by John Gaver
Intimidation only makes matters worse.
Recent legislative attempts at forcing or intimidating the wealthy into staying have only made matters worse. As mentioned above, in 1996, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law, two bills aimed at “punishing” those wealthy Americans who had the audacity to leave the United States (rather than creating economic “incentives” for wealthy Americans to stay). Any first year political science major can tell you that historically, disincentives almost never work.
Let’s examine the effect of these two pieces of totalitarian legislation.
I will just touch on the changes made to the Immigration and Nationality Act first, since the only purpose of those changes was to discourage wealthy Americans from leaving and their only effect was to scare more wealthy Americans into leaving. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act Act of 1996 included a provision that would permanently bar wealthy American expatriates from ever returning to the United States for any reason, if the expatriate was wealthy, under the afore mentioned government standards, at the time of his expatriation.
Pay special attention to the fact that this law did not apply to ordinary expatriates, but only to the wealthy. Our government obviously doesn’t care if you or I should leave, since it is not our taxes that funds their gravy train.
Obviously, the feds, who publicly claim that native capital flight is not a serious problem, must be privately terrified of the consequences that the continued increase in native capital flight will bring. However, they erroneously believed that those wealthy Americans, who were considering leaving, would ever want to come back to a country that treated them like second class citizens, for no better reason than that they had worked hard and acquired some assets. Instead, the wealthy saw that law for what it was – a harbinger of things to come.
Instead of discouraging expatriation, that law was, in fact, the trigger event that caused even more wealthy Americans to leave. As I mentioned above, I have lived offshore for an extended period. Furthermore, in my business, I have traveled offshore a lot and often to tax haven countries. Both in London and elsewhere, I have routinely had a chance to talk with American “expats.” I was not surprised to find that among the reasons high on the list of recent expats, for leaving the USA, was this change to the Immigration and Nationality Act.
The Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996, on the other hand, has much more ominous overtones. So, what does a health insurance law have to do with expatriation? To begin with, the United States government, through this act, has the audacity to claim the right to tax expatriates for 10 years after they renounce their US citizenship, if the expatriate was guess what?… wealthy, under the afore mentioned government standards, at the time of his expatriation. Do you see what this says? Think about this.
The United States government is now claiming the right to tax foreigners!
They want to tax people who live in, work in, hold citizenship in and pay taxes to another country and who no longer hold US citizenship or even US permanent residence and have no assets in the USA. They want to tax people who are, by every reasonable definition, “foreigners”.
The United States long shared with Libya the infamous distinction of being one of only two countries in the world that claimed the right to tax the income of its citizens regardless of where in the world that income was earned or banked. But, even Libya was not so tyrannical as to claim the right to tax foreigners, who had no connection to the country. In fact, even Gadaffi was smart enough to realize that taxing the foreign income of citizens was causing an unacceptable amount of native capital flight and Libya has now dropped its claim to the offshore earnings of its citizens.
If a self-absorbed despot like Gadaffi can understand that, what does that say about the US government?
Granted, a few other small countries have since implemented a similar non-territorial tax. The December 28, 1998 issue of the Wall Street Journal reported that two other countries in the entire world attempt to tax the offshore earnings of its citizens. One is the Philippines. The other is Eritrea. Since that Journal article was published, South Africa has also implemented such a tax regime. But, enough of the sad company that our government keeps…
The real problem is not the abhorrent nature of this law. It is its effect.
When word of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 reached the wealthy, they saw this law for exactly what it was – not just another brick in the economic Berlin Wall that our government has been erecting, to keep wealthy Americans from leaving with their wealth intact, but in fact, a large section of that rhetorical wall. Many wealthy Americans, who had been hesitant to leave, saw this provision in the law as the last straw and began making preparations to leave.
The government’s claim of this absurd right to tax ex-citizens for 10 years gave the wealthy no pause at all. After all, they had a solution. For many years, when wealthy Americans chose expatriation, they most often left as much of their wealth as practical in some sort of tax sheltered investments in the United States, so capital flight did not represent as serious a threat, as it does today. The wealthy would leave, but a good portion of their investment capital stayed here. And that portion, though somewhat sheltered, still generated a significant amount of taxes and funded many US jobs.
