Thursday, September 27, 2012

Why Investment Should Tax Less

昨天在 Greg Mankiw 的 blog 上看到這篇文章:

Slate, 9/21/2012, "Why Mitt Romney's Effective Tax Rate Is So Low And Why It Probably Should Be", By Matthew Yglesias

這篇文章開宗明義談到今年美國總統大選裡面一個從共和黨初選一直持續到現在的 Mitt Romney 的所得稅實質稅率過低的問題。沒多久前 Romney 公佈了他去年的繳稅資料,他的 $13.7 M 收入一共付出 $1.9 M 的稅,平均稅率是 14.1%。跟他公佈的前面幾年一樣,以他的收入來講這個實質稅率遠低於薪資收入的稅率,因為他有很高比例的收入是以投資所得的形式記入而不是薪資。

在目前這個 1% vs. 99% 的政治氛圍下,Romney 被批評是可想而知的。大家談到投資收入,想到的會是拿錢滾錢的有錢人,他們繳的稅居然實質稅率還比辛苦工作的受薪階級低簡直是不可原諒的。

真的是這樣嗎?

有錢投資的人在所得上當然不會是勉強可以收支兩平甚至要靠政府救濟才能過日子的人,不過賦稅並不是「有錢人多出錢」這麼簡單的事情。稅收是政府運作所必需的,不管多麼相信自由市場運作,還是有些功能必須由政府來提供(決定一個經濟學家有多麼 "liberal" 的關鍵常常在於哪些是非靠政府不可的)。不過稅收也會造成其他負面的誘因,針對薪資課稅會降低工作的意願,針對投資課稅會降低投資的意願。在上面引文裡提到的問題是 double taxation。我們的投資最開始來自薪資所得沒有花完的部份,而這些錢已經課過一次稅了,後面再課稅是不是「合理」?並不是只有 1% 才會投資,超過半數以上的人會。投資會創造工作機會,而在現在這個全球化的世界裡,減少薪資課稅以增加消費所創造的工作機會反而並沒有那麼多(或者說消費所創造的工作機會其實有不少在中國)。以現有的課稅結構來說,我可以理解投資所得課稅的必要性,不過這並不是理想狀況。Cochrane 稍早一篇文章提出大部分經濟學家會同意的六個經濟政策,其中跟這邊談到的對象相關的有兩項:

3. 取消所有的公司稅。
4. 取消所得稅及薪資稅 (payroll tax),以消費稅取代。

這樣的做法就是盡量避免給予民眾負面的工作或投資誘因,而把稅收放在避免不掉的地方。有能力多消費的人就多出點稅,這樣也算是合理的。

關於降低公司稅或者投資稅的課徵,還有另外一個意義是在於鼓勵承擔風險。創新就是所有商業活動裡面風險較高的一項,而且一個經濟體系沒有創新就不太可能有快速的成長。在台灣這點常常被忽略,一方面是「風險」這種東西看不見、摸不著,不太容易體會他的價值。另外一方面則是台灣有太多經濟活動屬於裙帶資本主義下的運作,獲得高報酬的人靠的不是因為承擔高風險,靠的是政府。在後者的情況下,民眾不願意接受這些人可以享受低稅率是可以完全理解的。

Romney 和 Obama 之間的民調差距一直維持穩定距離,而且辯論應該也不是 Romney 的強項。雖然大家的預期是在接下來一個多月失業率不會有明顯好轉,不過一直到現在經濟問題並沒有成為 Obama 的痛腳,看起來 Obama 連任的機率極高。接下來就看兩黨間對於造成 fiscal cliff 的相關法案和聯邦預算赤字之間能否達成協議。由於 Obama 這四年花錢花的實在太兇,共和黨是否會對新當選總統讓步我實在沒把握。如果兩黨真的手牽手掉下懸崖,那些原先 Bush 政府開始的減稅方案的停止,將會對美國以及全世界的經濟造成負面的影響。

11 comments:

Ivan.W Lin said...

老師, 基本上大致同意.但對於

投資會創造工作機會,而在現在這個全球化的世界裡,減少薪資課稅以增加消費所創造的工作機會反而並沒有那麼多(或者說消費所創造的工作機會其實有不少在中國)。

這句話有點想要補充的.

