Simpson-Bowles and a Smarter Tax System to Spur Growth

Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles have released their newly revised plan for curbing the deficit and reducing the debt.  Included in the plan is a call for $600 billion in increased tax revenues to be accomplished by reducing deductions for corporate and individuals while reducing tax rates.

In calling for this approach to tax reform, Simpson-Bowles takes aim at our bloated, inefficient tax system:

Reform the Tax Code in a Progressive and Pro-Growth Manner. The current tax code is complicated, confusing, costly, anti-growth, anti-competitive, unfair, and riddled with well over $1 trillion of tax expenditures – which really are just spending by another name. Tax reform must reduce the size and number of tax expenditures to reduce the budget deficit and lower marginal tax rates for individuals and corporations. At the same time, tax reforms must maintain or improve the progressivity in the tax code and promote economic growth. Tax reform will make the tax code more efficient, effective, and globally competitive.”

The last goal, to create a “globally competitive” tax system cannot be overemphasized.  In this era of globalization, the U.S. remains at a major competitive trade disadvantage by virtue of its tax system.  Eliminating this disadvantage is the prime key to growth that government policy could provide.

According to the new Census Bureau report, the 2012 U.S. trade deficit dropped nearly $20 billion to $540 billion, mostly due to a decrease in expenditures for foreign oil.  But, our manufacturing trade deficit reached a record deficit of $684.5 billion, an increase of 7%.

The goods deficit with China increased $20 billion, to $315 billion from $295 billion, accounting for 58% of the imbalance. U.S. exports to China increased $6.7 billion (primarily soybeans and civilian aircraft, engines, equipment, and parts) to $110.6 billion, but imports increased $26.3 billion (primarily cell phones and other household goods) to $425.6 billion.

The goods deficit with European Union increased from $99.9 billion in 2011 to $115.7 billion in 2012.  Exports decreased $3.3 billion (primarily non-monetary gold and petroleum products) to $265.1 billion, while imports increased $12.5 billion (primarily passenger cars, civilian aircraft engines, and petroleum products) to $380.8 billion.

Achieving Growth through Tax Policy.  The most positive reform to stimulate growth in exports, domestic production and jobs would be to replace the Corporate Income Tax with a Value Added Tax.  VAT is now utilized by all our trading partners and over 150 countries to exclude the cost of government from the price/value relationship of goods and services in international trade.  By definition under GATT rules, unlike corporate income taxes, the VAT is border-adjusted, i.e., subtracted from exports and added to imports. Without a VAT of our own, imports have a decided price advantage, and our exports carry a price disadvantage.

Replacing the CIT by a VAT would eliminate the double-taxation of dividends, encourage the return of multi-national profits now parked in countries with lower corporate tax rates, and stimulate foreign investment here.  Imports would carry an equal burden, so American goods would become more competitive at home and abroad.  An additional consideration to stimulate jobs would be to replace the corporate contribution to FICA by the VAT to reduce a direct disincentive cost to employment.

Governor Mitch Daniels, echoing Herman Kahn of Hudson Institute, once suggested that replacing our current tax system by a VAT coupled with an individual income tax with a high threshold would produce a tax system that is fair, competitive, and stimulative for growth.  And, with zero tax preferences (no exclusions and deductions), gone would be the corrupting lobbying for loopholes, once and for all.

Bartlett, Bruce, “Tax Reform That Works; Building a Solid Fiscal Foundation with a VAT,” New America Foundation, 11/30/12

In advocating a Value Added Tax, this concise paper by Bruce Bartlett takes on the myths about VAT and the mistaken political resistance to it.  It is highly recommended in the context of the realities of the “fiscal cliff.”  The link to the article is repeated at the bottom of this entry.

“…In my opinion, the greatest potential to break the tax reform gridlock is to get away from the model of cutting popular tax preferences in order to pay for rate reductions. That is the political equivalent of World War I-style trench warfare. I think it makes more sense to adopt a different approach, one more akin to Douglas MacArthur’s strategy of leapfrogging Japanese strongholds in the Pacific during World War II, leaving them impotent.