But since 1996, wealthy Americans who have chosen to leave, have had no choice but to take ALL of their wealth with them when they leave or risk it being confiscated by the IRS, to pay that 10-year tax penalty.
Let me emphasize that word. ALL!
Wealthy expatriates can no longer afford to leave anything behind. To protect what they have earned, they must sell or encumber ALL of their US-based real estate, US stocks and bonds,… EVERYTHING! Over a period of time, they must move all of their wealth into offshore investments or at the very least, create debt against anything that is left here. Then, when they leave, there is nothing left behind for the IRS to confiscate. Unfortunately, it also leaves nothing behind to fund US jobs or the US government.
The government, of course, pouts and claims that these expatriates are being very un-American, just because they had the audacity to protect what was rightfully theirs, from IRS confiscation. The government fails to realize or at least refuses to accept, that it was their own attempts to grab more power that made it impossible for these wealthy Americans to stay or to leave any money in the United States, when they left.
So, instead of preventing wealthy Americans from leaving, that law not only encouraged them to leave at an even higher rate, but it forced them to take ALL of their wealth with them when they leave. And, therein, lies the root of the real problem.
When the wealthy take ALL of their money out of the United States, it has many undesirable effects. The most obvious, as pointed out above, is the loss of tax dollars. But, there are far more serious consequences that lay beneath the surface. Most of the wealth that we are talking about is what we refer to as investment income. Regardless of whether that money is in a passbook savings account, an IRA, mutual funds, stocks, bonds or direct investment, it is almost certainly money that is funding business somewhere in the United States. That money effectively represents JOBS in the United States.
When that investment capital moves offshore, several things happen. Most notably, JOBS that the investment capital funds move offshore, as well. We are already beginning to see this.
Some of that investment capital will be replaced, it might be argued. In fact, some, though not all of it, will be replaced. But, it is the source of that new capital that creates yet another problem. When US based capital is not available, businesses look offshore for investment capital. Since US expatriates can no longer safely invest in US businesses, foreigners move in to fill the gap, temporarily.
Just look at how much Communist China has invested in the US. As more and more wealthy Americans are forced to flee the United States, the remaining Americans will find that they are increasingly the labor force for wealthy foreigners who, by the way, generally pay tax only on what they earn in the US.
But, once the tax rates are forced up, by the lack of wealthy citizens to tax, even that foreign investment capital will dry up.
Add to all of this, the appalling increase in frivolous lawsuits by the greedy, the recent rash of government confiscations (forfeitures*) and the heavy burden upon business, represented by legislation like the Patriot Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and you discover that increasingly, the wealthy are finding that their only choice is to leave. It’s like a snowball rolling down hill. Right now, it’s just a big glob of snow. But if we don’t create some major incentives to keep US capital in the United States, it will soon become an avalanche.
Creating Incentives and Removing Disincentives
The problem is very complicated and there is no single solution. But, there are two issues that, far and away, represent the most pressing problems surrounding native capital flight. Those issues are the abuses of the IRS and the USA Patriot Act.
I mentioned earlier that I have interviewed many American expats about their reasons for leaving. Until six years ago, the number one reason for leaving, cited by EVERY expat that I talked with, had something to do with the IRS – not the Income Tax, but the IRS. When I asked them to be more specific, they cited IRS abuses and witch hunts, lack of privacy in their financial dealings, hundreds of thousands of pages of incomprehensible and contradictory laws, from which the IRS picks and chooses and let us not forget, the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which are nothing more than covert tools of the IRS.
Every last expat that I talked with, prior to 2001, told me that the “principal factor” that pushed them over the edge had something to do with the “not to be sufficiently damned IRS.” (By the way, though not universal, I have found that phrase in quotes to be rather common in the expat community.) Even when I tried to suggest that, since they rated the IRS as the key factor in their leaving, that it all boiled down to taxes, they corrected me. Though taxes may have been a factor, the tax load alone, was not enough to force them to leave. The thing that pushed them over the edge had to do with the IRS, itself.
