Tag Archives: United States

Legal Commentary on U.S. Iran Sanctions and the EU’s Blocking Statute

Laurent Ruessmann and Jochen Beck, FieldFisher, 17 July 2018, International firms caught between US Iran sanctions and EU blocking statute.

Several authors, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, 9 August 2018, The “New” Iran E.O. and the “New” EU Blocking Sanctions—Navigating the Divide for International Business.

The “primary sanctions” that limit U.S. companies and persons from engaging with Iran have on the whole never been lifted. The principal sanctions relief provided by the United States [until 2018] have been of “secondary sanctions” that focus on non-U.S. companies’ transactions with Iran. These measures are designed to force non-U.S. firms to choose to either engage with Iran or the United States. …

All of the sanctions and [the EU’s] counter-sanctions are in large part discretionary. …

… the Blocking Statute allows EU operators to recover damages arising from the application of the extraterritorial measures. Though it is unclear how this would work in practice, it appears to allow an EU operator to exercise a private right of action and to be indemnified by companies that do comply with the U.S. laws if in so doing those companies injure the EU operator. …

The United Kingdom has in place a law … which broadly makes compliance with Blocked U.S. Sanctions a criminal offence. … other Member States have also opted for the creation of criminal offences, including Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden. Other Member States, including Germany, Italy and Spain, have devised administrative penalties for non-compliance. Meanwhile some Member States, including France, Belgium and Luxembourg, do not appear ever to have even implemented the EU General Blocking Regulation …

… element of flexibility in the Blocking Statute is that EU operators will not be forced to continue business with Iran. Rather, the Guidance notes that EU operators are still free to conduct their business as they see fit …

Several authors, Dechert LLP, August 2018, Iran Sanctions—U.S. Reimposes Sanctions After JCPOA Withdrawal, First Measures Come Into Effect.

The practical effect of these developments is to return the U.S. secondary sanctions regime to the status quo pre-JCPOA. However, the New Iran E.O. does expand upon the U.S. primary sanctions regime in one critical respect: U.S. owned or controlled foreign entities … Until now, OFAC’s sanctions have not prohibited a foreign subsidiary from dealing with a non-Iranian SDN. Although many such transactions would likely have subjected U.S. owned and controlled foreign entities to potential secondary sanctions pre-JCPOA (on the basis that they were providing material support to an SDN), they may now result in civil or criminal liability under U.S. law.

For other foreign businesses … The New Iran E.O. does little to clarify the Administration’s current posture, but does grant it significant discretion to target a wide range of activity, effective immediately. Given the Trump Administration’s rapidly shifting approach on other issues relating to international trade and national security, from tariffs to North Korea, businesses should plan for the worst while continuing to strategize and advocate for a more pragmatic approach.

Jeremy Paner, Holland & Hart, 8 November 2018, The Return of All Financial Secondary Sanctions on Iran:

U.S. law currently authorizes OFAC to impose correspondent and payable-through account sanctions on non-U.S. financial institutions that knowingly conduct or facilitate any significant financial transaction involving the following:

  • the Central Bank of Iran;
  • a designated Iranian individual or entity, other than banks solely designated for being Iranian;
  • the automotive sector of Iran;
  • the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) or Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO);
  • petroleum, petroleum products, or petrochemical products from Iran;
  • the purchase or sale of Iran rials; and
  • a derivative, swap, future, forward, or other similar contract whose value is based on the exchange rate of the Iranian rial.

Additionally, non-U.S. financial institutions that maintain Iranian rial denominated funds or accounts outside of Iran are exposed to potential correspondent and payable-through account sanctions.

SWIFT’s Response to the U.S. Iran Sanctions Threat

SWIFT, the international financial messaging system, has responded to the U.S. sanctions threat (see this post)—it has agreed to comply. Michael Peel reports in the FT, that SWIFT

suspends certain Iranian banks’ access to its cross border-payment network.

According to Peel, SWIFT explains the step as follows:

“This step, while regrettable, has been taken in the interest of the stability and integrity of the wider global financial system.”

This does not only expose SWIFT to punitive actions by the European Union since

… new EU rules … forbid companies from complying with the US Iran sanctions.

