“The people are hungry: It is because those in authority eat up too much in taxes.
When the government is too intrusive, people lose their spirit.”
— Lao Tzu, or Laozi
(6th-5th century BC)
The good news about the new tax law called TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) is that overall personal income tax (PIT) rates have declined. The bad news is that the high rates of 30% and 32% were retained, and an even higher rate of 35% was introduced for incomes P8 million a year or higher.
In a period of growing global tax competition, growing decentralization if not disintegration by big governments and countries, economies should introduce low taxes.
Currently, Asian economies with low, flat income tax rates are Mongolia with only 10%, Macau with 12%, and Hong Kong with 15%.
Currently too, there are 10 countries and/or jurisdictions around the world that have zero income tax policy.
Eight of them are in the table below, the two others, Bermuda and Cayman islands, have no available data in the IMF and WEF reports. Hence, they are not included in the table. The global rank and score in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual Global Competitiveness Index (GCI), pillar #1 — Institutions, would represent or proxy for the rule of law of countries included in the report (see table).
These numbers show the following:
1. Citizens of zero income tax countries on average are actually richer (except Bahamas) than people of countries that impose and collect income taxes.
2. Zero income tax countries on average have high scores and rank in the WEF’s GCI (except Kuwait), in institutional strength. The same pattern is also observed for developed Asia except South Korea.
3. Developing and emerging Asia like the ASEAN 5 in the above table have lower scores and global ranking, except Malaysia.
One lesson here is that it is the rule of law, the stability and predictability of institutions, public and private, that largely determine an economy’s wealth and prosperity. Not higher taxes and welfarism, not more regulations and endless subsidies.
These countries like Qatar, Brunei, and United Arab Emirates, even Singapore and Hong Kong, are not known for their big mountains and waterfalls, many white sand beaches and sprawling golf courses. They are known for their liberal and secure investment policies that properly respect and protect private property rights, especially big investments and projects, and non-intrusive tax policies.
Currently, the Department of Finance (DoF) is preparing TRAIN 2, focus on lowering the corporate income tax (CIT) rate from 30% to 25% but with fewer fiscal holidays and exemptions. The goal of DoF is to have a “revenue neutral” law, reduce revenues on one side to be compensated by additional revenues on the other side.
Since the Duterte administration is gung-ho on federalism, this will be a good opportunity for them to drastically cut CIT — only 10%, or 15%, little or no exemptions — then allow the regional or state governments to have their own CIT.
The advantage of this setup is that it instills tax and investment competition among the regions and states.
Thus, the future state of southern Luzon for instance will have a CIT of 15%, the state of western Visayas will have a CIT of 10%, the state of northern Mindanao will have a CIT of only 6%, another state will have zero CIT, and so on.
The DoF should align its fiscal priorities with the political priorities of Malacañang and Congress.
TRAIN 1 was lousy because it raised many national taxes or created new ones even if the DoF is aware that soon there will be less national government departments, bureaus, and welfarism to be compensated by more state government departments and welfarism.
Let TRAIN 2 compensate for the short-sightedness of TRAIN 1. Let the national and soon federal government step back as the regional and state governments step forward.
Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is President of Minimal Government Thinkers, a member-institute of Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia.