Topic: Tax and Budget Policy

Will Democrats Impose French-Type Tax Rates on America?

The alternative minimum tax is a wretched system affecting a couple of million taxpayers per year, but the AMT is scheduled to expand dramatically if current law is left untouched. Democrats do not like this tax, largely since it indirectly takes away the state and local tax deduction – and thus aggravates taxpayers in high-tax, Democratic states like New York and California. The AMT should be abolished, but the question is whether the elimination of this built-in tax hike will be “paid-for” with a tax increase on other taxpayers. Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal opines on the growing possibility that Democrats will try to increase income tax rates on the so-called rich, even if it means that tax rates in America will climb above the oppressive levels found in welfare states like France and Germany:

Democrats want to go after high-income earners, whom they call “rich.” What is surprising is how high rates must be raised to make their plan’s numbers add up. The top AMT rate would increase to 31.5% from 28%. Democratic tax experts also recommend eliminating the lower rate for capital gains and dividends for those subject to the AMT. This would raise the capital gains tax rate to about 31% from its present 15% rate. …The changes in the AMT rate, and the treatment of dividends and capital gains, still leaves Mr. Rangel at least $600 billion short of paying for the AMT fix. House Democrats have acknowledged that to close this final gap, they will have to look to personal income taxes. Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the head of the Ways and Means tax panel, says this will require raising the top tax rate of 35% by no more than three to five percentage points. Mr. Neal should check his math. Tax experts on Capitol Hill and in the Treasury Department calculate that to get $60 billion a year from the top 1% of income earners would more likely require rate hikes of 10 to 15 percentage points. This would lift the top federal marginal income tax rate as high as 50%. “I can’t think of a better way to throw the economy into recession and end the bull market expansion of recent years than to raise tax rates like this,” warns Michael Darda, chief economist for MKM Partners. It’s hard to argue with that assessment. Overnight, the U.S. would go from being a nation with one of the lowest set of income-tax rates to one of the highest in the developed world. …In countries as diverse as Ireland, China, India, Japan, Russia and Hong Kong, tax rates are flat or falling, part of a world-wide effort to reward growth and get more of it. Yet Reaganomics, alive nearly everywhere else, is dead in the halls of the United States Congress.

Two Million French Have Escaped France

Anne Applebaum’s Washington Post column discusses the upcoming French election. But most relevant for fans of tax competition, she notes that two million French have fled the high taxes and economic stagnation of their home country. Not surprisingly, a poll reveals that the overwhelming majority of French expats are happy in countries with more opportunity. Applebaum also explains that Europe’s less competitive nations have been trying to export their anti-growth policies in an effort to “make life equally difficult everywhere.”

Standing in the heart of London’s financial district, Sarkozy heaped compliments upon his country’s historic enemy. The British capital was, he said, a “town that seems more and more prosperous and dynamic every time I come here.” More important, it had become “one of the great French cities.” He understood, furthermore, that hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen had moved to Britain because “they are risk-takers, and risk is a bad word” in France. … [E]ven a Sarkozy victory in the final round of voting on Sunday won’t persuade all of the 2 million-plus French exiles to go home. Asked by a French polling company, TNS Sofres, “Are you satisfied with your life abroad?” 93 percent of French emigres surveyed recently said “yes.” … [T]here is nothing odd about the fact that the French now vote with their feet. There are better-paying jobs in London, taxes are lower in London, the economy grows faster in London: C’est la vie – and tough luck for Paris. … For the past decade, French, German and other European leaders have tried to unify European tax laws and regulations, the better to “even out the playing field” – or (depending on your point of view) to make life equally difficult everywhere.

Scandalous Pensions for European Parliamentarians

While the US Congress is infamous for its taxpayer-subsidized perks, US lawmakers are amateurs compared to the scammers in Brussels. Members of the European Parliament have a lavish taxpayer-financed retirement scheme that enables them to get $2 of taxpayer money for every $1 they put into their pension fund. But this immense perk does not even require them to necessarily use their own money. As the UK-based Telegraph reports, some MEPs – perhaps most MEPs – use office administrative funds:

The European Parliament’s bureau, the body that oversees the assembly’s administration, has voted to prevent publication of a list naming the 475 MEPs who benefit from a pension scheme worth more than £1,400 a month to Euro-MPs with the taxpayer matching every euro personally contributed with two from the public purse. Payments are controversial because, for “administrative reasons”, the MEP’s personal contributions are taken automatically from office expenses. No one checks whether the politician actually pays anything into the fund from his own salary. Many in Brussels believe that a “large proportion” of Euro-MPs are using their office payments to get a free second pension on top of national schemes.

May Day in Latin America

This Tuesday, May 1, Venezuelan ruler Hugo Chavez will take control “of Venezuela’s last remaining privately run oil projects.” The symbolism is obvious: the socialist May Day. Last year, Bolivian president Evo Morales sent his soldiers to occupy the gas fields in his country on May Day.

So I’m reminded, as I was last year, that May 1 is also the anniversary of the institution of private retirement accounts in Chile. Since then Chile has been a great economic success story.