It also seems to contradict the explanations that SWIFT provides on its homepage:

[w]hilst sanctions are imposed independently in different jurisdictions around the world, SWIFT cannot arbitrarily choose which jurisdiction’s sanction regime to follow. Being incorporated under Belgian law it must instead comply with related EU regulation, as confirmed by the Belgian government.

U.S. Sanctions against Iranian Authorities and Other Persons

The Executive Order. And what it means, according to the Treasury Department’s FAQs page (my coloring):

E.O. 13846 reimposes relevant blocking sanctions, correspondent and payable-through account sanctions, and menu-based sanctions previously provided for in E.O.s 13574, 13590, 13622, and 13645, which were revoked by E.O. 13716, and continues in effect sanctions authorities provided for in E.O.s 13628 and 13716. As incorporated into E.O. 13846, these measures include implementing authority for and additional tools related to: the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, as amended (ISA), the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010, as amended (CISADA), the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (TRA), and the Iran Freedom Counter-Proliferation Act of 2012 (IFCA) (see FAQ 605). As a general matter, E.O. 13846 incorporates exceptions to these sanctions, including for transactions for the provision of agricultural commodities, food, medicine, or medical devices to Iran, to the same extent such exceptions applied under the prior E.O.s. E.O. 13846 also broadens the scope of certain provisions contained in those E.O.s, as outlined in FAQ 601 below.

Section 1 of E.O. 13846 authorizes blocking sanctions on persons determined:

i. On or after August 7, 2018, to have provided material support for, or goods or services in support of, the purchase or acquisition of U.S. bank notes or precious metals by the Government of Iran (GOI) (subsection 1(a)(i));
ii. On or after November 5, 2018, to have provided material support for, or goods or services in support of, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), the Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO), or the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) (subsection 1(a)(ii));
iii. On or after November 5, 2018, to have provided material support for, or goods or services in support of:

a. Any Iranian person on the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List) (other than an Iranian depository institution whose property and interests in property are blocked solely pursuant to E.O. 13599) (subsection 1(a)(iii)(A)); or
b. Any other person on the SDN List whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to subsection 1(a) of E.O. 13846 or E.O. 13599 (other than an Iranian depository institution whose property and interests in property are blocked solely pursuant to E.O. 13599) (subsection 1(a)(iii)(B)); or

iv. Pursuant to the relevant statutory authorities in IFCA, to be:

a. Part of Iran’s energy, shipping, or shipbuilding sectors (subsection 1(a)(iv)(A));
b. A port operator in Iran (subsection 1(a)(iv)(B)); or
c. A person that knowingly provides significant support to a person determined to be part of Iran’s energy, shipping, or shipbuilding sectors, a port operator in Iran, or an Iranian person included on the SDN List (other than a person described in section 1244(c)(3) of IFCA)) (subsection 1(a)(iv)(C)).

Section 2 of E.O. 13846 authorizes correspondent and payable-through account sanctions on foreign financial institutions (FFIs) determined to have knowingly conducted or facilitated any significant financial transaction:

i. On or after August 7, 2018, for the sale, supply, or transfer to Iran of significant goods or services used in connection with Iran’s automotive sector (subsection 2(a)(i));
ii. On or after November 5, 2018, on behalf of an Iranian person on SDN List (other than an Iranian depository institution whose property and interests in property are blocked solely pursuant to E.O. 13599) or any other person on the SDN List whose property is blocked pursuant to subsection 1(a) of E.O. 13846 or E.O. 13599 (other than an Iranian depository institution whose property and interests in property are blocked solely pursuant to E.O. 13599) (subsection 2(a)(ii));
iii. On or after November 5, 2018, with NIOC or NICO, except for the sale or provision to NIOC or NICO of the products described in section 5(a)(3)(A)(i) of ISA provided that the fair market value of such products is lower than the applicable dollar threshold specified in that provision (subsection 2(a)(iii));
iv. On or after November 5, 2018, for the purchase, acquisition, sale, transport, or marketing of petroleum or petroleum products from Iran (subsection 2(a)(iv)); and
v. On or after November 5, 2018, for the purchase, acquisition, sale, transport, or marketing of petrochemical products from Iran (subsection 2(a)(v)).

