Hong Kong’s Flat Tax Rate Dropping to 15 Percent

Unlike American politicians, Hong Kong lawmakers understand that lower tax rates are a key to staying ahead in a competitive global economy. The Chinese Territory’s chief executive has just announced that the flat tax will drop by one percentage point, from 16 percent to 15 percent. As BBC news reports, the corporate rate also will drop, with further reductions likely:

Hong Kong has said it will cut taxes, in a move to promote further growth and lure foreign investment. Leader Donald Tsang said taxes would be cut by 1 percentage point, to 16.5% for firms and 15% for individuals, in the first policy speech of his new term. …In announcing the tax cuts, Mr Tsang said: “We will consider further profits tax relief if our economy remains robust and our public finances stay sound.”

Absence of Income Tax is Key to State Competitiveness

The Tax Foundation has released its annual State Business Tax Climate Index and there are two things that jump off the page. First, the top five states (and seven of the top 10) have no state income tax. The flip side is that the worst-performing states all have income taxes, generally with steeply “progressive” rates. Rhode Island is in last place, though it will be interesting to see whether a quasi-flat tax adopted this year will improve the state’s future rankings. Tax-news.com reports:

The Tax Foundation’s 2008 State Business Tax Climate Index has found that Wyoming has the most business friendly tax regime in the United States, while the business powerhouses of California and New York continue to fare particularly badly in terms of state tax competitiveness. …According to the index, the top ten states with the best business tax climate in 2008 are: Wyoming, South Dakota, Nevada, Alaska, Florida, Montana, New Hampshire, Texas, Delaware and Oregon. Propping up the table was Rhode Island in 50th place. California, New York and New Jersey occupy 47th, 48th and 49th place on the index respectively. The remaining states in the bottom ten include (descending): Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, Vermont, Iowa and Ohio. “There’s no question that states are competing with one another for companies, jobs, and people,” announced study co-author Curtis Dubay. “Taxes matter to businesses, and the states with better business tax climates will reap the rewards.”

Lomborg on Gore

At the Guardian’s “Comment is free” site, skeptical environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg has some tart words for the Nobel committee:

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize justly rewards the thousands of scientists of the United Nations Climate Change Panel (the IPCC). These scientists are engaged in excellent, painstaking work that establishes exactly what the world should expect from climate change.

The other award winner, former US vice president Al Gore, has spent much more time telling us what to fear. While the IPCC’s estimates and conclusions are grounded in careful study, Gore doesn’t seem to be similarly restrained.

Gore told the world in his Academy Award-winning movie (recently labelled “one-sided” and containing “scientific errors” by a British judge) to expect 20-foot sea-level rises over this century. But his Nobel co-winners, the IPCC, conclude that sea levels will rise between only a half-foot and two feet over this century, with their best expectation being about one foot - similar to what the world experienced over the past 150 years. …

The IPCC engages in meticulous research where facts rule over everything else. Gore has a very different approach.

New at Cato Unbound: Philip Jenkins versus Mark Lilla

In his spirited reply to Mark Lilla’s lead essay the eminent Penn State religion scholar Philip Jenkins contests both Lilla’s reading of history and the lessons he draws from it. In contrast to Lilla’s claim of American innocence of political theologies, Jenkins points to the centrality of religiously-motivated politics in “the moral crusades of the late nineteenth century, … the Social Gospel, the era of Progressivism and Prohibition” and the civil rights movement. Jenkins’ alternative theory of the rise of liberal toleration emphasizes “changes in the material life of Western societies” brought about by increasing commercialization, which “has nothing to do with the intricacies of Christian theology, and was only marginally connected with Enlightenment political theory.” Muslim theology and culture aren’t at the bottom of Muslim intolerance and religious militancy, Jenkins says, but the failure of these societies to create “economic development, … free institutions and free media.”

Don’t miss Wednesday’s essay from Damon Linker, author of The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege, and be sure to tune in Monday when blogging eminence Andrew Sullivan joins the fray.

Yet Another Reason Not to Be Too Enamored of SCHIP

The U.S. health care sector is fundamentally broken.  Yet most reform proposals, including Congress’ plan to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, would just throw more money at the dysfunction without doing anything to fix it.  (Mind you, that suits the health care and insurance industries just fine.) 

