David Williams: Limit international agencies

David Williams: Limit international agencies

September 2nd, 2012 by By David Williams in Opinion Columns

American taxpayers are quite often skeptical and critical of federal government bureaucracies. That skepticism is amplified when applied to international institutions like the United Nations and European Union.

In fact, a February 2012 Gallup poll showed that 61 percent of Americans said that the U.N. is doing a poor job in trying to solve problems versus 32 percent that said the U.N. is doing a good job. The EU doesn't do much better. According to a June 2012 Pew Research Center poll, "majorities in five of eight countries surveyed think that such economic integration has actually weakened their nation's economy." Despite these numbers both the EU and U.N. are trying to grow their bureaucratic overreach instead of shrink it by moving full-steam ahead with global taxes on carbon emissions and tobacco that will affect American consumers and taxpayers.

The EU is moving to set a tax on carbon emissions. According to USA Today, "The European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme sets a cap on carbon emissions and then charges airlines for flights to or from the continent. The industry group Airlines for America estimates the program could cost U.S. carriers $3 billion over the next decade. U.S. airlines have opposed the system as an unfair tax on flights outside Europe, and China and India have refused to participate in the program."

The idea of the EU imposing taxes on American travelers also has at least one member of Congress concerned. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., introduced a bill in 2011 "to prevent the European Union from adding a tax on flights traveling through U.S. airspace." Senator Thune's office calculated that this EU-imposed emissions tax will cost U.S. air travelers and carriers a whopping $3.1 billion dollars between 2012 and 2020.

Not only will this emissions tax harm the economy, it is a blatant violation of international law. While an outside cash stream is an easy way to raise funds, the EU cannot ignore the reality it is in direct violation of the law. How would the EU respond if the tables were turned and the United States sought to enact a tax on citizens of the EU? Perhaps the EU could spend its time more wisely by examining ways to reduce spending and tighten its pocketbooks. And if it still desires more money to quench its propensity to spend, then nothing is stopping the EU countries from raising taxes on their own citizens.

The emissions tax is just one of a number of taxes that are being looked at by international bodies. Another tax that is being considered is a tobacco tax, the Solidarity Tobacco Contribution (STC), through the United Nations.

The STC is an effort to raise more money for international causes. The World Health Organization (WHO), a U.N. agency, is proposing a 5, 3, or 1 cent tax on tobacco products, depending on the wealth of the country where the products are being sold. This is being done with no regard to the potential economic impacts of such a policy.

According to the WHO, "Do not allow concerns about employment impact to prevent tobacco tax increases," and "Do not allow concerns about the inflationary impact of higher tobacco taxes to deter tax increases." This reeks more of social engineering and tax harmonization than a genuine concern for health care. The scariest part is that this process started in 2011 and the WHO is hoping to start collecting the first of these taxes by the end of 2012. This is breakneck speed for any government bureaucracy.

The United Nations has not had success in the past with these "Robbing Peter to Pay Paul" type of schemes. Creating revenue for social services by implementing a new tax simply hasn't worked.

These attempts at establishing international tax regimes should be resisted. The EU and U.N. are not accountable in the same way that national governments are. In democracies, taxpayers can vote periodically against high tax governments. With international institutions, there are fewer checks and balances.

David Williams is president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog group dedicated to a smaller, more responsible government.