Section 3 of E.O. 13846 authorizes menu-based sanctions on persons determined to:

i. Have knowingly engaged, on or after August 7, 2018, in a significant transaction for the sale, supply, or transfer to Iran of significant goods or services used in connection with Iran’s automotive sector (subsection 3(a)(i));
ii. Have knowingly engaged, on or after November 5, 2018, in a significant transaction for the purchase, acquisition, sale, transport, or marketing of petroleum or petroleum products from Iran (subsection 3(a)(ii));
iii. Have knowingly engaged, on or after November 5, 2018, in a significant transaction for the purchase, acquisition, sale, transport, or marketing of petrochemical products from Iran (subsection 3(a)(iii)); or
iv. Be a successor entity to a person determined to meet any of the criteria set out in subsections 3(a)(i)-(a)(iii) of E.O. 13846 (subsection 3(a)(iv)); or
v. Own or control a person determined to meet any of the criteria set out in subsections 3(a)(i)-(a)(iii) of E.O. 13846 and to have had knowledge that the person engaged in the activities referred to in the relevant subsection (subsection 3(a)(v)); or
vi. Be owned or controlled by, or under common ownership or control with, a person determined to meet any of the criteria set out in sections 3(a)(i)-3(a)(iii) of E.O. 13846, and knowingly engaged in the activities referred to in the relevant subsection (subsection 3(a)(vi)).

Section 4 of E.O. 13846 provides authority for the heads of relevant agencies of the U.S. government to implement the menu-based sanctions provided for in section 3.

Section 5 of E.O. 13846 provides authority for the Treasury Department to implement the menu-based sanctions provided for in ISA, CISADA, TRA, IFCA, and section 3 of E.O. 13846

Section 6 of E.O. 13846 authorizes correspondent or payable-through account sanctions or blocking sanctions on FFIs that are determined to have, on or after August 7, 2018: (a) knowingly conducted or facilitated any significant transaction related to the purchase or sale of Iranian rials or a derivative, swap, future, forward, or other similar contract whose value is based on the exchange rate of the Iranian rial (subsection 6(a)(i)); or (b) maintained significant funds or accounts outside the territory of Iran denominated in the Iranian rial (subsection 6(a)(ii)).

Section 7 of E.O. 13846 carries forward sections 2 and 3 of E.O. 13628 and subsection 3(c) of E.O. 13716 (see FAQ 602 below) by providing for blocking sanctions on persons determined to:

i. Have engaged, on or after January 2, 2013, in corruption or other activities relating to the diversion of goods, including agricultural commodities, food, medicine, and medical devices, intended for the people of Iran (subsection 7(a)(i));
ii. Have engaged, on or after January 2, 2013, in corruption or other activities relating to the misappropriation of proceeds from the sale or resale of goods described in subsection 7(a)(1) of E.O. 13846 (subsection 7(a)(ii));
iii. Have knowingly, on or after August 10, 2012, transferred or facilitated the transfer of, goods or technologies to Iran, any entity organized under the laws of Iran, or otherwise subject to the jurisdiction of the GOI, or any national of Iran for use in or with respect to Iran, that are likely to be used by the GOI or any of its agencies or instrumentalities, or by any person on behalf of the GOI or any such agencies or instrumentalities, to commit serious human rights abuses against the people of Iran (subsection 7(a)(iii));
iv. Have knowingly, on or after August 10, 2012, provided services, including services relating to hardware, software, or specialized information or professional consulting, engineering, or support services with respect to goods or technologies that have been transferred to Iran and that are likely to be used by the GOI or any of its agencies or instrumentalities, or by any person on behalf of the GOI or any such agencies or instrumentalities, to commit serious human rights abuses against the people of Iran (subsection 7(a)(iv));
v. Have engaged in censorship or other activities with respect to Iran, on or after June 12, 2009, that prohibit, limit, or penalize the exercise of freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran, or that limit access to print or broadcast media, including the facilitation or support of intentional frequency manipulation by the GOI or an entity owned or controlled by the GOI that would jam or restrict an international signal (subsection 7(a)(v));
vi. Have materially assisted or provided other support for activities listed in subsections 7(a)(i)-(a)(v) of E.O. 13846 (subsection 7(a)(vi)); or
vii. Be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant section 7 of E.O. 13846 (subsection 7(a)(vii)).

