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«Ruling is about staying in power, not about good governance. To this end, leaders buy support by rewarding their essential backers relative to others. Taxation plays a dual role in generating this kind of loyalty. First it provides leaders with the resources to enrich their most essential supporters. Second, it reduces the welfare of those outside of the coalition. Taxation, especially in small-coalition settings, redistributes from those outside the coalition (the poor) to those inside the coalition (the rich). Small coalition systems amply demonstrate this principle, for these are places where people are rich precisely because they are in the winning coalition, and others are poor because they are not. Phillip Chiyangwa, a protégé of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, has stated it bluntly, “I am rich because I belong to Zanu-PF [Mugabe’s ruling party].”2 When the coalition changes, so does who is rich and who is poor.

«A heavy tax burden emphasizes the differences between being rich and poor—in or out of the coalition. At the same time, the resulting revenues fund spoils for the lucky few, leaving little for everyone else. Further, the misery such heavy taxes inflict on the general population makes participation in the coalition even more valuable. Fearing exclusion and poverty under an alternative leadership, supporters are all the more fiercely loyal. They will do anything to keep what they have and keep on collecting goodies. Gerard Padró i Miguel of the London School of Economics has shown that the leaders of numerous African nations tax “too” highly (that is, beyond the maximum revenue point) and then turn around and provide subsidies to chosen groups. This may be economic madness, but it is also political genius.4»

«The relationship between regime type and taxation can be seen in the recent history of Mexico. Mexico’s first free election came in 1994, and the incumbent party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), lost nationally for the first time in 2000. As can be seen in Figure 4.1, onset of competitive elections (and of democratization) marks the start of the decline in government revenue as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). As the size of the winning coalition enlarged, Mexico’s tax rates followed suit by declining, just as they should when politicians need to curry favor with many instead of a few. For instance, the highest marginal tax rate in Mexico in 1979, with the PRI firmly in control, was 55 percent. As the PRI’s one-party rule declined, so did tax rates. By 2000, marking the first truly free, competitive presidential election, Mexico’s highest tax rate was 40 percent.5

«the comparison of average tax rates is misleading.
At the income levels taxed in much of the world’s poor autocracies, the tax rate in Europe and the United States is zero. We have to compare taxes at given income levels, not across the board, since most income tax systems are designed to be progressive, taxing higher incomes at higher rates than lower incomes. By looking at how much tax has to be paid at a given income level across countries we get close to comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges. In the United States, for example, a couple with one child and an income under about $32,400 pays no income tax. If their income were, say, $20,000 they would receive $1,000 from the federal government to help support their child. In China, a family with an income of $32,400 is expected to pay about $6,725 in income tax.6 Further, even when nominal rates are low, autocracies have high implicit taxes—if you have something valuable then it simply gets taken.7 It’s worth remembering that the wealthiest man in China and the wealthiest man in Russia are both currently in prison.»

«good governance dictates that taxes should only be taken to pay for things that the market is poor at providing, such as national defense and large infrastructure projects. Taking relatively little in taxes therefore encourages the people to lead more productive lives, creating a bigger pie. Democrats are closer to this good governance ideal than autocrats, but they too overtax. The centerpiece of Reaganomics, the economic plan of US president Ronald Reagan (1981–1989), was that US taxes were actually higher than this revenue maximizing level. By reducing taxes, he argued, people would do so much extra work that government revenue would actually go up. That is, a smaller share of a bigger pie would be larger than the bigger share of a smaller pie. Such a win-win policy proved popular, which is why similar appeals are again in vogue. Of course, it did not quite work out this way in fact.

To a certain extent, Reagan was right: lower taxes encouraged people to work and so the pie grew. However, crucially, in democracies it is the coalition’s willingness to bear taxes that is the true constraint on the tax level. Since taxes had not been so high as to squash entrepreneurial zeal in the first place, there wasn’t much appreciable change as a result of Reagan’s tax cuts. The pie grew a little, but not by so much that revenues went up.

Today, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party seeks to reenact tax-cutting policies similar to Reagan’s. Like him, they argue that tax cuts will grow the economy. The lesson from the Tea Party movement’s electoral success in 2010 is that people don’t like paying taxes. Politician who raise or even maintain current taxes are politically vulnerable, but then so too are politicians who fail to deliver the policies their coalition wants. Herein lies the rub. It may well be that cutting taxes, while increasing the size of the economic pie, fails to make it big enough to generate both more wealth and more effective government policies. The question is and always must be the degree to which the private sector’s efficient but unequal distribution of wealth trumps government’s more equitable, less efficient, but popular economic programs.»

«The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics.»

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