America needs to regain the fundamentals of a strong economy for a number of important reasons. National socio-economic health, political and diplomatic influence in the world for trade, defense, and standard of living all depend on a fundamentally strong economy. The fundamentals of a strong economy, from a non-economist’s view – mine, start with comparative advantage in world trade. This is something which our country and our leadership and labor unions have taken for granted over the last 20 years, letting this precious commodity dwindle away. We also have mistaken productivity and its usefulness toward comparative advantage with an effective trade economy. Remember, while productivity helps our trade advantage, it does little to help our trade related employment number or the quality of the trade related jobs. Simply put, the definition of comparative trade advantage is “what do we have to offer in the deal that makes us come out ahead of the other guy?”
We hear about free trade agreements and that trade is good – and it is! Entering into the world trade arena without a trade advantage or at least a trade equilibrium is just down right dumb and we have run headlong into this arena stark naked. We need to rediscover our comparative trade advantage or discover a new one, if we are to successfully compete in world trade.
Look around, the world has oil and we need it, the world has cheap goods and we need them to keep inflation down, the world has the capability to produce both quality goods and cheap goods that it could not produce 50 years ago, the world has cheap labor – shall I go on? What do we offer? Well we still have some bright minds, even though they may be heavily populated with foreigners, we still can grow food with the best of them, we still offer innovation, but we have no monopoly any longer on innovation. Our dollar is losing value which helps us produce relatively cheaper goods for the world market and thus lower the trade deficit.
A devalued dollar is a two edged sword as also it brings us a higher cost of living and a lower standard of living relative to the world. What do we plan to do about this obvious problem? Well Senators Obama and Clinton want to tax us more – mostly business and the rich – you know, tax the engines of investment and growth! Senator McCain wants to keep personal income taxes low and cut spending, but this will not bring us back to a fundamentally strong economy even though it is good start. It is how, when, and who we tax that is the problem. We are an economy that taxes income accumulation. We should be taxing the disposable money spent on “stuff” and not the money earned and used for growth re-investment.
Businesses pay a 35% Federal corporate tax rate and varying state corporate tax rates, bringing the total corporate income tax on profit to between 40% and 50% for the most part. Remember the corporations only collect the tax and anyone who buys their goods pays the taxes. If a corporation works on a 15% profit margin, and they make a set of golf clubs which they wholesale for $500, $65 is taxable profit of which the retailer pays $30 of the income taxes due on the item. When the item is resold at retail at $800, assuming a 15% profit margin, $105 is the taxable profit and $47 is the income tax due on the item paid by the end user, the consumer, you. Actually you pay a total of $77 of the corporation’s and reseller’s income taxes.
Granted, this example is clunky and probably filled with holes, but it does serve to demonstrate that when we tax corporations for manufacturing or reselling all we do is raise the price of the item. This works fine when all the competition is paying the same taxes. If does not work fine when world trade is involved, because our goods and services are then less competitive with the goods and services of other nations. We already start out with a disadvantage, in that we pay our workers more than the workers in far off lands receive, but this can be adjusted with productivity.
Unless we seriously look at our tax structure and make changes sooner rather than later – maybe move to a consumption tax or a fair tax and get away from inhibiting investment, growth, and production with income taxes, we can expect to have a lower dollar value, a lower standard of living, etc. Income taxes on domestic corporations foster a comparative trade disadvantage for us. Our government must find ways to domestically foster healthy manufacturing and servicing sectors so we can compete with the rest of the world without giving up good paying jobs. If the tax burden shifts from corporations to individuals, their will be no real change in who pays the taxes, except we will compete in the world trade markets effectively, create good jobs, and restore a fundamental of a good economy.