Another example of what such reforms won’t fix emerged in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.  Researchers examined the medical records of 1,500 children and found that the kids received (what the evidence suggests is) high-quality care only 47 percent of the time. 

Similar studies have found that adults receive recommended care only 55 percent of the time.  One of those studies even found that having insurance doesn’t much improve the quality of care that adults receive:

Although having insurance increases the ease of access to the health care system, it is not sufficient to ensure appropriate use of services or content of care. Indeed, within systems where access to care is more equitable … substantial gaps between observed and optimal quality remain.  In the United Kingdom, with universal coverage, a study using our methods found that the overall proportion of recommended health care that was received was similar to what we have reported.

This week’s study on the quality of pediatric care did not compare the quality of care received by insured children to that received by uninsured children.  Nonetheless, the researchers closed with an illuminating comment on the current debate over SCHIP:

Expansion of access to care through insurance coverage, which is the focus of national health care policy related to children, will not, by itself, eliminate the deficits in the quality of care.

Yeah … but … oh, what the hell.  Who’s up for throwing more money at the problem?

Lang on the Army

Former DIA analyst, West Point Arabic instructor, and Vietnam vet Col. Pat Lang has a very interesting post on the future of the army, with an equally interesting discussion (politically incorrect and with some colorful language) in the comments:

This week in Washington, The Association of the US Army (AUSA) held its convention. At that convention the Chief of Staff said that 20 years of conflict are anticipated by the Army. That is bad news for an army that is still wedded to the concept of soldiers as middle class married men with young families. A succession of pious, middle class uniformed leaders created that ideal for America’s army after the Vietnam War. People in today’s army are expected to conduct themselves socially like small town Americans. Drinking, smoking, sexual adventure are all severely sanctioned even in combat zones. Where is the “safety valve” for these guys? A set of mores of that type is not feasible in an army that lives at war in far flung places with often repeated and protracted combat tours. My active duty friends tell me that the “middle class” army is already breaking down as a form. Divorce, family dissolution and other symptoms abound. A different kind of army will emerge from the meat grinder.

Paul Craig Roberts Misses the Mark

In an opinion piece published this week, Paul Craig Roberts takes exception to a conclusion in my recent Cato paper about the state of U.S. manufacturing.  I usually welcome disagreement as an opportunity to elaborate or persuade.  But it’s quite evident that Roberts is not interested in elaboration and is beyond persuasion.  The purpose of his dissent was to construct a straw man against which he could present his skeptical, and empirically refutable, views about trade.  

In my paper, Roberts identifies what he believes is an “extraordinary mistake [which] results in an incorrect conclusion.”  He argues that my failure to distinguish imports produced by U.S. companies abroad (offshored production) from imports produced by foreign firms abroad (import competition) leads me to the erroneous conclusion that “the health of U.S. manufacturing [is attributable] to import competition.”  

First of all, nowhere in my paper do I attribute the health of U.S. manufacturing to import competition.  The only passage from which such an interpretation might be drawn (by a careless reader, I would add) is this one: “Revenues, profits, output, value added, and even compensation rose the most for industries most exposed to import competition, and they rose the least for those industries experiencing the smallest increases in imports.”  That is just a statement of fact, as gleaned from the data.  It assigns no causation to import competition.   

I also write: “Exposure to trade, as evidenced by the relationship between imports and exports and operating performance, has been an important component of the success of U.S. manufacturing industries.”  This statement at least implies some degree of causation, which is supported by the fact that profit growth (operating performance) is a function of revenue growth (expanding exports) and cost reduction (increasing imports of production inputs). 

Second, my failure to distinguish between sources of imports in no way undermines the central points of my paper.  The purpose of my paper (“Thriving in a Global Economy: The Truth about U.S. Manufacturing and Trade”) was simply to evaluate the health of the U.S. manufacturing sector.  The conventional wisdom holds that U.S. manufacturing is eroding, the country is de-industrializing, and that import competition is the driving force behind this trend.  We hear this all the time.  Politicians tell us.  Op-ed page writers remind us.  Lou Dobbs warns us.  And members of Congress have proposed all sorts of punitive trade legislation under the banner of arresting and reversing manufacturing decline. 