Perhaps 25 or 50 years from now, we will know whether Chile’s privatization or Bolivia’s and Venezuela’s nationalizations brought a higher standard of living to their citizens.

“The Most Important Health Care Legislation of Our Lifetimes”

That is how Gov. Mitch Daniels describes his health care reform plan (which the Indiana legislature passed last night) in an email his staff helpfully forwarded my way.  According to the Indianapolis Star, Daniels’ plan will:

  • Expand Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women and children
  • Provide health insurance subsidies to individuals making $20,420 and families of four making $41,300 per year (i.e., 200 percent of the federal poverty level)
  • Provide those beneficiaries with $500 of free preventive care and $1,100 in a health savings account
  • Institute a “slacker mandate” that requires insurers to allow children to remain on their parents’ insurance policy up to age 24
  • Increase the cigarette tax by $0.44/pack, to $0.995/pack

Daniels was understandably moved.  Here is his full quote:

The health plan passed last night can fairly be described as the most important health care legislation of our lifetimes.  I have asked a host of people whether they can think of a better example and nobody has.  I am excited about the passage of the plan and what it can mean for uninsured Hoosiers and for low-income children, and, of course, to try to bring down the second-highest smoking rate in America.

Did Gov. Daniels (R!!) bother checking with anyone who has actually set foot outside of Indiana?  Whatever the case, here are a few things the Daniels plan will also do:

  • Crowd-out private coverage
  • Encourage cigarette smuggling and related crime
  • Trap more Indianans Hoosiers in low-wage jobs
  • Re-create in Medicaid the dependence problems that Congress sought to eliminate with welfare reform
  • Impose a brutally regressive tax on the poor.  According to Harvard’s Kip Viscusi: “The usual concerns about regressive taxes involve those that are regressive in percentage terms, that is, the poor pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than do the wealthy. Cigarette taxes are actually so regressive that the poor pay a much higher absolute level of taxes than do the wealthy. In 1990, people who made under $10,000 per year paid almost twice as much in cigarette taxes as those who made $50,000 and above. The people who will bear the cigarette taxes are not the legislators who enact them but rather the janitors and support staff for the legislature.
  • Cost more than projected

When conservatives finally do start questioning why so many supposed good guys keep turning to the Dark Side, they might launch their inquisition with an examination of the Medicaid program, which makes Democratic and Republican governors alike this very tempting offer: big government at one-half the price.

Mallaby, Penn & Teller on Immigration

Sebastian Mallaby’s Washington Post column today on immigration is simply outstanding. After providing evidence that hard-working people who have crossed the border without the state’s stamp of approval do not increase the rate of unemployment, cost the average taxpayer nothing, and at worst depress wages of native high school drop-outs by 9 percent, Mallaby makes the argument that many otherwise decent people seem unable to make: the well-being of immigrants counts, too:

[A]lthough the concern for high-school dropouts is welcome, it must be weighed against the aspirations of migrants. Is it right to push native workers’ pay up by 2 percent [a generous estimate of the gain from tighter restrictions on liberty of movement] if that means depriving poor Mexicans of a chance to triple their incomes?

Of course it isn’t, and given that the total economic effect of immigration on U.S. households is a wash, the big ramp-up in enforcement spending beloved by immigration hawks is an egregious waste of money. But no politician is going to say that.

Another excellent, and rather more entertaining, rejoinder to nativist hysteria is Penn and Teller’s new immigration episode of Bullsh*t, available here for your viewing pleasure.

Irish Policy Makers Resist Tax Harmonization

Tax-news.com reports on the growing concern in Ireland about European Union plans to harmonize the definition of taxable income for corporations. Such a scheme, particularly if it is voluntary, is not automatically objectionable. But Irish lawmakers correctly fear that a common tax base is merely the first step on the path to harmonized (and higher) tax rates:

European Union Taxation Commissioner Laszlo Kovacs has reportedly told Irish business leaders that formal plans for a common EU corporate tax base will be unveiled by the European Commission next week. …despite Kovacs’s assurances that the system would be optional for businesses, many member states, including Ireland, are strongly opposed to the CCCTB plans, wary that it would be the first step towards the harmonisation of corporate tax rates across the EU, an idea favoured by France and Germany. If this was the case, Ireland would certainly have a lot to lose, as its 12.5% corporate tax rate has been cited as a major ingredient in Ireland’s economic revival in recent years, and investors certainly would not welcome European interference with Ireland’s corporate tax regime. Consequently, organisations such as IBEC, and Irish politicians, have been lobbying in opposition of CCCTB. …Irish MEP Eoin Ryan…told MEPs that he “cannot and will not accept” moves towards a common corporate tax base. “Tax competition is healthy for the economic development of the European Union. It provides a clear incentive to European Governments to manage their public finances carefully and to build a corporate tax regime that encourages enterprise,” he stated. “The bottom line here is that no one size fits all policy covering corporate taxation matters in Europe is going to succeed. It is neither sensible nor realistic to seek convergence of corporate tax rates across Europe. EU member states have different demographic and social priorities. EU member states need to use their corporate taxation policies in different ways so as to entice foreign direct investment into their countries and generate employment.”