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Saving ‘Small Business’ In The U.S.

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In the commentary which preceded this “U.S. Small Businesses Face Extinction”, I pointed out the comprehensive strategy which the U.S. government had undertaken which amounts to nothing less than “small business genocide”.

On the one hand, these businesses face a very punitive and extremely discriminatory tax regime, where small businesses are essentially forced to pay all of the taxes for medium- and large-sized corporations in the U.S. – whose own taxes are next-to-nil, thanks to $100’s of billions per year in corporate tax welfare. Compounding this, the Wall Street Oligarchs have essentially cut-off all credit to this segment of the U.S. economy, except under the most usurious terms.

On the other hand, the U.S. government has been equally ruthless and effective in annihilating the customers who purchase the goods and services of these small businesses: the U.S. middle-class. Their own “genocide” is also well on its way to completion.

In this commentary, I will describe the path to salvation for these businesses – the “backbone” of the U.S. economy (and any/every other economy as well). Because small businesses are the economy, it should come as little surprise that part of this survival-strategy involves generally breathing some “life” back into the U.S. economic corpse.

Obviously the first place to start in U.S. economic reform is with the discriminatory corporate taxation. Here the solution is obvious: simply erase any/every item of law in the tax code which bestows $100’s of billions per year of tax-avoidance welfare for larger U.S. companies. As I pointed out in the last piece, once the “loopholes” for all these large, corporate deadbeats had been eliminated, the overall corporate tax rate could be slashed by roughly half. Since small businesses have almost zero access to current corporate tax welfare, they would be large net “winners” in this equalization process.

This is nothing more than a temporary “band-aid” on the real tax reform which is necessary to restore solvency to not only the U.S. economy, but any/every other Western economy as well. The only permanent method of making sure that corporations pay their “fair share” of the revenue-pie is to not tax corporations at all – but rather tax their shareholders instead.

As I’ve written in many other commentaries, the only fair-and-sustainable system of taxation for any/every economy is a “flat wealth tax”. And since the fat-cats on top have been clamoring for a “flat tax” for decades, I think it’s finally time that we gave them what they want.

The beauty of a wealth tax is that it is “one tax to replace all other taxes”. No income tax. No corporate tax. No capital gains tax. In short, none of the impediments to profit-making and profit-taking which are inherent in all income taxation systems. However, this is not a treatise on tax-reform, so I’ll move on.

Next on the agenda is restoring access to credit for small businesses under reasonable terms (i.e. not relying upon JP Morgan’s 30%-interest “small business credit cards”). This is also a simple problem to fix. If the U.S. government was willing to effectively “nationalize” the entire U.S. mortgage market by “guaranteeing” all that debt (while Wall Street Oligarchs skim-off the profits), there is no reason it can’t “nationalize” the debt-market for U.S. small businesses as well.

First, it would cost much, much less than guaranteeing $trillions in “bad” mortgage debt. Secondly, unlike nationalizing the mortgage-market (which only benefited the Wall Street Oligarchs), having the government take over and fund direct lending to small businesses is 100% guaranteed to be a net job-creator. In other words, for once there would be a U.S. government program which was not simply ‘pouring money down a hole’.

Secondly, this is a “passive” form of government stimulus. This is important in two respects. To begin with, with non-passive government stimulus (i.e. where it “targets” dollars at specific initiatives) there is inevitably misallocation of precious resources – as government injects capital into the sectors that it wants to see perform the best, rather than those sectors/companies where such funds could provide a maximum return to taxpayers. Even better, small businesses (the only segment of the U.S. corporate community which makes a net contribution to the U.S. economy) would essentially be “directing” where this capital went, based upon their own loan applications.

Of course providing U.S. small businesses with a viable financial framework in which they can operate is of little use if there are still no customers to buy their goods and services. Thus the other half of the salvation of U.S. small business must involve a general shot-in-the-arm for the U.S. consumer – specifically “jobs”.