The tax equivalent of MacArthur’s strategy would be to leave in place all the existing deductions and credits, but make them irrelevant for most people. Prof. Michael Graetz of Columbia University has devised exactly such a plan.  He would institute an exemption of $100,000 for married couples ($50,000 for singles, $75,000 for heads of households).  All the existing deductions and credits would remain in place and could still be used by those with incomes above $100,000, but for the vast bulk of taxpayers they would become irrelevant because they would have no taxable income against which to take them. About 100 million of the 140 million people now required to file federal income tax returns would no longer have to do so.

Graetz would replace the lost revenue with a value-added tax (more below) combined with a rebate mechanism to relieve the regressivity on those with low incomes and also replace refundable tax credits for the poor. A recent analysis of the Graetz plan by the Tax Policy Center concluded that it could be done in a deficit-neutral manner with a VAT rate of 12.4 percent – well below the rates that prevail in Europe…”

“…For many years, official Republican Party platforms have opposed a VAT for the United States. The 1992 platform said such a tax in Europe “has resulted in higher prices, fewer jobs and higher levels of government spending.”  The 2008 platform said, ‘In any fundamental restructuring of federal taxation, to guard against the possibility of hypertaxation of the American people, any value added tax or national sales tax must be tied to simultaneous repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment, which established the federal income tax.’  The 2012 platform repeats the same language.

Fear that a VAT might come on top of the income tax and hence constitute some sort of double taxation is only one of many conservative objections to a VAT.  (No country imposing a VAT has ever abolished its corporate or individual income taxes, although excise and other taxes were often replaced.)

The irony is that the VAT is probably the best tax ever conceived from a conservative point of view. As a broad-based tax on consumption, it creates less economic distortion per dollar of revenue than any other tax – certainly much less than the income tax…”

“…A VAT would address a common conservative concern about the growing percentage of the population that pays no federal income taxes. In 2011, 46 percent of all returns had no federal income tax liability according to the Tax Policy Center.  It’s unrealistic to think that income taxes will be imposed on such people once they have become exempt. A VAT would be a way of getting all Americans to pay for the federal government’s general operations…”

“…Perhaps the strongest evidence that the VAT was considered the conservative tax reform is that it is the foundation of the flat tax, which is still supported by practically every conservative tax reformer. The flat tax, originally devised by Hoover Institution scholars Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka, is a subtraction-method VAT with one twist; businesses are permitted to deduct cash wages paid from the base on which they calculate the VAT. Workers pay the same rate on their wages less only a personal exemption. The purpose of this adjustment is to create transparency so that everyone sees the tax they are paying, and to redress its regressivity.

This is not the only case of conservatives supporting a VAT when it suited them to do so. When former California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, proposed a VAT plus a flat rate income tax in 1992, this was widely hailed by supply-side economists such as Arthur Laffer and Gary Robbins. Similarly, conservatives have recently embraced a proposal that would have replaced California’s state income tax with a VAT.

In Congress, Rep. Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the Republican Party’s nominee for vice president in 2012, received high praise from conservatives for his “Fiscal Roadmap” plan that would eliminate the national debt by slashing spending. But its first version would also have replaced the corporate income tax with what he called a Business Consumption Tax that is, again, a type of VAT. Sen. Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, generally considered to be the most conservative member of the Senate, cosponsored this legislation.

Nevertheless, whenever a VAT for the U.S. is suggested, conservatives are the first to denounce the idea. It is an article of faith among them that the VAT is a money-machine that must be fought to the death…”

http://growth.newamerica.net/sites/newamerica.net/files/policydocs/Bartlett_Bruce_VAT_NAF_November_2012.pdf

Hollings, Sen. Fritz, “Critical Needs Ignored,” HuffingtonPost.com, 11/07/12

“The presidential campaign ignored the real needs of the country. Four problems — four solutions.…