Section 8 of E.O. 13846 continues in effect the sanctions previously contained in section 4 of E.O. 13628, which prohibit an entity owned or controlled by a U.S. person and established or maintained outside the United States (a “U.S.-owned or -controlled foreign entity”) from knowingly engaging in any transaction, directly or indirectly, with the GOI or any person subject to the jurisdiction of the GOI, if that transaction would be prohibited by specified authorities if engaged in by a U.S. person or in the United States (see FAQs 621-623 below).

Section 9 of E.O. 13846 provides that it revokes and supersedes E.O.s 13628 and 13716 (see FAQ 602 below).

Sections 10-22 of E.O. 13846 contain exceptions, definitions, and other implementing provisions related to the sanctions in the E.O. [08-06-2018]

Germany, or the Bundesbank Caves In

In the FAZ, Philip Plickert reports that Deutsche Bundesbank changed its terms of business. Starting August 25, the Bundesbank may refuse cash transactions with a bank if the Bundesbank fears that, counter to the bank’s assurances, the cash transaction might help the bank or its customers evade sanctions or restrictions with the aim to impede money laundering or terrorism finance.

Conveniently, this will allow the Bundesbank to reject a request by European-Iranian Handelsbank to withdraw several hundred Euros.

Die staatliche Europäisch-Iranische Handelsbank (EIHB) in Hamburg hatte Anfang Juli bei der Bundesbank beantragt, mehr als 300 Millionen Euro in bar abzuheben. Nach Informationen der F.A.Z. war sogar von 350 bis 380 Millionen Euro die Rede. Dem Vernehmen nach soll es sich um Guthaben der iranischen Zentralbank bei der EIHB handeln. … Derzeit prüft die Finanzaufsicht Bafin, ob die EIHB die Vorschriften zur Prävention von Geldwäsche und Terrorfinanzierung einhält. Diese Prüfung könne sich hinziehen, heißt es in Berlin aus dem Finanzministerium. Bis die Bafin ihr Urteil abgibt, dürften die geänderten AGB der Bundesbank greifen.

The US has pressured the German government to prevent the cash withdrawal. And the Bundesbank closely cooperates with the Federal Reserve.

In ihren geänderten Geschäftsbedingungen ist explizit die Rede davon, dass auch die „drohende Beendigung von wichtigen Beziehungen zu Zentralbanken und Finanzinstitutionen dritter Länder“ ein Ablehnungsgrund für Bargeldgeschäfte sein könne.

In July, JP Koning had blogged about the bank’s request. His conclusion was:

There are sound political and moral reasons for both censoring Iran and not censoring it. Moral or not, my guess is that most nations will breathe a sigh of relief if German authorities see it fit to let the €300 million cash withdrawal go through. It would be a sign to all of us that we don’t live in a unipolar monetary world where a single American censor can prevent entire nations from making the most basic of cross-border payments. Instead, we’d be living in a bipolar monetary world where censorship needn’t mean being completely cutoff from the global payments system.

The sooner the Bundesbank prints up and dispatches the €300 million, the better for us all.

In an earlier column, Koning had described the difficulties for financial institutions worldwide to circumvent U.S. financial sanctions.

U.S. Tax Enforcement and Offshore Accounts

In an NBER working paper, Niels Johannesen, Patrick Langetieg, Daniel Reck, Max Risch, and Joel Slemrod discuss the effects of recent U.S. tax enforcement initiatives on tax compliance. They offer background information about U.S. initiatives since 2009 and conclude, based on administrative microdata, that

[e]nforcement caused approximately 60,000 individuals to disclose offshore accounts with a combined value of around $120 billion. Most disclosures happened outside offshore voluntary disclosure programs by individuals who never admitted prior noncompliance. The disclosed accounts were concentrated in countries whose institutions facilitate tax evasion. The enforcement-driven disclosures increased annual reported capital income by $2.5-$4 billion corresponding to $0.7-$1.0 billion in additional tax revenue.