As I first began writing nearly 30 years ago (while still studying economics), our economies are experiencing an inevitable, relentless surge in structural unemployment (i.e. unemployment which can never be “cured” by the business cycle). Over that 30 years, while I’ve seen more and more economists writing about “structural unemployment”, I have yet to observe one who actually understands what that phrase means.

Obviously, to fix a “structural” problem in a market you must “restructure” that market. However apparently this simple logical premise is too “deep” for economists to comprehend, as inevitably all that these charlatans ever “prescribe” for this structural problem is some absurd cyclical band-aid. What makes this failure of comprehension absolutely inexcusable is that we have a 200-year old tradition on how to eliminate structural unemployment: shortening the work week.

The original work week was (approximately) seven days a week, twelve hours a day – or 80+ hours/week. Today the standard work week is less than half that long. So why don’t we have an acute shortage of labour (given that people work less than half as long)? Because ever since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, technology has eliminated jobs faster than  it creates new job opportunities. This means the only means of preventing inevitable, massive structural unemployment in our economies is to regularly shorten the work week – as our governments used to do, for 200 years.

Why have they stopped? Because now that our governments exclusively serve the bankers (and their ultra-wealthy clients) they like massive unemployment. Such massive unemployment permanently depresses wages – and in fact the average wage of the U.S. worker (in “real” dollars) has been falling for 40 years. And the fat-cats on top have used the permanent wage-depression for the average U.S. worker to restrain inflation – so that all the money they are hoarding doesn’t lose its value quite so quickly.


This has resulted in the most-extreme wealth inequality in U.S. history, slightly more extreme than just before the Great Depression. This is no coincidence. For 2,000 years we have known that when our economies become “hollowed-out” to such an extreme (i.e. all of the wealth in a tiny number of hands) they must collapse – and in spectacular fashion.

While it may already be too late to prevent the implosion of the debt-saturated U.S. economy, putting Americans to work (through introducing a four-day work week) can at least mitigate the magnitude of that “crash”. More to the point (of this commentary), a four-day work week is the only possible means for the U.S. government to provide enough paying customers to reverse the small-business genocide that it has begun.

We have essentially suffered through a hundred years of top-down economics, where our myopic governments inevitably decide that the “best way” to “help the economy” is to bestow hand-outs upon those who already have the most. It has brought the entire Western industrialized world to the brink of economic collapse and bankruptcy.

Clearly it is now time for the reverse: bottom-up economics. This is where governments embark on the “radical strategy” of actually helping the most important parts of the economy – the middle-class and small business – rather than the least important parts of the economy: the wealthy, and big-business. Simple arithmetic dictates that this must be a far more successful strategy than annihilating the “heart” of the U.S. economy simply so that the very-wealthy can add to their extreme hoards.

As we have seen in Greece, there is no option to the strategy I’m proposing. Greek “austerity”, where those on the bottom are “squeezed” again and again (while those on top are unscathed) has only resulted in larger deficits, a contracting economy, and rising unemployment – nothing short of economic suicide.

It’s time our governments stopped committing suicide, and this must begin with the U.S. economy as it is this debt-bloated behemoth (not those in Europe) which is closest to completing its own self-destruction. “Saving small business” is a crucial component in choosing “life” over suicide.

 

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Jeff Nielson
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written by Jeff Nielson, July 16, 2011
Dgierl, you're quite right when you say that a wealth taxation system would have to be more complex than simply taking "X"% from everyone - however not a lot more complicated.

Each person would have a "basic personal exemption" (the same amount for everyone + extra for dependents). Depending on the precise rate of the wealth tax, maybe it would be $25,000 per person, maybe it would be $50,000.

A higher tax rate, but also higher deductible would be more "progressive" for those on the lower end of income, while a more moderate tax rate, and a smaller deduction would moderate the tax bill for higher income individuals.

However, we start with a basic premise that those on the BOTTOM have been getting "the short end of the stick" when it comes to taxation for 100 years, so any NEW system should make those on the bottom BETTER OFF than before.
dgierl
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written by dgierl, July 16, 2011
Taxation systems are always onerous to design to be "fair". This particular system would destroy the retired. A retired person, who worked hard to build a nest egg and buy a house would probably have to pay an extremely large percentage of their income, even at a low tax rate.

