Saturday, February 4, 2012

Mitt Romney, His Economic Advisors and His Tax Returns

National Journal, 1/20/2012, "The Romney Conundrum", By Jim Tankersley

在 Florida 之後,Mitt Romney 似乎確立的他的領先地位。由於這一個州是 winner takes all,第一名拿走所有的該州選舉人票,所以這場勝利更有意義。

今天是 Nevada 投票,不過影響力應該沒有 Florida 來的這麼大。Newt Gingrich 把希望寄託在 Super Tuesday 一決最後勝負。今年這個日子是在 3/6,有十個州在同一天舉行初選投票。

上面引述的文章是 National Journal 在兩個星期之前的文章,談 Mitt Romney 和他的主要經濟顧問 Glenn Hubbard 和 Greg Mankiw 之間意見相同及不同之處。除了提到 Hubbard 和 Mankiw 的主張,以及 Romney 最近為了迎合 GOP 傳統選民支持而背離這兩個人的一些意見之外,還花了不少篇幅在談經濟學和經濟政策之間的關係。下面是兩段值得引述的文字:
“Many academics kind of have an unrealistic view of how a campaign works—their view of how it should work is like a Platonic philosopher-king,” said Austan Goolsbee, who stepped down last year as chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers to resume teaching at the University of Chicago. “The economist would say, ‘Here are some policies; let’s build a campaign around it.’ That’s not how it works.” In truth, Goolsbee said, the economic adviser is part of a pit crew—“one of the guys who jumps over the wall with the tire tool and a gas can in the NASCAR race. But Dale Jr. is the guy driving the car…. The economists would do well to remember that. So would the people who cover the economists.”
“If you bat .300, you’re going to win the National League [batting title]. But if you bat .100 as an economist in D.C., you’re going to go to the Hall of Fame.” So mused conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who was the top policy adviser to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and then worked for Hubbard in the Bush White House.

我雖然在經濟政策上偏向保守觀點,不過離 Tea Party 還有很遠的一段距離。老實說,Tea Party 的主張往往讓我害怕他們會有掌握權利的機會。我希望 Romney 能在三月之前就確立領先地位,否則他為了黨內初選向 Tea Party 主張讓步太多的話,可能會開出太多將來必須兌現而又不該兌現的支票。

台灣的政客似乎沒有這個問題,才選完三個星期,我們的總統已經可以把選前對於『富人稅』的承諾完全拋在腦後。在選戰進行時,關於富人稅的論述本來就太過粗糙而未必可行,不過才三個星期,連謹慎的研究和考慮都沒有就可以輕鬆丟掉,這也實在太威了。台灣其實應該仔細考慮對於不同資產類別 (asset class) 資本利得稅的開徵。一方面政府有開源節流的需要,以平衡預算赤字。另外一方面在沒有資本利得稅的情況下,的確有可能產生資源錯置的問題。

我並不是從『公平正義』的角度來看稅收這件事情,繳稅這種東西其實不該用『公平正義』來無限上綱。有錢人為什麼應該繳比較多的稅?這樣比較公平?誰的公平?所得分配為什麼應該要平均?如果我們舉辦公投,來決定是不是要求政府對郭台銘施加 75% 的實質稅率,搞不好贊成的人數會過半。以郭大老闆最近上新聞的那些內容,說不定投票決定將他抄家都會過關。不過這算是『公平正義』嗎?


但是有錢人要多負擔到什麼程度,這是現實問題,不能單純的用個『公平正義』的大帽子扣下來。我們希望能夠收到足夠多的稅收來應付政府必要支出,讓政府做該做的事情﹔同時我們還希望稅制設計不至於阻礙經濟發展。這裡我也不是在談 GDP 成長率這種單一指標而已,阻礙經濟發展的後果可能是提高失業率,受害的其實也往往是年輕剛進社會的族群以及弱勢的民眾。

我還沒有打算討論台灣的稅制,所以把焦點再拉回 Mitt Romney 來。在 Florida 初選之前一個很有趣且當時看來很重要的辯論主題是 Romney 過去兩年的報稅資料。他的實質稅率只有大概不到 15%, 不過他過去兩年的收入分別是 $21.7 million (2010) 和 $20.9 million (2011)。在稅表上顯示 Romney 過去兩年並沒有工作,收入主要來自他的財產信託的收益。Goldman Sachs 對 Romney 貢獻良多,他們是 Romney 的財產信託的主要管理者。如果他當時在 Florida 輸掉,這些大概是最主要的原因。

有趣的部份在投票前的辯論會上,Newt Gingrich 攻擊 Romney 說他繳的稅太少,Romney 的辯護是他的稅率低的原因是他的主要收入來源為資本利得,如果照 Gingrich 的主張將資本利得稅率砍到零,他連稅都不用繳了。Gingrich 希望降低資本利得稅率的原因在於刺激景氣以增加工作機會,但是從 Romney 這個例子我們又可以看到資本利得跟稅收之間的巧妙關係。如果 Romney 最後被共和黨提名,我們可以預期 Obama 會把這個問題再度端上台面,而且他不會有 Newt Gingrich 這樣的不一致的現象。台灣如果接下來要討論資本利得稅的問題,正反雙方都可以從未來美國總統大選辯論找到自己所需要的彈藥。


Carolyn said...

Hi, CCLu,

This is Ben. For some odd reason, I have been having troubles posting comments with my own OpenID in the last few days. So I am using my wife's(Carolyn) Google account for the time being till I figure out what's wrong with my own OpenID.

Got a couple of quick questions for you:

- What do you think of Ron Paul?
- What does the Taiwanese press and/or the Chinese press think of Ron Paul?


CCLu said...

To Ben,

It seems we can see your comment using either account now.

