Jim Flaherty, meet Jeffrey Sachs

Here are two items that go together well. First, here is the most recent tax cut talk from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, as quoted by the Globe and Mail:


“I can assure you that our government is by no means finished in our efforts to improve our tax system for the benefit of Canadian families and businesses,” the Conservative cabinet minister said in a speech to the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accounts in Ottawa today.

“In the months to come we intend to go even further to provide tax relief to deserving Canadian businesses and to the workers who make these businesses thrive.”

As The Globe and Mail first reported Oct. 2, the Tories are assembling a pro-growth agenda to be discussed in the fall fiscal update that goes beyond their five-priority election platform to address broader economic concerns such as clogged highways and border crossings, skill shortages and the Canada’s high tax burden.

Mr. Flaherty said his fall fiscal update would elaborate on his economic agenda, a plan he said will give pride of place to tax cut proposals. “Absolutely. Canadians are taxed too much,” the finance minister said.

“I’m going to talk more about that in the fall economic update … then we’ll make choices for the next federal budget.”

The Tories cut corporate and personal taxes in the 2006 budget, enacting proposals first advanced by the former Liberal government.

But Mr. Flaherty said Canada’s tax advantage still needs work.

“We must establish a meaningful, marginal effective tax rate advantage … one that goes beyond the statutory tax rate itself and takes the overall impact of the business tax system on investment decisions into account,” he said.

Mr. Flaherty, may I introduce you to Jeffrey Sachs, writing in a short article for Scientific American:

…America’s supply-siders claim that the best way to achieve well-being for America’s poor is by spurring rapid economic growth and that the higher taxes needed to fund high levels of social insurance would cripple prosperity. Austrian-born free-market economist Friedrich August von Hayek suggested in the 1940s that high taxation would be a “road to serfdom,” a threat to freedom itself.

Most of the debate in the U.S. is clouded by vested interests and by ideology. Yet there is … a rich empirical record… The evidence may be found by comparing a group of relatively free-market economies that have low to moderate rates of taxation and social outlays with a group of social-welfare states that have high rates of taxation and social outlays.

Not coincidentally, the low-tax, high-income countries are mostly English-speaking ones that share a direct historical lineage with 19th-century Britain and its theories of economic laissez-faire. These countries include Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. The high-tax, high-income states are the Nordic social democracies, notably Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden… Budgetary outlays for social purposes average around 27 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the Nordic countries and just 17 percent of GDP in the English-speaking countries.

On average, the Nordic countries outperform the Anglo-Saxon ones on most measures of economic performance. Poverty rates are much lower there, and national income per working-age population is on average higher. Unemployment rates are roughly the same…, just slightly higher in the Nordic countries. The budget situation is stronger in the Nordic group, with larger surpluses as a share of GDP.

The Nordic countries maintain their dynamism despite high taxation… Most important, they spend lavishly on research and development and higher education. All of them, but especially Sweden and Finland, have taken to the sweeping revolution in information and communications technology and leveraged it to gain global competitiveness. …

The Nordic states have also worked to keep social expenditures compatible with an open, competitive, market-based economic system. Tax rates on capital are relatively low. Labor market policies pay low-skilled and otherwise difficult-to-employ individuals to work in the service sector, in key quality-of-life areas such as child care, health, and support for the elderly and disabled.

The results for the households at the bottom of the income distribution are astoundingly good, especially in contrast to the mean-spirited neglect that now passes for American social policy. The U.S. spends less than almost all rich countries on social services for the poor and disabled, and it gets what it pays for: the highest poverty rate among the rich countries and an exploding prison population. Actually, by shunning public spending on health, the U.S. gets much less than it pays for, because its dependence on private health care has led to a ramshackle system that yields mediocre results at very high costs.

Von Hayek was wrong. In strong and vibrant democracies, a generous social-welfare state is not a road to serfdom but rather to fairness, economic equality and international competitiveness.

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