Category Archive for: Taxes [Return to Main]

Thursday, August 06, 2015

'The Declining Impact of U.S. Income Taxes on Wealth Inequality'

Nick Bunker:

The declining impact of U.S. income taxes on wealth inequality: A growing number of papers measuring U.S. wealth inequality and its continuing growth were published over the past year. One of those key papers, by economists Emmanuel Saez of the University of California-Berkeley and Gabriel Zucman of the London School of Economics, finds that the share of wealth held by the top 0.1 percent of families in the United States grew from about 7 percent in the late 1970s to 22 percent in 2012. Yet it’s important to note that Saez and Zucman’s results and similar estimates look at the distribution of wealth before accounting for the impact of taxation. A new paper looks at the post-tax distribution of wealth and finds that the federal income tax system is doing significantly less to reduce wealth inequality than in the past. And there are signs that the federal tax system in recent years might actually be increasing wealth inequality.
The paper by economists Adam Looney at the Brookings Institution and Kevin B. Moore at the U.S. Federal Reserve looks at trends in wealth inequality from 1989 to 2013 using data from the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances. ...
Looney and Moore’s analysis is, as they note, the first attempt to analyze trends in post-tax wealth inequality. So their paper is just the beginning of the investigation into this area. But if their results hold up they would have strong implications for how we think about the tax code and wealth inequality.

'Unwavering Fealty to a Failed Theory'

Bad economic theory (but good if you are rich) has trickled down to this cycle's Republican presidential candidates:

Unwavering Fealty to a Failed Theory, by David Madland, US News and World Report: With their first debate set for tonight, Republican candidates have been trying mightily to claim they can help address the economic problems most Americans face. ...
While Jeb Bush declared in February that "the opportunity gap is the defining issue of our time," more recently he's been forced to backtrack from his statement that Americans "need to work longer hours" in order to boost their incomes. Sen. Marco Rubio's argument that if the United States is to "remain an exceptional nation, we must close this gap in opportunity," rings a bit hollow next to his tax plan that disproportionately benefits the wealthy. Gov. Scott Walker says he wants to help families achieve the "American Dream," but thinks the minimum wage is "lame," has stripped the words "living wage" from state laws, and has attacked workers' right to join together to collectively bargain for better wages.
Looking beyond the rhetoric and individual policies, however, lies the Republican Party's major problem: unwavering fealty to trickle-down economics. Virtually all Republicans since Ronald Reagan was elected president have run on a platform of supply-side policies, and the 2016 election will be no different. But it should be, because there is now a growing recognition that trickle-down economics has failed....

Friday, July 24, 2015

'Raise the Gas Tax Already'

James Surowiecki:

Raise the Gas Tax Already: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a conservative Republican. Senator Barbara Boxer is a liberal Democrat. So the fact that they’ve worked together to come up with a plan to fund highway spending for the next three years might seem like a good thing, a rare moment of bipartisanship in a Congress riven by ideological hostility. And, in fact, you could see the thousand-page bill they’ve produced as, in the words of the Times, “real progress,” except for one thing: their complicated, jury-rigged plan is only necessary because of the continued refusal by Congress to embrace the obvious, economically sensible solution to highway funding, namely raising the gas tax. ...
The fundamental problem, of course, is that raising taxes, no matter how economically sensible those taxes might be, is anathema to a huge swath of the Republican Party. ... Opposition to higher income taxes has some theoretical justification: higher marginal rates discourage people from working more and investing. ... But no such argument exists against the gas tax: all it does, in essence, is ask drivers to pay for the roads they use. It’s not even fair to say that keeping this tax at its current level is a check on big government, since most federal highway spending now goes toward rebuilding and repairing roads—maintenance that even conservatives recognize we must do.
Highway revenue has to be raised somehow. Congress should show some political spine, discard the Rube Goldberg funding schemes, and stop treating all taxes as bad ones.

As noted in the article, there are also, of course, environmental benefits from an increase in gas taxes.

Monday, June 29, 2015

'The Stimulative Effect of Redistribution'

Bart Hobijn and Alexander Nussbacher in the SF Fed's Economic Letter:

The Stimulative Effect of Redistribution, by Bart Hobijn and Alexander Nussbacher: The idea of taking from the rich and giving to the poor goes back long before the legend of Robin Hood. This kind of redistribution sounds desirable out of a sense of fairness. However, economists often judge a policy less on whether it is fair, and more in terms of whether it is efficient or inefficient, as well as whether it stimulates or slows economic activity.
In this Economic Letter we evaluate the stimulative effect of redistributing income from rich to poor households in a few distinct steps. We first provide a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation of the potential stimulus from redistributive policies. We then review the two main assumptions behind this policy prescription. We argue that the stimulative impact of such policies is likely to be lower than the simple calculation suggests. ...

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Blow Up the Tax Code and Start Over???

Here we go again with the flat tax proposals. This time it's Rand Paul:

Blow Up the Tax Code and Start Over, by Rand Paul: Some of my fellow Republican candidates for the presidency have proposed plans to fix the tax system. These proposals are a step in the right direction, but the tax code has grown so corrupt, complicated, intrusive and antigrowth that I’ve concluded the system isn’t fixable.
So on Thursday I am announcing an over $2 trillion tax cut that would 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.” ...

He might call it that, but even he admits the rich will pay a lower rate:

The left will argue that the plan is a tax cut for the wealthy. But most of the loopholes in the tax code were designed by the rich and politically connected. Though the rich will pay a lower rate along with everyone else, they won’t have special provisions to avoid paying lower than 14.5%.

Why not just get rid of the special provisions? Why is a flat tax more equitable than taxes based upon ability to pay (i.e. a progressive structure)?

And, of course, this won't provide enough revenue to fund government. How does he solve this? With two pieces of magic. First, magic budget cuts that he leaves unspecified (because proposing what it would actually take to close the budget gap would require severe cuts to social programs that people want to retain), and second, magic economic growth.

On the budget cuts, we get: 

my plan would actually reduce the national debt by trillions of dollars over time when combined with my package of spending cuts.

That's it. Somehow, the spending cuts will magically occur (and since we are imagining, guess who they would fall on?). But the biggest magic is the effect on the economy. It's an "economic steroid injection"!!!:

As a senator, I have proposed balanced budgets and I pledge to balance the budget as president.
Here’s why this plan would balance the budget: We asked the experts at the nonpartisan Tax Foundation to estimate what this plan would mean for jobs, and whether we are raising enough money to fund the government. The analysis is positive news: The plan is an economic steroid injection. Because the Fair and Flat Tax rewards work, saving, investment and small business creation, the Tax Foundation estimates that in 10 years it will increase gross domestic product by about 10%, and create at least 1.4 million new jobs.
And because the best way to balance the budget and pay down government debt is to put Americans back to work, my plan would actually reduce the national debt by trillions of dollars over time when combined with my package of spending cuts.

I bet it would almost be as good for the economy as the Bush tax cuts. Oh wait...

Monday, June 08, 2015

'Why the Mortgage Interest Tax Deduction Should Disappear, But Won't'

Cecchetti & Schoenholtz:

Why the mortgage interest tax deduction should disappear, but won't: In the run-up to the 2012 U.S. Presidential election, Planet Money asked five economists from across the political spectrum for proposals that they would like to see in the platform of the candidates. The diverse group agreed, first and foremost, on the wisdom of eliminating the tax deductibility of mortgage interest. 
The vast majority of economists probably agree. We certainly do. But it won’t happen, because politicians with aspirations for reelection find it toxic. ...
The ... tax deductibility of mortgage interest ... raises inequality and reduces economic efficiency.
The source of increased inequality is simple. The private benefits of the mortgage interest deduction rise both with a person’s income and with the cost of their house. The higher your income, the higher your marginal tax rate; and the bigger your house, the bigger the possible mortgage. When either rises, the value of the tax deduction rises, too. ...
Aside from inequality concerns, there are other powerful reasons to dislike the mortgage interest deduction. Above all, it is inefficient. By subsidizing bigger, more expensive houses, the policy misallocates scarce savings away from productive investments that raise living standards through income- and job-creating innovations. It also makes our financial system more vulnerable: as we wrote in an earlier post, it encourages people to take on risks – in the form of large, subsidized mortgages – that they are not equipped to bear. In the recent crisis, risky mortgage debt was sufficient to put the entire financial system at risk. ...
Unfortunately, the tax deductibility of mortgage interest is here to stay. Nearly 50 million U.S. households currently have mortgages, and politicians don’t wish to alienate them.  
But the borrowers are only the most obvious beneficiaries.  In fact, all homeowners would suffer if the mortgage deduction were eliminated. The reason is that the value of everyone’s house would fall...
A simple computation allows us to estimate the economy-wide impact. ... If the subsidy were eliminated, homeowners would lose ... about $4.1 trillion. ... For comparison, the plunge of real estate value from the 2006 peak to the 2011 trough was $6.4 trillion. ...
Aside from the contractionary impact on the economy, many people would see such a drop in house prices as dramatically unfair. It’s true that the biggest losers in monetary terms would be the owners of the most valuable (oversized) houses; but the less well-off would suffer, too. While it is a progressive policy, all 80 million households that own homes would take a hit.
It is tempting to just give up and admit political defeat, but there may be a way out. Our suggestion is to build on past reforms that capped the tax deduction by limiting the size of eligible mortgages. ... Since roughly 10% of U.S. homes are worth more than $500,000, our proposal is to set the limit at the interest payments on a $400,000 mortgage (indexed appropriately). This would promote both efficiency and equality. ...
Policies that provide asset owners large “rents” (payments unwarranted by the scarcity of the asset itself) are incredibly difficult to eliminate, even when they are both unfair and inefficient. Such rents create an entire ecosystem of beneficiaries (in this case, ranging from construction firms and workers, to real estate brokers, to mortgage lenders and borrowers) who constitute a powerful political constituency blocking almost any reform. ...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Video: Top Rate of Taxation