久遠前在挪威take的一堂國際經濟學裡面教授提到, 就算在全球化的社會裡面很多商品跟服務可以外包, 但是商品外包的速度比服務外包的速度遠遠快得多. 從一位在某地的居民的生活, 從食衣住行, 大概都得要local的服務業來服務, 有些東西可以外包, 但很多東西無法.當初教授提這個例子是在說: 實證上商品市場的價格會下降(或者是可以選的低價品變多), 消費者可以因為全球化而獲益, 然而服務的價格卻無法很快的下降, 因為這些提供服務的人也是得在在地吃喝拉撒睡的, 他們要求的薪資也至少符合在地的物價水準(所以我們提到挪威的所以我們提到在挪威的很多服務還是很貴, 但是商品除去稅率因素之後, 只要願意找, 可以找到便宜的東西.

這跟我對於上面那句話的疑問有關的在哪?

上面那句話的assertion是: 投資可以創造比消費更多的就業, 尤其在全球化的setting之下. 但我好奇這句話的是否valid. 減少對於薪資課稅增加消費, 可能有人就去多吃一餐好的, 多去看場電影, 找貴一點的地方剪頭髮等等. 或者是車子很久撐著不換的零件打算換了, 或者是多出去幾趟旅遊. 這些, 都直接增強服務業的就業成長的機會, 這些服務業得在”國內”進行, 也是幾乎每個有點簡單訓練的人可以做的, 對於國內議題是好的, 而也是對於選民直接有感的.

相反的, 在”投資”這個名號下的創造的就業機會, 可能就沒有這麼直接了.
第一個我想說的是: 投資有個特質: “錢是會跑的” 也就是說, 投資要找報酬率最高的地方去. 在目前投資機會流動設限越來越低的狀況下, 創造的就業機會不必然發生在一個國家領域之類. 以美國來說:美國大企業大可以去印度設call center, 去中國開工廠, 這些大規模的就業, 不必然回流美國.
此外, 如果是創投一類的投資,那麼創造出的”職位”門檻相對的高, 能夠reach到那個職位並不是相當容易, 對於大多數的國內選民仍然無感.

再者, 投資創造的就業機會同時也創造的相對比較慢一些: 如果說新設一家工廠開始招聘員工, 那從評估到廠房設備進駐, 恐怕也還得花上各把個月.如果是說創投可以創造新的商品或者服務類型, 那麼創投一般的回收horizon是三到五年(看是在哪個階段投入不定),那也是短時間內看不到的結果.

suntex01 said...

I think right now, politician are just trying to find an easy scapegoat. What better than to use the opponent as the target? Democrats portray capital gains tax as a loophole benefiting only the rich. But anybody who invest benefit from it, not just the rich. And as for the problem of double taxation, I think the current SCOUS will probably not be interested in it. Looking from the ruling of Obamacare, they are more interested in Judicial activism rather than their duty to uphold the US constitution.

CCLu said...

To Ivan,

不管從 Keynesian 或是 New Classical 的架構下都應該會推論出投資的效果比較強。marginal propensity to consume 還要給所得稅率降低再打個折扣。

我同意你說的投資也會跑掉。不過能夠被課到稅的投資本來就已經在境內(或是跑不掉的境外),而降低稅率會提高報酬率,可以吸引到更多的投資。

更重要的是投資也可以提升 marginal product to labor,從而提升薪資。消費少許增加並沒有明顯的效果。

貧富分配不均是一個重要的問題,不過在這裡我們還沒有碰到,將來再談吧。

CCLu said...

To suntex01,

The thing I envy the U.S. the most is their constitution and their willingness to put it into practice.

All those good things do not look so rosy in Obama's regime. I just hope the poor performance after the U.S. falls off the fiscal cliff does not become an excuse for Obama.

This is the time when the U.S. and the world need a Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, but all we get is Barack Obama (or Mitt Romney). Sigh.

Ben said...

>>I think the current SCOUS will probably not be interested in it. Looking from the ruling of Obamacare, they are more interested in Judicial activism rather than their duty to uphold the US constitution.<<

Not sure that I agree with this conclusion entirely, suntex01. The deciding vote in the Obamacare case was cast by John Roberts, hardly a judicial activist judge. On the contrary, I believe that Roberts showed tremendous judicial restraints by not voting down Obamacare. With his deciding vote, Roberts sent a message to both parties and American people - don't look to the Judicial branch to do your dirty legislative work. If you don't like the law, fix it in the Legislative branch where it belongs.

