Bush, Kerry, and Taxes

Bush, Kerry, and Taxes

Rakesh Wadhwa
The Boss , 27 Dec 2004

Ajay Bajracharya, marketing team leader of an NGO, 'Smallholder Irrigation Market Initiative' in Jawalakhel, is disappointed. He, like so many others in Nepal, was hoping that Kerry would become the President of the US. Ajay was opposed to Bush's reduction of taxes for the wealthiest 2% of the taxpayers in the US.

Ajay felt that Bush favoured the rich. It didn't matter to him that Kerry is married to a billionaire heiress to the 'Heinz ketchup' fortune. Kerry's promise to increase taxes for those earning over US$2,00,000 a year was enough for Ajay. For him taking money from the rich shows that you are for the poor and the downtrodden. If it could only be that simple!

Many people feel the same and populist governments round the world, with a few notable exceptions, make policies to 'squeeze' the rich. India, during Indira Gandhi's regime, had the dubious distinction of having the highest tax rates in the world. The income tax on the wealthiest was over 90%. This burden when combined with wealth, gift, and death taxes exceeded 100% of the taxpayers income in several instances.

If, as Ajay believes, this is automatically good for the poor, then Mrs. Gandhi would have succeeded in wiping off poverty from the face of India. Exactly the reverse happened. Tax collections did not increase, foreign exchange reserves remained chronically short, and India's economy stopped growing. Unemployment and poverty became synonymous with India.

What happened? The rich refused to be sitting ducks. They rebelled against their enforced martyrdom at the hands of Mrs. Gandhi's egalitarian philosophy. They evaded taxes, sent their capital to Swiss banks, or simply stopped working.

Now, lets turn to those countries which either had low taxes to start with or reduced them. They become fabulously rich. 11 of the world's 16 wealthiest jurisdictions are tax havens. The top five are Bermuda, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and the US.

What about the 'evil' corporations, should they be made to part with at least 50% of their profits? The case of Ireland is instructive. 20 years ago Ireland was Europe's shame. Its economy was in shambles; double digit unemployment had become the norm. It was Ireland's onerous tax policy which was, to a significant extent, responsible for this sorry state of affairs. The corporate tax rate was 50%.

This burden on companies was reduced in the 80's but in 1991 it was still considerable at 43%. At this point, the Irish leaders showed vision and guts. TAXES, all around were cut.

Over the next 10 years, taxes on companies were slashed drastically. Today the income tax on companies is 12.5%, one of Europe's lowest. If we buy into Ajay's argument then these cuts should have made the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Nothing of that sort transpired. The Irish economy went from being 'the sick man of Europe' to become a 'European tiger'. Unemployment dropped by 50%, and investment both foreign and domestic zoomed. The economy in the 90's showed the highest rate of growth – 7.7% each year – amongst all the developed countries.

The people of Ireland (hope Ajay is reading this) were the biggest winners. The Irish, who were Europe's poor, now enjoy the second highest standard of living in that continent.

Did the government lose revenue due to these cuts? No. At a 50% rate, corporate taxes raised revenue equal to 1% of GDP. With the rates at 12.5%, the government gets 4% of GDP from the corporate income tax. The 'evil' corporations are now bearing a fourfold higher burden as a result of taxes being reduced to a fourth of what they were.

There might be valid reasons for Ajay to support Kerry but increase in taxes should not be one of them. Run away from politicians who promise increased taxes for that's the way to poverty. Support those who will limit the burden of government not enhance it.

It is for sake of Nepal's poor that we should cut taxes. The rich will always manage, it is for the disadvantaged that lowering of taxes may mean the difference between living and dying.

(The writer an economist and a proponent of free markets contributes to leading international dailies. Contact e-mail:everest@mos.com.np )