Inequality in the United States

… meanwhile, inequality in the US remains more of an issue.

On Alphaville, Kadhim Shubber summarizes a DB Global Markets Research study on US inequality:

  • More than 30% of US households have zero or negative non-home wealth.
  • Wealth is increasingly concentrated among the old, and among the wealthy.

Observers paint the picture of an increasingly dysfunctional society.

And they point to the relevance of inequality for political polarization and accountability.

Climate Science Special Report (and Tax Policy)

From About this Report:

[T]he U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) oversaw the production of this stand-alone report of the state of science relating to climate change and its physical impacts. …

The USGCRP is made up of 13 Federal departments and agencies that carry out research and support the Nation’s response to global change. The USGCRP is overseen by the Subcommittee on Global Change Research (SGCR) of the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability (CENRS), which in turn is overseen by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The agencies within USGCRP are the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce (NOAA), the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of the Interior, the Department of State, the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

From the Executive Summary:

… it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence. …

The magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades will depend primarily on the amount of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) emitted globally. Without major reductions in emissions, the increase in annual average global temperature relative to preindustrial times could reach 9°F (5°C) or more by the end of this century. With significant reductions in emissions, the increase in annual average global temperature could be limited to 3.6°F (2°C) or less.

In the New York Times, Lisa Friedman and Glenn Thrush write that the report contradicts positions of the Trump administration on climate change.

While there were pockets of resistance to the report in the Trump administration, according to climate scientists involved in drafting the report, there was little appetite for a knockdown fight over climate change among Mr. Trump’s top advisers …

The White House put out a statement Friday that seemed to undercut the high level of confidence of the report’s findings. …

Responsibility for approving the report fell to Gary D. Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, who generally believes in the validity of climate science and thought the issue would have been a distraction from the tax push, according to an administration official with knowledge of the situation.

US Top Income Shares Rose Less Dramatically

That’s what Gerald Auten and David Splinter argue in a paper from last year.

… new estimates of top income shares using two consistent measures of income. Our measure of consistent market income includes full corporate profits and adjusts for changes from TRA86, including changes to the tax base and increased filing by dependent filers. In addition, we include employer paid payroll taxes and health insurance and adjust for falling marriage rates. The effect of these adjustments on estimated top income shares are dramatic. Using a consistent measure of market income shows that the increase in income shares of the top one percent since 1979 is about half of the PS unadjusted estimate. The increase since 1960 is about one-quarter of the unadjusted estimate. Moreover, our measure of broad income that includes government transfers reduces the top one percent share increase to one-tenth of the unadjusted estimate.

But in an NBER working paper, Annette Alstadsaeter, Niels Johannesen, and Gabriel Zucman argue that tax evasion and offshore wealth holdings work in the opposite direction:

Because offshore wealth is very concentrated at the top, accounting for it increases the top 0.01% wealth share substantially in Europe, even in countries that do not use tax havens extensively. It has considerable effects in Russia, where the vast majority of wealth at the top is held offshore. These results highlight the importance of looking beyond tax and survey data to study wealth accumulation among the very rich in a globalized world.

Border Adjustment Tax

On VoxEU, Mary Amiti, Emmanuel Farhi, Gita Gopinath, and Oleg Itskhoki discuss a border adjustment tax and its consequences.

… a border adjustment tax … would make export sales deductible from the corporate tax base, while expenditure on imported goods would not be deductible … Therefore, if the border adjustment extends to all imports and exports, it is akin to a combination of a uniform import tariff and an export subsidy on all international trade …

… it would limit the incentives for profit shifting across countries by means of transfer pricing towards lower tax jurisdictions … the border adjustment tax is a destination-based tax, linking the tax jurisdiction to the location of consumption, rather than the location of production.