I should mention that today, there are some who now cite the Patriot Act, as their number one reason for leaving, though the IRS still holds a commanding lead. The point to remember here, is that both the IRS and the Patriot Act represent attacks on personal and business privacy.
So, if we eliminate the deciding factor that is causing these wealthy citizens to expatriate, it would go a long way toward keeping any more wealthy Americans from leaving. Every previous attempt to solve this problem has been aimed at strengthening the power of the IRS and every previous attempt has failed.
It should now be obvious that any proposed solutions to this problem that leave the IRS intact, should be summarily dismissed. One of the most important things that we must do to stop native capital flight, is ABOLISH THE IRS.
That would mean replacing the Income Tax with some system of taxation that does not require such an autocratic organization looking into the personal finances of every individual. The Flat Tax would not work, since it retains the source of the problem, the IRS. There are, in fact, only three tax plans that would fit this requirement – excise taxes on imports, a National Retail Sales Tax and taxing the states according to their productivity, which would allow the states to collect all federal taxes, as their voters choose.
Since broad use of excise taxes have generally been found to have a negative impact upon the economy, they are not a practical solution. Of the three options, taxing the states, instead of individuals, is most in line with the intentions of the Founding Fathers and it would achieve the desired affect of getting the government out of the affairs of individuals. The competition between the states would serve to keep the system efficient. But alas, no such bill has been proposed in Congress.
That leaves the National Retail Sales Tax (H.R.25, in the 111th Congress), that has been proposed in every congress for years and gains supporters every year. It was sponsored by Rep. John Linder, of Georgia and now has 58 cosponsors. Even Tom Delay, before he left office, had announced his support for it, in April of 2004 and set a schedule to push H.R.25 through committee and get it to a floor vote. The Fair Tax was also a major component of Mike Huckabee’s presidential bid. As more in congress learn about the Fair Tax, the more support it gets.
The findings of a CATO Institute Policy Analysis on “The Economic Impact of Replacing Federal Income Taxes with a Sales Tax” predicts that the shift in tax structures will raise the stock of US capital by at least 29 percent and potentially by as much as 49 percent.
Former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Bill Archer reported, “A recent survey was done, in Europe and Japan, of the major corporations and I was astounded at the results. They were asked, ‘If the US abolished its income tax and went to a sales tax, would that have any impact on your decisions?’ Eighty percent of the corporations said they would build their factories in the United States of America. Twenty percent said they would move their international headquarters to the United States of America!”
A National Retail Sales Tax would not only create the incentive for wealthy Americans to keep their assets right here at home, but it would actually have the effect of reversing native capital flight and bring a lot of expatriated capital back into the United States. But, for that to happen, the 10-year expatriation tax on the wealthy, the “Don’t come back” law and the Exit Tax would have to be repealed, as well.
New Disincentives to Overcome
Although a National Retail Sales Tax would serve to slow the flight of the wealthy, that alone, would no longer have the sizable effect on keeping native capital here that it once did. Financial analysts have made many excuses, for why the US dollar is falling and continues to fall against the Euro and other currencies. But, for the most part, they limit their analysis to traditional models and those models just don’t fit here.
The problem that traditional models fail to account for is, since the implementation of the Patriot Act, transferring US dollars internationally, has become extremely difficult. Even transfers of US dollars from one bank in a foreign country to another bank in that same country could be held up in the Fed for weeks.
It is not unusual for US dollar transactions that used to take one to two days, to be held up in Patriot Act compliance for one to two months. Such delays did not exist prior to the Patriot Act and do not exist today, when dealing in Euros, Pounds, Yen or any other foreign currency, if you are not a US citizen. That’s because those currencies don’t move through the Fed and because foreigners, who deal in other currencies, don’t have to meet Patriot Act requirements.
To understand what is happening, you must understand how the US dollar became the currency of choice for investors worldwide. The creation of the Fed made it possible to execute US dollar denominated transactions internationally, in two or three days that previously would have taken six to ten days or longer, with other currencies. That extra few days of interest on, say $100 million dollars, is a lot of money. It was the efficiency of the Fed that made the US dollar the currency of choice in international transactions. But, the Patriot Act has reversed all that.