I set out simply to assess the credibility of the premise.  My approach was straightforward, honest, and devoid of ideology.  There was no shell game or sleight of hand.  I found the most relevant, comprehensible, comprehensive, objective statistics that speak to the health of the sector, presented those data, and offered conclusions that are easily verifiable (i.e., not confused by economic modeling or econometrics or the debatable assumptions upon which such approaches often rely). 

What the data show very clearly is that U.S. manufacturing is far from declining; it is, in fact, thriving.  Output, revenue, profits, profit rates, return on investment, and exports have all been trending upward since the nadir of the manufacturing recession in 2002 and all reached record highs in 2006.  If that doesn’t constitute “thriving,” I’d be interested to learn what does. 

Since data and trends pertaining to the sector as a whole might mask different conditions in particular industries, I drilled down to explore the health of individual U.S. manufacturing industries (broadly defined at the 3-digit NAICS level).  Out of 18 broadly-defined industries, I found that 12 are doing very well and that 6 are struggling, according to the same metrics used to assess the sector as a whole.  With the exception of the auto industry, those industries that are faring poorly are generally low-technology, low-wage, and labor-intensive. 

With the manufacturing sector and the majority of its component industries found to be doing very well, the purpose of the paper was fulfilled.  The conventional wisdom was refuted.  If manufacturing is thriving – and not declining – then it is moot to demonstrate that trade has not been an important cause of manufacturing decline.  But since trade is so demonized, and the data so exonerating, it was pertinent to describe the relationship observed between trade and the various performance metrics. 

Here are some of my observations:  

  • “the rising level of U.S. imports and exports has been associated with positive developments in key manufacturing performance indicia”;
  • “As manufactured imports declined in 2001 and 2002, manufacturing output, exports, and revenues declined as well.  When imports began to pick up again as the manufacturing recession was ending, all of those real variables tracked upwards, adding more data points to the line that confirms a strong positive correlation”;
  • “As manufacturing imports have achieved new heights, manufacturing output, revenues, exports, and profits have all set records, too.”
  • “The premise that U.S. manufacturing is under duress from imports is not supported by the data”;

It is noted in the paper that industries that experienced higher levels of import growth fared better than industries that experienced lower levels of import growth.  I suggest that access to imported raw materials, components, and capital equipment helps keep the lid on costs of production for U.S. producers.  I mention that 55 percent of all 2006 import value was of intermediate products – precisely those products consumed by industry in its own production processes.  I mention that manufacturing export growth has been strong in recent years and that foreign markets are likely to be even more important to U.S. manufacturers in the year’s ahead since that’s where the dynamic growth is.  All of those conclusions (implications, if you prefer) counsel in favor of treading lightly on the trade protection front. 

The fact that some proportion of U.S. imports might have been offshored U.S. production making its way back to the United States in no way undermines any of the key points in my paper.  Even if all imports were of U.S. offshored production, the fact remains that trade has been an important part of that success story.  To the extent that the import figures reflect offshored U.S. production, rising profitability affirms the wisdom of that decision.  But the proportion of imports attributable to offshored production is likely quite small, and not “substantial,” as Roberts suggests. 

Third, my failure to distinguish between offshored U.S. production and foreign production in the import data is insignificant because other data presented affirm the limited importance of offshored production.  Roberts asserts that offshoring simply substitutes imports for domestic production.  If that were the case and if offshoring constitutes more than an insignificant portion of U.S. imports, then we should see that in the data.  But we don’t.   

Instead, we see that U.S. factory output and U.S. value added increased the most for industries that also experienced the largest increases in imports.  In other words, if those imports are offshored U.S. production, they aren’t having a discernible substitution effect, as U.S. output, value added, and profits are rising too.  We also see that U.S. factories accounted for 21.1 percent of the world’s manufacturing output in 2005 (2.5 times greater than Chinese factories), which is virtually unchanged from the 1993 figure of 21.4 percent.  In absolute terms U.S. manufacturing output and value added have been rising virtually year-after-year, as has world manufacturing output.  Yet, the United States has somehow managed to preserve its share of world manufacturing output for at least 13 years.  If Roberts’ concerns about my data presentation had any merit, we would not observe the correlation between imports and output, nor would we see U.S. share of world output that has been remarkably stable. 

I usually don’t mind disagreement with my point of view.  It happens frequently.  But I find it offensive when someone disparages and dismisses my work without a coherent basis for doing so.