Under certain circumstances … the border adjustment tax has no effects on economic outcomes … Lerner (1936) symmetry [implies] … that a uniform tariff on all imports is equivalent to a uniform tax of the same magnitude on all exports. As a corollary … a combination of a uniform import tariff and an export subsidy of the same magnitude … [has] no effect on imports, exports and other economic outcomes … results in an increase in the home relative wage and domestic cost of production by the amount of the tariff. … the relative cost of domestic production increases proportionally with the cost of imports, as well as with the subsidy to exports, leaving no relative price affected, nor the real wage. … As a result, tax policies that feature a border adjustment, such as the value added tax (VAT), do not have to systematically promote or demote trade.

Amiti, Farhi, Gopinath, and Itskhoki discuss several conditions for neutrality:

  • Flexible wages. If wages are sticky, a nominal exchange rate appreciation may partly substitute.
  • Uniformity of the border adjustment tax. This condition would likely not be met. Exchange rate fluctuations thus would affect some sectors more than others. And imports by non-incorporated businesses would be favored.
  • Foreign currency denomination of gross foreign assets and liabilities. (Not met, see below.)
  • Unexpected, permanent policy change, to prevent anticipation effects and currency appreciation before the fact.
  • Unchanged monetary policy stance, also in other countries, in spite of the exchange rate shock. This condition would likely not be met.

If the conditions for neutrality are met the border adjustment tax generates no international transfer. The fiscal implications depend on the sign of the trade balance. A home country exchange rate appreciation (that keeps relative trade prices and flows unchanged) generates a lump-sum transfer from households to the public sector when households hold net external assets which they use to pay for imports. When households have net external debt and thus, export on net, then the fiscal implications are reversed.

Since the US has currently a negative net foreign asset position, the US must run a cumulative trade surplus in the future. … the overall transfer would be away from the government budget and towards the private sector …

When some gross positions are denominated in domestic currency an appreciation transfers wealth internationally.

Since for the United States, the foreign assets are mostly in foreign currency, while foreign liabilities are almost entirely in dollars, this would generate a massive transfer to the rest of the world and a capital loss for the US of the order of magnitude of 10% of the US annual GDP or more.

US imports and exports are predominantly invoiced in dollars. With sticky pricing a border adjustment tax would raise the relative cost of imported inputs and consumer prices.

US exports … will likely fall together with US imports in the short run, with no clear effect on the trade balance. As trade prices adjust over time, both imports and exports will recover, resulting in a neutral long-run effect of the border adjustment tax on trade.

Tax Evasion in Hong Kong and the US

The Economist reports about new strategies to evade taxes. One is based on an occupational retirement scheme (ORS) in Hong Kong:

A German or Australian with money to hide can set up a Hong Kong shell company, appoint himself as its director, with a local employment contract, and sign up with a trust company that provides an ORS. He can throw in cash, property or other assets, oversee the account himself, retire as soon or as far in the future as he likes, and then take out as much or as little as he chooses, whenever he wants. An ORS, in short, is like a flexible bank account.

The arrangement falls outside the CRS [Common Reporting Standard] and FATCA because the Hong Kong authorities classify ORS as “low risk” from a tax-evasion standpoint, meaning those running them are “non-reporting financial institutions” under both standards. Not surprisingly, some financial firms are hawking them enthusiastically to foreigners.

Another strategy exploits the secrecy provided by the United States:

It gets all the information it needs from other countries through its heavy-handed application of FATCA, and therefore sees no need to sign up to the CRS. So it is in the unique position of being able to take a lot, give little, and continue getting away with it. Not surprisingly, lots of tainted foreign cash is believed to have flowed into American banks, trusts and shell companies in recent years.

Mankiw on the Congressional Tax Plan

In the New York Times, Greg Mankiw applauds the tax reform plan discussed in Congress. He emphasizes four points:

  • The reform would move the US tax system toward international norms, from worldwide to territorial taxation.
  • It would move the system from income towards less distorting consumption taxation, by allowing businesses to deduct investment spending immediately.
  • The reform would change the origin-based into a destination-based system (taxing imports and exempting exports, a.k.a. “border adjustment”), with similarities to a value-added tax, making it harder to game the system. “[T]he immediate impact of the change would be to discourage imports and encourage exports. … the dollar would appreciate … The movement in the exchange rate would offset the initial impact on imports and exports.”
  • The reform would abolish tax deductions for interest payments to bondholders, eliminating incentives for corporate leverage. “A business’s taxes would be based on its cash flow: revenue minus wage payments and investment spending. How this cash flow is then paid out to equity and debt holders would be irrelevant.”

Portfolio Adjustments in Money Market Mutual Funds

On the Liberty Street Economics blog,

First, institutional prime and muni funds—but not retail or government funds—must now compute their net asset values (NAVs) using market-based factors, thereby abandoning the fixed NAV that had been a hallmark of the MMF industry. Second, all prime and muni funds must adopt a system of gates and fees on redemptions, which can be imposed under certain stress scenarios.

Investors adjusted their portfolios in response to these changes:

… investors’ shift from prime and muni funds to government—and, in particular, agency—funds means that a large segment of the industry still operates under a stable NAV (and therefore is, in principle, vulnerable to runs). … Since the new regulations have resulted in a very large shift of assets into relatively safe government funds, the SEC’s reforms have made runs on MMFs less likely and the industry itself more resilient.

America’s Miserable 21st Century

In Commentary, Nicholas Eberstadt recounts how low employment, deteriorating health, and declining social mobility in the United States foreshadow a “Miserable 21st Century.”

  • Between 2000 and 2016, the work rate for Americans aged 20 or older fell by almost 5 percentage points, to 60 percent.
  • In the “prime working age” group, it fell by almost 4 percentage points.
  • While work rates for men had been falling for much longer, a similar decline for prime age women set in in 2000.
  • Death rates for white men and women aged 45–54 rose slightly since 2000; they increased sharply for the subset with high school or lower education.
  • In 2016, life expectancy at birth in the US fell for the first time in decades.
  • By 2013, more Americans died from drug overdoses than from either traffic fatalities or guns.
  • Alan Krueger’s research suggests that about 50% of prime working-age male labor-force dropouts take pain medication on a daily basis.
  • This group spends its time watching TV, movies, or playing video games, and many take drugs.
  • The “welfare state” (Medicaid) helps the unemployed pay for their drugs.
  • In 2013, roughly 20% of civilian men aged 25–55, and roughly 50% of non-working prime-age people were Medicaid beneficiaries.
  • Roughly 60% of the non-working prime-age male non-Hispanic population collected disability benefits.
  • While the U.S. has a higher incarceration rate than almost any other country, only few of the Americans ever convicted are incarcerated. “Maybe 90 percent of all sentenced felons today are out of confinement,” due to release, probation, or parole, adding to a stock of roughly 20 million people.
  • Geographical mobility and job churning are in decline.
  • Chances of surpassing one’s parents’ real income are lower than ever before in postwar America.

U.S. Health Care Spending

A blog post on Random Critical Analysis argues that high wealth (proxied by high consumption) rather than GDP explains US health care expenditures.

Total per capita health care spending increases as wealth increases because people actually demand more goods and services (volume) per capita and because it is relatively labor intensive sector that does not enjoy the productivity gains found in some other sectors of the economy, i.e., overall costs increase through both volume and price together (volume * price).  GDP per capita is a relatively weak measure for these purposes and those few other high GDP countries happen to be much more export dependent (which does not independently predict significant increases in expenditures).  If you use a better measure like Actual Individual Consumption (AIC) or run multiple regression analysis on GDP expenditure categories most of the apparent excess health care spending shrinks quite dramatically.

Additional analysis of several major claims here (e.g., high prices due to limited market power of payers, high physician incomes, etc) show that these arguments suffer from similar issues.  The best available evidence show that across multiple measures our healthcare labor costs and overall apples-to-apples price levels are generally very much inline with our material standard of living.  US total per capita costs are probably somewhat more than expected, but this appears to be driven through higher volume (~100% more than EU28 average according to PPP study estimates), though even this is significantly, if not quite entirely, explained by our higher material standards of living.