Today, as a result of technology, foreign currencies can usually be transferred via Euroclear, almost as fast as and sometimes faster than dollars. But until enactment of the Patriot Act, the dollar remained the currency of choice, not only because of the certain efficiency of the Fed, but because there was no reason to change. It was just practical.
But, with the onerous requirements of the Patriot Act, it can now take weeks to transfer US dollars, while the same amount of a foreign currency may only take a few days. Today, when using Euros for such transactions, the interest savings alone, can be significant.
It should be noted here that every US government agency that watches such things, has reported that the terrorists did not and do not use our banks for laundering money, since they have access to Arabic banks that provide untraceable transfers. In other words, the financial provisions of the Patriot Act, that make up almost two-thirds of that bill, had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism, but were instead, aimed at control of wealth and wealthy Americans. But, like previous such attempts at disincentives, to control wealth (HIPAA, IIRIRA, S.1701 and the Heroes Tax Act, mentioned above), the Patriot Act had an effect that was exactly the opposite of what the government desired.
Disincentives don’t work.
Disincentives like those discussed above, along with about two-thirds of the Patriot Act, have had the exact opposite of the intended effect. Disincentives just don’t work. If native capital flight is to be reversed, before it’s too late, we must eliminate all of those disincentives, abolish the IRS and roll back large portions of the Patriot Act (mostly the financial provisions).
Then, we must replace those disincentives with incentives, like a National Retail Sales Tax and a return to a banking system that encourages the use of the US dollar in international transactions, before another currency rises to the top and becomes the de-facto standard for international business.
We also need to implement some serious tort reform laws that include, among other things, “loser pays” and if the plaintiff is indigent and the plaintiff’s attorney is working on a contingency, then “loser’s attorney pays”. This would also significantly reduce healthcare costs and the cost of all types of insurance.
But, here is the important thing. Those changes must be implemented soon, before the US dollar ceases to be the currency of choice in most international transactions and before the expatriation snowball picks up too much speed to be stopped. If other currencies become as common in international transactions as the US dollar, it will be too late, as the dollar will stagnate. If we wait until the economy begins to react to this native capital flight, it will be too late. Time is not on our side.
You saw what happened when the markets reacted to tech stocks being overpriced. Imagine what will happen when the markets take notice of the seriousness of our problem with native capital flight. Once that slide begins, it will be the economic equivalent of the collapse of the World Trade Centers and all that we will be able to do is pick up the pieces of a shattered economy and wonder why our government didn’t do anything to stop it. Unfortunately, few will realize that government disincentives were actually the cause.
WE MUST ACT NOW!
It’s no longer simply a matter of equity in taxation nor of the tracking of terrorists’ funds. As a result of recent and continuing legislation aimed at controlling or punishing the wealthy, the economic future of the United States of America is now seriously at risk, since those who can save our economy, are precisely the people who are being forced to leave.
The wealth expatriation snowball is growing, day by day. Nobody can say when it will reach critical mass. But at the rate it’s going, it likely won’t be long.
We urge you to contact your Congressman TODAY and tell him/her that you want him/her to support the Fair Tax Act of 2009 (HR 25) and real tort reform and the repeal of the 10-year expatriation tax, the “Don’t Come Back” law, the exit tax and all of the financial restrictions in the Patriot Act.
The Fair Tax Act will go a long way toward reversing capital flight, eliminating IRS confiscations and getting the IRS out of our personal lives. But, without the roll-back of the Patriot Act’s financial restrictions and the repeal of all of those disincentives, even that bill will give us only limited relief.
There is however, one other alternative. You can start packing your bags.
*To make confiscation seem less severe, the government has taken to calling it forfeiture. The term, “confiscation” connotes taking something that belongs to a citizen. The term, “forfeiture” connotes giving up something that was not the citizen’s property in the first place. This also shows what the federal government thinks of your right to actually own private property.
Copyright 2009 John Gaver, All rights reserved.