Topic: Tax and Budget Policy

Two Tax Rates Catching On

A few years ago, I proposed a major overhaul of federal taxation with a plan I called the dual-rate income tax. (See here and here). The plan would get rid of virtually all credits and deductions, be favorable to savings and investment, and compress the current six-rate system down to two lower rates.

I proposed the idea to the president’s tax reform panel in 2005, but the panel didn’t bite. Panel co-chair, former Senator John Breaux, said: “Chris, I looked at your plan; I don’t like it.”

But this year, the two-rate idea is catching on. House Republicans led by Paul Ryan have proposed a two-rate plan called a Simplified Tax. (Please join us to hear Mr. Ryan speak about his plan on December 6). And yesterday, presidential candidate Fred Thompson included a two-rate plan in his platform.

In the long-run, Americans should follow the lead of more than 20 countries that have enacted flat taxes. Meanwhile, the two-rate plan would represent a huge step toward that ultimate goal.

Are 35 Million Americans Going Hungry?

A news story and op-ed in the Washington Post recently noted that about 35 million Americans, or more than 10% of the population, are “food insecure.” It sounds like there is a massive underclass of people in the nation who are so poor that they can’t get enough to eat and are going hungry. No doubt that is the idea that many articles want to put across on the reader.

But is the hunger problem really that big? Let’s go to the official definitions and data at the Department of Agriculture:

Definitions: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/FoodSecurity/measurement.htm 

Data: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/FoodSecurity/howoften.htm 

It seems to me that it’s only the “very food insecure” folks who might be sometimes going hungry. Less than 3% of the population is very food insecure at any time during a given month, and that drops to less than 1% on any given day.

Douglas Besharov has argued that the main food-related health problem today is obesity, not hunger. Poor Americans are generally suffering not from too little food, but from too much of the wrong kinds of food. 

According to federal data, about two-thirds of American adults are “overweight” and about half of those are “obese.” Those rates are actually higher for adults below the poverty level. Similarly, children below the poverty line are more likely to be overweight than other children.

Despite these modern realities, food subsidy programs continue to support an out-of-date model of increasing the caloric intake of low-income Americans. It’s time to cut them. See further discussion here.

More on Bulgaria Flat Tax

Adding to Dan’s note, here is today’s story from Tax Notes International (no link):

The Bulgarian parliament passed a new flat tax on income on November 16, making Bulgaria the seventh EU member state to adopt a flat tax regime …

The new flat tax will replace Bulgaria’s progressive, three-bracket income tax, with a flat 10 percent tax on income starting in 2008. Bulgaria had already slashed the corporate tax from 15 percent to 10 percent in 2006 … 

Bulgaria is the latest in a number of Central and Eastern European countries that have replaced progressive systems with flat tax regimes. The flat tax revolution was pioneered by Estonia in 1994, and since then about 20 countries in Central and Eastern Europe have followed suit.

In this country, many pundits and presidential candidates would reverse President Bush’s modest reduction in the top income tax rate from 40% to 35%. Those rates are more than three times higher than the new flat tax rate in Bulgaria, a former communist country.  

Bulgaria Takes Big Step to Flat Tax

In the first test vote, the 10 percent flat tax was approved in Bulgaria by an overwhelming margin. If the Bulgarian experience matches what happened in other nations, the low-rate flat tax will be adopted, the economy will grow faster, and the government will collect more revenue. But just to show that there are some things that remain constant, the bureaucrats at the International Monetary Fund will continue to urge countries not to adopt this simple and fair tax system. The Sofia Echo reports:

Parliament approved on November 23, in first reading, amendments to the Income Tax for Natural Persons Act, which will introduce a 10 per cent flat tax rate starting from January 2008. The amendments were supported with 152 against 36 votes, with four abstentions, Bulgarian news agency (BTA) said. The flat tax rate will replace the current progressive tax system.

New Data Show Lagging Living Standards for Welfare States

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is hardly a hotbed of free-market thought. So it is particularly remarkable that the OECD has just released new figures on per capita gross dometic product and per capita consumption.

The latter data, for AIC (“actual individual consumption”), are especially interesting since they allow comparisons of living standards across nations. For the 30 member nations of the OECD, the United States is second, with per capita consumption that is 152 percent of the OECD average, trailing only the small tax haven of Luxembourg.

Europe’s major welfare states, by contrast, do not fare so well. France is at 106, Sweden at 104, and Germany at 103, meaning that their living standards are only about 70 percent of U.S. levels.

The report also has data for both 2002 and 2005. During that period, Iceland enjoyed the biggest increase in living standards, climbing from 113 percent of the OECD average to 128 percent of the average. Not coincidentally, Iceland has been lowering tax rates and reducing the burden of government.

European Politicians, Global Warming, and Moral Preening

European leaders (and their doubtlessly bloated staffs) plan to fly to Lisbon to sign a treaty and then fly to Brussels for a summit the following day.

This has caused a bit of griping, but not because taxpayer funds are being wasted, but rather because all those private jets will cause a large carbon footprint. So in a hollow gesture, the political heads of three countries are going to share a jet.

Gee, how thoughtful.

The EU Observer reports on the farce:

At the insistence of the Portuguese EU presidency, all 27 EU leaders and their delegations will fly to Lisbon on 13 December for a special signing ceremony of the bloc’s new treaty — and then jet on to Brussels for a regular EU summit meeting the next day. The cumbersome travel arrangements allow Portugal to call the new treaty the ‘Lisbon Treaty’ — but they have also led to criticism that EU leaders are setting a bad example by preaching about green values but then unnecessarily contributing to global warming through the short round trip. To reduce at least part of the summit’s carbon footprint, the Benelux leaders will board a Dutch government airplane when flying to and from Lisbon — something suggested by Mr Balkenende.

Without the Farm Bill, We Would All Starve Tomorrow

Farmers’ groups would have us believe that without the multi-billion dollar dollops of taxpayers’ money that flow to farmers, the abundance of food we will all tuck into tomorrow would be reduced to a few grains of (probably foreign) rice. So, with Thanksgiving upon us, I thought I would provide an update of the Farm Bill debate.

Because of procedural wranglings, the Senate last week suspended consideration of the farm bill, possibly until early next year. The Republicans objected to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s wish to limit the number of amendments that could be offered to the farm bill, meaning that time-honored Republican favorites such as the estate tax could not be considered. So, the bill was pulled. Assuming the Senate can pass a re-introduced bill in December, it will probably not go to conference before January.

In the meantime, our esteemed lawmakers are trading jibes about who is to blame for the current gridlock. Pity the farm-state Senators who have to go back to constituents to explain why the farm bill has been held up. In practice, so long as a bill is passed sometime in early 2008, it will probably not affect many farmers. Just in case though, and to placate farmers who say they are incapable of making planting decisions or securing loans without some sort of guarantee of government support, a bill to extend the current farm bill has been introduced.

What does all this mean for reform? Is the current stasis a positive sign? It would be if it reflected a deep unease about the farm bill and a fundamental, principled objection to the very premise of American farm policy. But, alas, so far the debate has been characterized by differences over the best way to deliver farm welfare (see my previous post) and how to spend any savings from higher commodity prices. Even the “alternative” farm bill, introduced by Sens. Richard Lugar (R, Ind.) and Lautenberg (D, N.J) delivers only modest relief to taxpayers, instead spending money on things such as the “Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program” ($200 million) and $75 million for “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.”

President Bush’s veto threat still looms but, again, I have doubts about how committed he is to vetoing the bill, especially as the presidential election draws near. And, after all, he signed the egregious 2002 Farm Bill.