More on the Corporate Tax

Andrew Stuttaford, who edits National Review‘s policy-focused Capital Matters section, has a writeup in his daily newsletter on the consequences of a corporate tax increase, in which he quotes from my recent piece that ran on his site. Andrew’s analysis is excellent, and detailed.

The Washington Examiner‘s Sarah Westwood quotes me in an article about the proposed increase.

The Dispatch, an outlet founded by Jonah Goldberg to offer a less tribal voice for the right than the Trump-centered outlets, was also nice enough to draw from my National Review piece in their daily newsletter (scroll down to the “worth your time” section”.

I also discussed corporate taxes on the Rod Arquette show in Salt Lake City. I’ll post a link to the audio if I find one.

Who Pays Corporate Taxes?

Congress is considering increasing the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent to help pay for the big infrastructure bill it is currently assembling. Over at National Review, I point out that corporations don’t actually pay corporate tax. You and I do:

That is because companies pass on their costs. Some of the tax is paid by consumers, who pay higher prices. Company employees pay some of the tax through lower wages. And investors’ retirement accounts pay some of the tax through lower returns.

There is also an often overlooked rent-seeking story behind Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s proposal for a global minimum corporate tax rate:

It is not difficult to imagine a U.S. company lobbying heavily to raise its rivals’ taxes in lower-tax countries. This would make the U.S. company more competitive, but in strictly relative terms. Such a lobbying win could aid a company without it having to do the hard work of improving its products or offering consumers better deals.

At the same time, though, foreign companies could lobby to raise U.S. corporate-tax rates for similar reasons. Why bother improving your own company when you can just hurt your rivals instead? That is the real race to the bottom.

A global minimum corporate tax rate turns out to be a form of hidden trade protectionism.

Read the whole thing here.

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

Washington’s attention flitted back and forth between beginning work on a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure bill and a brewing sex scandal allegedly involving Rep. Matt Gaetz and a 17-year-old girl. Meanwhile, agencies issued new rules ranging from shrimp trawlers to the Community Forest Program.

On to the data:

  • Agencies issued 48 final regulations last week, after 49 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every three hours and 30 minutes.
  • With 808 final regulations so far in 2021, agencies are on pace to issue 3,258 final regulations this year. 2020’s total was 3,327 final regulations.
  • Agencies issued 62 proposed regulations in the Federal Register last week, after 50 the previous week.
  • With 553 proposed regulations so far in 2021, agencies are on pace to issue 2,230 proposed regulations this year. 2020’s total was 2,021 proposed regulations.
  • Agencies published 422 notices last week, after 328 notices the previous week.
  • With 5,429 notices so far in 2021, agencies are on pace to issue 21,891 notices this year. 2020’s total was 22,480.
  • Last week, 984 new pages were added to the Federal Register in a three-day week, after 883 pages the previous week.
  • The average Federal Register issue this year contains 282 pages.
  • With 17,492 pages so far, the 2021 Federal Register is on pace for 70,532 pages in 2021. The 2020 total was 87,352 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (subtracting skips, jumps, and blank pages) is 96,994, set in 2016.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. There are two such rules so far in 2021, none from the last week. Agencies published five economically significant rules in 2020, and four in 2019.
  • The running cost tally for 2021’s economically significant rules ranges from net savings of $100.7 million to net costs of $362.5 million. The 2020 figure ranges from net savings of between $2.04 billion and $5.69 billion, mostly from estimated savings on federal spending. The exact numbers depend on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • Agencies have published 13 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” in 2020, with one in the last week. This is on pace for 52 significant rules in 2021. 2020’s total was 79 significant final rules.
  • In 2021, 142 new rules affect small businesses. Three are classified as significant. 2020’s totals were 668 rules affecting small businesses, 26 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new regulations:

For more data, see Ten Thousand Commandments and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

U.S. Trade Representative Tai Should Rethink Keeping China Tariffs in Place

Over the weekend, The Wall Street Journal interviewed Katherine Tai, the new United States Trade Representative. She has a lot of work ahead of her to undo the damage from the Trump administration’s protectionist turn. But she made two disappointing remarks about the approach she plans to take on the tariffs Trump placed on Chinese goods worth $377 billion per year. These can be undone at any time by either Congress or the stroke of President Biden’s pen.

First, as she told the Journal:

“I have heard people say, ‘Please just take these tariffs off,’” Ms. Tai said. But “yanking off tariffs,” she warned, could harm the economy unless the change is “communicated in a way so that the actors in the economy can make adjustments.”

