Thursday, July 15, 2010

The economic nonsense of corporate income tax

The share of corporate income tax in tax revenue has been growing in the last two decades in the majority of countries. Beginning in 1990s, policymakers in developed countries have trimmed corporate income tax rates in the hope of fewer distortions to saving and investment. As a consequence, tax revenues from this particular tax have increased as a share of the GDP. Surprisingly, leaders in corporate income tax reduction were high-tax European countries such as Sweden, Austria and Germany. Today, the lowest corporate income tax rates in developed world are found in European countries such as Cyprus and Ireland.

What is the economic feasibility of corporate income tax? In fiscal theory, the rationale for this particular tax lies in the existence of benefits from legal protection enjoyed by the corporations and private limited companies. Joseph Stiglitz has argued that this particular tax is a tax on entrepreneurship as it discourages new capital formation. Corporation's tax base depends on the amount of revenues minus expenditures for labor, materials and capital goods. The real paradox of corporate income tax is that it is preferable for the corporation to create new debt than to issue equity. In fact, the debt is considered as a deduction from corporation's tax base. Thus, it is difficult for start-ups to get the loan from the banks as the bank is not willing to take on the risk involved with the repayment of the loan since start-ups' success is uncertain. Therefore, the existence of corporate income tax hinders business investments and entrepreneurial activity in general.

The abolition of corporate income tax would be an important boost to capital formation and new business investment. In addition, many economic distortions would disappear. It should not be neglected that tax incidence in corporate income tax is not shifted to the corporation. The ultimate payers of this tax are workers, customers, suppliers and shareholders. The tax is shifted in lower wages, higher prices and lower dividends. At last, the tax also creates perverse incentives that discourage investment and, nevertheless, job creation.

Source: OECD Tax Database (link)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Benefits of immigration

The Economist wrote an interesting article on the significance of migration and important spillovers from immigration into developed countries. The economic crisis of the past year has slowed the flow of international migration. As the estimate from Migration Policy Institute suggests, the stock of illegal immigrants in America fell from 12.1 million in July 2008 to 11.9 million in the year after. It is important to emphasize the economic benefits of migration for developed and developing countries.

The migration to developed countries has resulted in higher employment and greater specialization in the labor market. Without the flow of migrants the structure of the labor market in developed countries would incentivize workers to take lower paid jobs which would result in lower incomes. As the developed countries opened their borders to immigrants from all over the world, young individuals were enabled to invest in human capital and by doing so increase their career prospects. As for developing countries, migrants increase the stock of human capital availible to the country of migrant's origin. Therefore, immigration from less developed countries should not be seen as a loss but as an immense opportunity to get the know-how and high skills through which the country of migrant's origin shall prosper. The widespread emergence of technologies such as Google's applications, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin etc. has further enhanced the flow of knowledge and information to the countries of migrant's origin. It should not be neglected that economic catch-up, generated from technological imitation, is the only way for less developed countries to reach the income per capita of their richer peers.

The OECD published a report where it estimated that the inflow of migrants to rich countries fell by 6 percent in 2008, to 4.4 million. Five years before 2008, the inflow of migrants soared. The main benefit of immigration is more favorable demographic outlook since developed countries will experience sharp increases in the share of older population (65 years and over), replacement rate and fiscal burden of entitlement spending. The inflow of immigrants not only benefits the labor market but it also boosts incentives to work, save and invest since immigrants work longer hours and retire later than native population. Therefore, immigration should not be discarded but encouraged and promoted by national governments.

Monday, July 12, 2010

African economic development

Could the 2010 World Cup bring an end to decade-long economic stagnation and poverty persistence on the African continent? Political and social unrest in the great number of African countries has led to civil wars and consequently, African countries experienced little or no economic growth. Institutions such as World Bank have produced vast amounts of theoretical and empirical literature concerning African development agenda. African economic history is a history of colonization which serves as an efficient instrument for controlled experiments to test different theories of economic development and explain the true causes behind economic success and failure.

To be more percise, there is a limited amount of successful country studies that serve as a model of development to other African countries. In particular, legal origins of colonizers explain both initial economic conditions and long run economic performance. South Africa has been colonized by the Dutch and Great Britain. These two countries have exported their legal system based on the rule of law, robust property rights and liberal commercial code. The same happened in Mauritius, Gabon and Botswana. Incidentially, African countries abundant with natural resources were a quick target to European colonizers who focused their attention to the extraction of natural resources rather than on building a solid system of property rights protection and long term law enforcement. This hypothesis probably explains why countries situated near equator are deemed to long-run economic stagnation.

Policymakers in less developed African countries should realize the drawbacks of political instabillity and potential conflicts. Without strong institutional foundations of economic performance such as a clear committment to establish a sound system of property rights protection, foreign aid will help little and produce no net gain for African countries. This reaffirms the basic postulate of economics: Incentives matter. Everything else is a commentary.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The impact of crisis on employment

In recent days, Greek public sector workers have launched protests against government austersity measures which include a cutback in minimum wages, public pensions, an increase in effective retirement age and a cut in entitlements. An interesting question is how the crisis affected employment outlook across the world. The OECD recently presented a brief overview of unemployment dynamics in member states (link).

The countries, least affected by the crisis in terms of unemployment surge, are the ones with strong and flexible institutional foundations of the labor market such as the flexibility of wages, the ease of firing and hiring, tax wedge and the linkage between productivity and wage rates. These countries are, for instance, Austria, The Netherlands, Korea and Norway. The surge in unemployment has been the most significant in countries such as Spain, Ireland, U.S. and Iceland where the banking and financial crisis have torn real income and employment by heavy spillover of financial shock into the real sector. It is important to emphasize that long-term employment outlook in OECD countries will be determined by wage flexibility and regulatory environment which is essential and conducive to job creation besides economic growth and unit labor costs.