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Washington Is Going the Wrong Way

Are current government policies causing the U.S. to lose competitiveness in the global race for capital, prosperity, and growth?

Fortune magazine recently reported that the number of U.S. companies in the world’s top 500 fell to the lowest level ever, while more Chinese firms than ever before made the list. Thirty-seven Chinese companies now rank in the top 500, including nine new entries. Meanwhile, the number of U.S. firms has fallen to 140, the lowest total since Fortune began the list in 1995. This is not good.

China also surpassed the U.S. as the world’s biggest automaker in the first half of 2009, with June sales soaring 36.5 percent from a year earlier. The Chinese registered 6.1 million car sales for the first half of the year. That way outpaced American sales, which were only 4.8 million.

And China has no capital-gains tax. It only has a 15-to-20 percent corporate tax. The U.S., on the other hand, is raising its cap-gains tax rate to 20 percent. It’s also increasing its top personal tax rates.

In fact, the scheduled income-tax hike, plus the much-discussed health-care surtax, will balloon the top U.S. tax rate all the way to 51 percent. Compare that to the OECD average of only 42 percent. When those tax-hikes kick in, the top U.S. tax rate will rank above that of France, Germany, and Italy. That can’t be good.

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Incidentally, our 40 percent corporate tax rate is already almost 15 percentage points higher than the corporate rates in most of Europe.

Washington’s enormous expansion of the government’s spending share of GDP to over 40 percent — including Bailout Nation, TARP, and government takeovers in numerous industries — is eerily reminiscent of Old Europe’s old policies. In a twist of irony, Europe seems to be moving toward a lower-tax-and-spend-and-regulate, Ronald Reagan–type approach, while we in the U.S. are regressing to the failed socialist model of Old Europe. This makes no sense.

Here’s the clincher: Year-to-date, Dow Jones stocks are off 7 percent, while China stocks are up 71 percent. The world index is up 4 percent. Emerging markets are up 25 percent. They’re all beating us. None of this is good.

We’re going the wrong way. That’s why stock markets are not voting for the United States anymore.

Questions? Comments, send your emails to: lkudlow@kudlow.com