The top trade policy priority right now should be to prevent normalizing President Trump’s trade policies. He doubled U.S. tariffs in one term, in unpredictable fashion. That was the radical change that made planning difficult. Restoring tariffs to where they already were for a long time would be far better for giving businesses something to plan around.

Tai has this argument backwards, and with poor timing. Businesses are struggling to recover from the COVID slowdown. Lowering tariffs would provide an economic stimulus that requires no new spending. Economics aside, the politics of undoing Trump’s China tariff are also positive. It sends a message of moving on, and a responsiveness to consumers, businesses, and economic realities.

Her second disappointing remark is about leverage:

The negotiator also cited tactical reasons for her reluctance.

“No negotiator walks away from leverage, right?” she said.

Tariffs do not give the U.S. any leverage, so there is none to walk away from by repealing them. Their purpose was to get China to reform its unfair trade policies, which is the right goal, but tariffs never had a chance of achieving it. The first round sparked no reforms, only retaliation. Trump enacted a second round and got the same result. On it went, and now three quarters of China’s exports to America are tariffed, there are retaliatory tariffs on the same proportion of American exports to China, and Beijing has not made a single notable reform.

True, withdrawing tariffs would also fail to convince China to reform, but that does not justify keeping them or trying to use them as leverage. Tariffs simply do not work with Beijing as a negotiating tactic. They are like trying to use a hammer as scissors. They are the wrong tool for the job. When a strategy fails, the right thing to do is admit it and try something else.

There is a lot the U.S. can do to help along Chinese reform. We now know tariffs are not part of the list. There is also no silver bullet. Pundits and voters hate hearing this, but it’s true. Pretending that there is a silver bullet in order to appeal to them will do no good. Change in China must ultimately come from within, but there is still a lot the U.S. can do to help. It takes a multifaceted strategy that is more subtle than tariffs, and gets less media coverage than summits or negotiations.

Continued economic, intellectual, and cultural engagement with China will let ordinary Chinese people see how much richer and freer liberal policies are. Walls don’t work, but bridges, windows, and conversations do. This is a slow, bottom-up process that is difficult to measure with statistics.

But just as blue jeans, underground rock music, and American movies helped to win the Cold War, today’s equivalents can help ordinary Chinese people see the connection between liberalism, markets, and prosperity—and work toward moving their own country in that direction.

That is a long-term process, but there is important work right now that Tai, President Biden, and Congress can do to help get it started. First on the agenda should be getting rid of the Trump tariffs. Neither Tai’s “companies will have problems adjusting” argument nor her leverage argument hold water. The right thing to do is to rip off the Trump-era band-aid and move on to policies that at least have a chance of working. Congress or President Biden could do this tomorrow.

Repealing these bad policies is not enough, though. The larger system that makes tariff abuse possible needs reform. As we recommend in the new CEI Agenda for Congress, this would mean repealing Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 and Sections 201 and 301 of the Trade Act of 1974.

These provisions allow the president to enact tariffs without congressional approval. The China tariffs were enacted under Section 301. The steel and aluminum tariffs—against allies we’ll need as counterweights to China—were enacted under Section 232, allegedly for national security reasons. It’s time for them to go, and Tai can play a role in making that happen.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is an important diplomatic counterweight to China; the U.S. should rejoin it. Tai and President Biden should work to rebuild the World Trade Organization’s dispute resolution process, where the U.S. wins more than 85 percent of the cases it brings. Renewing Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) would speed up negotiations for a trade agreement with China, if the president chooses that route. At the very least, TPA would help with upcoming agreements with the United Kingdom and the European Union, whose help we’ll need to counter Chinese influence. Tai can play an important role working with Congress to renew TPA before it expires in July.

This is a somewhat slow period in China-U.S. relations. The tariff back-and-forth is likely over with Trump out of office. The Phase One agreement, which was unrealistic to begin with, was made completely unworkable by COVID, and is essentially dead.

But over the medium to long term, working to liberalize China will be a top economic, diplomatic, and humanitarian priority for the United States. Tai stumbled out of the gates in her first interview, but it’s a long race. With the right policies, she can help make historic positive changes that will benefit both the American and Chinese people.

For more on those policies, see the trade chapter in CEI’s new Agenda for Congress, my paper on COVID-related trade reforms, and Iain Murray’s and my paper “Traders of the Lost Ark.”

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

A massive container ship turned sideways and blocked the Suez canal, halting roughly $10 billion worth of international trade per day, or about $400 million per hour. Trade protectionists in both parties had better be celebrating this catastrophe, or else perhaps they are not as consistent in their beliefs as they say they are. Two regulatory reform bills were introduced in Congress recently, the USA Act, which would cut funding to agencies not authorized by Congress, and the Pandemic Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Act, which would create an independent regulatory review commission similar to what CEI scholars have been advocating for years. Meanwhile, agencies issued new rules ranging from radio abuse to the Tariff of Tolls.

