Sunday, January 31, 2010

Without realizing it, Kevin Lynch argues for income trusts

Kevin Lynch, Harper’s former Clerk of the Privy Council, was a co-conspirator along with Harper, Flaherty and Mark Carney in lying to all Canadians about the alleged existence of tax leakage from income trusts, as a means to deny Canadians a form of profit sharing investment vehicle that promised to end the corporate abuses so rampant in our society and in our capital markets. Bad public policy is what you get when you have academics and egg heads running the bureaucracy. Kevin Lynch and Mark Carney are to income trusts, what Ed Clark was to the National Energy Policy.

Both of these policies, the NEP and the income trust policy, are/were reckless beyond belief.

What isn’t beyond belief though, is that in arguing about all that is wrong with Canada, in his Globe piece entitled “Canada’s productivity gap”, Kevin Lynch, the super bureaucrat with no real world experience to speak of, is actually making a very compelling case for the absolute need to preserve and grow the income trust model and phase out the abusive (ie stock option driven decision making), capital inefficient, totally gamed and tired and worn out corporate model, as follows, Lynch’s text comments in bold, mine italicized and in brackets:

What isn’t beyond belief though, is that in arguing about all that is wrong with Canada, in his Globe piece entitled “Canada’s productivity gap”, Kevin Lynch, the super bureaucrat with no real world experience to speak of, is actually making a very compelling case for the absolute need to preserve and grow the income trust model and phase out the abusive (ie stock option driven decision making), capital inefficient, totally gamed and tired and worn out corporate model, as follows, Lynch’s text comments in bold, mine italicized and in brackets.

Globe Essay
Canada's productivity trap
The harder we work, the less rich we seem to be. We need to emphasize education, innovation and trade to break free

(“Work harder? Less rich?” Yes, which is Canadians need to become full fledged “profit sharing” participants in the work they do and become economically enfranchised again. Something made abundantly more possible with income trusts.)

We need to emphasize education (yes that way people wouldn’t be so susceptible to your tax leakage lies), innovation (what did you think income trusts were, if not an innovative made in Canada profit sharing investment vehicle, that you and Harper killed on falsehoods and for nefarious ulterior reasons, the same way that Diefenbaker killed the Avro Arrow) and trade (you killed an investment vehicle that saw huge amounts of foreign capital come to Canada and be taxes in Canada. Your actions of October 31, 2006 made Canada a laughing stock in the global capital markets and lead to a lawsuit under NAFTA, under the false reliance provisions granted to US investors under that trade agreement. You call that emphasizing trade?)

Kevin Lynch

Globe and Mail
Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010
There are few issues that evoke a blank stare more than productivity.
(something that is enormously affected by businesses’ cost of capital) Upon hearing the word, people either react with lack of interest or recoil in fear that what is coming is a lecture on working harder. The result is an absence of any serious public discourse in Canada about productivity. (this is Kevin Lynch’s way of setting up his article to suggest he is all-knowing and the reader is some dumb schmuck. Bureaucrats prefer things that way, it makes up for their complete lack of real world experience)

It is time we faced some uncomfortable facts.
(Yes, you and along with the Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Canada, lied to Canadians about tax leakage) Canadians have been collectively incarcerated in a beguiling productivity trap for almost a generation.(beguiled by whom?) We work harder and harder, use up our natural resources faster and faster, (and sell these precious resources to foreigners who use tax stripping methods to acquire these devalued companies, like Inco or Abu Dhabi buying Prime West Energy Trust because of your absurd income trust tax fraud) while the trap keeps us less rich, (buying the garbage investment products like Manulife’s Income Plus that wasn’t even hedged or products like ABCP that are disaster waiting to happen, and speaking about “trap”, how about the trap you created with your income trust tax that previously made it tax efficient to hold income trusts in people’s RRSPs, but now that these trusts are converting to corporations, RRSPs are the last place you would want to hold a high dividend paying corporation. That’s a trap that you created and which can only be remedied by the Marshall Savings Plan, something that Diane Francis calls “brilliant”. Do you believe in brilliant solutions to traps that government itself has created?) less able to provide public goods (thanks to the “welfare loss” of your income trust tax) and less competitive. Canadians see more people working and goods being produced as proof that productivity is not a problem. Yet this is the beauty of the productivity trap: While the illness worsens, the patients believe they are feeling better.(Do you mean the gullible Canadians who bought your BS line about tax leakage, only to discover that it is false, and not only is it false, but the policy that this lie of yours was put, namely the trust tax fiasco, has actually caused tax leakage of $1.5 billion a year, to solve a non existent problem that was a third of that size, and the $1.5 billion will potentially grow to $7.5 billion unless the Marshall Plan is adopted?)

