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America Falls Behind the World in Cutting Taxes

Americans like to believe that they are a free people, certainly freer than the Europeans. And the U.S. economy has been much more vibrant than those of most European nations for years. However, America risks losing its advantage. Even as some U.S. politicians complain about how much taxes have been cut, socialist European leaders are proposing to slash rates below those in America. A commitment to cut taxes is spreading elsewhere in the world--to the Mideast, for instance. Observes the Wall Street Journal (subscription required):

Start in Europe, where Socialist Party Prime Minister José Luis RodrÃguez Zapatero pledged in December that if re-elected, "One of the first decisions I would take is to eliminate the wealth tax [up to 2.5%]," which he says is one of the highest in Europe and "punishes savings." Mr. Zapatero is no conservative. But he's joining the European march down the Laffer Curve on taxes, having already phased in reductions in Spain's corporate tax rate to 30% from 35% and its personal income tax rate to 43% from 45%.

Like France and Germany, Spain is cutting rates because of the tax competition from their European Union neighbors such as Ireland and East Europe. There are now at least 11 nations formerly behind the Iron Curtain with flat rate taxes of 25% or lower. On January 1, a new flat tax of 10% became law in Bulgaria, replacing its progressive rate structure and as far as we know the lowest such rate in the world. The newly elected Polish parliament is also planning to cut taxes, though an earlier flat-tax proposal earned a veto threat from the president.

And this just in: In the Middle East, Kuwait has decided to slash its corporate income tax on foreign companies to 15% from 55%. Finance Minister Mostafa al-Shemali argued for the cut, noting that Kuwait attracted less than $300 million in foreign investment last year, compared to some $18 billion in lower-tax Saudi Arabia (which has a religious tax but no corporate or income tax on Saudi nationals). "This law will encourage foreign investors to enter Kuwait," says Ahmed Baqer, head of the parliament's finance panel.

It's getting lonelier all the time at the top for America, which with a corporate tax rate of 35% is one of the few developed nations left with a rate of more than 30%. Economist Dan Mitchell tracks these trends for the Cato Institute, and he finds that 26 developed nations have cut either personal or corporate income tax rates since 2005. Since 1980, OECD nations have sliced their average personal income tax rate by 24 percentage points, to 40% from 64%. Corporate tax rates have fallen by more than 20 percentage points. Foreign leaders have learned that, in a world of easy global capital flows, high tax rates chase away investment and entrepreneurs.