calmy-Rey telling the press whilst still Foreign Minister in December that there is “absolutely no room for negotiation,” regarding Swiss tax laws.

Hear That? It’s the Sound of a Nation Constricting

Beginning today, citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda are required to present a passport to enter the United States when arriving by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere.

This new restriction on local international travel is part of the “Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.” Tightening up on travel documentation was a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission that Congress passed into law in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

To downplay the consequences of this new travel restriction, a Department of Homeland Security press release points out that over 90 percent of U.S. citizens, 97 percent of Canadians, and just about all Mexicans and Bermudans flying to the United States over the past week arrived with passports. But this means that fully 10 percent of Americans who currently travel overseas this way are going to be at least inconvenienced, and at most dissuaded, from doing so.

It’s hard to quantify what a marginal restriction on travel like this means, but let’s try:

As early as January 1, 2008, the new restriction may apply to citizens entering the U.S. from the Western Hemisphere by land or sea. Air travelers are probably more likely than land or border crossers to have passports so let’s assume that 10 percent of all American border crossers lack passports.

To get a rough idea of what this means, in 1999, there were approximately 300 million roundtrips between the United States and Mexico and the United States and Canada, the vast majority of them same-day trips. Let’s assume 250 million of them were U.S. citizens. If 1% of these trips don’t happen (10% of current non-passport holders) because of the new Western Hemisphere travel restrictions, that’s 2.5 million cross-border trips forgone each year, along with the commerce, goodwill, and freedom those trips would have entalied.

What price freedom? Well, let’s make it 10 bucks. At that price, using these strictly back-of-envelope estimates, WHTI costs $25 million per year (not counting the cost of administration). The net present value of a $25 million annual expenditure is $500 million (at a 5% interest rate). In other words, more than half-a-billion dollars (a low estimate) worth of freedom and commerce goes down the drain starting today.

It would be worth every penny if it improved our national security by a similar margin. Alas, it does not.

The reason why requiring passports at borders provides so very little security boils down to the fact that identity does not reveal intention.

In our daily lives, we use identity to assure ourselves of the bona fides of others - neighbors, coworkers, stores, and restaurants, for example. But terrorists and hardened criminals are not similarly constrained by the social and legal pressures we can bring to bear on our law-abiding neighbors.

You could have perfect knowledge of who everyone is - lock down everyone’s identity with a mandatory cradle-to-grave biometric tracking system - and you would still not prevent crime and terrorism. I have carefully analyzed the utility of identity for security in my book, Identity Crisis.

Terrorists can defeat an identity-based security system either physically or logically. They can enter the country someplace other than a border crossing for example - and the half-billion expendture on WHTI is 100% wasted. A logical evasion of identity-based border security is to enter the country legally, not having participated in terrorism planning or acts before. This was the technique used by al Qaeda with most of the 9/11 terrorists.

Checking passports at the border of the country is what security expert Bruce Schneier correctly calls “security theater.” It may make you feel safer, but it doesn’t make you safer. It does corral law-abiding citizens into the habit of showing ID as they go about their business, and it puts information about law-abiding travelers into government data stores for who-knows-what future use.

With the travel restrictions going into effect today, America does not get safer, just smaller.

Trade Showdown Looks Inevitable

Yesterday I argued that Congress’s unflinching devotion to the antidumping law poses a real threat to the world trading system.  As the WTO dispute settlement mechanism renders more decisions against U.S. antidumping actions and procedures, Congress will grow more inclined to question the efficacy and legitimacy of the WTO in public.  And that is a slippery slope.

I wrote:

To Congress, trade remedy laws are not the problem.  Dumping and subsidization are.  And the latest Appellate Body decision against zeroing makes it that much harder to combat “unfair” trade.

Accordingly, Congress is highly unlikely to go quietly into the night after the WTO’s latest indictment of zeroing. Thus, confrontation–perhaps intractable confrontation–between the United States and the WTO dispute settlement system may be in the cards later this year.

Well, judging from this news release and letter, written by the two highest ranking legislators on trade issues, “later this year” is here.  Stay tuned.