(At this point I will sign off and let Kevin Lynch carry on with his inane navel-gazing arguments that sound like they came from the bottom of a Cracker Jack box. Income trusts are a huge boon to Canada, productivity wise, low cost of capital wise, innovation wise, savings wise, corporate discipline wise, etc etc . Tell you what? How about a debate between myself and Kevin Lynch on his income trust policy? I will donate up to $25,000 to a charitable cause, in the form of matching donations for a total of $50,000, on the provisions that the debate is televised? Why doesn’t Kevin Lunch out himself up for a debate and defend the income trust fraud of a policy that he had a hand in foisting on Canadians, in the exact opposite pursuit of everything he professes to stand for? Every point that Kevin Lynch makes in the balance of his article below can be refuted by the fundamental importance of preserving income trusts, but I will leave that to the debate. None more so that the false argument that is advanced below that “Canada’s pensions are actuarily sound” as if to suggest that all Canadians even have pensions, when in fact 75% do not and these are the people who most got the shaft from Kevin Lynch when he lied to Canadians about tax leakage to kill income trusts by taxing them at the hands of average Canadians in their RRSPs at 25%m, while pension funds can own them without paying the 31.5% tax. This is Kevin Lynch’s intellectually corrupt idea of leveling the playing field?)

For several decades, the Canadian medicine chest has been filled with a depreciating exchange rate, unsustainably strong U.S. demand, rising commodity prices and an increasing labour supply. These have kept the symptoms at bay. But with a Canadian dollar over 95 cents, weak U.S. and European demand, uncertainty about energy prices, and growing demographic pressures, a Canadian business-sector productivity level that has fallen to just 75 per cent of the United States means that the productivity trap may be painfully sprung.

The facts of Canada's poor productivity performance are well established, but not well known or understood. Unlike a fiscal deficit or unemployment or inflation, productivity cannot be measured directly. Unobservable it may be; unimportant it is not. A more productive economy grows faster, adapts better to changing circumstances, leads to lower prices, higher wages, and more jobs, improves living standards and affords more public goods.

There are two paths to the improvement of a country's standard of living. One is to have more people working, so that in total we produce more “stuff.” The second is to improve productivity, so that each worker produces more “stuff.” With demographics that ensure fewer future workers, the trap means that we won't be able to drive growth and raise living standards unless we increase productivity, something we have not done well recently.

Start with a statistical glimpse of productivity growth in our business sector. There was strong 4-per-cent average annual growth over the first postwar quarter-century (1947-1973), a much weaker 1.6-per-cent average pace over the next quarter-century (1973-2000) and a tepid 0.8-per-cent average growth rate recently (2000-2008). Comparing countries by output per hour worked per worker, Canada was an astounding 17th among OECD nations in 2007. Since Canadians work more hours than the OECD average, our total output per worker ranked 8th among OECD countries, but worse than the United States. Canada's business-sector productivity in 2007 was 75 per cent of that of the U.S, compared to 90 per cent in the early 1980s.

Next, take a sectoral perspective. From this vantage point, U.S. productivity performance was particularly strong in the manufacturing sector, and concentrated in information and communications technologies. The U.S. service sector also sustained consistently higher productivity growth than Canada's for more than a decade.

One explanation that was advanced in the 1990s to explain the gap was the sorry state of Canada's macroeconomic fundamentals. Our national debt was the second-worst in the G7; our deficits never-ending; our national pension plan in trouble; our bonds and stocks bore high-risk premiums; and the corporate tax rate was significantly higher than our largest trading partner's. These were not conditions encouraging to investment in productivity, Canadian businesses argued, and they were correct.

Fast-forward a decade. Canada's debt is now the lowest in the G7, our national pension plan is actuarially sound, macroeconomic risk premiums have disappeared from our stocks and bonds, and Canadian corporate tax rates are 12.5 percentage points below those in the United States. Despite this, business-sector productivity growth was actually worse in the decade just ended.


Consider the possible impact of the long decline in the Canadian dollar. A lower dollar paradoxically improves competitiveness but reduces wealth. It encourages business to use more domestic inputs and fewer imported inputs, which the lower dollar makes more expensive. Since Canadian business imports much of its machinery and equipment, firms employed more labour and less capital than their competitors. This reduced short-term costs, but impaired medium-term productivity, as business used older capital and less innovative technologies. This orientation saw Canadian business invest relatively little in home-grown research and development, and spend relatively little to license leading-edge technologies developed elsewhere.

A key source of U.S. productivity growth has been the development and production of information- and communications-related goods, and subsequently the broad application of these throughout the U.S. economy, particularly in the service sector. Sustained increases in service-sector productivity have a profound effect on the economy; services account for 80 per cent of the U.S. economy and 70 per cent of ours. Unfortunately, the intensity of usage of information technologies by Canadian business is only half that of the U.S.