Munich Security Report 2017

Topics discussed in the report include:

  • Support for a “strong leader” as opposed to checks and balances has increased in many countries.
  • The share of households with flat or falling market incomes during the 2005-14 period has been around 65% in advanced economies, and 97% in Italy. In the preceding decade, it had been negligible.
  • The Eurasia Group’s top ten risks for 2017:
    1. Independent America
    2. China overreacts
    3. A weaker Merkel
    4. No reform
    5. Technology and the Middle East
    6. Central banks get political
    7. The White House vs. Silicon Valley
    8. Turkey
    9. North Korea
    10. South Africa
  • More than 60 percent of Americans want to keep or increase US commitments to NATO.
  • “Europe” could save 30% of its defense investments by cooperating more closely.
  • “Europe” operates many more weapon systems than the US.
  • In 2016, 94%, 73%, and 20% of US-led, Turkish, and Russian airstrikes in Syria targeted Daesh/ISIS.
  • China and Russia have strongly increased the number of their cultural institutes abroad.
  • Wikileaks has strongly gained support among Republican voters.
  • Most attacks on health care infrastructure are deliberate.

NAFTA’s Effects on the US

On his blog, Dani Rodrik comments on NAFTA’s implications for US manufacturing and jobs.

So here is the overall picture that these academic studies paint for the U.S.: NAFTA produced large changes in trade volumes, tiny efficiency gains overall, and some very significant impacts on adversely affected communities.

… Mexico has been one of Latin America’s underperformers.

So is Trump deluded on NAFTA’s overall impact on manufacturing jobs? Absolutely, yes.

Was he able to capitalize on the very real losses that this and other trade agreements produced in certain parts of the country in a way that Democrats were unable to? Again, yes.

Ayn Rand in the White House

In the Washington Post, James Hohmann reports that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and his candidate for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, share an affection for Ayn Rand’s “objectivist” philosophy. Trump

identifies with Howard Roark, the main character in [Rand’s] “The Fountainhead”

while Tillerson prefers “Atlas Shrugged” which I reviewed here. Other prospective members of the new administration also hold objectivist views while Stephen Bannon rejects “unenlightened capitalism” a la Ayn Rand.

Tax Evasion in a (the) New World

In the FT, Vanessa Houlder reports about the tax evasion business. The new regulatory environment has led to portfolio adjustments and new types of behavior, and it exposes vast differences in enforcement across countries:

  • Diamonds in vaults rather than financial assets.
  • Trusts in South Dakota rather than anonymous bank accounts.
  • Moving to a different country rather than just shifting assets.
  • FATCA versus the Common Reporting Standard.

The article also links to an article by Kara Scannell and Vanessa Houlder earlier in the year entitled “US tax havens: The new Switzerland.” That article includes the following quotes:

I think the US is already the world’s largest offshore centre. It has done a real good job disabling competition from Swiss banks.

In a world where it’s very hard to hide ownership or hide assets sometimes the easiest place [is one] no one would normally think of, which is the US.

Polarized Labor Markets

In the NZZ, Thomas Fuster and Jürg Müller interview David Autor. Autor on polarization:

Der Arbeitsmarkt wird immer polarisierter. Auf der einen Seite haben wir viele gutbezahlte, hochqualifizierte und interessante Stellen. Auf der anderen Seite stehen schlechter entlöhnte und niedrigqualifizierte Stellen, bei denen es quasi darum geht, dem Wohl und Komfort der Wohlhabenden zu dienen. Das ist keine gesunde Entwicklung. Sie schlägt Stufen aus der Leiter des wirtschaftlichen Aufstiegs. Das hemmt die Mobilität.

Secular Deflation Fears Are a Thing of the Past

Between November 8 and 9, medium and long-term US Treasury Yield Curve rates increased substantially:

Date1 Mo3 Mo6 Mo1 Yr2 Yr3 Yr5 Yr7 Yr10 Yr20 Yr30 Yr
11/01/160.240.350.500.650.830.991.301.611.832.242.58
11/02/160.240.370.510.640.810.981.261.571.812.222.56
11/03/160.240.380.520.640.810.981.261.581.822.252.60
11/04/160.250.380.520.620.800.951.241.551.792.222.56
11/07/160.280.410.540.630.820.991.291.601.832.262.60
11/08/160.280.430.560.710.871.041.341.651.882.292.63
11/09/160.300.450.560.720.901.121.491.842.072.522.88

Source: US Treasury.