Topic: Tax and Budget Policy

Government Hall of Shame

The Washington Post reported the other day that there are more delays and cost overruns at the new Capitol Hill Visitor Center.

In my letter in the Post today, I suggest a display case be installed in the visitor center for the most outstanding federal cost overruns: scale models of the Big Dig, the International Space Station, the Denver airport, and much more could be included (see ships, fighters, much more).

Even better would be an independent “Government Hall of Shame” built somewhere near Capitol Hill. That way visitors to Washington could find out how the government really works after they have listened to the bedtime stories about grand federal achievements heard at the usual D.C. tourist stops.

The Hall of Shame could focus not just on outstanding cost overruns, but could also include scale models of infamous pork projects such as the Alaska Bridge to Nowhere. Another display could highlight grand-scale federal failures such as high-rise public housing and the Army Corps of Engineer’s New Orleans levees. 

Madame Tussauds has announced plans to open a D.C. museum. Perhaps they could donate wax figures of Jack Abramoff, Duke Cunningham, Dan Rostenkowski, and other scoundrels to the Hall of Shame. 

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.

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.”

When Governments Lobby Government, Taxpayers Lose

John Fund has a rather depressing article at the Wall Street Journal’s opinionjounal.com. He explains how governments - including universities and Indian tribes - are exempt from restrictions on lobbying. Yet these are some of the groups that specialize in feeding at the public trough. The real problem, of course, is that government is too big. So long as politicians are confiscating and redistributing about $3 trillion, interest groups will figure out ways of steering other people’s money in their direction:

….lobbyists visiting Capitol Hill are bound by House and Senate ethics rules that cap most individual gifts at $50 per elected official or staffer, with an annual limit of $100 per recipient from any single source. But local governments, public universities and Indian tribes are exempt from the limit, so they are able to shower members and their staffs with such goodies as luxury skybox tickets to basketball games and front-row concert tickets. Having members or their key aides attend such free events in the company of glad-handing university presidents and local government officials winds up costing taxpayers a pretty penny. Much of the explosive growth in earmarks has been directed to local governments and universities. …Universities and colleges spent at least $75 million in 2005 on lobbying according to a study by USA Today. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that $2 billion in grants flowed into higher education in 2003. …The same lobbying rules that apply to private-sector lobbyists should also apply to taxpayer-funded government lobbyists. …Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff once told me that he built his lobbying business in such a way that all his major clients were Indian tribes and local governments, in part because he knew he could wine and dine power brokers on Capitol Hill without breaking any laws.