International comparisons again demonstrate the research gap between Canadian businesses and their competitors. In 2007, Canadian business ranked 14th among OECD countries in research and development expenditures as a percentage of GDP. Canadian business spending on R&D was only 1 per cent of GDP, well below the OECD average of 1.6 per cent, roughly half of what U.S. business spends as a percentage of GDP and about a third compared with Sweden, Finland and Korea. This suggests that Canadian business has less capacity to be receptive to innovation, and less of a focus on innovation as part of integrated business strategy in Canada.


If Canada's business productivity were near parity with that of the U.S., a Canadian dollar near parity would not be as stressful as it is. Moreover, the demographic crunch of a declining working-age population is looming. So is the shifting of demand away from our traditional markets, as the global economy adjusts to the rise of Asia, the financial crisis and the worldwide recession. All these developments underscore the need for urgency in tackling our productivity underperformance.

What will not work are one-off approaches, small fiddles to address a systemic problem and the view that it is someone else's responsibility. In short, a continuation of the status quo will not work. What is needed is behavioural change by Canadian businesses in their long-term strategies, and a shared sense of purpose by business, governments and the research community. A concerted productivity strategy should encompass innovation, the labour force, markets and attitudes, bearing in mind that there is no single or simple or immediate fix to this structural problem.

Innovation is a driver of productivity growth, creating the new products and processes that will allow Canadian business and workers to move up the value-added chain and compete on quality, service and uniqueness, not merely on cost. Canadian business spending on research cannot remain below the middle of the OECD pack if we are to spur innovation on the scale needed. Our public research capacity has improved greatly, but we need to focus on building global centres of research excellence, better commercialization of our research efforts to create jobs and wealth, better models of business-university partnerships, and better market-based means of financing the application of innovation, particularly a stronger venture-capital market in Canada.

Innovation and a highly skilled work force go hand-in-hand in driving productivity in a knowledge-intensive, global economy. Our aging demographics mean that fewer people will be working in the future; it is simple arithmetic that everyone will have to be more productive just to stand still. In a knowledge-based economy, high school completion and rigorous minimum literacy standards should be givens, not aspirations. We have fewer Canadians with university degrees than many of our competitors, fewer still in scientific disciplines, and we have to design new incentives to encourage the education outcomes we need as a nation. Immigration can offset our demographic trends, but its labour-market effectiveness depends on attracting skilled immigrants.


Canada's trade linkages are akin to those of a cautious portfolio manager who is overinvested in traditionally safe markets. With the rise of Asian behemoths such as China and India, Canada needs a market enlargement strategy that includes new economic partnerships with the “Asian triangle” of China, Japan and India, expansion of Canada's Americas strategy to Brazil and a new economic arrangement with Europe. Canada should pioneer new partnership agreements oriented more to the treatment of services, investment, R&D, intellectual property and dispute-settlement arrangements.

Canada is a market-based economy where productivity gains must come largely from business. Governments should place more emphasis on speed, agility and frameworks to support productivity, and less on process and entitlement. Markets need more competition to spur faster adoption of new technologies. Better interaction between university researchers and business is key; in this, Sweden offers useful lessons. More emphasis on trade is essential; we are a trading nation, but not a nation of traders. In short, attitudes matter, they influence behaviour, and we must be strategic.

The global context Canadians face is complex, uncertain and changing structurally. It places a premium on firms, sectors and countries that are flexible, have solid fundamentals and anticipate change. Innovative and productive economies will have a better chance of sustained growth, rising living standards and good jobs. These are the challenges and opportunities for Canada to break out of its productivity trap.

Kevin Lynch is the former clerk of the Privy Council and secretary to the cabinet.


Anonymous said...

just posted this to the comments section of the Grope and Flail:

And this is the same Kevin Lynch who lied to Canadians in trying justify the draconian income trust tax. Income trusts were certainly innovative, both in their development of methods to extract more oil and gas from old fields, in allowing a mechanism for small and mid-sized flexible oil and gas companies to continue to raise capital, and, most importantly, in allowing real shareholders to make the decision as to where to reinvest profit. The current equity model allows only fat cat CEOs and BODs to decide, usually along with deciding to give themselves a greater and greater piece of the pie.

Mr. Lynch did perpetuate the lie that no income taxes were paid on profits of income trusts. More taxes (approx. 38%)are and were paid by shareholders on those profits than paid by corporations (6%). As well, this stupid tax has allowed foreign owners and private pensions plans to take those trusts private and pay out no tax. Now that is tax leakage! But since that tax leakage is to the friends of Mr. Lynch, he thinks that is ok. Why would anyone listen to this bozo who has never run anything real in his life.


Dr Mike said...

If the gov`t had any brains they would do a complete analysis of the impact of the Tax Fairness Plan.

If it is causing any direct loss of tax dollars it must be scrapped now.

I was a member of the PC party for 30+ years & we never believed in messing with free markets--to pull off such a one-shot carnage is unforgivable.

The next time that trained economist Harper recommends to me to buy , I will run for the hills.

Dr Mike Popovich