My crusade against the border-adjustable tax (BAT) continues.
In a column co-authored with Veronique de Rugy of Mercatus, I explain in today's Wall Street Journal why Republicans should drop this prospective source of new tax revenue.
...this should be an opportune time for major tax cuts to boost American growth and competitiveness. But much of the reform energy is being dissipated in a counterproductive fight over the “border adjustment” tax proposed by House Republicans. ...Republican tax plans normally receive overwhelming support from the business community. But the border-adjustment tax has created deep divisions. Proponents claim border adjustability is not protectionist because it would automatically push up the value of the dollar, neutralizing the effect on trade. Importers don’t have much faith in this theory and oppose the GOP plan.
Much of the column is designed to debunk the absurd notion that a BAT is needed to offset some mythical advantage that other nations supposedly enjoy because of their value-added taxes.
Here's what supporters claim.
Proponents of the border-adjustment tax also are using a dodgy sales pitch, saying that their plan will get rid of a “Made in America Tax.” The claim is that VATs give foreign companies an advantage. Say a German company exports a product to the U.S. It doesn’t pay the American corporate income tax, and it receives a rebate on its German VAT payments. But an American company exporting to Germany has to pay both—it’s subject to the U.S. corporate income tax and then pays the German VAT on the product when it is sold.
Sounds persuasive, at least until you look at both sides of the equation.
When the German company sells to customers in the U.S., it is subject to the German corporate income tax. The competing American firm selling domestically pays the U.S. corporate income tax. Neither is hit with a VAT. In other words, a level playing field.
Here's a visual depiction of how the current system works. I include the possibility that that German products sold in America may also get hit by the US corporate income tax (if the German company have a US subsidiary, for instance). What's most important, though, is that neither American-produced goods and services nor German-produced goods and services are hit by a VAT.
“First Doubts” dealt with predictions that a 25% rise in the dollar could make a 20% tax on imports disappear with only temporary effects on trade but a $1.2 trillion increase in tax revenues (which would supposedly be paid by foreigners, and without complaint).
Second Doubts will focus on a key claim that border adjustability is needed because “exports from the United States implicitly bear the cost of the U.S. income tax while imports into the United States do not bear any U.S. income tax cost.” And we’ll question whether border adjustability is justified because corporate “cash flow” taxes under the House GOP plan are more like value-added taxes than corporate income taxes in other countries.
“A Better Way” (a House Republican discussion document of June 24, 2016) says, “In the absence of border adjustments, exports from the United States implicitly bear the cost of the U.S. income tax while imports into the United States do not bear any U.S. income tax cost. This amounts to a self-imposed unilateral penalty on U.S. exports and a self-imposed unilateral subsidy for U.S. imports [emphasis added].”
That statement makes the case for “border adjustment” – which means the costs of imports (unlike equivalent domestic costs) would cease to be tax-deductible for business and rewards from selling exports would cease to be taxable.
Since all countries have corporate income taxes, what could it possibly mean to say only our own corporate income tax is an “implicit” tax on exports? Who pays this “implicit” tax?
What could it mean to say that failure to impose U.S. income tax on foreign factories is a “subsidy to imports?"
I wrote yesterday to praise the Better Way tax plan put forth by House Republicans, but I added a very important caveat: The "destination-based" nature of the revised corporate income tax could be a poison pill for reform.
I listed five concerns about a so-called destination-based cash flow tax (DBCFT), most notably my concerns that it would undermine tax competition (folks on the left think it creates a "race to the bottom" when governments have to compete with each other) and also that it could (because of international trade treaties) be an inadvertent stepping stone for a government-expanding value-added tax.
Brian Garst of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity has just authored a new study on the DBCFT. Here's his summary description of the tax.
The DBCFT would be a new type of corporate income tax that disallows any deductions for imports while also exempting export-related revenue from taxation. This mercantilist system is based on the same “destination” principle as European value-added taxes, which means that it is explicitly designed to preclude tax competition.
Since CF&P was created to protect and promote tax competition, you won't be surprised to learn that the DBCFT's anti-tax competition structure is a primary objection to this new tax.
First, the DBCFT is likely to grow government in the long-run due to its weakening of international tax competition and the loss of its disciplinary impact on political behavior. ... Tax competition works because assets are mobile. This provides pressure on politicians to keep rates from climbing too high. When the tax base shifts heavily toward immobile economic activity, such competition is dramatically weakened. This is cited as a benefit of the tax by those seeking higher and more progressive rates. ...Alan Auerbach, touts that the DBCFT “alleviates the pressure to reduce the corporate tax rate,” and that it would “alter fundamentally the terms of international tax competition.” This raises the obvious question—would those businesses and economists that favor the DBCFT at a 20% rate be so supportive at a higher rate?
Brian also shares my concern that the plan may morph into a VAT if the WTO ultimately decides that is violates trade rules.
Second, the DBCFT almost certainly violates World Trade Organization commitments. ...Unfortunately, it is quite possible that lawmakers will try to “fix” the tax by making it into an actual value-added tax rather than something that is merely based on the same anti-tax competition principles as European-style VATs. ...the close similarity of the VAT and the DBCFT is worrisome... Before VATs were widely adopted, European nations featured similar levels of government spending as the United States... Feeding at least in part off the easy revenue generate by their VATs, European nations grew much more drastically over the last half century than the United States and now feature higher burdens of government spending. The lack of a VAT-like revenue engine in the U.S. constrained efforts to put the United States on a similar trajectory as European nations.
