Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

The Tax Free Tour; a look at the offshore tax haven system

We’ve all talked and read about the idea and practice of offshore accounting to reduce taxation. Here is an article produced by a show called Backlight.  Backlight appears to be a news journal show in the idea of Frontline by a Dutch public broadcasting organization known as VPRO.

This episode is titled: The Tax FreeTour.  To date it has only just over 22 thousand hits.  Considering the effect offshoring plays in everyone’s life, I think more people need to see it.   It is about 1 hour long taking a look at the places of tax havens and the structures to get there. I found it very interesting and highly encourage you to watch the entire episode.  I have not seen another presentation as complete as this on the issue of off shore tax havens and the system.
They interview international experts including one who worked for KPMG: Richard Murphy, accountant. He notes you need 3 things, banks, accountants and lawyers to have a tax haven and thinks accounts have gotten off easy.  A past chief economist for the McKenzie Consultancy James S. Henry who quantified the amount of capital parked in the off shore industry, $21 to $32 trillion year end 2010.  Business Intelligence Investigator William Brittian Catlin who’s job is to sort out the offshore links for investors. Ava Joly, former French Judge, currently EU Parliamentarian investigating $1 trillion in lost EU tax revenue.
I did not realize, but these big corporations have special deals with nations such as the Netherlands regarding their taxation that they are not allowed to talk about. How convenient.  The Netherlands has the most tax treaties in the world. Walmart has 6 entities there all with completely different unrelated names, yet does no physical business related to their core activity of retail sales in the Netherlands. Trust companies are the structures involved as they hold the mail boxes. $11 Trillion is routed through the Netherlands every year. Up to 20 times the Dutch GDP.  0.14% of the world’s population controls about 95% of the offshore money.

Do watch the entire show to get the full appreciation. There is so much more in it than what I highlight here. If your time is short then: To get a quick overview of the game, watch starting at 9:35 through 14:48 of the show and 32:24 to 33:00. To know about the people watch 20:00 to 22:54. To understand tax free zone use watch 25:40 to 26:50 and 27:19 to 28:00.

Here are four cuts from the show. The first two are to let people know what our Senate Banking committee hearings would look and sound like if there were more than just Elizabeth Warren.

These two get at the effects on our ability to govern our self.

These two get at the effects on our ability to govern our self.

My thought after watching The Tax Free Tour? What we are experiencing here in the US when companies go shopping and pit one part of the nation, state or town against another is the same model including the government responses that is the off shore industry. Globalization is the scaling up of home developed systems that have proven successful in reducing taxation via government rule changes ultimately maximizing profit with no regard toward anything beyond the need of the one’s money. The “one” being an entity or an individual. Globalization means more than just out sourcing manufacturing. Globalization is the expansion to the globe of money management systems developed over time designed to segregate the rich in the major aspect of their lives from the rest of the people of the world; the wealthy’s connection with the rest of humanity via national identity.  The systems are designed to assure the wealthy are guiltless in the presence of harm. Kind of a plausible deniability?

Tags: , , , , , Comments (3) | |

Trans Pacific Partnership: A new Constitution

Update: Application, clarification of “New world Order”.
I have put this update at the beginning of the post for I believe it is an aspect of my post on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)  that should not be dismissed by myself nor by a reader of the post.
Now that I have had the day to contemplate J. Goodwin’s comment and after googling “new world order” 
I can appreciate his concern and response. I assure everyone, that last thing on my mind with the writing of that phrase was: a conspiracy theory in which a secret elite is conspiring to rule the world via world government and globalization.
The TPP is not being written by a secret elite looking to rule the world. On the contrary, the document is being written in secret such that we do not know the specific persons involved, but everyone knows the class or groups represented. The authors/parties feeling of need for secrecy only speaks to their understanding of the potential opposition and not to a devious plot of mad scientist. It’s not a James Bond story.
This TPP is not about ruling the world. I very much doubt those involved want such a responsibility. This document is about reducing the regulation a sovereign entity may apply to an investment to the point that any investment is almost certain to pay out whether by actually carrying out the investment or through reimbursement for not being able to carryout the investment. Heads you lose, tails I win. This is accomplished in many ways (kind of covering all bases) but mostly by giving a representative of an investment equality to a nation in the eyes of the “law”. It is the elevation of an entity created solely for the purpose of profit (though there is some language toward nonprofit) all the rights and liberties that a nation of people reserve for themselves. There is one thing the investment entity receives that the nation entity (“party” as used in the document) does not: A guarantee against loss. This guarantee comes in the form of insurance. The insurance is the full faith and credit of the nation…it is the ability to tax it’s citizens.
That is a new world order as in: any period of history evidencing a dramatic change in world political thought and the balance of power.
Thank you for reading. 

This past week the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement has been post worthy on a couple of the more read blogs. There are specific groups working to get the public up to speed on this treaty. One is the Citizens Trade Campaign.  Crooks and Liars posted Lee Camps Moment of Clarity episode regarding the treaty.  Common Dreams posted a video by Friends of the Earth.  This potential treaty has direct bearing on the subject of innovation, production and infrastructure as discussed in the posts regarding Richard Elkus’s thesis in his book Winner Take All and MIT’s latest report on the subject.

Basically this is being referred to as NAFTA on steroids. It is an agreement being negotiated in complete secrecy with only those considered to be a direct player called “clear trade advisers”(600 in the US) having access. Direct players are not you and me, nor congress (you thought the drone unitary executive stuff is tough to get? Ha!) nor that fourth branch known as the press. Yes, Obama is up on this in that he is pushing it.
I’ll let Citizens Trade Campaign sum it up: 
“The TPP is poised to become the largest free trade agreement in the world, potentially impacting jobs, wages, agriculture, migration, the environment, consumer safety, financial regulations, Internet protocols, government procurement and more.
The pact is currently under negotiation between the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, but is being specifically written as a “docking agreement” that other countries can join over time. Canada, Japan and Mexico are currently pressing to do so. The thirteenth major round of TPP negotiations will be held at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel from July 2 – 10.”
Recently a portion of this document was leaked. It is called the “Investment Chapter”. Public Citizens has a review of it here.
I have read the first 17 pages of the Investment Chapter. It is these pages that provide the definitions and the cans and can nots for the signatories. The remainder of the document provides the means for achieving satisfaction. (Do read at least the definitions of what is considered “investment”.)
What struck me in Public Citizens review was that the system being setup as the arbiter of the trade agreement is following the US’ fascination with “extra judicial” proceedings as a viable means of following the ideals of our Constitution. It’s those same thought processes that gave us rendition, enhanced interrogation, military tribunals, unitary executive. You can’t help but see our past 35 years of leadership in the realm of pioneering new concepts in equality, fairness, justice, and processes to achieve such. Concepts of “free market”, “invisible hand”, and process of deregulation, economies of scale, etc. How else do you explain the use of rotating corporate tied lawyers as judges? Where is the separation of the judge and the plaintiff? This is right out of the current US play book on how to better your nation with the social institution known as “revolving door”?
You can see in this document the culmination of work performed over the last 40 years (yes Carter started the deregulation) by the conservative (internationally known as neoliberal) ideology merged with Milton Friedman’s economics and Ayn Rand’s objectivism. Dare I say, the TPP is to capitalism what our Constitution was to democracy?
And that is where I really started thinking. This document is not just about the particulars. It’s not just about how trade will or will not happen, or whether a company will be able to privatize the gains and socialize the risks and losses, or whether people will be harmed. All those things will be the result of the document.
Nope, this document is much more. 

This document is the constitution of a new world order. It is an order that has been the dream of many for ages upon ages that until this time in humanity was not possible do to the limits of the technology of the time. This is the document of what I coined a few years ago as The United Corporations of Global. It is this aspect of the document that the people of the world should be most fearful of. It is not a trade agreement as I believe the common man (as in the court concept of the “common man”) would think of the phrase “trade agreement”. This is a constitution that is coming prepackaged with the rules and regulations already written. Only, there is no need for ratification to be a part of the creative process. This document comes pre-ratified in that all a nation has to do is say “I’m in”. It does not take a majority of the worlds nations or a super majority like the original 13 colonies for this document to have power. It has power because those writing it already agree to follow it. Passing it in the US? Can you say “fast track”?
The documents greatest power is what I alluded to when I mentioned rendition, unitary executive, enhanced interrogation, military tribunals. Rationalization. This document codifies the use of rationalization as a viable thought process for achieving the advancement of humanity. It reinstates the fallibility of human thinking, turning on it’s head the enlightenment age because this document believes it is of enlightened thought. It rationalizes as enlightenment the freeing of people to trade to the greatest level of monetary efficiency. Such a thought is putting a human creation ahead of humanity. It is totally antithetical to the goal of enlightenment. ( I have to say, at this point our fellow Angry Bear Bruce Webb I hope will add to the discussion as our resident historian.)
What follows below are specific excerpts from the document. It is legal speak. But it is not hard to understand. I feel it is important that people read these excerpts as this is how you will know the thinking and overall goal of the document beyond the obvious selfish power grab by any particular player or industry. This is a document written by people who envision the world structured far differently than how we are taught to view our social organization based on the US Constitution and it’s meaning to the world. It does not matter if you believe our national identity is a lot of myth, that we don’t hold up well to our constitutional ideals. The fact is, the myths and ideals have influence and they are not the myths and ideals held by those writing the TPP at worst or are considered not applicable nor appropriate for their desired structure at least.
This document is not just about how nations will relate to each other, it also gives the same rights and privileges to individual investor entities as representative of a nation. Thus, keep in mind that anything you read here also means a rich person or a business entity is treated as if they are the nation. However, citizens are not at anytime mentioned as being a “party” of any type other than when it comes to citizens potentially creating a loss for a “party” or it’s investor representative. In other words, “citizens” are at all times considered to have lesser status such that citizens have no claim to inalienable rights and the resultant rule of law. It is less than slavery for in this document, the only recognized covered entities are “party” which means a nation of signature and it’s participants in the sector of said parties social interaction referred to as “investment”. In fact, there is a defined party entity specifically that is not of the party:
investor of a non-Party means, with respect to a Party, an investor that attempts to make, is making, or has made an investment in the territory of that Party, that is not an investor of a Party
There is nothing in the list of definitions that suggest or implies “citizen”. The only entities covered and regulated by the TPP are those entities that are creations of man.  Man is of no consideration regarding the benefits of the relationships developed in this new constitution. Man is only mentioned as a consequence of potential harm to the “parties” in the form of financial loss. That’s it.
WE HAVE TO COME TO KNOW THE MIND OF THE DOCUMENT! Even if we can prevent this document from taking effect, we will not put an end to the ideology behind the document if we only defeat the document based on it’s ability to do material harm. We have to come to know the mind of this document so that we can be certain to identify the thought within the new words that will be written and spoken when those behind this document make their new attempt at forming the world according to their ideology. We need to know the mind so that we can educate those who will certainly face the next attempt to implement such an ideology. This is why the document is being created in such secrecy. We have learned from NAFTA et al and those that are the mind of the document are aware of our knowledge.
Thus I present the sections as they relate to what I believe is the thinking of this new constitution so that we can be aware of the overriding concepts that ultimately reorder societies and would require a new thinking regarding who and what we are, what our purpose is and where we are going as a species on this planet. The TPP is presenting a new ideal of social order. It is one I that find represents the worst of humanity.
This is where the sovereignty breaks down and the new social order is created:

Article 12.4: National Treatment
1. Each Party shall accord to investors of another Party treatment no less favourable than that it accords, in like circumstances, to its own investors with respect to the establishment, acquisition, expansion, management, conduct, operation, and sale or other disposition of investments in its territory.
2. Each Party shall accord to covered investments treatment no less favourable than that it accords, in like circumstances, to investments in its territory of its own investors with respect to the establishment, acquisition, expansion, management, conduct, operation, and sale or other disposition of investments.
The treatment to be accorded by a Party under paragraphs 1 and 2 means, with respect to a regional level of government, treatment no less favourable than the most favourable treatment accorded, in like circumstances, by that regional level of government to investors, and to investments of investors, of the Party of which it forms a part.]
Article 12.5: Most-Favoured Nation Treatment
1. Each Party shall accord to investors of another Party treatment no less favourable than that it accords, in like circumstances, to investors of any other Party or of any non-Party with respect to the establishment, acquisition, expansion, management, conduct, operation, and sale or other disposition of investments in its territory.
2. Each Party shall accord to covered investments treatment no less favourable than that it accords, in like circumstances, to investments in its territory of investors of any other Party or of any non-Party with respect to the establishment, acquisition, expansion, management, conduct, operation, and sale or other disposition of investments.
This is where the responsibility is defined for achieving “favorable treatment”. The “Party” is obliged to:

Article 12.6: Minimum Standard of Treatmentll
1. Each Party shall accord to covered investments treatment in accordance with customary international law, including fair and equitable treatment and full protection and security.
2. For greater certainty, paragraph 1 prescribes the [applicable rules of] customary international law [minimum] standard of treatment of aliens as the [minimum] [general] standard of treatment to be afforded to covered investments. The concepts of “fair and equitable treatment” and “full protection and security” do not require treatment in addition to or beyond that which is required by that standard, and do not create additional substantive rights. The obligations in paragraph 1 to provide:
(a) “Fair and equitable treatment” includes the obligation not to deny justice in criminal, civil, or administrative adjudicatory proceedings in accordance with the principle of due process embodied in the principal legal systems of the world; and
(b) “Full protection and security” requires each Party to provide the level of police protection required under customary international law.
Who determines which party’s law is part of the “principle legal systems of the world”? What is “customary”. These are the phrases of those who are trying to hedge. People agree to such language when they believe they have a hidden advantage. This is not language of certainty.
Here is where the citizens of the world become hog tied:

Article 12.6bis: Treatment in Case of Armed Conflict or Civil Strife
1. Notwithstanding Article 12.9.5(b) (Non-Conforming Measures, subsidies and grants carveout), each Party shall accord to investors of another Party, and to covered investments, non-discriminatory treatment with respect to measures it adopts or maintains relating to losses suffered by investments in its territory owing to armed conflict or civil strife.
2. Notwithstanding paragraph 1, if an investor of a Party, in the situations referred to in paragraph 1, suffers a loss in the territory of another Party resulting from:
(a) requisitioning of its covered investment or part thereof by the latter’s forces or authorities; or
(b) destruction of its covered investment or part thereof by the latter’s forces or authorities, which was not required by the necessity of the situation, the latter Party shall provide the investor restitution, compensation, or both, as appropriate, for such loss. Any compensation shall be prompt, adequate, and effective in accordance with Article 12.12.2 through 12.12.4 (Expropriation and Compensation, paragraphs 2 through 4), mutatis mutandis.)
Consider the XL pipe line protests. With this agreement, the protestors will have put the citizens of our nation in jeopardy of having to pay for the losses. In other words, a nations taxing apparatus is now bound as insurance against an investor’s loss. Capitalism? Read about Excelaron and San LuisObispo County’s Huasna Valley. 
This clause also pits a nation’s government against it’s people and pits it’s people against each other in that civil protest, maybe even strikes become compensatory offenses if a loss in incurred by an investor.  So, just how will a nation respond to assure it’s citizens “behave themselves” such that the other Party’s investor does not suffer a loss by means of social unrest?
This is where loss of sovereignty is further accomplished as it relates to a nation determining how best to structure it’s economy.

Article 12.7: Performance Requirements
1. No Party may, in connection with the establishment, acquisition, expansion, management, conduct, operation, or sale or other disposition of an investment of an investor of a Party [or of a non-Party] in its territory, impose or enforce any requirement or enforce any commitment or undertaking: 12
(a) to export a given level or percentage of goods [or services] ;
(b) to achieve a given level or percentage of domestic content;
(c) to purchase, use or accord a preference to goods produced in its territory, or to purchase goods from persons in its territory;
(d) to relate in any way the volume or value of imports to the volume or value of exports or to the amount of foreign exchange inflows associated with such investment;
( e) to restrict sales of goods [or services] in its territory that such investment produces [or supplies] by relating such sales in any way to the volume or value of its exports or foreign exchange earnings; [
(f) to transfer a particular technology, a production process or other proprietary knowledge to a person in its territory;] [or]
(g) to supply exclusively from the territory of the Party the goods that such investment procedures [or the services that it supplies] to a specific regional market or to the world market [; or
(h) (i) to purchase, use, or accord a preference to, in its territory, technology of the Party or persons of the Party13 ; or
(ii) that prevents the purchase or use of, or the according of a preference to, in its territory, particular technology, so as to afford protection on the basis of nationality to its own investors or investments or to technology of the Party or of persons of the Party] .
2. No Party may condition the receipt or continued receipt of an advantage, in connection with the establishment, acquisition, expansion, management, conduct, operation, or sale or other disposition of an investment in its territory of an investor of a Party [or of a non-Party,] on compliance with any requirement:
(a) to achieve a given level or percentage of domestic content;
(b) to purchase, use, or accord a preference to goods produced in its territory, or to purchase goods from persons in its territory;
(c) to relate in any way the volume or value of imports to the volume or value of exports or to the amount of foreign exchange inflows associated with such investment; or
(d) to restrict sales of goods [or services] in its territory that such investment produces [or supplies] by relating such sales in any way to the volume or value of its exports or foreign exchange earnings.
3. (a) Nothing in paragraph 2 shall be construed to prevent a Party from conditioning the receipt or continued receipt of an advantage, in connection with an investment in its territory of an investor of a Party [or of a non-Party,] on compliance with a requirement to locate production, supply a service, train or employ workers, construct or expand particular facilities, or carry out research and development, in its territory.
Again in the above section 12:7 we see the continuation of the individual/citizen carved out from the money. Sure, a nation can make some demands, but those only refer to the citizen as work done within the investment and not as a beneficiary of the work done. The benefits and results of the work done shall not be restricted by the host party of the investment.
Section 12:7 does allow a nation to protect it’s natural resources and the environment by adopting laws however, they cannot be inconsistent with the TPP: (i) necessary to secure compliance with laws and regulations that are not inconsistent with this Agreement;
Understand that what is consistent with the agreement is that the investment is protected at all times against not being fulfilled.
Lastly we see the final severing of a nations sovereignty; the loss of the right to have the host party represented within the investment entity.

