The Gingrich Tax Plan

I have a new essay on the on Gingrich’s tax plan.

Here’s the essay:

“It starts very simply: Taxes, lower taxes.”

That was the first line of Newt Gingrich’s explanation of how he would create jobs, given at the December 10 Republican debate in Iowa. Gingrich talked about his desire to end the capital gains tax and cut the corporate income tax to 12.5%. In addition, Gingrich has proposed a 15% flat tax as an option for all Americans, going further than the 20% flat tax advocated by Rick Perry.

On one level, Gingrich’s intense focus on lower taxes fits current dogma in the Republican party, which puts tax cuts above almost everything else. He is playing to the conservative base, as a way of counteracting some of his other personal liabilities.

If enacted in their entirety, Gingrich’s proposed changes would turn the U.S. tax system from progressive to regressive. Someone earning $40,000 in wages could pay a higher tax rate than another person who made $400,000 a year in capital gains.

This shift from progressive to regressive is not acceptable, of course. The tax system should be a tool for reducing the stresses of inequality in the economy, not increasing it. That’s especially true now, coming out of such a devastating recession where so many American are unemployed or underemployed.

But these tax cuts, which lie at the heart of the Gingrich program, would have another striking implication as well, which has not yet been remarked on. He is targeting precisely those taxes — like the corporate income tax and capital gains tax — that capture the gains from globalization. In other words, Gingrich is waging war on Washington’s ability to tax “globalized” income, which is likely to grow faster than domestic income for the foreseeable future.

What do I mean by “globalized” income? By my definition, globalized income means funds that come directly or indirectly from the operations of U.S. companies in the global economy. The most obvious example of globalized income is the money that companies report as “rest-of-world” or foreign profits. Today, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that “rest-of-world” profits are running at a $450 billion annual rate, small potatoes compared to a $15 trillion economy.

However, the category of globalized income includes a lot more than foreign profits. For example, suppose that a U.S-based company is highly profitable in Asia. Even if those profits are not repatriated, the company’s share price is likely to rise. If an American stockholder sells those shares and collects a $5 million capital gain, that gain is reported as domestic income. But in fact, it’s due purely to the operations of that company overseas. Similarly, when the CEO of that company cashes his or her stock options, it’s the same thing. The stock option gains get reported as domestic income, even though they are directly connected to the company’s operations overseas.

Here’s another example. Suppose that a U.S. furniture retailer switches suppliers. Instead of buying from a domestic manufacturer, they now get their furniture from a cheaper foreign manufacturer. Because of this outsourcing, corporate profits rise, and the CEO gets a big bonus. To the government statisticians, that bonus looks like pure domestic wage and salary income. However, it flows purely out of the company’s ability to take advantage of the cheaper prices on the global market place.

Ordinary workers generally don’t have globalized income–their wages and salaries are purely domestic, unless they happen to be working directly on exports. Globalized income flows to those people whose incomes rise when the company as a whole does well–shareholders and high-ranking executives . And those are the people who are affected by capital gain taxes, corporate income taxes, and progressive tax rates on high earners.

And here’s where we get back to Newt Gingrich and his plan. The U.S. population is being separated into two groups: Those people who are benefiting from the increased globalization of the U.S. economy in their work lives, and those who are not. This is the big divide in the economy right now–and we don’t need a tax proposal that just widens the gap.


  1. Huh, I must have missed the memo when you announced becoming a propaganda shill for the “progressives.” Newt’s plan sounds good to me, for the same globalization reasons you count against it. 🙂 First you starve the beast, then you start chopping off its limbs, but the Republicans never follow through on the latter. In any case, there’s no chance Newt gets elected, so his plan’s moot. A Republican-dominated congress will be setting the agenda after the election and while they may crib his plan, the only role for the President is whether he will veto the will of Congress or not. Obama will and a Republican won’t, which is why all that matters is that some Republican takes Obama’s job, doesn’t matter which.

  2. “Those people who are benefiting from the increased globalization of the U.S. economy in their work lives, and those who are not.”

    How would this apply to health care?


  3. China, India, and Russia all have very low capital gains taxes (0% for long term, and 0% to 10% for short term).

    There is no way the US can have a rate so much higher than these three big economies.

    Also, US corporate taxes are the highest of all OECD countries, and has to be lowered to the mid-20s in order to be competitive. Even Obama has indicated an interest in doing this.

    I am glad that globalization is finally causing nation-states to compete with each other on tax rates (as they should). Government with competition will become more efficient.

    High cap-gains and corporate tax rates generate the least revenue for the most damage to the economy. Both should be lowered.

  4. Besides the tax rate, another thing to think about is the – burden – of taxation.

    To pay your taxes out of non-discretionary income is a much bigger burden than to pay your taxes out of discretionary money.

    To pay a small amount of taxes out of a budget where there is no money left at the end of the month is a lot harder than to pay tax out of your fun money.

    So a poorer person probably has more “skin in the game” when they have to cut back on food or cloths for the kids to pay excise tax, fees, income tax etc than someone who will just have less money to invest in the stock market or buy luxury goods when they pay their taxes.

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