Taxing high incomes – a special session discussing recent research on top tax rates in the UK, France and Denmark, and their effects on tax revenues, tax avoidance, labour supply and inequality

Slides for this lecture are available here: http://www.fsmevents.com/res/2015/session11

Friday, April 24, 2015

Paul Krugman: Zombies of 2016

Some bad ideas just won't die:

Zombies of 2016, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Last week,...Chris Christie ... gave a speech in which he tried to position himself as a tough-minded fiscal realist. In fact, however, his supposedly tough-minded policy idea was a classic zombie — an idea that should have died long ago in the face of evidence that undermines its basic premise, but somehow just keeps shambling along.
...Mr. Christie ... thought he was being smart and brave by proposing that we raise the age of eligibility for both Social Security and Medicare to 69. Doesn’t this make sense now that Americans are living longer?
No, it doesn’t..., almost all the rise in life expectancy has taken place among the affluent. The bottom half of workers,... who rely on Social Security most, have seen their life expectancy at age 65 rise only a bit more than a year since the 1970s. Furthermore,... many ... still have to perform manual labor.
And while raising the retirement age would impose a great deal of hardship, it would save remarkably little money. ...
And there are plenty of other zombies out there. Consider, for example, the zombification of the debate over health reform. ...
Finally, one of the interesting political developments ... has been the triumphant return of voodoo economics, the “supply-side” claim that tax cuts for the rich stimulate the economy so much that they pay for themselves.
In the real world, this doctrine has an unblemished record of failure..
In the world of Republican politics, however, voodoo’s grip has never been stronger. Would-be presidential candidates must audition in front of prominent supply-siders to prove their fealty to failed doctrine. ... Supply-side economics, it’s now clear, is the ultimate zombie: no amount of evidence or logic can kill it.
So why has the Republican Party experienced a zombie apocalypse? One reason, surely, is the fact that most Republican politicians represent states or districts that will never, ever vote for a Democrat, so the only thing they fear is a challenge from the far right. Another is the need to tell Big Money what it wants to hear: a candidate saying anything realistic about Obamacare or tax cuts won’t survive the Sheldon Adelson/Koch brothers primary.
Whatever the reasons, the result is clear. Pundits will try to pretend that we’re having a serious policy debate, but, as far as issues go, 2016 is already set up to be the election of the living dead.

Friday, March 20, 2015

'We’re Frighteningly in the Dark About Student Debt'

Susan Dynarski:

We’re Frighteningly in the Dark About Student Debt, NY Times: ...The ... United States government ... has a portfolio of roughly $1 trillion in student loans, many of which appear to be troubled. The Education Department, which oversees the portfolio, is ... neither analyzing the portfolio adequately nor allowing other agencies to do so.
These loans are no trivial matter... Student loans are now the second-largest source of consumer debt in the United States, surpassed only by home mortgages. In a major reversal, they now constitute a larger portion of household debt than credit cards or car loans. ...
The frightening reality, however, is that we are remarkably ignorant about student debt..., we can’t quantify the risks that student debt places on individual households and the economy as a whole. ...
Over at the Federal Reserve and consumer bureau, as well as outside the government, highly trained analysts are eager for data. A sensible solution would be for the Education Department to put it in their hands and let them get to work.
An additional longer-term solution is to move the loan program out of the Education Department entirely — either into an existing agency that has the statistical expertise or a new student-loan authority. ...

An even better solution would be to stop saddling students with so much debt.

Paul Krugman: Trillion Dollar Fraudsters

Why do Republicans use "magic asterisks" in their budget proposals?:

Trillion Dollar Fraudsters, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: By now it’s a Republican Party tradition: Every year the party produces a budget that allegedly slashes deficits, but which turns out to contain a trillion-dollar “magic asterisk” — a line that promises huge spending cuts and/or revenue increases, but without explaining where the money is supposed to come from.
But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spending, one on revenue. And that’s actually an understatement. If either budget were to become law, it would leave the federal government several trillion dollars deeper in debt than claimed, and that’s just in the first decade. ...
The modern G.O.P.’s raw fiscal dishonesty is something new in American politics... And the question we should ask is why.
One answer you sometimes hear is that what Republicans really believe is that tax cuts for the rich would generate a huge boom and a surge in revenue, but they’re afraid that the public won’t find such claims credible. So magic asterisks are really stand-ins for their belief in the magic of supply-side economics, a belief that remains intact even though proponents in that doctrine have been wrong about everything for decades.
But I’m partial to a more cynical explanation. Think about what these budgets would do if you ignore the mysterious trillions in unspecified spending cuts and revenue enhancements. What you’re left with is huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts. And the simplest way to understand these budgets is surely to suppose that they are intended to do what they would, in fact, actually do: make the rich richer and ordinary families poorer.
But this is, of course, not a policy direction the public would support... So the budgets must be sold as courageous efforts to eliminate deficits and pay down debt — which means that they must include trillions in imaginary, unexplained savings.
Does this mean that all those politicians declaiming about the evils of budget deficits and their determination to end the scourge of debt were never sincere? Yes, it does.
Look, I know that it’s hard to keep up the outrage after so many years of fiscal fraudulence. But please try. We’re looking at an enormous, destructive con job, and you should be very, very angry.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

'Tax Cuts Still Don’t Pay for Themselves'

I get tired of saying that tax cuts don't pay for themselves, so I'll turn it over to Josh Barro:

Tax Cuts Still Don’t Pay for Themselves: Last week, I wrote about the new tax plan from Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Mike Lee... It calls for big tax credits for middle-income families with children, corporate tax cuts and complete elimination of the capital gains tax — and as a result would cost trillions of dollars in revenue over a decade.
Or would it? The Tax Foundation released a report last week arguing the Rubio-Lee plan would generate so much business investment that, within a decade, federal tax receipts would be higher than if taxes hadn’t been cut at all. ...
I discussed the Tax Foundation report with 10 public finance economists ranging across the ideological spectrum, all of whom said its estimates of the economic effects of tax cuts were too aggressive. “This would not pass muster as an undergraduate’s model at a top university,” said Laurence Kotlikoff, a Boston University professor whom the Tax Foundation specifically encouraged me to call. ...
[T]he House adopted a rule in January that requires “dynamic scoring” of tax bills... In principle, dynamic scoring is fine. Tax policy really does affect the economy... But as the Tax Foundation report shows, dynamic scoring can be misused: You can get essentially any answer you want ... by changing the assumptions...
The crucial thing to watch, in the guts of future C.B.O. reports that rely on dynamic scoring, will be whether the new dynamic assumptions are more reasonable than zero — or whether, like the Tax Foundation assumptions, they take us farther away from accuracy, and make unsupportable promises of tax cuts paying for themselves.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

'The Unfulfilled Promise of Tax Credits as Economic Policy'

Nick Bunker at the WCEG:

The unfulfilled promise of tax credits as economic policy: The relative paucity of the modern welfare state in the United States is a well-known fact among researchers. Compared to rich countries in Europe, the United States spends far less on social insurance programs and other social programs such as education. But these large disparities decrease once the private-sector side of the U.S. welfare state is included in the analysis. Yale University professor Jacob Hacker calls this the “divided welfare state,” where in many instances the U.S. tax code is now the main vehicle for social policy in retirement, college savings, and housing.
How well has this “submerged state” worked? At least in these three areas, the effectiveness of the tax code, via deductions and credits, is questionable. Consider the state of the private-sector retirement system in the United States. .... Or consider the submerged state approach to high college tuitions. ... The mortgage-interest tax deduction is another example of policy being run through the tax code. ...
To be sure, the creation of this network of tax credits and tax expenditures wasn’t without reason. Political realities necessitated the use of the tax code to achieve these ends. And these programs have done real good. But as the evidence shows, they are far from optimal.
The record of using the tax code to do tasks traditionally associated with the welfare state is clearly mixed. At best, it works like a Rube Goldberg machine that attacks a problem by hoping that a chain reaction will do the job. At worse, the machine doesn’t work for the broad majority of the population. The relevant question is now how to re-engineer it for future, more efficient use.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

'A Slippery New Rule for Gauging Fiscal Policy'

Greg Mankiw:

A Slippery New Rule for Gauging Fiscal Policy: the case for dynamic over static scoring is strong in theory. Yet three problems make the task difficult in practice.
First, any attempt to estimate the impact of a policy change on G.D.P. requires an economic model. Because reasonable people can disagree about what model, and what parameters of that model, are best, the results from dynamic scoring will always be controversial. ...
Second, accurate dynamic scoring requires more information than congressional proposals typically provide. ...
Third, dynamic scoring matters most over long time horizons. Some policy changes, such as those aimed at encouraging capital investments, take many decades to have their full impact on economic growth. Yet congressional budgeting usually looks only five or 10 years ahead. ...
So there are good reasons for the economists hired by Congress to pursue dynamic scoring. But there are also good reasons to be wary of the endeavor. ...

Another worry is the politicization of the CBO. See here and here. Also see here and here on the application of dynamic scoring to things such as Head Start and infrastructure spending.

John Whitehead comments:

Mankiw on dynamic scoring: ...Mankiw:

First, any attempt to estimate the impact of a policy change on G.D.P. requires an economic model. Because reasonable people can disagree about what model, and what parameters of that model, are best, the results from dynamic scoring will always be controversial. Just as many Republicans are skeptical about the models of climatologists when debating global warming, many Democrats are skeptical about the models of economists when debating tax policy.

My read of the article was going just fine until the climate model analogy. Two assumptions are made:

  1. All economists agree on "the models of economists" 
  2. Reasonable people can disagree about climatology models

In terms of #1, there is significant disagreement amongst economists about macroeconomic models (i.e., have you read Krugman lately?). In terms of #2, science is different than social science. Climatology involves forecasts so it is different than tests of the law of gravity, but still, ninety-x percent of climate scientists agree. That is a bit higher than the number of economists who agree on anything macro

My stance is that we should accept that the earth is likely warming and people contribute to it (even the U.S. Senate, including those Republicans that Mankiw mentions [did he miss that vote?], overwhelming thinks so). That moves us to the debate on whether we should do anything it or learn to adapt. I think that reasonable people can disagree on that second question. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Is Competition to Attract Businesses Harmful?

At MoneyWatch:

Is competition to attract businesses harmful?: State and local governments often use incentives such as tax cuts, rebates, promises of government services and the easing of regulatory restrictions to induce new or existing businesses to locate in their region.

But this strategy raises some important questions:

  • Do these policies work
  • Do the costs exceed the benefits?
  • Do the policies simply redistribute economic activity from one region to another, what economists call a "zero-sum game," or do they create a positive aggregate effect from easing tax burdens and other restrictions?
  • Finally, if it is a zero-sum game, would the U.S. benefit from banning this sort of competition for businesses at the state and local level because it lowers the tax revenue needed to fund critical services and erodes regulatory protections?

These questions are addressed... First...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What's a Fair Tax Rate?

Me, at MoneyWatch:

What's a fair tax rate? It depends: How progressive should the U.S. tax system be? Answering this question requires an assumption about what's fair in terms of tax burdens across income groups. But people differ widely on what they consider fair. Therefore, fairness isn't something economic theory can address. Instead, a principle of fairness must be assumed.
For example...

Monday, February 23, 2015

'Even Better Than a Tax Cut'

Larry Mishel:

Even Better Than a Tax Cut: With the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign underway and millions of Americans still hurting financially, both parties are looking for ways to address wage stagnation. That’s the good news. The bad news is that both parties are offering tax cuts as a solution. What has hurt workers’ paychecks is not what the government takes out, but what their employers no longer put in — a dynamic that tax cuts cannot eliminate. ...
Yes, a one-time reduction in taxes through, say, expanded child care credits or a secondary earner tax break, as Democrats propose, could help families. But as wages continue to stagnate, it is impossible to continuously cut taxes and still pay for things like education and social programs for the growing population of older Americans. ...
Contrary to conventional wisdom, wage stagnation is not a result of forces beyond our control. It is a result of a policy regime that has undercut the individual and collective bargaining power of most workers. Because wage stagnation was caused by policy, it can be reversed by policy, too.

Friday, February 13, 2015

'States Consider Increasing Taxes on Poor, Cutting Them on Affluent'

Compassionate conservatism:

States Consider Increasing Taxes on Poor, Cutting Them on Affluent: A number of Republican-led states are considering tax changes that, in many cases, would have the effect of cutting taxes on the rich and raising them on the poor.
Conservatives are known for hating taxes but particularly hate income taxes, which they say have a greater dampening effect on growth. Of the 10 or so Republican governors who have proposed tax increases, virtually all have called for increases in consumption taxes, which hit the poor and middle class harder than the rich.
Favorite targets for the new taxes include gasoline, e-cigarettes, and goods and services in general (Governor Paul LePage of Maine would like to start taxing movie tickets and haircuts). At the same time, some of those governors — most notably Mr. LePage, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and John Kasich of Ohio — have proposed significant cuts to their state income tax. ...

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Taxing the Wealthy Won't Hurt Economic Growth

I have a new column:

Taxing the Wealthy Won't Hurt Economic Growth: I have no idea whether or not Mitt Romney will run for president, and if he does, if he will get the nomination. But many of the issues he ran on when he was a candidate in the last election are likely to reappear this time around no matter whom the candidates turn out to be.
One of the fiercely debated issues in the last presidential election was taxation of the wealthy, and Republican proposals similar to those Romney made when he ran against Obama –– lowering or eliminating the taxes on capital gains, interest, dividends, and inheritances –– will undoubtedly arise again. I expect Republicans will throw a few bones to the middle class in an attempt to get the support of this important constituency, but I also expect the thrust of the proposals to be the same old supply-side policies favoring the wealthy that we have seen in the past.
What I want to focus on, however, is the economic arguments that are made to support the ideological goal of low taxes. ...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

'The 2003 Dividend Tax Cut Did Nothing to Help the Real Economy'

Mike Konczal:

The 2003 Dividend Tax Cut Did Nothing to Help the Real Economy: President Obama is going big on capital taxation in the State of the Union tonight, including a proposal to raise dividend taxes on the rich to 28 percent. ...Bush’s radical cuts to capital taxes are part of his legacy... And it’s a part that the latest evidence tells us did a lot to help the rich without helping the overall economy at all.
In the response to Obama’s proposal, you are going to hear a lot about how lower dividend rates increase investment and help the real economy. Indeed, lowering capital tax rates has been a consistent goal of conservatives. As a result, one of the biggest capital taxation changes in history happened in 2003, when George W. Bush reduced the dividend tax rate from 38.6 percent to 15 percent... So did the tax cut make a difference?
This is where UC Berkeley economist Danny Yagan’s fantastic new paper, “Capital Tax Reform and the Real Economy: The Effects of the 2003 Dividend Tax Cut,” (pdf, slides) comes in. ...
Here’s what he finds: ... There’s no difference in either investment or adjusted net investment. There’s also no difference when it comes to employee compensation. The firms that got a massive capital tax cut did not make any different choices about things that boost the real economy. This is true across a crazy-robust number of controls, measures, and coding of outliers. ...
President Obama will likely focus his pitch for the dividend tax increase on the future, when, in his argument, globalization and technology will cause compensation to stagnate while investor payouts skyrocket and the economy becomes more focused on the top 1 percent. But it’s worth noting that while capital taxes are a solution to that problem, that the radical slashing conservatives have brought to them are also partly responsible for our current malaise.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

'State and Local Tax Systems Hit Lower-Income Families the Hardest'

Michael Leachman of the CBPP:

State and Local Tax Systems Hit Lower-Income Families the Hardest, CBPP: In nearly every state, low- and middle-income families pay a bigger share of their income in state and local taxes than wealthy families, a new report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) finds. As the New York Times’ Patricia Cohen wrote, “When it comes to the taxes closest to home, the less you earn, the harder you’re hit.”...
In the ten states with the most regressive tax systems, the bottom 20 percent pay up to seven times as much of their income in taxes as their wealthy neighbors. ...
A number of states, including Kansas, North Carolina, and Ohio, have made the situation worse in recent years by cutting income taxes, the only major state revenue source typically based on ability to pay. Income tax cuts thus tend to push more of the cost of paying for schools and other public services to the middle class and poor — exactly the opposite of what is needed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

'Supply-Side Enablers'

pgl:

...Norman Ture indeed was the original supply-sider who basically told Chairman Mills to ignore the CEA’s recommendations for fiscal restraint in 1966. We now know the unfortunate history of politics not heeding the advice of sensible economists. And yes – the supply-siders once again pushed for fiscal stimulus in 1981. How did that work out? I bring this up today in light of the fact that Mitt Romney is once again running for President. The last time he did so, he advocated large tax cuts without any serious consideration of how to pay for them. I’m sure Romney will have plenty of supply-side enablers once again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

'Selective Voodoo'

Paul Krugman:

Selective Voodoo: House Republicans have passed a measure demanding that the Congressional Budget Office use “dynamic scoring” in its revenue projections — taking into account the supposed positive growth effects of tax cuts. It remains to be seen how much damage this rule will actually cause. The reality is that there is no evidence for the large effects that are central to right-wing ideology, so the question is whether CBO will be forced to accept supply-side fantasies.
Meanwhile, one thing is fairly certain: CBO won’t be applying dynamic scoring to the positive effects of government spending, even though there’s a lot of evidence for such effects.
A good piece in yesterday’s Upshot reports on a recent study of the effects of Medicaid for children; it shows that children who received the aid were not just healthier but more productive as adults, and as a result paid more taxes. So Medicaid for kids may largely if not completely pay for itself. It’s a good guess that the Affordable Care Act, by expanding Medicaid and in general by ensuring that more families have adequate health care, will similarly generate significant extra growth and revenue in the long run. Do you think the GOP will be interested in revising down estimates of the cost of Obamacare to reflect these effects? ...

Monday, January 05, 2015

'Do Tax Cuts Partly Pay for Themselves?'

Me, at MoneyWatch, on the Republican's effort to institute dynamic scoring:

Do tax cuts partly pay for themselves?: Now that Republicans have taken control of the House and Senate, they are pushing to change how the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Tax Committee (JTC) evaluate tax legislation.
The effort is being made on two fronts. The first is an attempt by many Republicans to replace the director of the CBO, Doug Elmendorf, with someone more sympathetic to a new approach to evaluating the budgetary impact of proposed legislation. The second is a push from Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who will take over as chair of the to the Ways and Mean Committee in January, to implement a new rule that would require the CBO and JCT to implement the alternative approach.
At issue is what is known as "dynamic scoring." ...

[I should note that this was written before this appeared.]

Saturday, November 22, 2014

'High Marginal Tax Rates on the Top 1%'

Fabian Kindermann and Dirk Krueger:

High marginal tax rates on the top 1%: Optimal tax rates for the rich are a perennial source of controversy. This column argues that high marginal tax rates on the top 1% of earners can make society as a whole better off. Not knowing whether they would ever make it into the top 1%, but understanding it is very unlikely, households especially at younger ages would happily accept a life that is somewhat better most of the time and significantly worse in the rare event they rise to the top 1%.
Recently, public and scientific attention has been drawn to the increasing share of labour earnings, income, and wealth accruing to the so-called ‘top 1%’. Robert B. Reich in his 2009 book Aftershock opines that: “Concentration of income and wealth at the top continues to be the crux of America’s economic predicament”. The book Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty (2014) has renewed the scientific debate about the sources and consequences of the high and increasing concentration of wealth in the US and around the world.
But what is a proper public policy reaction to such a situation? Should the government address this inequality with its policy instruments at all, and if so, what are the consequences for the macroeconomy? The formidable literature on optimal taxation has provided important answers to the first question.1 Based on a static optimal tax analysis of labour income, Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez (2011) argue in favour of high marginal tax rates on the top 1% earners, aimed at maximising tax revenue from this group. Piketty (2014) advocates a wealth tax to reduce economy-wide wealth inequality....
Conclusions and limitations Overall we find that increasing tax rates at the very top of the income distribution and thereby reducing tax burdens for the rest of the population is a suitable measure to increase social welfare. As a side effect, it reduces both income and wealth inequality within the US population.
Admittedly, our results apply with certain qualifications. First, taxing the top 1% more heavily will most certainly not work if these people can engage in heavy tax avoidance, make use of extensive tax loopholes, or just leave the country in response to a tax increase at the top. Second, and probably as importantly, our results rely on a certain notion of how the top 1% became such high earners. In our model, earnings ‘superstars’ are made from luck coupled with labour effort. However, if high income tax rates at the top would lead individuals not to pursue high-earning careers at all, then our results might change.7 Last but not least, our analysis focuses solely on the taxation of large labour earnings rather than capital income at the top 1%.
Despite these limitations, which might affect the exact number for the optimal marginal tax rate on the top 1%, many sensitivity analyses in our research suggest one very robust result – current top marginal tax rates in the US are lower than would be optimal, and pursuing a policy aimed at increasing them is likely to be beneficial for society as a whole.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

'Encouraging Work: Tax Incentives or Social Support?'

Tim Taylor:

Encouraging Work: Tax Incentives or Social Support?: Consider two approaches to encouraging those with low skills to be fully engaged in the workplace. The American approach focuses on keeping tax rates low and thus providing a greater financial incentive for people to take jobs. The Scandinavian approach focuses on providing a broad range of day care, education, and other services to support working families, but then imposes high tax rates to pay for it all. In the most recent issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Henrik Jacobsen Kleven contrasts these two models in "How Can Scandinavians Tax So Much?" (28:4, 77-98). Kleven is from Denmark, so perhaps his conclusion is predictable. But the analysis along the way is intriguing.
As a starting point, consider what Kleven calls the "participation tax rate." When an average worker in a country takes a job, how much will the money they earn increase their standard of living? The answer will depend on two factors: any taxes imposed on what they earn, including, income, payroll, and sales taxes; and also the loss of any government benefits for which they become less eligible or ineligible because they are working. In the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, this "participation tax rate" is about double what it is in the United States. ...
A standard American-style prediction would be that countries where gains from working are so low should see a lower level of participation in the workforce. That prediction does not hold true in cross-country data among high-income countries. ...
What explains this pattern? Kleven argues that just looking at the tax rate isn't enough, because it also matters what the tax revenue is spent on. For example, the Scandinavian countries spend a lot of money on universal programs for preschool, child care, and elderly care. Kleven calls these "participation subsidies," because they make it easier for people to work--especially for people who otherwise would need to find a way to cover or pay for child care or elder care. The programs are universal, which means that their value expressed as a share of income earned means much more to a low- or middle-income family than to a high-income family. ...
Any direct comparisons between the United States (population of 316 million) and the Scandinavian countries of Denmark (6 million), Norway,  (5 million) and Sweden (10 million) is of course fraught with peril. Their history, politics, economies, and institutions differ in so many ways. You can't just pick up can't just pick up long-standing policies or institutions in one country, plunk them down in another country, and expect them to work the same way.
That said, Kleven basic conceptual point seems sound. Provision of good-quality preschool, child care and elder care does make it easier for all families, but especially low-income  families with children, to participate in the labor market.   In these three Scandinavian countries, the power of these programs to encourage labor force participation seems to overcome the work disincentives that arise in financing and operating them. This argument has nothing to do with whether preschool and child care programs might help some children to perform better in school--although if they do work in that way, it would strengthen the case for taking this approach.
So here is a hard but intriguing hypothetical question: The U.S. government spends something like $60 billion per year on the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a refundable tax credit providing income mainly to low-income families with children, and almost as much on the refundable child tax credit. Would low-income families with children be better off, and more attached to the workforce, if a sizeable portion of the 100 billion-plus spent for these tax credits--and aimed at providing financial incentives to work--was instead directed toward universal programs of preschool, child care, and elder care?

Or we could raise taxes on the wealthy, cut defense spending, etc., etc. and then ask which if the two programs it would be better to enhance (or in what proportions), the EITC and other tax credits or the "universal programs of preschool, child care, and elder care." If the programs are complementary and insufficient, as I believe they are, then neither should be cut to enhance the other (though I would choose the Scandinavian model if I had to pick on of the two to augment).