Article 12.8: Senior Management and Boards of Directors
1. No Party may require that an enterprise of that Party that is a covered investment appoint to senior management positions natural persons of any particular nationality.
2. A Party may require that a majority of the board of directors, or any committee thereof, of an enterprise of that Party that is a covered investment, be of a particular nationality, or resident in the territory of the Party, provided that the requirement does not materially impair the ability of the investor to exercise control over its investment.
Thus, you can put some people in positions that theoretically may have power to prevent the investing entity from harming your nation, but not so much as the hedge phrase is: materially impair. This is another example of using “common man” language to hide the uncommon results. Personally, this language sounds like a ripe area has been created for the allowance of corruption.
Consequently, what we have here is an agreement that the investing entity is protected via insurance in the form of the host nation’s taxing ability that becomes a mechanism for “encouraging” shall we say, a host nation to take measures to assure it’s citizens remain compliant. This is the new social order. This is the corporate model of relationships.
Yes, there is a section concerning the protection of the environment and in general — health.

Article 12.15: Investment and Environment] [ ,Health Safety and Labour] [ Article 12.15: Health Safety and Environmental Measures][
1. Nothing in this Chapter shall be construed to prevent a Party from adopting, maintaining or enforcing any measure otherwise consistent with this Chapter that it considers appropriate to ensure that investment activity in its territory is undertaken in a manner sensitive to environmental [ , health, safety, or labour] [ , health or safety] concerns.]
2. The Parties recognize that it is inappropriate to encourage investment by relaxing its health safety or environmental measures. Accordingly, a Party should not waive or otherwise derogate from or offer to waive or otherwise derogate from, such measures as an encouragement for the establishment, acquisition, expansion, or retention in its territory of an investment of an investor.]
It even talks about “Social Responsibility”. But…it’s voluntary.

Article 12.15 his: Corporate Social Responsibility
[ Each Party should encourage][ nothing in this Chapter shall be construed to prevent a Party from encouraging] enterprises operating within its territory or subject to its jurisdiction to voluntarily incorporate internationally recognized standards of corporate social responsibility in their internal policies, such as statements of principle that have been endorsed or are supported by the Parties. [ These principles address issues such as labor, the environment, human rights, community relations and anti-corruption. The Parties remind those enterprises of the importance of incorporating such corporate social responsibility standards in their internal policies.]]
Well isn’t that a fine one. How do you encourage social responsibility when a nation can not dictate what is to happen to the resultant product of it’s citizens’ work nor can their representatives on the board of the investment entity effect the management of the investment. Most importantly how do you encourage such voluntary “responsible” activity when the host nation is on the hook for any loss of money that may result from the investment entity’s not so socially responsible actions that result in civil protest? Remember, “civil strife” is specifically stated as a compensable event if it produces a loss for the investor.
What will this agreement do to the effort to get this world to wake up to the planet warming up? How does this agreement prevent the furtherance of a naturally human trend of selfishness resulting in further policies of exclusivity and extraction of wealth (see: Why Nations Fail)? It doesn’t.
That is what the ideals of our Constitution are supposedly about. The recognition of the human mind’s frailties and a governance structure to assure such frailties do the least amount of harm.
The further we go with implementing these types of agreements the further removed we are from the enlightenment concepts that resulted in a group of people writing prose such as our Constitution. You can forget about the ideal bound in our Declaration of Independence. And, the further we are moved toward the model of business organization as the dominate model for structuring a society. It is too accepted that the purpose of business is to make money. There is no longer any talk of “social responsibility” within today’s business model. Business no longer is a means for creating wealth that society then puts to work in reducing life’s risks. Business is simply about making money…stop. The declaration for the TTP would simply read: We hold this truth to be self-evident, the purpose of business is to make money.
Isn’t it ironic that in science fiction, a common theme is the threat of man creating an artificial entity that ultimately comes to dominate it’s creator. It’s a robot, a computer, some kind of machine even biological or any combination or all 3. We obtained the power of the creator only to realize our ignorance toward the full potential of all there is to know. The theme is always dismissed as artistic fun. One thing always is consistent with such stories and dreams. At no time is this entity ever not recognized as nonhuman.
Yet, in truth we have created and are willingly moving our self into such a living situation: the corporate structure for managing human relationships. The corporate structure is a creation of man (I don’t think a woman is credited with this considering the position of women in centuries past). It is a creation that we have been investing with human social stature and traits. We made this thing. We have given it “personhood”. (Personhood is the status of being a person.)  With that birth we have also given it standing within the circle of human relations. It is the physics of two entities occupying the same space in that the corporation is both human in action and representative of human action. And, we have given it one thing that humans do not have and the one thing that is the singular moment of all human endeavor: the real potential of eternal life. The corporation has the ability to do what we can’t: defy death.
The science fiction writers had it correct as to our drive, they were just looking at the wrong sciences. It’s not the material life that will do us in. It is the cognitive life that has the most potential to do us in.
The Trans Pacific Partnership agreement is the realization of our self destruction potential.

Tags: , , , , , , Comments (15) | |

Why the World Should Care About America’s Middle Class

by Kenneth Thomas

Guest post: Why the World Should Care About America’s Middle Class

Tim Worstall, in his Forbes blog, attacks my series (here and here) on whether globalization is good for America’s middle class. Not on the basis that he disagrees with my conclusion (though he does), but because, he argues, there are much more important facts about globalization than a decline in the economic well-being of the middle class in America and Europe. In particular, he points to the great decline in poverty among developing nations that have embraced globalization:

This growth in incomes, in wealth, has been uneven, this is true. Largely speaking those places which have been taking part in globalisation, Indonesia, China, India, have been getting richer. Those that have not been, Somalia perhaps as an example, have not been.

Let’s leave aside the fact that these successful countries are hardly poster children for the kinds of so-called “free-market” policies that Worstall espouses, a point made particularly well by Dani Rodrik. And in the spirit in which Worstall granted my claims for the sake of argument, let’s grant his as well. (But if you want to get down into the weeds on the extent to which poverty reduction claims may be overstated, take a look at Robert Wade’s work.)

Here is the crux of Worstall’s argument:

So I would actually posit that whether the American, or European, or rich world, middle class benefits from globalisation is actually an incomplete question. Incomplete enough to be the wrong question. Almost to the point that the answer is “who cares?”.

The correct question is what is the distribution of all of the costs and all of the benefits of globalisation? To which my answer would be that a generation, perhaps even two generations, of stagnating lifestyles for the already rich, those middle classes, looks like a reasonable enough cost to pay for the other thing that is happening: the abolition of absolute human poverty in the rest of the world.

First, I think we should certainly care when hundreds of millions of people are suffering unnecessarily. Yes, unnecessarily, because contrary to Worstall’s claim, we are not trading off reduced economic well-being for hundreds of millions of middle class people for the lessened poverty of billions of other people. Indeed, the two are happening simultaneously, but as Ronald Rogowki pointed out in Commerce and Coalitions, it is perfectly feasible to have rich country winners compensate rich-country losers and still have all of them be better off from trade.

Politically, it is a hard row to how, as Rogowki pointed out: the winners from expanding trade increase their political power as a result of their increased income, making compensatory policies less likely. But ending globalization’s harm to the middle class in rich nations does not require us to take anything away from poorer people, not if you accept the theory of comparative advantage and the Stolper-Samuelson Theorem. It does require us to figure out a political solution to the problems faced by the losers, which as we can see in the United States is made more difficult by the decline of unions and by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

And second, we should care about the U.S. middle class (and Europe’s, for that matter) because how they react to their situation politically will have enormous consequences for the world economy and world politics. If the U.S. comes up with a “Smoot-Hawley” response to its economic problems, that would undo a lot of the gains Worstall sees as flowing from globalization, a point made recently by Dani Rodrik (via Mark Thoma). Even more ominously, in both the U.S. and Europe, we see increasing political polarization and the rise of nationalist political parties and movements, as noted by Paul Krugman. Economic decline is a scary thing, and people’s reactions to it can get downright ugly, to put it mildly.

For both of these reasons, then, what happens to the middle class in the U.S. and Europe will have repercussions far beyond those acknowledged by Worstall.

crossposted with Middle Class Political Economist

Tags: , , , , Comments (14) | |

Guest Post: Is globalization good for America’s middle class? Part 2

by Kenneth Thomas

Guest Post:   Is globalization good for America’s middle class? Part 2

In Part 1, I examined what economic theory has to say about the winners and losers from trade. The main conclusion is based on the Stolper-Samuelson Theorem: Because the United States is labor scarce in a global perspective, an expansion of trade will reduce the real wages of labor. As we have seen, this theoretical prediction has been borne out as real wages remain below their peak level for the 39th year running.
 
In this post, I analyze what I consider to be the other main element of globalization, the expansion of the mobility of capital. Just as transportation innovation and cost declines made trade easier, they also make it easier for owners of capital to locate it in a broader range of places than 30 or 40 years ago. Similarly, the decline in communication costs make it easier for owners of capital to coordinate production on a global scale as well as offering additional ways of moving financial capital (think tax havens).
 
Note that I have said nothing about actual movements of capital. Simply the ability to move capital strengthens capital owners in their negotiations with business and labor, because it makes the threat of moving credible and thereby gives companies greater bargaining power. Kate Bronfenbrenner showed clearly that after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993, companies more frequently resorted to threats in their bargaining with workers, even to the point of violating the National Labor Relations Act by threatening to move during union organizing drives. In this blog, I have previously discussed the case of Boeing’s establishment of a Dreamliner plant in South Carolina and admitting it was due to workers in Washington state exercising their right to strike, a form of retaliation that was a prima facie violation of the Act.

Similarly, we have seen how companies have used the threat of relocation to extract subsidies from state and local governments. Sears, with its $275 million (nominal) retention package from Illinois, is just the most egregious in recent years. That package alone could support 550 state jobs at $50,000 a year for 10 years (assuming no raises, something pretty common for state workers lately though unlikely to last 10 years). And remember, Sears did this in 1989 as well, when it got $178 million not to move out of state.
 
More generally, who should win and who should lose from the growth of capital mobility? One possibility is that it would simply speed up the effects of trade. If Mexico had needed to wait for the growth of domestic entrepreneurs, it could not have expanded its exports to the U.S. nearly as rapidly as in the actual situation where U.S. companies could provide the money. In that case, we would simply expect the effect of heightened capital mobility to be the same as the Stolper-Samuelson Theorem.
 