I respect Ron Paul's ideology, but I think he's too right to talk to. Some of his ideas are out of touch to the real world, for example, re-applying the gold standard in the 21st century. I'm not an inflation hawk, but I understand and respect people who take that stance. However, Ron Paul is usually too extreme to my stomach.

Don't expect much coverage of Ron Paul in Taiwanese press, if any. An amateur blogger like me might cover more GOP nomination process than a lot of Taiwanese newspapers. I guess there should be more about GOP in the Chinese press, but I don't think they will have significant coverage of Ron Paul either. He doesn't seem a strong candidate since day one, and his ideology is probably too exotic to Chinese readers.

Ben said...

Thanks for the feedback, CCLu. I think I got the ID issue resolved.

To be honest, Ron Paul intrigues me, and I have been surprised by the strength of his campaign and supporters. He is not going to win the Republican primary, but his ideas are slowly catching on here in the U.S.. I think I am going to check him out when he comes to town.

And keep an eye on his son, Rand. Ron may very well be paving the road for Rand's eventual ascend in the Republican party.

A quick observation on the FB IPO - look at how much control Zuckerberg will retain even after the company goes public. I guess Jerry Yang wishes that he had done the same:)

CCLu said...

In the beginning I just considered Ron Paul a nut job without any chance. He kind of earned my respect recently. At least I don't think firing Ben Bernanke is such a bad idea anymore. The prospect of QE3 scares the bejesus out of me.

I just hope the younger generation of Republicans can be more liberal on social issues, at least have an open mind to those stuff. Every time I thought I like GOP policies better, there's a Rush Limbaugh showing up to remind me why I hated them before.

As to the Yahoo-Facebook comparison, I don't have much to say about the founder or their control issue because I don't really know what led to Yahoo's current doom. I've heard that Yang is also responsible to their misery. One reason I can buy into is that Yahoo considered itself a media company when it should work like a technology one.

Zuckerberg or not, the biggest challenge is to extract revenue from mobile devices. If FB can do it, great days are ahead of them no matter which role Zuckerberg will be playing.

Publius said...


Personally, I think the reason why Chinese media cover so less GOP primary are:

1. Pan-Chinese is pretty pro-Democratic in the US.

2. GOP's traditional foreign policy stance on Asian . (especially true when taking China media into account, which they often provide incredible amount of international news with incredibly bad quality.(sometimes even fake news)

I wonder this problem when I saw pretty biased Chinese coverage about Scott Walker's Wisconsin event. Most of Chinese news coverage described him as "evil" or some pretty negative terms, as if they are copied from CNN or some liberal media. However, the problem is: if he is that unpopular, why he got elected in the first place in a state with "liberal" traditions?

Ben said...

Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer...he makes money by being "provocative." He doesn't reflect the values of mainstream Republicans any more than Ralph Nader being the voice of the Democratic party.

Jerry Yang was recently forced to resign from Yahoo's Board because of pressure from activist investors. Yahoo's demise started long ago, and its future as an independent company is probably numbered. The word on the street is that Jerry is a nice guy but couldn't make the tough decisions. As much as I would like to root for a fellow Taiwanese-American, it was time for Jerry Yang to go.

I think Zuckerberg will own something like 58% of FB's voting shares after the IPO. At that ratio, not even God can push him out of FB. And if one were going to participate in FB's IPO, ask yourself if this kind of governance arrangement at a $100 billion public company would be a good deal for a long-term investor. Of course, if your investment time frame is measured in seconds, then this is a moot point.

Fun and sad fact:

Do you know what the average holding period of a stock is these days?

Answer: 22 seconds.

CCLu said...

To Publius,

I think you are right. Chinese media have the tendency to report things in a way that fits their ideology.

On the other hand, Taiwan's media tend to present news that can boost their rating, so we see a lot of nonsense at prime time. I think I didn't watch TV news in Taiwan for 6 years. I watch more AC360 or Nightly News on Podcast during the same time span.

CCLu said...

To Ben,

That 22 second thing is interesting. I don't think the description "the average holding period of a stock" is accurate though. We've got tons of stocks held by board members, executives, and funds like ETF, or other less actively managed funds, those are traded in quarterly basis, if not longer.

While working on TAQ (Trade and Quote) database for my research, I noticed the dramatic increase in trading data in recent years. A lot of people called the demise of the efficient market hypothesis, I guess the profitability of the high-frequency trading strategy can revive it from the death bed.

Ben said...

I think this guy probably meant the volume-weighted average holding period of a stock. The 22-second holding time is merely an indication of the proliferation of HFT in the last 10-15 years.

Not a big believer in efficient market theory, even thought it was drilled into my head at B-school.

CCLu said...

To Ben,

I think you are right. There's no name tag on stock shares, it has to be volume-weighted. A quick look on wiki tells me 70% of the equity trades were HFT in 2010 in the U.S. (no reference for this number though). This is consistent from the number I read somewhere else, so I think it's believable. Since a lot of HFT take only a fraction of a second to get in and out of the position, the average could be as low as 22 seconds.

If EMH can be proven to be false, a big part of the asset pricing theory will be claimed dead. It's not like everybody's using it, but we are in for a big trouble if CAPM is not only inaccurate but also wrong. I believe in EMH in a way I consider most of the theories promoted by the Chicago school. They will hold in long run and in average, but a lot of holes can be found.

Ben said...

The funny/sad thing is that the 22 second holding period is actually an improvement from a couple of years ago. It used to be 20 seconds!

It took me a long time to get EMH out of my head. Ben Graham taught Warren Buffett at your alma mater, and those two guys are definitely not believers in EMH. I mostly agree with your thinking on EMH - in the long run, the market is brutally efficient, but in the long run we will all be dead too....