Patric Hale – THE PRESIDENT’S ADVISORY PANEL ON FEDERAL TAX REFORM

TO:  THE PRESIDENT’S ADVISORY PANEL ON FEDERAL TAX REFORM

Cover Page

HOW THE U.S. TAX CODE ON OVERSEAS AMERICANS

HINDERS THE MAXIMIZATION OF U.S. TRADE &

ECONOMIC ACTIVITY AT HOME & ABROAD

 

 

Personal Submission by: 

 

Patric Hale

6 Robertson Lane #7, Cos Cob/Greenwich, CT 06807

Tel: (203) 861.1766; email: pbhale@att.net

 

10 March 2005

 

Personal Background:

 

I studied, lived and worked overseas for over 27 years in France, Germany, & the UK.  I hold a BA in Political Science & European History, and MA in International Relations and Business from Schiller International University, having studied in Aix-en-Provence, Berlin, Strasbourg and Paris.

Professionally, I’ve worked for many prestigious international media including Institutional Investor, Harvard Business Review, Scientific American, Euromoney, and CNN.  As SVP & Commercial Director for Europe at CNN, it was my responsibility to increase distribution throughout Central & Eastern Europe after the fall of the Wall in the early 90s, including negotiating the contract for the redistribution of CNN in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia.  Having lived in West Berlin during the height of the Cold War, and visited several communist countries, it was more than a pleasure to have brought the blessings of a free press to the region – finally!

During my time overseas, I’ve been Executive Director of Republicans Abroad and spokesperson during several Presidential elections in France & the UK.  I am a Director of American Citizens Abroad, a non-profit bi-partisan organization whose primary purpose is to wake up the US government to the fact that overseas Americans are a valuable asset to US global interests and not a liability.

I am the author of a new book:  “The New American Challenge: Can Europe Compete with the USA in the 21st Century”.  I moved back to the USA in 1998 and now reside in Greenwich, CT.  However, my overseas affiliations continue since I am married to a Dutch national and foresee moving back abroad to care for my in-laws in their fading years.

This submission is a summation of my research and personal experiences with how US tax policies do definite long-term damage to US global interests – precisely at the wrong time and definitely for the wrong reasons.  I have been actively lobbying Congress and numerous administrations on this issue now for over 30 years since 1975 – and still live in hope that somehow they’ll finally understand what should be so obvious!

THE PRESIDENT’S ADVISORY PANEL ON FEDERAL TAX REFORM

HOW THE US TAX CODE ON OVERSEAS AMERICANS

HINDERS THE MAXIMIZATION OF US TRADE &

ECONOMIC ACTIVITY AT HOME & ABROAD

 

Personal Submission by: 

Patric Hale

Background:  Citizen-based taxation was instituted in 1962 for no apparent reason other than a belief that some Hollywood type millionaires were living it up on the Riviera without paying US taxes.  At least that seems to be the emotional explanation for maintaining the system as unique in the industrial world. Surprisingly this myth continues to reverberate through the halls of Congress to this day despite no one ever having proved if it were true to begin with, whether it is still true, or if the change in the US tax code to citizen-based taxation has really had any effect whatsoever on how wealthy Americans spend their time on the Riviera since!  Consequently, ALL overseas Americans are now placed at a personal and competitive disadvantage based on a myth that somehow just will not go away despite no clear-cut evidence of its having fulfilled its objective!

Concurrent with the myth of the mystical non-tax-paying millionaire is a belief that if Americans overseas don’t pay US taxes, they must not pay taxes anywhere at all!  This, too, is a HUGE myth!  All Americans are subject to the laws and tax authorities in their country of residence.  While very few countries do not have income taxes almost all of them have some form of taxation for which Americans residing in those countries continue to pay.  Consequently, overseas Americans are actually taxed THREE TIMES:  First by the local country; second by the USA; and third by the cadre of international accountants who earn a living by charging overseas Americans to comply with the absurdities of the US tax code because it is virtually impossible for an overseas American to file his own tax return – and the IRS does not even provide for electronic filing since the process is even too complicated for them!