But this would not explain why European labor appears as opposed to globalization as U.S. unions. Western Europe is labor abundant, so we would expect western European worker to benefit from the expansion of trade. Yet one does not have to look hard at all to see that European unions are not in love with globalization. The right answer now might be that those who are mobile win in the global economy, while those who are immobile lose. While capital is mobile geographically, governments are bound to their location. Workers, even where they have significant legal opportunities to move, as in the European Union, are still restricted in their mobility by their language abilities or lack thereof, and by the common desire to live near their families (another way in which corporations are not people, by the way). And it is not as if European capital can only be invested in the EU.
 
This is consistent with studies of the effect on home country labor of foreign investment (see Richard CavesMultinational Enterprise and Economic Analysis): reduced employment because exports are replaced with foreign production, some possible increased employment due to supplying goods and services to foreign subsidiaries, but at best the result is a wash and more likely the net effect is negative.
 
If this is right, U.S. workers may have the worst of both worlds: they are harmed by expanding trade, and they are harmed by being less mobile than capital. While this does not explain the political changes that have happened in the U.S. since 1970 (though it is certainly relevant), it gives us a pretty good handle on the economic market pressures that the middle class needs to address politically. I will have more to say about these issues in future posts.

crossposted with Middle Class Political Economist

Tags: , Comments (1) | |

Is Globalization Good for America’s Middle Class? Part 1

by Kenneth Thomas

Is Globalization Good for America’s Middle Class? Part 1

In this blog, I have frequently documented economic trends that have been bad for the middle class: Declining real wages, steadily falling bang for the healthcare buck, stagnant educational attainment, the gigantic cost of tax havens, etc. With this post, I want to begin exploring one possible reason for the economic insecurity of the middle class, namely globalization. Today, we will look at who wins and who loses from international trade, one of the key elements of globalization.
 
In some circles, one is likely to see a variant of the claim that “everybody” is better off because of freer trade. Even according to the most mainstream economic theory, this is simply false. The workhorse theory for determining the distributional effects of trade (i.e., who wins and who loses) is called the Stolper-Samuelson Theorem, first enunciated in an article by Wolfgang Stolper and Paul Samuelson in 1941.

To understand this theory, you need to know that economists think about national economies in terms of the amount of land, labor, and capital they have compared to all other countries in the world. These “factors of production” can be in relatively high supply compared to the rest of the world, in which case they are referred to as “abundant,” or in relatively low supply compared to the rest of the world, in which case we call them “scarce.”

The theorem can be stated in quite simple terms, but its consequences are not at all simple: As trade expands, owners of abundant factors of production benefit, and owners of scarce factors of production are harmed. Here, “benefit” means their real income increases, while “harmed” means their real income decreases.

Remember, trade can expand for two main reasons. First technological innovations can reduce the cost of transportation, making it first possible, then cheaper, to send goods long distances. For example, political scientist Ronald Rogowski, in his great book Commerce and Coalitions shows how the introduction of the steamboat made it possible to export North American wheat to Western Europe, displacing wheat from Eastern Europe. Second, policy changes like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or the trade agreements embodying the World Trade Organization (WTO) reduce or eliminate costly barriers to trade and lead to its expansion.
 
The grain example helps show why trade creates winners and losers. The Midwest U.S. and Canadian Prairie provinces are a gigantic breadbasket made possible by low population density, which implies abundant land and scarce labor. Expanding trade gave these farmers new markets and higher incomes. In much more densely populated Europe, the reverse is true: labor is abundant and land is scarce. As a result, expanding trade in grains meant more import competition and lower income for European farmers..
Fast forward to today and we can ask what U.S. factor endowments are currently. As a rich country internationally, the United States is necessarily a capital abundant country. As a comparatively low population density country, it is land abundant but labor scarce. The answer is to our initial question is then quite clear: expanding trade is harmful to U.S. workers because imports of labor-intensive products and services from abroad create competition for American workers, reducing their real wages. As I have discussed before, U.S. real wages have remained below their peak for 39 straight years, just as the Stolper-Samuelson Theorem would predict.
 
What about all the cheap goods we now buy at Wal-Mart? It doesn’t change this story at all, because the lower price of imported goods is already reflected in the inflation rate we use to calculate real wages.
Rogowski’s book also argues that we can expect certain pattens of political coalitions to form, with the winners from trade on one side and the losers on the other. NAFTA illustrated this well, with capital and agriculture generally in favor of the agreement (minus a few small specialty agricultural products like oranges), while labor was strongly opposed. And of course, this only helps us understand economic reasons for support or opposition to trade agreements; for non-economic reasons such as the environment, we have to look elsewhere. Although beyond the scope of this post, Rogowski’s analysis of the entire world through phases of rising and falling trade (i.e., the Great Depression) lends strong credence to his claims. You should definitely read his book sometime.
 
Economists are divided over how big this effect is. In the 1990s, when I first started teaching, the most common view of economists was that technological change was the driver increasing the premium for high skilled labor while reducing wages for low-skilled labor. Adrian Wood’s 1994 book, North-South Trade, Employment, and Inequality, argued that trade was in fact the main culprit, (a good, ungated analysis is Richard Freeman’s “Are Your Wages Set in Beijing?”). Although this met with a lot of resistance at the time, Wood’s view has gained a lot of traction among economists based on developments over the last 15 or so years. Paul Krugman, a particularly noteworthy example due to his Nobel prize, has gone from being a fanatic adherent of free trade to someone who sees trade as a big problem, though even today he is not quite willing to pull the plug on free trade.
 
One important point Rogowski makes (and Stolper and Samuelson did before him) is that the theory of comparative advantage tells us that the winners from trade gain more than the losers lose, which makes it possible in principle to compensate the losers and have everyone be better off. But he also argued that those who benefit economically from trade will see their political power increase, something that has certainly been borne out in the United States in the more than 20 years since his book was published. This makes it less likely that such compensation will occur, and we certainly haven’t seen any policy in the U.S. that comes close to making everyone better off as a result of trade.
 