An example would be a retired couple with a fully paid off home worth $100,000. They have a nest egg invested for income of $500,000. Their income, these days, would at best case be around $15,000 (at 3% return). A 1% federal tax, based on wealth, would be $5000. That leaves $10,000 to live on and pay the state (provincial), local property, per capita, real estate, etc. taxes. In my area, the additional taxes would be about $4000. Could you pay your bills with only $6000 per year? My personal situation wouldn't be quite as bad as I don't have nearly that much wealth and a slightly better income (a state pension).

Of course this tax could be graduated, or at least have a minimum wealth to trigger it. There also could be certain deductions to alleviate this, but, now we are starting to get complex, like the current income tax system. I believe that closing the loop holes in the current system would probably be better as it, in theory, places the largest burdens on those who can afford it more.

BTW, I agree with Mr. Paladin. I don't usually disagree with you, (except when you call the US's court system "third world" smilies/smiley.gif, but I do like your "no holds barred" approach to express your ideas.
Jeff Nielson
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written by Jeff Nielson, July 16, 2011
Brian, a wealth tax is the ultimate in simplicity. The ONLY place where negotiations and/or "evasion" would take place is in terms of ESTIMATING any particular individual's "net worth".

That's it. Once you get to that point, you plug the number into a calculator and get your tax bill.

With income, let's START with the fact that "estimating" income is at least TEN TIMES the ordeal versus estimating wealth. Not only are there SEVERAL categories of income, but EACH of those categories has its own labyrinth of "exceptions" and "qualifications".

Then, when you FINALLY have actually calculated income, that's when income taxation BEGINS to get complicated: literally MILLIONS OF PAGES of rules on various "exceptions" - with (at least) TEN PAGES of "explanation" for every one page of rules.

Thus, many would argue that the BEST argument in favor of wealth taxation is that it is (by a factor of ten) SIMPLER than any alternative tax regime.

Keep in mind that all of your own ideas are aimed at only ONE FACET of "income taxation": corporate taxation.

Remember what we have with wealth taxation: ONE tax to replace ALL other taxes: no income tax, no capital gains tax, no corporate tax, no sales tax, no property tax, no inheritance tax, etc., etc., etc., etc.

Think of how much more EFFICIENT/EFFECTIVE our tax systems would be if we only spent 1 PENNY for every $10 dollars of revenue in tax revenues, versus currently spending $1 for every $10 we take in.

Just like an economy which spends MUCH of its revenues paying INTEREST on debt can never be as "efficient" as a debt-free economy, an economy which WASTES much of its tax revenues ADMINISTERING taxation can also never be as efficient.
brianwil
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written by brianwil, July 16, 2011
Hi Jeff. Thanks for taking a second look.

Our objectives are similar: making things simpler and reducing the overwhelming advantages of the very rich and very powerful.

I would argue that a corporate tax based on sales rather than profit would dramatically simplify the corporate tax system and eliminate most of the loopholes (and most of the tax lawyers LOL). It would also keep the tax revenue within the country that generated it rather than having profits cleverly shifted to tax havens.

While a wealth tax has a definite appeal, I can't think of any other area where more legal talent would immediately be set to work devising loopholes and evasion. That notwithstanding, I would be very interested in hearing any proposals.

A look back at the Carter Commission which recommended treating capital gains and dividends like any other income might be a good starting place. "A buck is a buck is a buck" Kenneth Carter, 1966

The reason for my "naive' proposal was to try flush out any immediate stupidity in it through comments from people much smarter and more experienced than I am. :-)
Jeff Nielson
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written by Jeff Nielson, July 16, 2011
Sorry Brian, I should have read your comment more slowly.

There are two general problems with the approach you are suggesting, with one leading to the other. Yes, we can always FIDDLE with a severely flawed SYSTEM to make it "fair" at any given MOMENT in time, but...