Monday, October 20, 2014

''State 'Income Migration' Claims Are Deeply Flawed''

Differences in income taxe ratess across states have little impact on migration:

State “Income Migration” Claims Are Deeply Flawed, by Michael Mazerov, CBPP: Some proponents of state income tax cuts are making highly inaccurate claims about the impact of interstate migration patterns on states with relatively high income taxes based on a misleading reading of Internal Revenue Service data.
Those making these arguments claim that many of the people who leave states with relatively robust income taxes do so largely in order to pay little or no income tax in another state, and that they take their incomes with them when they move, harming the economies of the states they left.  As a consequence, these “income migration” proponents claim, states with relatively high income taxes are suffering severe damage from the loss of income as “money walks” out of their states to lower-tax states.[1]
The first part of this argument — that interstate differences in tax levels are a major explanation for interstate migration patterns — is not supported by the evidence, as we documented in an earlier paper.[2]  People rarely move to lower their state income taxes.  Other factors, such as job opportunities, family considerations, climate, and housing costs, are much more decisive. 
The second part of the argument — that states with relatively high income taxes are suffering severe economic damage because they are losing the incomes of people who migrate to other states — is also deeply flawed. ...

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Inequality and Progressive Taxes

Steve Waldman has a nice discussion of a recent debate:

Scale, progressivity, and socioeconomic cohesion, Interfluidity: Today seems to be the day to talk about whether those of us concerned with poverty and inequality should focus on progressive taxation. Edward D. Kleinbard in the New York Times and Cathie Jo Martin and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez at Vox argue that focusing on progressivity can be counterproductive. Jared Bernstein, Matt Bruenig, and Mike Konczal offer responses offer responses that examine what “progressivity” really means and offer support for taxing the rich more heavily than the poor. This is an intramural fight. All of these writers presume a shared goal of reducing inequality and increasing socioeconomic cohesion. Me too.
I don’t think we should be very categorical about the question of tax progressivity. We should recognize that, as a political matter, there may be tradeoffs between the scale of benefits and progressivity of the taxation that helps support them. We should be willing to trade some progressivity for a larger scale. Reducing inequality requires a large transfers footprint more than it requires steeply increasing tax rates. But, ceteris paribus, increasing tax rates do help. Also, high marginal tax rates may have indirect effects, especially on corporate behavior, that are socially valuable. We should be willing sometimes to trade tax progressivity for scale. But we should drive a hard bargain.
First, let’s define some terms...

Friday, October 10, 2014

'Ed Kleinbard Does Not Want a Less Progressive Tax System'

Jared Bernstein wants to correct a potential "misimpression" of an op-ed by Ed Kleinbard (this was in today's links):

No, Ed Kleinbard Does Not Want a Less Progressive Tax System: I favorably reviewed Ed Kleinbard’s book here the other day so I’m obliged to step in a correct what looks to me like a misimpression growing out of an oped he has in today’s NYT.
Because the oped is entitled “Don’t Soak the Rich” and because Ed, IMHO, doesn’t articulate the nuances in his argument the way he needs to, the oped is being misrepresented as a call for a less progressive tax system (I also think Ed’s mistaken in his claim that the US tax system, all in, is the most progressive across advanced economies—in fact, it’s only mildly progressive…but more on that later).
For example, responding to the oped, Len Berman, a DC tax expert, tweeted “a progressive’s call for less progressive taxation.”
I can see where Len gets that from the piece, and obviously Ed will have to speak for himself, but Ed’s book clearly supports progressive taxation. He may not see the need to make the tax system more progressive, though his book calls for just that in ways I’ll note in a moment. But he certainly does not call for less progressivity. ...

Monday, October 06, 2014

Paul Krugman: Voodoo Economics, the Next Generation

Will Republicans "destroy the credibility of a very important institution"?:

Voodoo Economics, the Next Generation, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Even if Republicans take the Senate this year, gaining control of both houses of Congress, they won’t gain much in conventional terms: They’re already able to block legislation, and they still won’t be able to pass anything over the president’s veto. One thing they will be able to do, however, is impose their will on the Congressional Budget Office, heretofore a nonpartisan referee on policy proposals.
As a result, we may soon find ourselves in deep voodoo.
During his failed bid for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination George H. W. Bush famously described Ronald Reagan’s “supply side” doctrine — the claim that cutting taxes on high incomes would lead to spectacular economic growth, so that tax cuts would pay for themselves — as “voodoo economic policy.” Bush was right. ...
But now it looks as if voodoo is making a comeback. At the state level, Republican governors — and Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, in particular — have been going all in on tax cuts despite troubled budgets, with confident assertions that growth will solve all problems. It’s not happening... But the true believers show no sign of wavering.
Meanwhile, in Congress Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is dropping broad hints that after the election he and his colleagues will do what the Bushies never did, try to push the budget office into adopting “dynamic scoring,” that is, assuming a big economic payoff from tax cuts.
So why is this happening now? It’s not because voodoo economics has become any more credible. ... In fact,... researchers at the International Monetary Fund, surveying cross-country evidence, have found that redistribution of income from the affluent to the poor, which conservatives insist kills growth, actually seems to boost economies.
But facts won’t stop the voodoo comeback,... for years they have relied on magic asterisks — claims that they will make up for lost revenue by closing loopholes and slashing spending, details to follow. But this dodge has been losing effectiveness as the years go by and the specifics keep not coming. Inevitably, then, they’re feeling the pull of that old black magic — and if they take the Senate, they’ll be able to infuse voodoo into supposedly neutral analysis.
Would they actually do it? It would destroy the credibility of a very important institution, one that has served the country well. But have you seen any evidence that the modern conservative movement cares about such things?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tax Cuts Can Do More Harm Than Good

More on the new work from William Gale and Andrew Samwick (I've posted on this before, but given the strength of beliefs about tax cuts, it seems worthwhile to highlight it again):

Tax Cuts Can Do More Harm Than Good: Tax cuts are the one guaranteed path to prosperity. Or so politicians have told Americans for so long that the claim has become a secular dogma.
But tax cuts can do more harm than good, a new report shows. It draws on decades of empirical evidence analyzed with standard economic principles used in business, academia and government.
What ultimately matters is the way a tax cut is structured and how it affects behavior. A well-designed tax cut can help increase future prosperity, but a poorly structured one can result in a meaner future with fewer jobs, less compensation and higher costs to society.
William G. Gale of the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit Washington policy research house, and Andrew Samwick, a Dartmouth College professor, last week issued the report, “Effects of Income Tax Changes on Economic Growth.”
Gale said he expects emailed brickbats from those who have incorporated the tax cut dogma into their views without really understanding the issue. ...

Saturday, September 13, 2014

'Taxes and Growth'

Dietz Vollrath:

Taxes and Growth, The Growth Economics blog: William Gale and Andy Samwick have a new Brookings paper out on the relationship of tax rates and economic growth in the U.S. ... Short answer, there is no relationship. They do not identify any change in the trend growth rate of real GDP per capita with changes in marginal income tax rates, capital gains tax rates, or any changes in federal tax rules. ...

One of the first pieces of evidence they show is from a paper by Stokey and Rebelo (1995). ... You can see that the introduction of very high tax rates during WWII, which effectively became permanent features of the economy after that, did not change the trend growth rate of GDP per capita in the slightest. ...

The next piece of evidence is from a paper by Hungerford (2012), who basically looks only at the post-war period, and looks at whether the fluctuations in top marginal tax rates (on either income or capital gains) are related to growth rates. You can see ... that they are not. If anything, higher capital gains rates are associated with faster growth.

The upshot is that there is no evidence that you can change the growth rate of the economy – up or down – by changing tax rates – up or down. Their conclusion is more coherent than anything I could gin up, so here goes:

The argument that income tax cuts raise growth is repeated so often that it is sometimes taken as gospel. However, theory, evidence, and simulation studies tell a different and more complicated story. Tax cuts offer the potential to raise economic growth by improving incentives to work, save, and invest. But they also create income effects that reduce the need to engage in productive economic activity, and they may subsidize old capital, which provides windfall gains to asset holders that undermine incentives for new activity.