Second, we must pay for government — not plan to pay. In 2001 we gave President Bush a balanced budget but he and President Obama have refused to pay, adding $10 trillion to the debt in twelve years. Now everyone is running around with plans for later Congresses to pay. Congress can pay for government now by replacing the 35 percent corporate income tax with a 7 percent value added tax (VAT). One-hundred-fifty countries compete in globalization with a VAT that’s rebated on exports. The corporate tax is not rebated. A U.S. manufacturer exporting to China pays the 35 percent Corporate Tax and is levied a 17 percent VAT when exports reach Shanghai. But a China manufacturer exports to the U.S. tax free. This 52 percent difference is killing manufacture in the United States. The Corporate VAT is not regressive, needs no exemptions and eliminates all loopholes — instant tax reform. Last year’s corporate tax produced $181.1 billion in revenues. A 7 percent VAT for 2011 would have produced $872 billion. This tax cut, with spending cuts, will balance the budget in two years. Eliminating the Corporate Tax releases $1 trillion in offshore profits for Corporate America to create jobs in the United States…

Third, we make wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen; threaten wars in Syria and Iran, but refuse to fight in the trade war in which the world is engaged. Globalization is nothing more than a trade war with production looking for a country cheaper to produce. Tax cuts and federal aid for policemen, firemen and teachers don’t build a strong economy. It takes private investment. The president and congress must make it profitable to invest in the United States and protect the investment. The VAT tax cut is a good start.

The United States was founded in a trade war — the Boston Tea Party. Instead of calling for “free trade,” the Founding Fathers rejected David Ricardo’s comparative advantage in agriculture and opted for manufacture by enacting the Tariff Act of 1787 — two years before the Constitution. This protectionism worked so well that Edmund Morris in Theodore Rex wrote that, after a hundred years, the Colony was “$25 billion richer” than the Mother Country. But Wall Street, the big banks, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce want to keep the China profits flowing. So they shout “Free trade! Protectionism!” and contribute to the president and congress doing nothing.

In 2006, the Princeton economist Alan Blinder estimated that in ten years the U.S. would offshore 30-40 million jobs, or an average of 3-4 million jobs a year. David Wessel reports in the Wall Street Journal “between 2007 and 2010 (U.S. Firms) added 200,000 U.S. jobs and 600,000 outside the U.S…” BusinessWeek headlined (10/14/12) “Despite profits near record highs many executives are planning to trim their payrolls.” We lose 4 million jobs a year due to our deficit in the balance of trade. Great Recession? The recession has been over for three years. We are having a weak recovery because we are offshoring more jobs than we are creating.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sen-ernest-frederick-hollings/critical-needs-ignored_b_2088479.html

Stockman, David: “We Need a Value Added Tax,” WSJ Report w/Maria Bartiromo, 08/11/11

 

 

David Stockman on WSJ Report w/Maria Bartiromo

 

 

Hollings, (fmr.) Sen. Fritz, “Playing Games,” HuffingtonPost.com, 07/05/11

Corporate America pays no income tax on off-shore profits if the profits are re-invested off-shore for more profits. We should stop playing games and reverse this benefit to create jobs on-shore by canceling the corporate tax, averaging 23 percent, and replacing it with a 6 percent VAT. This cuts taxes, promotes exports, creates jobs, and provides billions to pay down the debt. Last year, the corporate tax brought in $194.1 billion, whereas a 6 percent VAT for 2010 brings in $700 billion. With $70 billion exemptions for the poor, this leaves $630 billion to pay down the debt. Spending cuts will provide billions more to pay down the debt and have a vote on the debt limit. Now Corporate America can repatriate a trillion dollars in off-shore profits to create jobs in the United States.

But the President and Congress play the game of “chicken” on the debt limit. Each thinks it has the upper hand because each can blame the other, and the press and media play it for all its worth.

It’s easy. All the President and Congress need to do is take the tax benefit they give Corporate America to off-shore investment and jobs and give it to Corporate America to create jobs in the United States. Replace the eliminated corporate tax with a 6 percent VAT and “presto,” Congress has cut taxes, created millions of jobs, lowered the debt limit and started competing in the trade war.

Instead, the nation suffers as the president and Congress play games and fight for contributions.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sen-ernest-frederick-hollings/tax-vat-_b_890336.html

Hollings, (fmr.) Sen. Ernest F., “Value-added tax will solve debt, jobs problems,” TheState.com, 06/08/11

We need to get the economy moving. We haven’t paid for government in more than 10 years — instead borrowing and adding $9 trillion to the debt. We’re off-shoring our economy as fast as we can. We can solve both problems at once.