On to the data:

  • Agencies issued 49 final regulations last week, after 45 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every three hours and 44 minutes.
  • With 748 final regulations so far in 2021, agencies are on pace to issue 3,281 final regulations this year. 2020’s total was 3,327 final regulations.
  • Agencies issued 50 proposed regulations in the Federal Register last week, after 39 the previous week.
  • With 487 proposed regulations so far in 2021, agencies are on pace to issue 2,136 proposed regulations this year. 2020’s total was 2,021 proposed regulations.
  • Agencies published 328 notices last week, after 436 notices the previous week.
  • With 5,013 notices so far in 2021, agencies are on pace to issue 21,987 notices this year. 2020’s total was 22,480.
  • Last week, 883 new pages were added to the Federal Register in a three-day week, after 844 pages the previous week.
  • The average Federal Register issue this year contains 286 pages.
  • With 16,281 pages so far, the 2021 Federal Register is on pace for 71,408 pages in 2021. The 2020 total was 87,352 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (subtracting skips, jumps, and blank pages) is 96,994, set in 2016.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. There are two such rules so far in 2021, none from the last week. Agencies published five economically significant rules in 2020, and four in 2019.
  • The running cost tally for 2021’s economically significant rules ranges from net savings of $100.7 million to net costs of $362.5 million. The 2020 figure ranges from net savings of between $2.04 billion and $5.69 billion, mostly from estimated savings on federal spending. The exact numbers depend on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • Agencies have published 12 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” in 2020, with two in the last week. This is on pace for 53 significant rules in 2021. 2020’s total was 79 significant final rules.
  • In 2021, 130 new rules affect small businesses. Two are classified as significant. 2020’s totals were 668 rules affecting small businesses, 26 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new regulations:

For more data, see Ten Thousand Commandments and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

Putting a Price on Conspiracy Theories, Revisited

Conspiracy theories are back in the news, so it’s a good time to revisit my recent Fortune article about putting prices on conspiracy theories. My argument is that irrationality is the same as any consumer good, such as cars or televisions. When the price of something is low, people consume a lot of it. If the price goes up, they consume less. If you want fewer conspiracy theories, then put a price on them in line with the harm they cause. So far, this theory is holding up well.

Two recent news items show why. First is a development regarding “Release the Kraken” lawyer Sidney Powell. She claimed that the 2020 election was stolen, and that Dominion voting machines used in the 2020 election had design input from former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013. Her claims were dismissed from several election-related court cases for lack of evidence.

In December, Dominion Voting Systems put a price on Powell’s irrationality when it filed a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against her. Powell’s behavior immediately changed. This week, her attorneys said in a court filing in the case that “No reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact.”

That is remarkable, and likely means the end of Powell’s legal career, even if the case is dismissed.

Second, Fox News is now seeing a price increase for its conspiracy-spreading. This week, Dominion sued Fox News for $1.6 billion for defamation. Smartmatic, another voting machine maker, in February sued Fox News, three of its anchors, Powell, and Rudy Giuliani for $2.7 billion. Lou Dobbs, one of the Fox anchors named in that suit, had his show canceled in February, and is no longer making false election claims on air.

These are all normal responses to an increase in price. While media coverage will likely always remain sensationalistic and threat-based for reasons I’ll explore another time, this is one case where a little bit of ECON 101-style price theory can make the news more trustworthy. Or more to the point, make it less harmful.

My original Fortune article is here.

CEI Commends Sen. Lankford for Introducing Pandemic Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Act

This press release was originally posted on cei.org.

On Thursday, Senator James Lankford (R-OK) introduced the Pandemic Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Act. The bill would establish an independent commission to identify regulations harming the COVID-19 response, and compile a package for Congress to vote on.

CEI Senior Fellow Ryan Young said:

“The American economy is a lot different than it was a year ago. We are still adapting to the challenges of COVID recovery, and making the country resilient against whatever the next threat might be. Part of that effort needs to include trimming the 185,000-page Code of Federal Regulations. Much of that code is out of date, was hampering the virus response, and will slow the economic recovery going forward.

“An independent commission like the one in the PPRRA is an effective way to go through all those rules and figure out which ones are worth keeping, and which ones the country is better off without. This is not a red-team/blue-team issue. It is a common sense issue, with a bipartisan heritage going back to the successful BRAC commissions of the 1990s that saved billions of dollars in military spending. Congress and President Biden should jointly pursue this bill or something like it.”