One small bit of comfort comes from Paul Krugman’s book The Conscience of a Liberal (pp. 262-3). He provides us some reason to think that the Stolper-Samuelson Theorem isn’t necessarily destiny, as he shows that the United State and Canada, two countries with the same factor endowments as each other, have distinctive differences in political outcomes, particularly with regard to unionization rates.
Overall, unfortunately, it looks like the answer to today’s question is clear: freer trade has harmed, and is harming, the American middle class. But globalization is more than trade, and I will continue to analyze other elements of globalization in my next few posts.

crosposted with

Tags: , , , Comments (29) | |

More on Illinois’ income tax increase –thinking about globalization

by Linda Beale

More on Illinois’ income tax increase –thinking about globalization
crossposted with Ataxingmatter

As states continue to face difficult times and vulnerable residents unemployed by the Great Recession come to the end of their ropes with the last of their unemployment support checks (those unemployed for 99 weeks don’t get any more help under the latest extension), the rhetoric continues to escalate.

As I noted in my last post on Illinois’ decision to increase its personal and corporate income tax rates (See Illinois Senate Bill 2505, signed into law by Gov. Quinn on Jan. 13), tax increases–especially those that require people and companies of wealth and power to kick in a fairer share of the tax burden–may well make sense even as the country deals with the continuing fallout of the banksters’s binge of casino speculation.  Governor Quinn noted when signing the Illinois legislation that the tax increase was need to stave off fiscal insolvency.   The 5% individual income tax rate applies until January 2015, at which time the rate reverts to 3.75% for ten years and then 3.25% after 2025.

The right wing’s preferred solution– to see the states fire public employees or at the least reneg on their earlier commitments to fund pensions (which generally permitted them to hire highly skilled employees at lower wages than would otherwise have been possible)– would only make grave matters much worse. There are important programs to be funded in the states, and ultimately a higher tax burden that is allocated to those who can best pay it may be the best solution.  Management efficiencies need to be undertaken, and wasteful spending and corruption stifled, but in many cases those savings are relatively small.  The “no new taxes” mantra that has dominated public discourse under the Chicago School thinking has kept states from dealing forthrightly with these issues for decades.

Wisconsin’s new governor, right-winger Scott Walker, is a perfect illustration of the zany rhetoric and gamesmanship being played about tax matters all across this country.  He has said he would spurn federal stimulus money and ditch a planned high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaulkee.  See James warren, Wisconsin Sounds Off, but Misses the Point, New York Times, Jan 15, 2011.  High speed rail is the wave of the future, and the US needs to catch that wave soon or be left behind.   Walker’s rhetoric here seems designed to please wealth and power (and the kooks in the “tea party” who are foolish enough to think that federal monies for infrastructure is a waste of “their” tax money), but move the state in the opposite direction from where it needs to go.  Walker has also gone on the air in a campaign intended to take advantage of corporate dislike of the Illinois tax hike, inviting corporations to “escape to Wisconsin.”

James Warren’s piece in the Friday New York Times challenges that sentiment.  Seems that the Illinois personal rate (5%) is probably less than taxation under the progressive scale of 4.6% to 7.75% in Wisconsin.  And if Caterpillar or some other big corporation were to move to Wisconsin, it would face a higher rate of 7.9% compared to the 7% rate passed for Illinois.    So Walker’s rhetoric is just that–trying to make hay out of the mere fact that Illinois increased its tax rates.  As Warren points out, politicians need to start thinking about what is good for the region and “not just poach others’ enterprises”.  

We need to think strategically, as globalization has made it much easier for companies to move to greener pastures–not just other states, but out of the states.  Congress could help that by eliminating the provision in the Code that permits companies to move active business assets abroad without paying tax on the built-in gain.  In fact, Congress ought really to consider revamping the entire reorganization provisions in the Code.  We have seen that too big to fail banks are costly for us.  Rather than aiding consolidation of companies through nonrecognition provisions, what if we made reorganizations more difficult and costly?  Combine that with a renewed anti-trust vigor, and encourage smaller businesses to stay in this country.  Localvore could take on a new meaning.

Tags: , , , Comments (14) | |

g7-vs-g5-in-charts

by Rebecca
Cross posted from Newsneconomics

These are interesting times in global economics, especially from the policy perspective. And although there was a sense of global urgency across the G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, UK, and US) and the G5 (Brazil, People’s Republic of China, India, Mexico, and South Africa) late in 2008 and early in 2009, policy makers now face very different economic circumstances. The global downturn was (mostly) ubiquitous, but the upswing will not be. The G5 are likely to initiate explicit exit strategies before the G7, as growth, domestic demand, and inflation rebound first.

The downturn in the developed world was very severe, as illustrated by the sharp contraction of GDP of the G7 countries. And across the G5, some countries experienced similar declines, however given the nose-dive that was global trade, the economic resilience via expansionary policy in India and China has been rather remarkable. 

Domestic demand, underpinned by robust fiscal and monetary policy pushed auto sales forward in the G5 and simply offset some of the decline in retail sales in the G7 (see charts below). I used auto sales in the G5 as a proxy for retail sales, as I could not access a retail sales in India (not even sure they offer the statistic). Impressively, though, retail sales remained strong in the UK. Auto sales in China, Brazil, and India have been hot – the real question here is: what is the underlying demand for goods and services in these countries, especially in China.

Monetary policy – driving down interest rates in order to stimulate consumption via the credit markets – was very successful in the G5, but much less so in the ailing G7.

And finally, inflation has been quite resilient in some countries, notably in the UK and India. As such, the Bank of England has a real trade-off with which to contend: inflation (as measured by the CPI), 1.6% over the year, remains sticky and remarkably close to target, 2.0%. The Reserve Bank of India is seeing food prices drive inflation steadily upward. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125439928727956013.html?mod=googlenews_wsjSome expect India to be one of the first emerging markets to start tightening (The Bank of Israel was the first).