>>The thing I envy the U.S. the most is their constitution and their willingness to put it into practice.<<

Hear, hear, CC. Our judicial system is far from perfect, but it is arguably one of the best in the world. We were taught early on that no man or woman is above the law, and most of us abide by that belief.

suntex01 said...

>>>Not sure that I agree with this conclusion entirely, suntex01. The deciding vote in the Obamacare case was cast by John Roberts, hardly a judicial activist judge. On the contrary, I believe that Roberts showed tremendous judicial restraints by not voting down Obamacare.<<<
John Roberts' was partly why I was dissappointed in SCOUS. His decision that the penalty was just a tax since it was written into tax code does not look upon the impact and implication it has for the federal government in the future. It basically says, "federal government can force individuals to do anything now or face a penalty, as long as its written into the tax code." This is direct violation of the constitution's "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." clause. The same is the reason why vehicle insurance is a mandate by each individual state and not the federal government, if anyone is going to bring that up.
And the government's argument that each individual will impact interstate commerce even though the individual might not leave residing state to seek medical care is complete bs. The same rationale if applied today in today's economy, will cover everyone even if their transact within own state. Think about this: that fact if you don't buy a tomato it might cause hardship on tomato farmers in Florida, hence what was once considered a in-state commerce now suddenly becomes an interstate commerce. This concept is blatantly unconstitutional and should of been struck down as a part of judicial responsibility. I have to stay, that's why I have a certain disdain towards Harvard Law School. Seems like they never really taught their students to use basic logic even though its extensively tested on the LSAT.

Ben said...

Suntex01, I am not a lawyer, don’t play one on TV, and have never stayed at a Holiday Inn Express:) So I cannot provide meaningful legal counterpoints to your fine analysis on the unconstitutionality of the Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare. I will leave that to those with more legal training than I.

However, I would like to provide a different perspective from a philosophical point of view. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in the opening paragraph of the The Common Law (1881): “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” Holmes was not referring to the life history of the individual lawmaker or judge; he was referring to the life history of society. Experience, to Holmes, was everything that arises out of the interaction of the human with his/her environment: beliefs, values, intuitions, customs, and prejudices. Or what we call, “culture.” If logic were the only criterion needed to reach a verdict in any case, we wouldn't need human judges at all. We can simply ask IBM to build a few more Watson Systems and then be rid of all the judges.

The American Constitution has stood the test of time, not because it was perfectly written. It was not. Thomas Jefferson wrote the phrase, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” As we all know, Jefferson was a slave owner and so were many other Constitution signers. We had to fight a Civil War and struggle through a Civil Rights movement to redefine “all men are created equal.” Our Constitution has stood the test of time because it is a living document that has improved over time with our experiences, not just with logic.

I am not defending the decision on Obamacare one way or another. I can see both sides of arguments. I believe it was not a decision that John Roberts arrive at lightly, and that he used both logic and experiences to reach his conclusion.

>>I have to stay, that's why I have a certain disdain towards Harvard Law School. Seems like they never really taught their students to use basic logic even though its extensively tested on the LSAT<<

I know only a handful of Harvard Law alumni, and none very well. But this statement seems unusually harsh and unfair to Harvard Law School. I am certain that there are bad apples in every law school barrel, and probably more in the business school barrels:) Attacking an established institution’s reputation based on a few case outcomes by a minority of its graduates seems rather over the top. As I said before, I am not a lawyer so I can’t offer a more spirited legal rebuttal; I will simply share a personal experience. My wife is currently working with a young Fulbright Scholar, who was accepted by Harvard Law. He deferred his enrollment by a year to work with young children and to teach them English in southern Taiwan. He is a smart, idealistic, thoughtful young man, and a firm Obama supporter to boot. I have no idea what kind of lawyer he will turn out to be, but if he is representative of the class of 2016 at Harvard Law, our nation’s future will most likely be in very good hands.

suntex01 said...

Ben,
I agree with you on saying my comment seems harsh on Harvard Law School. In fact, its a common logic flaw tested on the LSAT. Pardon my pun, my mind's been blasted with it the past few months trying to prep for it.

But interestingly enough, all five votes holding up the health care law, came from Harvard Law.

Anyhow, I hope Harvard Law produces lawyers who understand importance of upholding the fundamentals of system. Because I am seeing the erosion of the system by the indifference individuals.

Ex. Few weeks ago, NPR invited a Harvard law professor on to talk about concept of freedom of expression in US vs other countries and its implications. He mentioned that in the US freedom of expression is a right that is more lax than other countries, because of the concept of imminent and close dangers. IE in the US it is only considered a crime if a speech provokes an imminent danger such as shouting fire in a theater and etc. That's because he said, in the US we expect people to just "suck it up". And that other countries don't necessary see it as such. And his conclusion was that US should maybe reconsider the way freedom of expression is treated so that it aligns itself more with other countries...

But I think he is wrong, in the US the basis is that unless speech is threatening, or causes damage, reasonable people are expected to not be provoked simply by speech. And I was really abhorred by that suggestion. That is one slippery slope that a educated law scholar should even think about. Once you open that gate, there are so many unintended consequences that it would lead to. First step to tryanny is to restrict speech, a little at a time. Germany might think its ok to ban Nazy material to prevent it from being revived, or make it crime to publicly deny Holocaust, but in the US, such things cannot happen. Its because we value and tolerate the freedom to express different ideas. If the Muslims in the Middle East can't handle that, they should just suck it up. They might enjoying thinking alike and being taught what to think, but this freedom, is what brings progress to society.



CCLu said...

To Ben and suntex01,

I stayed away from your lengthy discussion because law is so not my cup of tea.

The latest comment from suntex01 made me think that stance again when it comes to freedom of speech. Freedom of expression is something great in the U.S., but it backfires from time to time. American understand and respect it, but not so much when foreigners are involved. This is probably the ground for people who think that freedom should be bounded.

That being said, the U.S. has gone a long way toward freedom of expression. Just look back a few decades when the era of McCarthyism was at its highest; and there were also dark moments in the civil right era. A great country can move past all those. Those things do not need to get forgotten, but they serve of stepping stone toward a better world. The way German people treat Nazis was not as good. What we do with 2/28, White Terror (白色恐怖) in Taiwan are even worse.

It's hard to judge the causality here, but I think a country with better freedom of expression is more likely immune to disasters described above. If those terrible things do happen, a country with more open mind has the ability to repair itself more quickly.

Ben said...

Suntex01,

I appreciate your feedback and counterpoints. Those are thoughtful remarks.

A few additional comments below:

“But interestingly enough, all five votes holding up the health care law, came from Harvard Law.”

This doesn't mean anything. If my memory serves me right, 7 out of the current 9 Supreme Court Justices all graduated from Harvard Law, which means that Harvard Law Alumni will be in the majority of EVERY decision made by this Supreme Court. So Harvard Law will be hated by both the left and the right!

I think this is the NPR interview that you mentioned:

http://www.npr.org/2012/09/19/161439562/held-dear-in-u-s-free-speech-perplexing-abroad

Mr. Noah Feldman is one of roughly 250 faculty members at Harvard, and I doubt that his view is the only view that Harvard Law has on freedom of speech. Allow me to share the thoughts on this matter from another Harvard Law alumnus:

“But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas -- that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. Every year, if not every day, we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge. While that experiment is part of our system, I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.”

From Abrams v. United States (1919), by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Harvard Law School Class of 1866.

Justice Holmes introduced the immediate and clear danger test to our Freedom of Speech right, and in this landmark case, he further refined and broadened that standard, although he was in the minority.

Bottom line is this: correlation doesn't equate to causation. I dislike Macaroon, and all the Macaroons in town are made by graduates of Le Cordon Bleu. Does this mean that graduates of Le Cordon Bleu are all bad chefs?

Best of luck with your upcoming LSAT, suntex01. I guess Harvard Law is a no-go for you. What other law schools do you have in mind?


CC,

I visited the Nylon Cheng Memorial Museum the other day. I had no idea who he was till I visited his museum. I was deeply moved by his story.

Mr. Cheng immolated himself so that he could be heard. He didn't lose courage or hope; he believes in the fruition of his act of self-sacrifice for the freedom of other Taiwanese people. He burned himself so that his hatred for intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship, oppression, and discrimination could be heard. He had to die to be heard simply because there was no freedom of expression in Taiwan at that time. Freedom is not free.

Never again, Nylon Cheng. RIP.

suntex01 said...

Hey Ben,
Sorry for the belated response. I posted some comment once already but for some reason didn't show up. I admit my comment towards Harvard Law is harsh. I just have some personal prejudice towards it, after seeing two current failing presidencies from Harvard. As for myself, I'm just hoping I'm lucky enough to get into a top 30 as I didn't do too well back in college. Another thing I'm looking into as well is farming. I think the problem of food supply will only exacerbate in the future.