Don, you are wrong about taxes

By Rakesh Wadhwa
The Himalayan Times, 6 March 2004

In response to my December 27, 2004 article advocating reduction in taxes, Don Michaels sent a letter, published in THT, making a case for an increase. Let us analyze each of his arguments.

Don's first contention is that even if taxes are reduced businessmen will not reduce prices. Don is right that when taxes go down, the prices may not immediately go down, but, in general goods are available at a cheaper rate to consumers in a lower taxed nation than in a high one. Isn't zero or very low taxes the reason that countries like Singapore and Hong Kong boast of the world's highest per capita trading volumes as well as living standards which are the envy of those of us in the 3rd world?

Further, high prices due to high taxation reduce demand and thus lower economic activity in the country. If Don, you can afford to buy a Toyota RAV 4 for Rs.20 lakhs, you may not, perhaps, be willing to buy it when taxes result in it being priced at Rs.40 lakhs.

Does Don really believe that if duty rates are brought to zero from say 100% prices will stay the same? How can they? Competition amongst sellers ensures that the consumers get their reductions fast.

Second point made by Don is that, "governments use taxes to build infrastructures; without them nations cannot progress". I do agree with the later part of the sentence. Nepal does need infrastructure, desperately so. However, if anyone thinks that government taxes result automatically in building infrastructure, that person is dreaming.

A committed socialist like Rajiv Gandhi stated that not more than 15% of what government collects is spent on what the collection is for. 85% or more just disappears in funding the government machinery and in corruption. Why not let the private sector do the job? Why not allow foreign and domestic investment to be utilized for building of roads, airports, communication networks, and power plants?

In India when government regarded telephones as infrastructure people had to wait for years to obtain a connection. And if you did manage to get one it was just that one model made by a government factory and had to be black. When a member of India's Parliament complained about his instrument not working to the Minister, he was told that only the 'lucky' few got telephones as India was poor and there were no funds for 'luxuries'. Now India's private companies are not only supplying phone connections by the millions each month, but, are also contributing thousands of crores in taxes to the government.

Don your argument regarding infrastructure doesn't hold water. Tax money is people's money, if it is not collected by government it would be available for whatever people desire including infrastructure. To allocate resources is the work of capital markets not government bureaucrats and politicians.

Thirdly, Don says, "As for 'taking' money from the rich, who is it that creates the wealth of a nation? Is it a CEO in his plush office or the worker on a construction site, factory, mine or farm?" The implication here clearly is that the worker builds wealth, the businessmen contributes nothing.

This contention displays such ignorance of the wealth generating process that all other arguments of Don pale in comparison. How can anyone even think that a worker without capital, or managerial resources, can produce wealth? Far from it.

If workers could produce wealth on their own then Nepal would be as rich as the US. Does Thapa, a porter, in a remote mountain village at Lukla work harder, or, Smith, an elevator operator, in New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel? Thapa in Lukla barely survives, Smith in New York with 1% of the effort owns a car, an apartment, and flies for a holiday to Mexico each year. If Thapa in the Himalayas expended the same effort as does Smith, Thapa would surely starve.

Don, productivity and wealth are the result of capital and capital is destroyed by taxes. Businessmen are required, for they bring in this much needed capital; without them, there would be no site on which to construct, no factory, no mine, and no farm except for subsistence hand to mouth agriculture.

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