There are a lot of question marks right now – the biggest is when central banks and fiscal authorities start to pull back. Especially in the G7, too early and one risks the feared W, but too late, and inflation becomes an issue.
Across the G7, rate hikes are unlikely to occur until well-into 2010, and maybe even 2011 for some. Across the G5, however, late 2010 is more likely an upper limit, however, some countries like Mexico are seriously struggling and policy will remain loose for some time. (See RGE Monitor Nouriel Roubini’s latest, “Thoughts on Where We Are” – unfortunately, a subscription is required.)

Tags: , , , , Comments (0) | |

Possibly a Great Paper.

I subscribe to too many RSS blog feeds. So everyone once in a while one pops up and I think, “Should I drop this”?

And so it is with Evolutionary Economics, which occasionally seems like a self-parody of what would happen if you recited Economics 101 cant with an added, even-less-scientific, “evolutionary psychology” glean to it.

However, they occasionally publish interesting work, such as this.

And then there’s the paper they describe as “in Japanese.” Unfortunately, they mean Hiragana script, which thoroughly defeated my efforts in the early 1990s. And while Babel Fish is willing to try, the result is less than encouraging:

ら哲学者や為政者を解放した。また,顕示選好理論によれば,個人の選択を観察すれば,
そのような行動が導かれる効用関数が存在する。効用の個人間比較が問題にならない状況

becomes

…[a]nd others the philosopher and the administrator were released. In addition, according to revelation preference theory, if selection of the individual is observed, the use function where that kind of conduct is led exists. The circumstance where comparison between the individuals of use does not become problem

which has a few verb problems, I suspect.

Anyone want to read and translate and do a guest-post about this one?

Tags: , , , Comments (0) | |

In Which I Say Something Nice about Globalization

It’s still not “free trade” in a sense anyone but the self-delusional Greg Mankiw could describe it, but there are some gains accruing to China.

As the Chinese economy moves from agriculture to producing more goods and services, two things have happened. Energy demand has gone up:

And people have been able to afford services they could not before:

It’s not much, but it’s a start, and we would be disingenuous to deny that.

(All data from the World Bank)

Tags: , , Comments (0) | |

Social Security, the new method of income redistribution

Get this. The problem is that globalization is being threatened, all that good could be lost. The solution; Social Security.

In the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs (published by the Council of Foreign Relations) is an article: A New Deal for Globalization by Kenneth F. Scheve is Professor of Political Science at Yale University. Matthew J. Slaughter is Professor of Economics at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
Seems some people somewhere are getting concerned that their pet project might be getting derailed.

Advocates of engagement with the world economy are now warning of a protectionist drift in public policy. This drift is commonly blamed on narrow industry concerns or a failure to explain globalization’s benefits or the war on terrorism. These explanations miss a more basic point: U.S. policy is becoming more protectionist because the American public is becoming more protectionist, and this shift in attitudes is a result of stagnant or falling incomes.”

The authors say they don’t know why the incomes are falling, that there are no clear answers:

“Over the last several years, a striking new feature of the U.S. economy has emerged: real income growth has been extremely skewed, with relatively few high earners doing well while incomes for most workers have stagnated or, in many cases, fallen. Just what mix of forces is behind this trend is not yet clear, but regardless, the numbers are stark.”

First — “new feature”? Did they not read about the early years of the rise of the industrialists and the division in income way back when? Or is it that they as others took for granted that those making the money via globalizing their operations were going to be nice to those who worked for them at home and share the spoils via wages. Now that would have been a “new feature”. Being nice that is. I know, maybe they just thought everyone could and would outsource their own labor.

Actually, they do know about the old days:

“By some measures, inequality in the United States is greater today than at any time since the 1920s.”

What’s the solution to rising protectionism talk? Well, first what is not going to work (read carefully all you who think it’s just a matter of the populace getting off their intellectually lazy butts):

“They must also recognize that the two most commonly proposed responses — more investment in education and more trade adjustment assistance for dislocated workers — are nowhere near adequate. Significant payoffs from educational investment will take decades to be realized, and trade adjustment assistance is too small and too narrowly targeted on specific industries to have much effect.”

So, go to school, get a job is not it. Darn! The solution envelop please, (I’m so nervous):

“The best way to avert the rise in protectionism is by instituting a New Deal for globalization — one that links engagement with the world economy to a substantial redistribution of income. In the United States, that would mean adopting a fundamentally more progressive federal tax system.”

WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!! REDISTRIBUTION?

“The notion of more aggressively redistributing income may sound radical, but ensuring that most American workers are benefiting is the best way of saving globalization from a protectionist backlash.”

And they said they didn’t know why “income growth had been extremely skewed.” Well, if they didn’t know, then how is it they are channeling what was proposed before? They are even referring to it in it’s historically correct name: New Deal.

The article is very basic thinking and made me wonder why does it take 2 professors writing for 6 pages to state what I was taught under the lesson of morals: that is to share and share alike,
And then under the lesson of civics: that is social commons,
Then what I learned in history: Ford paying the help and Roosevelt’s New Deal. Why?

I think the answer is because then they could not write as if skewed income distribution is “a striking new feature” and thus suggest as an example of effecting redistribution by targeting the last remaining New Deal concept expressed in the program commonly called Social Security. They specifically rule out that other monster of a New Deal brain storm:

This does not, however, mean making the personal income tax more progressive, as is often suggested. U.S. taxation of personal income is already quite progressive. Instead, policymakers should remember that workers do not pay only income taxes; they also pay the FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) payroll tax for social insurance. This tax offers the best way to redistribute income.”

Well if that is not the ultimate bastardization of the purpose of Social Security. It’s now proposed to use it as an income redistribution machine.

Think I’m being to distrusting?

“In many ways, today’s protectionist drift is similar to the challenges faced by the architect of the original New Deal. In August 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt declared:
“Those who would measure confidence in this country in the future must look first to the average citizen. . . .”

See, they know the answer. They know exactly what they are doing here. By the way esteemed professors, stupid is not written on our foreheads.

Tags: , , Comments (0) | |