The MOMENT you do such fiddling with taxation you are (a) making the system more complicated, and (b) distorting the flows of capital (and the allocation of capital).

The moment you make the system more complicated, you immediately make it less TRANSPARENT. Those on TOP (who can afford the most sophisticated legal advice) will always take FULL ADVANTAGE of the new rules, while the closer you are to the bottom, the less likely you are to make optimal decisions with respect to taxation.

This automatically means that EVERY time you make the system more complicated, you slant the "playing field" even more extremely in favor of those on top. The misallocation of capital is an EQUALLY serious criticism. Do this over a LONG period of time (as our economies have done) and you can SEE the results.

This leads to the second problem. Because of the unequal EFFECTS of all such tax-fiddling, by the time "the dust settles", you find that you have a system which is even LESS FAIR than before you started your tinkering.

Those on top (who experience the MINIMUM penalty from ALL consumption taxes) will also find ALL the "loopholes" and use them to their advantage, while those on the bottom (in this case the "small business") will experience the maximum PENALTIES from the new rules, while enjoying the least amount of benefits.

It's much, much better to simply set corporate taxes to zero, implement a "wealth tax", and take your "fair share" from the shareholders. This sounds even MORE equitable when we remember that in the U.S. (for example) the top-15% (by wealth) hold almost 90% of all equities, while the top 1% (by themselves) hold 40% of all equities.



brianwil
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written by brianwil, July 16, 2011
Hi Jeff.

I guess I didn't make myself clear enough. I was referring ONLY to GST paid by corporations, most of which is canceled by GST input tax credits.

The GST for private consumers is a completely different issue and I am fully aware of its extreme regressiveness. That's why I suggested it as a bigger "follow-on" topic. :-)
Jeff Nielson
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written by Jeff Nielson, July 16, 2011
P.S. Brian, I should qualify what I said by pointing out that there is ONE category of "consumption tax" which is (generally) both FAIR and EFFICIENT: luxury taxes.

This is why even though there is a lot of "grumbling", when governments boost taxes on cigarettes and alcohol they rarely lose votes at the ballot box from this because they are actually making a PROGRESSIVE move on taxation. However, even here we see the EVIL of our governments at work.

As I just pointed out, the government frequently (usually/always) targets cigarette and alcohol taxes with such moves, but RARELY targets other "luxury" items: antique cars, mansions, art, jewelry, etc., etc.

The pattern is obvious: our governments tax the ONLY the luxuries which "the little people" consume (cigarettes, alcohol), while RARELY getting the rich to pay a PENNY of taxes on the luxuries THEY prefer. In other words, even in the realm of luxury taxes, our governments tend to be as REGRESSIVE as possible (i.e. targeting those on the BOTTOM, not those on the TOP).
Jeff Nielson
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written by Jeff Nielson, July 16, 2011
Hi BrianWil.

This is more taxation brainwashing at work. "Consumption" taxes are even more PUNITIVE toward poor and middle-class people than income taxes. It's all arithmetic.

Let's say three people want to buy an apple - a "poor" person, a "middle class" person, and a "rich" person, where there is a 10% consumption tax. The apple costs $1.

The poor person has $1. The middle class person has $10. And the rich person has $100. (Proportionately, this is quite accurate).

The poor person CAN'T even buy an apple because he can't pay the tax. The middle-class person spends 10% of his wealth on the apple, and an additional 1.1% of the remainder in TAX. While the tax doesn't SEEM like much, it means the middle-class person will run out of money after buying only 9 apples instead of 10.

For the wealthy person, both the price of the apple AND the tax are trivial. To be precise, the tax the rich person pays on the apple is only 0.11% of his wealth - meaning the tax doesn't BEGIN to affect the consumption of the rich person until he has bought close to 90 apples.

Let me summarize. The tax prevents the poor person from buying ANY apples. It reduces the consumption/purchasing power of the middle-class person after consuming only 9 apples. It doesn't affect the rich person at all until he/she has consumed approximately 90 apples. The consumption tax is TEN TIMES as punitive toward the middle-class, and even more punitive than that versus the poor.

Thus even the "tax credits" the government offers "the little people" as bribes only mean these taxes are SLIGHTLY less punitive - NEVER fair.

As a matter of arithmetic the ONLY possible taxation system where ALL THREE GROUPS pay taxes in FAIR proportions is a "wealth tax".
brianwil
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written by brianwil, July 16, 2011
Further to my previous post. A deduction that might be considered would be a flat $ amount per full time equivalent domestic employee.
brianwil
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written by brianwil, July 16, 2011
Hello Jeff. I have been lurking for a while and really appreciate your original and incisive commentary.

It really bothers me to see the largest corporations in the world paying almost no corporate taxes while small companies that actually create jobs are paying full taxes. I've been wondering about replacing complex current corporate taxation regimes with a very simple use of GST/HST. In other words, a very small tax on total sales rather than a very variable complex tax on profits. Whether the GST/HST was 5%, 10%, or 12%, a small percentage (say .5% ) would not be reduced by input tax credits (leaving 4.5%, 9.5%, or 11.5% to be reduced by input credits).

This would make for a very simple system. In Canada, at least, the machinery is already in place. There would be no deductions. Tax havens would become irrelevant. The approach would become attractive to other countries as well and new systems in additional countries would become consonant with the systems already in place.

Corporations large and small, make all the profit you want!

Then end-user taxation can be the big follow-on topic. :-)
Jeff Nielson
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written by Jeff Nielson, July 15, 2011
Thanks for the support, Mr. Paladin. I agree with you completely about a five-day work week being very "limiting" (and inefficient). Moving to four days a week opens up all sorts of possibilities - including going to a seven-day business week, where we don't have much of our infrastructure sitting idle for nearly 1/3 of every week/month/year.

As for the wealth tax, we have been CONDITIONED that income taxation is somehow the "best" basis of a tax system - when it is just about the WORST basis for taxation.

It's VERY difficult to flesh-out a tax system within a single commentary. However, a couple of things which MIGHT make people more amenable to it is that it would be a SINGLE-DIGIT tax rate, with taxes going DOWN for more than half the population, staying the same for another chunk in the upper middle class, and only INCREASING for those on top.
Fischer
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written by Mr. Paladin, July 15, 2011
Damn, you write well; I'm envious. even in cases where I don't agree with you, I admire the expression of your arguments. I'm not sure about a wealth tax, but I've been talking about a four-day work week for years now. Five days on and two off simply leave little time to live your life. Four and three is so much better, and a lot more civilized... and, of course, it would allow more people to earn at least some money and get off the dole.
Jeff Nielson
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written by Jeff Nielson, July 15, 2011
Dgierl, this is the OTHER aspect of "slavery" which has been factored into our economies (along with perpetually shrinking wages): vast amounts of FREE labour (i.e. unpaid "overtime").

And lets not forget the CRUELEST hoax of all - all the "interns" which (mainly) large companies are taking on. People LITERALLY working for FREE, in the hopes that a small percentage of them might graduate to "paid slaves" from "unpaid slaves".

Getting back to your own example, with the exception of the "self-employed" (who are free to work whatever hours they choose), what we ALSO need along with a four-day work week is to reclassify all "overtime" as "TRIPLE time" - rather than the conventional "time and a half" - and then to RIGOROUSLY enforce such standards.

Contrary to what we have been conditioned to believe, there is NOTHING in our labour laws which MANDATES salaried workers to work unlimited hours of unpaid overtime. Rather, this has been IMPOSED on them - because with TEN PEOPLE lined-up willing to do the same job (and likely for a LOWER wage), you do what you are TOLD, like a "good" slave.

I think people would be AMAZED at all the "new workers" corporations would suddenly need IF they were actually forced to OBEY THE LAW when it comes to labour standards.
dgierl
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written by dgierl, July 15, 2011
Most "middle class" people I know would love to reduce their work week to 40 hours. They are "salaried" workers, not subject to overtime pay and usually required to work 50-80 hours a week. Even when not required, it is usually "expected", directly effecting performance reviews.

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