And if you're wondering why a VAT would be a bad idea, here's a chart from Brian's paper showing how the burden of government spending in Europe increased once that tax was imposed.Read the rest of this post »
The Republicans in the House of Representatives, led by Ways & Means Chairman Kevin Brady and Speaker Paul Ryan, have proposed a “Better Way” tax plan that has many very desirable features.
- Death tax repeal
- Depreciation replaced with expensing
- Corporate tax rate dropped to 20 percent
- No deduction for state and local taxes
And there are many other provisions that would reduce penalties on work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship. No, it’s not quite a flat tax, which is the gold standard of tax reform, but it is a very pro‐growth initiative worthy of praise.
That being said, there is a feature of the plan that merits closer inspection. The plan would radically change the structure of business taxation by imposing a 20 percent tax on all imports and providing a special exemption for all export‐related income. This approach, known as “border adjustability,” is part of the plan to create a “destination‐based cash flow tax” (DBCFT).
When I spoke about the Better Way plan at the Heritage Foundation last month (my portion of the panel starts about 1:11:00 if you want to skip ahead), I highlighted the good features of the plan in the first few minutes of my brief remarks, but raised my concerns about the DBCFT in my final few minutes.
Allow me to elaborate on those comments with five specific worries about the proposal.
The tax-reform landscape is getting crowded.
Adding to the proposals put forth by other candidates (I've previously reviewed the plans offered by Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, and Donald Trump), we now have a reform blueprint from Ted Cruz.
Writing for the Wall Street Journal, the Texas Senator unveiled his rewrite of the tax code.
...tax reform is a powerful lever for spurring economic expansion. Along with reducing red tape on business and restoring sound money, it can make the U.S. economy boom again. That’s why I’m proposing the Simple Flat Tax as the cornerstone of my economic agenda.
Here are the core features of his proposal.
...my Simple Flat Tax plan features the following: • For a family of four, no taxes whatsoever (income or payroll) on the first $36,000 of income. • Above that level, a 10% flat tax on all individual income from wages and investment. • No death tax, alternative minimum tax or ObamaCare taxes. • Elimination of the payroll tax and the corporate income tax... • A Universal Savings Account, which would allow every American to save up to $25,000 annually on a tax-deferred basis for any purpose.
From an economic perspective, there's a lot to like. Thanks to the low tax rate, the government no longer would be imposing harsh penalties on productive behavior. Major forms of double taxation such as the death tax would be abolished, creating a much better environment for wage-boosting capital formation.Read the rest of this post »
American news stories about the Greek financial collapse frequently echo complaints of government employees and their supplicants about "budget cuts." In reality, Greek government spending rose from 44.6 percent of GDP in early 2006 to 54 percent in 2010 and 59.2 percent in 2014 (although this is partly because private GDP fell even faster than government spending). Military spending is particularly lavish in Greece, second only to the United States within NATO as a percentage of GDP.
What is rarely mentioned in all the one-sided confusion about "austerity" is the other side of the budget--namely, taxes.
As if Greece didn’t have enough troubles, the Troika (International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank) has promoted capital flight and a brain drain (exodus of skill and talent) by offering more and more loans to Greece in exchange for an increasingly suicidal blend of brutal taxes on both labor and capital. The table shows what happened to key Greek tax rates in the past few years.
|Corporate Tax Rate||26.00||20.00|
|Personal Income Tax Rate||46.00||40.00|
|Sales Tax Rate (VAT)||23.00||18.00|
|Social Security Rate||42.01||29.05|
Our nation very much needs fundamental tax reform, so it’s welcome news that major public figures — including presidential candidates — are proposing to gut the internal revenue code and replace it with plans that collect revenue in less‐destructive ways.
A few months ago, I wrote about a sweeping proposal by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
Today, let’s look at the plan that Senator Rand Paul has put forward in a Wall Street Journal column.
He has some great info on why the current tax system is a corrupt mess.
From 2001 until 2010, there were at least 4,430 changes to tax laws — an average of one “fix” a day — always promising more fairness, more simplicity or more growth stimulants. And every year the Internal Revenue Code grows absurdly more incomprehensible, as if it were designed as a jobs program for accountants, IRS agents and tax attorneys.
And he explains that punitive tax policy helps explain why our economy has been under‐performing.
…redistribution policies have led to rising income inequality and negative income gains for families. …We are already at least $2 trillion behind where we should be with a normal recovery; the growth gap widens every month.
So what’s his proposal?
…repeal the entire IRS tax code — more than 70,000 pages — and replace it with a low, broad‐based tax of 14.5% on individuals and businesses. I would eliminate nearly every special‐interest loophole. The plan also eliminates the payroll tax on workers and several federal taxes outright, including gift and estate taxes, telephone taxes, and all duties and tariffs. I call this “The Fair and Flat Tax.” …establish a 14.5% flat‐rate tax applied equally to all personal income, including wages, salaries, dividends, capital gains, rents and interest. All deductions except for a mortgage and charities would be eliminated. The first $50,000 of income for a family of four would not be taxed. For low‐income working families, the plan would retain the earned‐income tax credit.
Kudos to Senator Paul. This type of tax system would be far less destructive than the current system.