CEI Vice President for Policy Wayne Crews said:

“At a time when the administration is passing trillions of dollars of spending in an attempt to jumpstart the economy, powerful deregulatory stimulus, that is, easing or removing unnecessary rules and regulations can make our economy more resilient.

“It is up to Congress has to reassert its primary legislative role and act to reduce regulation, as this juncture ideally can do that via a bipartisan ‘regulatory improvement commission,’ an idea is rooted in bipartisan discussions stretching back over several Congresses.

“The Pandemic Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Act is a logical, sensible, fair and humane approach to dealing with crisis. Under the Act, a bipartisan commission would prepare recommendations for regulatory streamlining, and those would be improved upon by public notice and comment. The resultant report would be issued to Congress, which would have the ability to say yes or no to this new vehicle uniquely expressing an aspect of the will of the people that too often gets neglected. While the regulatory code grows with little relief, the Pandemic Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Act provides a way of disciplining it for the public good, and health.”

Read more:

CEI Book Forum with Johan Norberg and Patrick Moore

Earlier today, CEI hosted a double book forum featuring Johan Norberg, author of Open: The Story of Human Progress, and Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore.

Video of the event is on YouTube here.

I also received a pleasant surprise around the 31:00 mark when Norberg, whose work I’ve long admired, quoted favorably from my recent review of Open.

Monopoly Is Not the Same as Big

Ball State University economist Steve Horwitz posted to YouTube an excellent clarification/gentle rant about the difference between having a monopoly and being big. Though aimed at one his undergraduate classes in which many students were making repeated slips, it is a good reminder for just about everyone. This is what good teaching looks like.

The seven-minute video is here. It is even shorter than that if, as I often do, you play the video at 1.5x speed or so.

Restoring Separation of Powers and Improving Resilience with the USA Act

Separation of powers is a core principle of American government. But things haven’t gone quite as planned. Congress, the first branch, has increasingly taken a back seat to the second branch, headed by the president. This is not a partisan problem, but a systemic one.

The Framers designed a system of checks and balances in the belief that the different branches of government would compete against each other. They were mistaken. It turned out that it is parties, not branches, that compete against each other. This institution-level problem requires an institution-level fix.

To that end, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) recently reintroduced the Unauthorized Spending Accountability (USA) Act, which seeks to rebalance a tilted scale by reasserting Congress’ power of the purse. It would reengage Congress in policy making, regardless of who runs which branch at any given time.

Only Congress has the power of the purse, yet a long list of unauthorized executive branch programs continue to operate—971 in all as of 2019, at a cost of more than $306 billion. That is roughly a quarter of discretionary federal spending.

The USA Act would automatically cut an unauthorized program’s budget to 90 percent of its previously authorized level in its first unauthorized year, and to 85 percent in the second unauthorized year. Programs would sunset altogether after a third unauthorized year.

The Trump administration displayed less respect for the limits on its power than any previous administration, including the “pen-and-phone” Obama administration. President Biden is unlikely to suddenly show a restraint that no one in his office has in decades. That bodes poorly for the COVID-19 recovery effort, which cannot be planned from Washington, let alone from one individual’s office. Congress needs to reassert itself as a check and a balance on the executive.

The USA Act would require Congress to own up to its budgeting responsibilities, while simultaneously making the executive branch more accountable. The reform is much needed.

As it stands now, there are programs currently operating that Congress has not authorized since the 95th Congress, which was in session from 1977 to 1979. In fact, when Rep. McMorris Rodgers introduced the first version of the USA Act in 2016, entire cabinet-level departments, such as the State Department, had not been congressionally authorized since 2003. The Justice Department was last authorized by Congress in 2009. Other agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, have operated for roughly 25 years without congressional authorization.

There is more. The USA Act’s automatic budget cuts and sunsets apply only to programs classified as discretionary spending. Roughly three quarters of federal spending is classified as mandatory, including major programs such as Social Security and Medicare. While Congress has the power to change these programs at any time, they do not require congressional reauthorization, and can continue indefinitely on autopilot.

To address mandatory spending, the USA Act would create a Spending Accountability Commission to examine mandatory spending programs and make them more accountable to Congress. It is especially crucial to make those programs more efficient and fairer, given the coming entitlement crunch. The Commission would also assist Congress in creating a schedule for sunsetting unauthorized programs.

Restoring a proper separation of powers is a tall order. The USA Act is no panacea, but it would mark an important step in crucial area of reform. With a difficult recovery from both COVID-19 and a recession ahead, the time to act is now.