Our jobs problem isn’t just cheap labor in China, but the fact that 136 countries competing in globalization use a value-added tax that’s rebated on exports. Germany uses its 19 percent value-added tax to produce the president’s green jobs in Charleston: Germany produces the parts at high cost in Germany, ships parts at 3 percent cost, and assembles parts at 3 percent cost in Charleston, producing windmills 13 percent cheaper than any domestic production. The United States charges a corporate income tax, and doesn’t rebate it on exports. So when U.S. exports, subject to the corporate tax, reach Germany, a 19 percent value-added tax is added. It simply doesn’t pay to produce in the United States. Any manufacturer of a substantial nature will soon face off-shore competition that will put it out of business.

President Barack Obama and Congress subsidize the off-shoring through the tax code. Corporate taxes are exempted on off-shore profits unless repatriated. So the incentive is to reinvest for more off-shoring. If Boeing off-shores production to Japan or China, the government gives it a subsidy. If Boeing locates production in South Carolina, the government sues Boeing. President Obama appoints Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric and a champion of off-shoring, to create jobs in the United States. GE has already off-shored the majority of its production and jobs, and shortly after his appointment as job czar, Immelt off-shored a $550 million research center to Brazil.

Every nation is building its economy with U.S. investment, technology, research, production and jobs. To reverse this trend and make it profitable to produce in the United States, we need to eliminate the corporate tax and replace it with a 5 percent value-added tax.

http://www.thestate.com/2011/06/08/1850324/hollings-value-added-tax-will.html

 

Hufbauer, Gary Clyde and Woan Foong Wong, “Corporate Tax Reform for a New Century,” Policy Brief, Peterson Institute for International Economics, April, 2011

“In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama stressed four ingredients of American prosperity: faster innovation, better education, less deficit, and more jobs. As the president recognized in his address, the US free enterprise system drives the private sector to innovate, invest, and create jobs. This policy brief concentrates on how reforming the corporate tax system can strengthen the private sector, thereby spurring both innovation and jobs.

Since any change in the tax system potentially affects the federal deficit, we start by summarizing a fact that everyone knows: The US budget outlook is a fiscal disaster. We conclude with a prescription for fiscal sanity that is entirely consistent with corporate tax reform—namely a broad-based consumption tax.”…

“When Japanese, European, or other non-American MNCs export goods and services from their home territory, those sales enjoy a rebate of VAT or goods and services tax (GST).  Likewise, when non-American MNCs ship goods manufactured abroad back to their home countries, the imports must pay the home country VAT or GST.

At a typical rate of 15 percent, a VAT or GST is essentially equivalent—in terms of altering the price of traded goods and services relative to nontraded products—to an exchange rate devaluation of 15 percent. Since the United States so far has resolutely rejected the VAT or GST, American MNCs do not enjoy these tax incentives for exports and home production.”…

“Five anti-VAT arguments are often voiced in the public debate: first, its regressive character; second, its intrusion into revenue sources that have historically been assigned to the states; third, its role as a facilitator of excessive government spending; fourth, the prospect that the VAT or GST will acquire a “jagged profile” over time; and fifth the administrative burden of a new tax.

Briefly we rehearse answers to each of these arguments. Yet in the end a national consumption tax will be adopted by the United States, if at all, only when public finances are in peril and only when it is generally accepted, to paraphrase what Winston Churchill said about democracy, that “[VAT is] the worst form of tax except all the others that have been tried.”…

“A national consumption tax fits Winston Churchill’s axiom. We recognize that many members of Congress and large segments of the public violently oppose a national consumption tax. Their arguments are strong but equally strong are the answers that can be put to their objections…(O)rganized labor rightly acknowledges that most US competitors have VAT systems, which favor exports. Without substantial new tax revenue of the magnitude that a VAT system could deliver, the United States must either sharply raise individual and corporate incomes taxes or rely on draconian budget cuts, much deeper than a large majority of Americans will support. These alternatives are highly implausible. The United States shares the federal spending habits of other advanced economics, and these habits are deeply ingrained, but the United States remains the only OECD country that has not implemented a national consumption tax. Circumstances compel the United States to join up.”

 

http://piie.com/publications/interstitial.cfm?ResearchID=1811