Finally, from a theoretic perspective, from its founding America has defended the principle that the purpose of taxation is for the payment of services provided by the government to the society in which taxpayers live.  The reason why the Boston Tea Party remains imprinted in every American is the inherent distaste for paying taxes to an overseas government that does NOT provide services, NOR does it provide representation, hence the phrase “no taxation without representation” enters into every American lawmaker’s lexicon – except, that is, when it comes to overseas Americans!  For them the US government believes it has a right and even a duty to tax them – including 10 years after they give up their citizenship should they choose to be so disenfranchised – without any representation at all!  Indeed, Puerto Rico has non-voting representation in Congress yet no obligation to pay federal income tax due to their “special status”, yet 30% of their government revenue comes from the Federal Government.  Where is the Congressional outrage about Puerto Ricans?  There are currently over 4 million Americans overseas scratching their collective heads at the innate unfairness and absurdity of this situation, and wonder why Congress in all its wisdom can’t see it.

Absurdities of the US Tax Code:  So all overseas Americans begin with being the citizens of the only country that unilaterally imposes its tax code simply as a function of their nationality, they also must pay local national taxes (income and non-income), they’re obliged to pay accountants’ fees to comply with US tax law, and they have no representation in Congress to redress any of their grievances.  One would think that was absurd enough, but sadly it is only the beginning.  The US government in its myopic wisdom has determined that despite what the rest of the world thinks, all global transactions are really conducted in US dollars!  Consequently, overseas Americans are responsible for taking on ALL foreign exchange risk when filing their taxes with the US government.  As we’ve seen this past year when the dollar has depreciated against the euro by some 25%, this means as far as the US government is concerned that all overseas Americans earning income in euros actually received a 25% raise in income and it applies the tax code accordingly.  This absurdity should be obvious to all.  Sadly, it doesn’t stop there, for the issue of citizen-based taxation is not one of just earned income, but also un-earned income.  Consequently, a person who bought a house for 100,000 euros two years ago when there was parity between the currencies and sells that house this year for 100,000 euros is now responsible, according to the IRS and US Tax Code, for a totally fictitious $35,000 capital gain simply because the US government insists on imposing all foreign exchange risk onto the individual overseas American!  Then there is the issue of tax systems used overseas that are not comparable to any in the USA so the IRS and the US Tax Code refuses to even take them into consideration.  For instance, value-added taxes are used extensively in Europe (and are being considered in the US).  A substantial portion of government revenues come from these taxes and can be as high as 33% in some countries on certain goods.  Since these taxes are built into the price there is no “sales tax” as in America, and so there is no consideration given the overseas Americans for these additional burdens that NO American in the US has to pay.  The list of absurdities because of America’s unique approach to citizen-based taxation goes on and on and is quite literally too long to list in the 5 pages requested by the panel.  But one absurdity I’d like to point out as a personal experience:  After deciding to return to America after 27 years in Europe – partly because European taxation was getting outrageous! – I inquired at the IRS office at the American Embassy in London as to when I last filed.  I was told there was no way of knowing because if as an overseas American I had no tax liability in the previous years – (and because English tax rates are higher than US rates, I was NEVER going to actually have to pay US taxes; I, nonetheless, had to fill out 4 forms cross-referencing each other to come to “0” tax liability anyway) – they didn’t put them into the IRS computer, but were merely stored (presumably in a closet somewhere) in Philadelphia!!  So obviously the IRS thinks it’s absurd, too.  Now if we can only convince Congress, a lot of wasted time, effort, and money will be saved by all….  (Incidentally, because of this I am now in a battle with the Social Security Administration to acknowledge my payments to the UK system to get credit in the USA according to a bilateral agreement.  The SSA has told me that they will only do this once I turn 65!  I’m not encouraged…).

America’s Economic Future:  America’s economic future lies in its political leaders understanding that we live in a global economy in ways we have never known in the past.  It means, as President Bush stated in his “State of the Union” address, that our future security as a nation lies more in what happens in the world around us than ever before.  In this regard, our economic security is far more vital to our future than our military security, though this issue is sadly muted by our current involvement in Iraq.  Nonetheless, the announcement of a record trade deficit of $617.7 Billion, 5% of US GDP, should be a clarion wake-up call to our political leaders that something is not right in how we interface with the rest of the world.  According to classic economic theory on trade, with a floating currency trade should eventually regain its balance as terms of trade find equilibrium through the effect of currency exchange.  That, unfortunately, only works in a trade environment where commodities are the major items of trade and are price-sensitive.  Sadly Ricardo never heard of the term “value-added marketing” in the 18th Century when he came up with the classic theory of trade, which is how most business in the world is now run.  This means importers in the USA are increasingly using differentiation strategies to add value to their products to become less price/exchange rate sensitive.  Example:  A Mercedes car imported to the USA has increased in price because of the $/euro exchange rate, but US consumers are primarily interested in the car because of the successful effects of Mercedes’ marketing and not the price.  As a result, Germany actually gets more dollars out of America because of the current exchange rate instead of less, thus further aggravating our trade deficit..  Consequently, relying on classic economic theory today is simply another absurdity that America simply can’t afford.

America’s economic future must lie in its export policies or it is clear our country will become a pauper nation within a generation at the current trend.  This brings us back to the current tax code for overseas Americans.  As it stands today it is a disincentive – and a large one – for companies to employ Americans to leave our shores and sell American products overseas.  Data from the Commerce Department recently showed that the number of US citizens employed by US-owned multinational companies has been cut in half in the past two decades.  Indeed, that was my personal experience at CNN; I was one of only 6 Americans executives in London – and I was hired as a local national because they didn’t want to take on the added expense of another expat!  In addition, America’s future is more and more dependent on small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as the growth engine of our economy and for its export future.  According to US International Trade Administration, 97% of exporting firms are SMEs, and their increase as a percentage of total exports is much greater than MNCs.  Consequently, stimulating SMEs to hire Americans to move overseas – instead of taking an occasional flight – to sell American products should be a primary national economic security issue.  Yet the current tax code on overseas Americans simply acts as an export barrier and tax for SMEs wanting to sell more American products abroad.  Consequently, they’re left with the choice of either licensing or working through foreign sales reps to sell their products, both avenues generating a lowered return than having their own active sales forces and it provides no control on America’s economic future.  Consider what this would be like in the context of our military national security:  How successful would America be in liberating and establishing democratic institutions in Iraq and elsewhere if we merely paid the French, Germans, Russians, and Chinese to implement our policies?  Yet that is precisely what we are doing with our economic security because the US tax code imposes an unnecessary and absurd export tax on American companies that want to employ Americans overseas to sell American products.  Virtually NONE of America’s major trading competitors impose this on their own citizens abroad (see page 7).   How can this be in any national interest of the United States at all?

Summation: President Bush has called for a “level playing field” in international trade; we must start at home by eliminating the impediments we impose on ourselves that none of our competitors do!  First and foremost is eliminating the citizen-based tax system:  Its implementation was based on a false premise; its continuance remains based on this false premise; its administration is fraught with absurdities; its net revenue pales in insignificance compared to America’s trade deficits; it is inherently un-American in its political concept since it is as regally imposed in the same manner that King George III on overseas Americans without any recourse or redress through representation; and it acts as a huge hindrance to boosting American exports through SMEs which are critical to our national economic security in the future!  All the while America has opened itself up to foreigners to come to our country and increasingly take money out of the country through our “free” trade.  Incidentally, in every case with respect to our major trading partners, their foreigners operating in the USA actually pay fewer taxes in America than they would in their home country, giving them a double incentive to keep selling in America.  I’m sure there are some reasons to recommend continuance of the citizen-based tax system – but in 30 years I have yet to understand ONE that made any real sense to anybody!

The bottom-line of this presentation is quite simple:  Tax Less – Export More.  The supposed loss of revenue to Treasury of this simple strategy would be far offset by increased exports and decreased deficit.  Let’s do the math:  Current tax revenue from overseas Americans is $3 billion annually; that equates to less than 0.5% of the current trade deficit.  But each $1 billion in new exports equates to 20,000 domestic jobs and tax revenue to Treasury, (and happy voters!).   Consequently, most rational business people and policy-makers would look at this equation and say:  “Instead of imposing disadvantages on overseas Americans, why don’t we turn them into an advantage instead since that way everyone wins?”   Why is this not obvious?

One final note:  The vast majority of overseas Americans are proud of their heritage and proud to be the cultural driving point of American values overseas.  As noted there are currently 4 million overseas Americans.  In an environment where President Bush has thrown the gauntlet down in the face of tyranny and despotism and called for the democratization of the world, the country should see overseas Americans as its natural allies and assets in this process.  Indeed, we are very much on the front lines on the War on Terror abroad since terrorists will not ask what party affiliation we might have, but would unhesitatingly kill us just for being American.  Instead, however, we are viewed suspiciously by our own government, where the tax code with its unfairness and absurdities – particularly in the absence of representation – merely sours overseas Americans who can’t help but see the innate hypocrisy between our pronouncements of American ideology and policies of freedom, democracy, the rule or law and free markets, and how they fall well short when applied to America’s own overseas citizens.  This must change – and soon!  Thank you for the opportunity to address your panel.

AMERICA’S TAX & TRADE POLICIES

1962 TO PRESENT:

HOW MUCH RED INK IS TOO MUCH?

US Trade Balance 1962-2003

 

 

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS CHART?

Comparative Tax Policies on Expatriates by Major Trading Countries

Country

Tax on Salary

Tax on Incentives / Bonuses

Tax on Benefits

Tax on Cost of Living Allowance

Tax on Additional Income Earned Out of Home Country

Government Subsidies (To Individual)

Trade Balance 2004 ($ bill)

% GDP

USA

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

-631.3

– 5.4

Japan

No

No

No

No

No

Yes

159.4

3.4

Italy

No

No

No

No

Complex formulas

Gov’t owned cos

-18.1

– 1.1

France

No

No

No

No

Complex formulas

Gov’t owned cos

-12.3

– 0.6

Korea

No

No

No

No

No

Yes

20.7

3.1

Germany

No

No

No

No

A few limitations.

Few

118.5

4.4

Canada

No

No

No

No

No

No

23.2

2.9

Sweden

No

No

No

No

No

Few

22.6

6.7

UK

No

No

No

No

Complex formulas

Few

-43.3

– 2.0

—-Original Message—–

From: pbhale@att.net [mailto:pbhale@att.net]

Sent: Saturday, March 19, 2005 9:35 AM

To: comments@taxreformpanel.gov

Subject: Personal Submission by Patric Hale

Mr. Connie Mack

Chairman

The President’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform

1440 New York Avenue NW

Suite 2100

Washington, DC 20220

Dear Senator Mack,

I am honored to submit to you a personal submission concerning how the Federal Tax Code currently treats overseas Americans and how this practice severely harms America’s trade balance and global competitiveness.

I lived overseas for over 27 years in Europe (France, Germany, & UK), first as a student, then owner of my own business, and intermittently having been an executive with Institutional Investor magazine and SVP Commercial Director for CNN International and Turner Broadcasting.

I have been active in representing overseas Americans to members of Congress for over 30 years now, both as former Executive Director of Republicans Abroad and as a Director of American Citizens Abroad, of which I am still active.  I met several times over these years with Rep. Bill Frenzel in particularly, not only because of his membership on the Ways & Means Committee, but because my late aunt, Louise Kuderling, was active in his election campaigns in Minnesota.

Please find attached my submission.  I would welcome the opportunity of testifying in person either in from on this committee, or a sub-committee that we believe should be constituted specifically for the issues of taxation of Americans overses.

Thank you for your consideration.

Kind regards,

Patric B. Hale

President

Capital Markets LLC

6 Robertson Lane #7

Cos Cob/Greenwich, CT 06807

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