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Archive for September 3rd, 2010

Kevin Hassett and Alan VIard of the American Enterprise Institute have a column in the Wall Street Journal showing how Obama’s proposed tax hikes will impose significant harm on small business owners and other entrepreneurs. Higher tax rates are damaging for the obvious reason that business cash flow gets diverted to the IRS, but also because they alter the price (or tradeoff) between work and leisure and between consumption and investment. This means less productive activity, which is just another way of saying reduced national income. 
Vice President Joe Biden harshly rejected House Minority Leader John Boehner’s assertion that the hikes would harm small businesses, saying that “he has created this myth that a tax cut for millionaires is actually a tax cut for small business. There aren’t 3% of small businesses in America that would qualify for that tax cut.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi flipped the number around, saying that the planned tax increases would exempt “98% of American families and about 97% of small businesses.” …The 3% figure, which is computed from IRS data, is based on simply counting the number of returns with any pass-through business income. So, if somebody makes a little money selling products on eBay and reports that income on Schedule C of their tax return, they are counted as a small business. The fact that there are millions of people in the lower tax brackets with small amounts of business income may be interesting for some purposes, but it is irrelevant for the assessment of the economic impact of the tax hikes. The numbers are clear. According to IRS data, fully 48% of the net income of sole proprietorships, partnerships, and S corporations reported on tax returns went to households with incomes above $200,000 in 2007. That’s the number to look at, not the 3%. …A pair of papers by economists Robert Carroll, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Harvey Rosen and Mark Rider that were published in 1998 and 2000 by the National Bureau of Economic Research analyzed tax return data and uncovered high responsiveness of sole proprietors’ business activity to tax rates. Their estimates imply that increasing the top rate to 40.8% from 35% (an official rate of 39.6% plus another 1.2 percentage points from the restoration of a stealth provision that phases out deductions), as in Mr. Obama’s plan, would reduce gross receipts by more than 7% for sole proprietors subject to the higher rate. These results imply a similar effect on proprietors’ investment expenditures. A paper published by R. Glenn Hubbard of Columbia University and William M. Gentry of Williams College in the American Economic Review in 2000 also found that increasing progressivity of the tax code discourages entrepreneurs from starting new businesses.

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Just because something is free, that doesn’t mean there is no cost. This is the core message of Walter Williams’ column, which uses the example of “employer-paid” Social Security taxes to explain how politicians specialize in giving us very expensive things for “free.” 
Scarcity means there’s no free lunch. Having more of one thing requires having less of another. You might say, “Williams, that’s where you’re wrong. Someone gave me this newspaper and I’m reading your column for free!” Not true. If you weren’t spending time reading my column, you might have spent the time reading something else, chatting with your wife or children, or going out for a jog. You’re reading my column for a zero price but you’re not doing so at zero cost. You have to sacrifice something. There are zero-price services such as “free libraries,” “free public schools,” “free transportation” and free whatever. It doesn’t mean that costs are not being borne by somebody. The vision of getting something for nothing, or getting something that someone else has to pay for, explains why so many Americans are duped by politicians. A congressional hoax that’s flourished for seven decades is the Social Security hoax that half of the Social Security tax (6.2 percent) is paid by employers, the other half (6.2 percent) paid by employees. The law says that if you are self-employed, you get to pay both halves. The fact of the matter is whether you’re self-employed or not, you pay both halves of the Social Security tax that totals 12.4 percent. Let’s look at it. Suppose you hire me and our agreed-upon weekly salary is $500. From that $500, you’re going to deduct $31 as my share of the Social Security tax and you’re going to add $31 as the so-called employer’s share, sending a total of $62 to the IRS. Here’s the question: What is the weekly cost for you to hire me? I hope you answered $531. …The reason why Congress created the fiction of the employer share was to deceive us into thinking that we’re paying fewer taxes than we in fact are.
Reminds me of P.J. O’Rourke’s famous line about, “If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free.”

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If you saw the Wall-E movie, you may remember how people morphed into helpless blobs because all their needs were being fulfilled by something called BNL. I realize I’m a quirky libertarian, but the movie made me think about how excessive government is doing something similar to people who get seduced by dependency.

This was one of the topics covered in my recent interview on Fox News with Neil Cavuto. We began by talking about America’s unfortunate drift in the direction of being a nanny state, but also covered other fiscal and economic issues.

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