The effects of tax cuts on growth are completely uncertain.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Durbin-Schumer Inversion Proposal

Pro-Growth Liberal (pgl):

Durbin-Schumer Inversion Proposal: Bernie Becker reports on an interesting proposal in the Senate:
Schumer’s bill takes aim at a maneuver known as earnings stripping, a process by which U.S. subsidiaries can take tax deductions on interest stemming from loans from a foreign parent. The measure comes as Democrats continue to criticize companies, like Burger King, that have sought to shift their legal address abroad … Schumer’s bill would cut in half the amount of interest deduction that companies can claim, from 50 percent to 25 percent. It also seeks to limit companies that have already inverted from claiming the deduction in future years, requiring IRS on certain transactions between a foreign parent and U.S. company for a decade.
Had Walgreen decided to move its tax domicile to Switzerland, this proposal would limit the amount of income shifting that might take place after the inversion. But consider companies like Burger King and AbbVie. They are already sourcing the vast majority of their profits overseas. The reason that the effective tax rates are about 20 percent and not in the teens is that they have to pay taxes on repatriated earnings. An inversion would still eliminate the repatriation taxes and alas the horse has left the barn as far these two companies and their aggressive transfer pricing. The proposal is a very good one but Congress should still encourage the IRS to conduct transfer pricing reviews of what companies such as these have done in the past.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

State Income Taxes Have Little Impact on Interstate Migration

From Michael Mazerov of the CBPP:

More Evidence That State Income Taxes Have Little Impact on Interstate Migration: The New York Times’ Upshot blog has published a fascinating set of graphs of Census Bureau data on interstate migration patterns since 1900, bolstering our argument that state income taxes don’t have a significant impact on people’s decisions about where to live.
We plotted the same Census data, which shows which states do the best job of retaining their native-born populations, on the chart below, also noting which states have (or don’t have) a state income tax.  Our chart shows that taxes have little to do with the extent to which native-born people leave their states of origin.
If Heritage Foundation economist Stephen Moore’s claim (which other tax-cut advocates often repeat) that “taxes are indisputably a major factor in determining where . . . families locate” were true, states without income taxes would see below-average shares of their native-born populations leaving at some point in their lifetime, while states with relatively high income taxes would see the opposite.  But the graph shows no such pattern...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

'Who Pays Corporate Taxes?'

Justin Fox

Who Pays Corporate Taxes? Possibly You: Who pays corporate income taxes? Just one thing’s for sure: it’s not corporations. ...
For a long time it was thought the owners paid the tax. That belief can be traced largely to a classic 1962 theoretical analysis by economist Arnold Harberger...
Harberger saw this as a bad thing. By taking money away from capital owners, the corporate income tax was depressing investment and distorting the economy. But for those more concerned with the distributional effects of taxation, Harberger’s model at least showed the burden landing on people who were wealthier than average.
His theoretical model, however, assumed a closed economy... As the world’s economies became more intertwined in recent decades, economists — Harberger among them — began constructing open-economy models that showed workers bearing a larger share of the burden. ...
So in the past few years there’s been a determined attempt to answer the question empirically... Gravelle has a 2011 summary of this work, and her chief conclusions are that the results are all over the place and the most dramatic ones just aren’t credible. But most of these studies do show some significant chunk of the corporate tax burden landing on workers, which is perhaps not yet conclusive but is really interesting.
Most public discussions of corporate taxes in the U.S., however, still ignore the possibility that workers might actually be the ones bearing the burden. ... Perhaps it’s ... just that, if corporations pay lower taxes, individuals have to pick up the slack. And even if you understand tax incidence perfectly well, a direct tax is still more noticeable than an indirect one.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Paul Krugman: Corporate Artful Dodgers

Congress should do something about "ever-more-aggressive corporate tax avoidance":

Corporate Artful Dodgers, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: In recent decisions, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has made clear its view that corporations are people, with all the attendant rights. ...
There is, however, one big difference between corporate persons and the likes of you and me: On current trends, we’re heading toward a world in which only the human people pay taxes.
We’re not quite there yet: The federal government still gets a tenth of its revenue from corporate profits taxation. But it used to get a lot more — a third of revenue came from profits taxes in the early 1950s... Part of the decline since then reflects a fall in the tax rate, but mainly it reflects ever-more-aggressive corporate tax avoidance — avoidance that politicians have done little to prevent.
Which brings us to the tax-avoidance strategy du jour: “inversion.” This refers to a legal maneuver in which a company declares that its U.S. operations are owned by its foreign subsidiary, not the other way around, and uses this role reversal to shift reported profits out of American jurisdiction to someplace with a lower tax rate.
The most important thing to understand about inversion is that it does not in any meaningful sense involve American business “moving overseas.” ... All they’re doing is dodging taxes on those profits.
And Congress could crack down on this tax dodge...
Opponents of a crackdown on inversion typically argue that instead of closing loopholes we should reform the whole system by which we tax profits, and maybe stop taxing profits altogether. They also tend to argue that taxing corporate profits hurts investment and job creation. But these are very bad arguments against ending the practice of inversion. ...
As for reforming the system: Yes, that would be a good idea. But..., there are big debates about the shape of reform, debates that would take years to resolve... Why let corporations avoid paying their fair share for years, while we wait for the logjam to break?
Finally, none of this has anything to do with investment and job creation. If and when Walgreen changes its “citizenship,” it will get to keep more of its profits — but it will have no incentive to invest those extra profits in its U.S. operations.
So this should be easy. By all means let’s have a debate about how and how much to tax profits. Meanwhile, however, let’s close this outrageous loophole.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

'California's Job Growth Defies Predictions after Tax Increases'

This article, by David Cay Johnston, is getting a surprising number of retweets:

State’s job growth defies predictions after tax increases, by David Cay Johnston, The Bee: Dire predictions about jobs being destroyed spread across California in 2012 as voters debated whether to enact the sales and, for those near the top of the income ladder, stiff income tax increases in Proposition 30. Million-dollar-plus earners face a 3 percentage-point increase on each additional dollar.
“It hurts small business and kills jobs,” warned the Sacramento Taxpayers Association, the National Federation of Independent Business/California, and Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee.
So what happened after voters approved the tax increases, which took effect at the start of 2013?
Last year California added 410,418 jobs, an increase of 2.8 percent over 2012, significantly better than the 1.8 percent national increase in jobs. ...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Stiglitz Interview

Joseph Stiglitz Hails New BRICS Bank Challenging U.S.-Dominated World Bank & IMF

Transcript - Part 1

Joseph Stiglitz on TPP, Cracking Down on Corporate Tax Dodgers

Transcript - Part 2

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

'Double Irish Dutch Sandwich'

Tim Taylor:

Double Irish Dutch Sandwich: Want a glimpse of how companies can shift their profits among countries in a way that reduces their tax liabilities? Here's the dreaded "Double Irish Dutch Sandwich" as described by the International Monetary Find in its October 2013 Fiscal Monitor. This schematic to show the flows of goods and services, payments, and intellectual property. An explanation from the IMF follows, with a few of my own thoughts. ...

Monday, June 30, 2014

Paul Krugman: Charlatans, Cranks and Kansas

"The enduring power of bad ideas":

Charlatans, Cranks and Kansas, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Two years ago Kansas embarked on a remarkable fiscal experiment: It sharply slashed income taxes without any clear idea of what would replace the lost revenue. Sam Brownback, the governor, proposed the legislation — in percentage terms, the largest tax cut in one year any state has ever enacted — in close consultation with the economist Arthur Laffer. And Mr. Brownback predicted that the cuts would jump-start an economic boom...
But Kansas isn’t booming — in fact, its economy is lagging both neighboring states and America as a whole. Meanwhile, the state’s budget has plunged deep into deficit, provoking a Moody’s downgrade of its debt.
There’s an important lesson here — but it’s not what you think. Yes, the Kansas debacle shows that tax cuts don’t have magical powers, but we already knew that. The real lesson from Kansas is the enduring power of bad ideas, as long as those ideas serve the interests of the right people. ...
For the Brownback tax cuts didn’t emerge out of thin air. They closely followed a blueprint laid out by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which has also supported a series of economic studies purporting to show that tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy will promote rapid economic growth. The studies are embarrassingly bad, and the council’s Board of Scholars — which includes both Mr. Laffer and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation — doesn’t exactly shout credibility. ...
And what is ALEC? It’s a secretive group, financed by major corporations, that drafts model legislation for conservative state-level politicians.... And most of ALEC’s efforts are directed, not surprisingly, at privatization, deregulation, and tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
And I do mean for the wealthy. ...ALEC supports ... cutting taxes at the top while actually increasing taxes at the bottom, as well as cutting social services.
But how can you justify enriching the already wealthy while making life harder for those struggling to get by? The answer is, you need an economic theory claiming that such a policy is the key to prosperity for all. So supply-side economics fills a need backed by lots of money, and the fact that it keeps failing doesn’t matter.
And the Kansas debacle won’t matter either. Oh, it will briefly give states considering similar policies pause. But the effect won’t last long, because faith in tax-cut magic isn’t about evidence; it’s about finding reasons to give powerful interests what they want.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Paul Krugman: The Piketty Panic

Money talks, but sometimes not very coherently:

The Piketty Panic, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the new book by ... Thomas Piketty, is ... serious, discourse-changing scholarship... And conservatives are terrified. ...
The really striking thing about the debate so far is that the right seems unable to mount any kind of substantive counterattack... Instead, the response has been all about name-calling — ...that Mr. Piketty is a Marxist...
For the past couple of decades, the conservative response to attempts to make soaring incomes at the top into a political issue has involved two lines of defense: first, denial that the rich are actually doing as well and the rest as badly as they are, but when denial fails, claims that those soaring incomes at the top are a justified reward for services rendered. Don’t call them the 1 percent, or the wealthy; call them “job creators.”
But how do you make that defense if the rich derive much of their income not from the work they do but from the assets they own? And what if great wealth comes increasingly not from enterprise but from inheritance?
What Mr. Piketty shows is that these are not idle questions. Western societies before World War I were indeed dominated by an oligarchy of inherited wealth — and his book makes a compelling case that we’re well on our way back toward that state.
So what’s a conservative, fearing that this diagnosis might be used to justify higher taxes on the wealthy, to do? He could try to refute Mr. Piketty in a substantive way, but, so far, I’ve seen no sign of that happening. Instead, as I said, it has been all about name-calling..., to ... denounce Mr. Piketty as a Marxist..., which only makes sense if the mere mention of unequal wealth makes you a Marxist. ...
And The Wall Street Journal’s review, predictably, goes the whole distance, somehow segueing from Mr. Piketty’s call for progressive taxation as a way to limit the concentration of wealth ... to the evils of Stalinism. ...
Now, the fact that apologists for America’s oligarchs are evidently at a loss for coherent arguments doesn’t mean that they are on the run politically. Money still talks — indeed, thanks in part to the Roberts court, it talks louder than ever. Still, ideas matter too, shaping both how we talk about society and, eventually, what we do. And the Piketty panic shows that the right has run out of ideas.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

'Better Insurance Against Inequality'

Robert Shiller:

Better Insurance Against Inequality: Paying taxes is rarely pleasant, but as April 15 approaches it’s worth remembering that our tax system is a progressive one and serves a little-noticed but crucial purpose: It mitigates some of the worst consequences of income inequality. ...
But it’s also clear that ... what we have isn’t nearly enough. It’s time — past time, actually — to tweak the system so that it can respond effectively if income inequality becomes more extreme. ...
In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee last month, [Leonard] Burman proposed a version of inequality indexing that might be politically acceptable... His idea was to integrate inequality indexing with inflation indexing: Instead of just linking tax brackets to inflation..., he proposed that ... if inequality worsened, higher tax brackets would bear a bit more of the burden, and people at the bottom would bear less.
A relatively minor change like this should be politically acceptable. It is a reframing of inflation indexing, which is already a sacrosanct principle, and would be revenue-neutral. ... Such a plan would be a nice first step toward making our tax system manage the risk of future increases in inequality.

I'm a bit more doubtful than he is about the political acceptability of this proposal so long as the GOP is in a position to block any movement in this direction.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

'High Speed Trading and Slow-Witted Economic Policy'

Busy morning, so I will take advantage of the Creative Commons license and do a quick post. This is from Dean Baker:

High Speed Trading and Slow-Witted Economic Policy, by Dean Baker: Michael Lewis' new book, Flash Boys, is leading to large amounts of discussion both on and off the business pages. The basic story is that a new breed of traders can use sophisticated algorithms and super fast computers to effectively front-run trades. This allows them to make large amounts of money by essentially skimming off the margins. By selling ahead of a big trade, they will push down the price that trader receives for their stock by a fraction of a percent. Similarly, by buying ahead of a big trade, they will also raise the price paid for that trade by a fraction of a percent. Since these trades are essentially a sure bet (they know that a big sell order or a big buy order is coming), the profits can be enormous.
This book is seeming to prompt outrage, although it is not clear exactly why. The basic story of high frequency trading is not new. It has been reported in most major news outlets over the last few years. It would be nice if we could move beyond the outrage to a serious discussion of the policy issues and ideally some simple and reasonable policy to address the issue. (Yes, simple should be front and center. If it's complicated we will be employing people in pointless exercises -- perhaps a good job program, but bad from the standpoint of effective policy.)
The issue here is that people are earning large amounts of money by using sophisticated computers to beat the market. This is effectively a form of insider trading. Pure insider trading, for example trading based on the CEO giving advance knowledge of better than expected profits, is illegal. The reason is that it rewards people for doing nothing productive at the expense of honest investors.
On the other hand, there are people who make large amounts of money by doing good research to get ahead of the market. For example, many analysts may carefully study weather patterns to get an estimate of the size of the wheat crop and then either buy or sell wheat based on what they have learned about the about this year's crop relative to the generally held view. In principle, we can view the rewards for this activity as being warranted since they are effectively providing information to the market with the their trades. If they recognize an abundant wheat crop will lead to lower prices, their sales of wheat will cause the price to fall before it would otherwise, thereby allowing the markets to adjust more quickly. The gains to the economy may not in all cases be equal to the private gains to these traders, but at least they are providing some service.
By contrast, the front-running high speed trader, like the inside trader, is providing no information to the market. They are causing the price of stocks to adjust milliseconds more quickly than would otherwise be the case. It is implausible that this can provide any benefit to the economy. This is simply siphoning off money at the expense of other actors in the market.
There are many complicated ways to try to address this problem, but there is one simple method that would virtually destroy the practice. A modest tax on financial transactions would make this sort of rapid trading unprofitable since it depends on extremely small margins. A bill proposed by Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Peter DeFazio would impose a 0.03 percent tax on all trades of stocks, bonds, and derivatives. This would quickly wipe out the high-frequency trading industry while having a trivial impact on normal investors. (Most research indicates that other investors will reduce their trading roughly in proportion to the increase in the cost per trade, leaving their total trading costs unchanged.)The Joint Tax Committee projected that this tax would raise roughly $400 billion over a decade.
A scaled tax that imposed a somewhat higher fee on stock trades and lower fee on short-term assets like options could be even more effective. Japan had a such tax in place in the 1980s and early 1990s. It raised more than 1 percent of GDP ($170 billion a year in the United States). Representative Keith Ellison has proposed this sort of tax for the United States.
If the political system were not so corrupt, such taxes would be near the top of the policy agenda. Even the International Monetary Fund has complained that the financial sector is under-taxed. However, because of the money and power of the industry the leadership of both political parties will run away from imposing any tax on the financial industry. In fact Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has been working to torpedo the imposition of such a tax in Europe. So look for lots of handwringing and outrage in response to Lewis' book. And look also for nothing real to be done. 

Saturday, November 02, 2013

'In New York Casino Vote, a Dance With Temptation'

Robert Frank:

In New York Casino Vote, a Dance With Temptation, by Robert Frank, Commentary, NY Times: In the 48 states that permit at least some form of commercial gambling, lively debate continues over the industry’s relentless efforts to expand. On Tuesday, New Yorkers will vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would permit up to seven new full-scale gambling casinos in the state. (The state’s five existing casinos are confined to Indian reservations.)
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo argues that the amendment would create jobs, increase school aid and lower property taxes. And, yes, it would do all those things. But it’s still a bad idea. Other strategies would accomplish the same goals more effectively, without the disastrous spillovers that invariably accompany expanded gambling. ...
If casino gambling were expanded, most New Yorkers wouldn’t be directly affected. Even in places that already have it, only a small proportion of people become problem gamblers. But much the same could be said of crack cocaine. If it were legal, most people wouldn’t even use it, much less become addicted to it. But in both cases, the number who would become addicted, though small in proportional terms, would be disturbing. If governments shouldn’t raise revenue by sharing revenue with sellers of crack cocaine, why should they enter similar pacts with casino operators? ...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

'Why the 1% Should Pay Tax at 80%'

Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty:

Why the 1% should pay tax at 80%, by Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty,  theguardian.com: In the United States, the share of total pre-tax income accruing to the top 1% has more than doubled, from less than 10% in the 1970s to over 20% today (pdf). A similar pattern is true of other English-speaking countries..., however, globalization and new technologies are not to blame. Other OECD countries ... have seen far less concentration of income among the mega rich.
At the same time, top income tax rates on upper income earners have declined significantly since the 1970s... At a time when most OECD countries face large deficits and debt burdens, a crucial public policy question is whether governments should tax high earners more. The potential tax revenue at stake is now very large. ...
There is a strong correlation between the reductions in top tax rates and the increases in top 1% pre-tax income shares...
The ... data show that there is no correlation between cuts in top tax rates and average annual real GDP-per-capita growth since the 1970s. ... What that tells us is that a substantial fraction of the response of pre-tax top incomes to top tax rates may be due to increased rent-seeking at the top (that is, scenario three), rather than increased productive effort....
By our calculations about the response of top earners to top tax rate cuts being due in part to increased rent-seeking behavior and in part to increased productive work, we find that the top tax rate could potentially be set as high as 83% (as opposed to the 57% allowed by the pure supply-side model). ...
In the end, the future of top tax rates depends on what the public believes about whether top pay fairly reflects productivity or whether top pay, rather unfairly, arises from rent-seeking. With higher income concentration, top earners have more economic resources to influence both social beliefs (through thinktanks and media) and policies (through lobbying)...
The job of economists should be to make a top rate tax level of 80% at least "thinkable" again.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

