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Sunday, January 29, 2006

MIT Publishes Tax Policy and the Economy

Tax_policy_and_the_economy_1MIT Press has published Volume 19 of Tax Policy and the Economy (2005), edited by James M. Poterba (MIT, Department of Economics):

      • Introduction, by James M. Poterba
      • The Structure of Early Care and Education in the United States: Historical Evolution and International Comparisons, by Ann Dryden Witte Wellesley College), Department of Economics) & Marisol Trowbridge (Wellesley College, Department of Economics) (p. 1):
      • Most European governments have universal, consolidated, education-based ECE programs that are available from early in the morning to late in the evening throughout the year. European ECE programs are uniformly of high quality, generally last at least three years, and are funded to serve all children. The US ECE system is composed of three separate programs (Head Start, Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) and the child care voucher program) targeted to low-income children. With a few notable exceptions, US ECE programs are funded to serve less than half of the eligible children. US ECE programs developed quite separately. They have different goals, different funding sources, different administrations and policies, and generally last for an academic year or less. Pre-K and Head Start operate only 3 to 6 hours a day and are open only during the academic year. The average quality of US ECE programs is generally much lower than the average quality of European ECE programs. Further, the quality of US ECE programs varies widely even within local areas. Although the US has greatly increased expenditures on ECE, US governments pay only 40% of the costs of ECE, while European governments pay 70% to 90% of the costs of ECE. None of the major US ECE programs simultaneously provides work supports for parents, child development opportunities for children and preparation for school for low-income children. The evidence suggests that the US ECE system is neither efficient nor equitable. Consolidation of funding and administration of current US ECE programs could substantially lower transaction costs for parents and provide more stable care arrangements for children. Increased funding could improve the quality of existing programs, extend hours and months of operation, and make care available to all eligible families. Both the evaluation literature and the European experience suggest that such a consolidated, well-funded system could be successful in preparing poor children for school. Further, the benefits of such a program could well exceed the costs since it is precisely low-income children that benefit most from stable, high-quality ECE. However, such a targeted program will have neither the positive peer group effects nor the social-integration benefits of universal ECE programs.

Despite a $140 billion existing tax break for employer-provided health insurance, tax policy remains the tool of choice for many policy-makers in addressing the problem of the uninsured. In this paper, I use a microsimulation model to estimate the impact of various tax interventions to cover the uninsured, relative to an expansion of public insurance designed to accomplish the same goals. I contrast the efficiency of these policies along several dimensions, most notably the dollars of public spending per dollar of insurance value provided. I find that every tax policy is much less efficient than public insurance expansions: while public insurance costs the government only between $1.17 and $1.33 per dollar of insurance value provided, tax policies cost the government between $2.36 and $12.98 per dollar of insurance value provided. I also find that targeting is crucial for efficient tax policy; policies tightly targeted to the lowest income earners have a much higher efficiency than those available higher in the income distribution. Within tax policies, tax credits aimed at employers are the most efficient, and tax credits aimed at employees are the least efficient, because the single greatest determinant of insurance coverage is being offered insurance by your employer, and because most employees who are offered already take up that insurance. Tax credits targeted at non-group coverage are fairly similar to employer tax credits at low levels, but much less efficient at higher levels.

Tax haven countries offer foreign investors low tax rates and other tax features designed to attract investment and thereby stimulate economic activity. Major tax havens have less than one percent of the world's population (outside the United States), and 2.3 percent of world GDP, but host 5.7 percent of the foreign employment and 8.4 percent of foreign property, plant and equipment of American firms. Per capita real GDP in tax haven countries grew at an average annual rate of 3.3 percent between 1982 and 1999, which compares favorably to the world average of 1.4 percent. Tax haven governments appear to be adequately funded, with an average 25 percent ratio of government to GDP that exceeds the 20 percent ratio for the world as a whole, though the small populations and relative affluence of these countries would normally be associated with even larger governments. Whether the economic prosperity of tax haven countries comes at the expense of higher tax countries is unclear, though recent research suggests that tax haven activity stimulates investment in nearby high-tax countries.

This paper discusses the issues surrounding the proposals to conform financial accounting income and taxable income. The two incomes diverged in the late 1990s with financial accounting income becoming increasingly greater than taxable income through the year 2000. While the cause of this divergence is not known for certain, many suspect that it is the result of earnings management for financial accounting and/or the tax sheltering of corporate income. Our paper outlines the potential costs and benefits of one of the proposed "fixes" to the divergence: the conforming of the two incomes into one measure. We review relevant research that sheds light on the issues surrounding conformity both in the U.S. as well as evidence from other countries that have more closely aligned book and taxable incomes. The extant empirical literature reveals that it is unlikely that conforming the incomes will reduce the amount of tax sheltering by corporations and that having only one measure of income will result in a loss of information to the capital markets.

Arguments for eliminating the double taxation of dividends apply only to dividends paid by corporations to individuals. The double (and multiple) taxation of dividends paid by one firm to another - intercorporate dividends - was explicitly included in the 1930s as part of a package of tax and other policies aimed at eliminating United States pyramidal business groups. These structures remain the predominant form of corporate organization outside the United States. The first Roosevelt administration associated them with corporate governance problems, corporate tax avoidance, market power, and an objectionable concentration of economic power. Future tax reforms in the United States should mind the original intent of Congress and the President regarding intercorporate dividend taxation. Foreign governments may find the American experience of value should they desire to eliminate their business groups.

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