'The GOP Tax'

Paul Krugman:

The GOP Tax: Macroeconomic Advisers has a new report out about the effects of bad fiscal policy since 2010 — that is, since the GOP takeover of the House. ... They say that combined effects of uncertainty in the bond market and cuts in discretionary spending have subtracted 1% from GDP growth. That’s not 1% off GDP — it’s the annualized rate of growth, so that we’re talking about almost 3% of GDP at this point; cumulatively, the losses come to around $700 billion of wasted economic potential. This is in the same ballpark as my own estimates.
And they also estimate that the current unemployment rate is 1.4 points higher than it would have been without those policies (a number consistent with almost 3% lower GDP); so, we’d have unemployment below 6% if not for these people.
Great work all around, guys.

But the master's of the universe -- the wealthy supporters of the GOP and a driving force behind the push for austerity -- are doing great. If they get lower taxes as a result of all this, that's allthat matter, right? Who cares about all the other people who are struggling as a result of cuts to social services, higher unemployment rates, and the like?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Manski: Removing Deadweight Loss from Economic Discourse on Income Taxation and Public Spending

Another quick one:

Removing deadweight loss from economic discourse on income taxation and public spending, by Charles F Manski, Vox EU: Economists usually think of taxation as inefficient. This column argues that the anti-tax rhetoric evident in much lay discussion of public policy draws considerable support from the prevalent negative language of professional economic discourse. Optimal income taxation doesn’t have to employ the pejorative concepts of inefficiency, deadweight loss and distortion; and this column argues that it is high time for economists to discard them and make analysis of taxation and public spending distortion-free.

Column here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

'Laffer Wants to Raise At Least One Tax'

Pro-Growth-Liberal:

Laffer Wants to Raise At Least One Tax: Art Laffer along with Donna Arduin released some fantasy called Pro-Growth Tax Reform and E-Fairness that claims that if we would tax Internet sales then we could have a huge increase in output and employment by 2022 if we used the extra sales taxes to reduce income taxes:

Gross domestic product would grow by more than $563 billion, creating 1.5 million jobs nationwide.

I just read what Laffer and Donna Arduin wrote and there really isn’t much there to support this conclusion. They note that after 1999, real GDP growth fell far short of the 3.5% per annum growth rates we enjoyed for much of the latter half of the 20th century. Then again – didn’t we try lower tax rates starting in 2001? How did that work out? A lot of conservatives seem to love this idea and why not. Sales taxes tend to be regressive while income taxes tend to be progressive. A switch from income taxation to sales taxation fits the bill if one wants a more regressive tax system. But to claim that this would lead to some magical surge in economic growth rates is a real Laugher.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Blinder: Fiscal Fixes for the Jobless Recovery

Alan Blinder says "the fiscal cupboard is not bare":

Fiscal Fixes for the Jobless Recovery, by Alan Blinder, Commentary, WSJ: Do you sense an air of complacency developing about jobs in Washington and in the media? ... The Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project ... estimates ... the "jobs gap" ... is 9.9 million jobs. ... So any complacency is misguided. Rather, policy makers should be running around like their hair is on fire. ...
The Federal Reserve has worked overtime to spur job creation, and there is not much more it can do. Fiscal policy, however, has been worse than AWOL—it has been actively destroying jobs. ... So Congress could make a good start on faster job creation simply by ending what it's doing—destroying government jobs. First, do no harm. But there's more.
Virtually since the Great Recession began, many economists have suggested offering businesses a tax credit for creating new jobs. ... You might imagine that Republicans would embrace an idea like that. After all, it's a business tax cut... But you would be wrong. Maybe it's because President Obama likes the idea. Maybe he should start saying he hates it.
Another sort of business tax cut may hold more political promise. ... Suppose Congress enacted a partial tax holiday that allowed companies to repatriate profits held abroad at some bargain-basement tax rate like 10%. The catch: The maximum amount each company could bring home at that low tax rate would equal the increase in its wage payments as measured by Social Security records....
My general point is that the fiscal cupboard is not bare. There are things we could be doing to boost employment right now. That we are not doing anything constitutes malign neglect of the nation's worst economic problem

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

'The Real IRS Scandal'

Linda Beale:

The Real IRS Scandal, ataxingmatter: ... It does not appear to be quite so clear that the IRS actions were either "outrageous" (as so many hopping on the IRS "scandal" bandwagon suggest) or even "inappropriate". ...

Most of the media--which is generally right of center--has foamed at the mouth over the "scandal", puffing it up to bigger and bigger proportions with each day. ... A great deal of that coverage (much of it from the right) involves super emphasis on the word "scandal" and not much emphasis on the underlying facts of the matter.

So kudos to the New York Times for a recent story on the issue that probes the question of politicking much more closely. Confessore & Luo, Groups Targeted by IRS Tested Rules on Politics, New York Times (May 26, 2013). See also Barker & Elliot, 6 things you need to know about dark money groups, Salon.com (May 27, 2013).

Here are the Times writers' descriptions of a few of the groups that applied for C-4 status and "cried foul" about the IRS's selection of them for closer scrutiny for politicking:

  • CVFC: "its biggest expenditure [the year it applied for C-4 status] was several thousand dollars in radio ads backing a Republican candidate for Congress"
  • Wetumpka Tea Party, Alabama: in the year it applied, it "sponsored training for a get-out-the-vote initiative dedicated to the 'defeat of President Barack Obama' "
  • Ohio Liberty Coalition: its head "sent out e-mails to members about Mitt Romney campaign events and organized members to distribute Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign literature"

As noted in the report, "a close examination of these groups and others reveals an array of election activities that tax experts and former I.R.S. officials said would provide a legitimate basis for flagging them for closer review." That is what the IRS is supposed to do, suggesting that much of the scandal mongering that is going on is more about furthering the anti-tax/anti-government rightwing goal of "starving the beast" than it is about ensuring that the law is appropriately enforced. The stakes are high, since the ability of politicking groups to use C-4 status permits high-powered donors and strategists to cloak their campaign activities behind the veneer of social welfare activity.

Which is probably why of the right-wing bloviators are bloviating over this in Congress, calling for jail time for IRS employees, calling for a special prosecutor, insisting that this is a "scandal" along the lines of Watergate that goes to the heart of Obama's presidency. Hogwash, folks, pure and simple. This so-called "scandal" is just another instance of right-wing obstructionism that is willing to sacrifice good government for maintaining or increasing political power.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Stiglitz: Globalization and Taxes

Joe Stiglitz on tax avoidance by companies such as Apple and Google:

Globalisation isn't just about profits. It's about taxes too: ... Apple, like Google, has benefited enormously from what the US and other western governments provide: highly educated workers trained in universities that are supported both directly by government and indirectly (through generous charitable deductions). The basic research on which their products rest was paid for by taxpayer-supported developments – the internet, without which they couldn't exist. Their prosperity depends in part on our legal system – including strong enforcement of intellectual property rights; they asked (and got) government to force countries around the world to adopt our standards, in some cases, at great costs to the lives and development of those in emerging markets and developing countries. Yes, they brought genius and organizational skills, for which they justly receive kudos. But while Newton was at least modest enough to note that he stood on the shoulders of giants, these titans of industry have no compunction about being free riders, taking generously from the benefits afforded by our system, but not willing to contribute commensurately. Without public support, the wellspring from which future innovation and growth will come will dry up – not to say what will happen to our increasingly divided society. ...
To say that Apple or Google simply took advantage of the current system is to let them off the hook too easily: the system didn't just come into being on its own. It was shaped from the start by lobbyists from large multinationals. Companies like General Electric lobbied for, and got, provisions that enabled them to avoid even more taxes. They lobbied for, and got, amnesty provisions that allowed them to bring their money back to the US at a special low rate, on the promise that the money would be invested in the country; and then they figured out how to comply with the letter of the law, while avoiding the spirit and intention. If Apple and Google stand for the opportunities afforded by globalization, their attitudes towards tax avoidance have made them emblematic of what can, and is, going wrong with that system.

Much more here.