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Posts Tagged ‘Soak the Rich’

One of the principles of good tax policy and fundamental tax reform is that there should be no double taxation of income that is saved and invested. Such a policy promotes current consumption at the expense of future consumption, which is simply an econo-geek way of saying that it penalizes capital formation.

This isn’t very prudent or wise since every economic theory agrees that capital formation is key to long-run growth and higher living standards. Even Marxist and socialist theory is based on this notion (they want government to be in charge of investing, so they want to do the right thing in a very wrong way – think Solyndra on steroids).

To help explain this issue, the Wall Street Journal today published a very good primer on taxing capital gains.

The editors begin with an uncontroversial proposition.

The current Democratic obsession with raising the capital gains tax comes from a mistaken belief that the preferential rate applied to the sale of a family business, farm or financial asset is a “loophole” that mainly benefits the rich.

They offer three reasons why this view is wrong, starting with a basic inequity in the tax code.

Far from being a loophole, the low tax rate applied to capital gains is beneficial and fair for several reasons. First, under current tax rules, all gains from investments are fully taxed, but all losses are not fully deductible. This asymmetry is a disincentive to take risks. A lower tax rate helps to compensate for not being able to write-off capital losses.

Next, the editors highlight the unfairness of not letting investors take inflation into account when calculating capital gains. As explained in this video, this can lead to tax rates of more than 100 percent on real gains.

Second, capital gains aren’t adjusted for inflation, so the gains from a dollar invested in an enterprise over a long period of time are partly real and partly inflationary. It’s therefore possible for investors to pay a tax on “gains” that are illusory, which is another reason for the lower tax rate.

This may not seem like an important issue today, but just wait ’til Bernanke gets to QE24 and assets are rising in value solely because of inflation.

The final – and strongest argument – is that any capital gains tax is illegitimate because it is double taxation. I think this flowchart is very helpful for those who want to understand the issue, but the WSJ’s explanation is very good as well.

Third, since the U.S. also taxes businesses on profits when they are earned, the tax on the sale of a stock or a business is a double tax on the income of that business. When you buy a stock, its valuation is the discounted present value of the earnings. The main reason to tax capital investment at low rates is to encourage saving and investment. If someone buys a car or a yacht or a vacation, they don’t pay extra federal income tax. But if they save those dollars and invest them in the family business or in stock, wham, they are smacked with another round of tax.

There’s also good research to back up this theory – some produced by prominent leftists.

Many economists believe that the economically optimal tax on capital gains is zero. Mr. Obama’s first chief economic adviser, Larry Summers, wrote in the American Economic Review in 1981 that the elimination of capital income taxation “would have very substantial economic effects” and “might raise steady-state output by as much as 18 percent, and consumption by 16 percent.”

Summers is talking about more than just the capital gains tax, so his estimate is best viewed as the type of growth that might be possible with a flat tax that eliminated all double taxation.

Nobel laureate Robert Lucas also thinks that such a reform would have large beneficial effects.

Almost all economists agree—or at least used to agree—that keeping taxes low on investment is critical to economic growth, rising wages and job creation. A study by Nobel laureate Robert Lucas estimates that if the U.S. eliminated its capital gains and dividend taxes (which Mr. Obama also wants to increase), the capital stock of American plant and equipment would be twice as large. Over time this would grow the economy by trillions of dollars.

So why aren’t these reforms happening, either the medium-sized goal of getting rid of the capital gains tax, or the larger goal of junking the corrupt internal revenue code for a simple and fair flat tax?

A big obstacle is that too many politicians believe in class-warfare tax policy, even though lower-income people are among the biggest victims when the economy is weak.

For more information, here’s my video explaining that the right capital gains tax rate is zero.

P.S. Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t make a Laffer Curve argument for a lower capital gains tax. The main reason is because I have no interest in maximizing revenue for the government. I simply want good policy, which is why the rate should be zero.

P.P.S. I also didn’t bother to make a competitiveness argument, mostly because the WSJ’s editorial didn’t focus on that subtopic. But check out this post to see how Obama’s policy is putting America at a significant disadvantage.

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Warren Buffett’s at it again. He has a column in the New York Times complaining that he has been coddled by the tax code and that “rich” people should pay higher taxes.

My first instinct is to send Buffett the website where people can voluntarily pay extra money to the federal government. I’ve made this suggestion to guilt-ridden rich people in the past.

But I no longer give that advice. I’m worried he might actually do it. And even though Buffett is wildly misguided about fiscal policy, I know he will invest his money much more wisely than Barack Obama will spend it.

But Buffett goes beyond guilt-ridden rants in favor of higher taxes. He makes specific assertions that are inaccurate.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

His numbers are flawed in two important ways.

1. When Buffett receives dividends and capital gains, it is true that he pays “only” 15 percent of that money on his tax return. But dividends and capital gains are both forms of double taxation. So if he wants honest effective tax rate numbers, he needs to show the 35 percent corporate tax rate.

Moreover, as I noted in a previous post, Buffett completely ignores the impact of the death tax, which will result in the federal government seizing 45 percent of his assets. To be sure, Buffett may be engaging in clever tax planning, so it is hard to know the impact on his effective tax rate, but it will be signficant.

2. Buffett also mischaracterizes the impact of the Social Security payroll tax, which is dedicated for a specific purpose. The law only imposes that tax on income up to about $107,000 per year because the tax is designed so that people “earn” a corresponding  retirement benefit (which actually is tilted in favor of low-income workers).

Imposing the tax on multi-millionaire income, however, would mean sending rich people giant checks from Social Security when they retire. But nobody thinks that’s a good idea. Or you could apply the payroll tax to all income and not pay any additional benefits. But this would turn Social Security from an “earned benefit” to a redistribution program, which also is widely rejected (though the left has been warming to the idea in recent years because their hunger for more tax revenue is greater than their support for Social Security).

If we consider these two factors, Buffett’s effective tax rate almost surely is much higher than the burden on any of the people who work for him.

But this entire discussion is a good example of why we should junk the corrupt, punitive, and unfair tax code and replace it with a simple flat tax. With no double taxation and a single, low tax rate, we would know that rich people were paying the right amount, neither too much based on class-warfare tax rates nor too little based on loopholes, deduction, preferences, exemptions, shelters, and credits.

So why doesn’t Buffett endorse this approach? Tim Carney offers a very plausible answer.

For more information about why class-warfare taxes are misguided, this video may be helpful.

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Obama waved the bloody flag of class warfare in his press conference this past week, though it’s not clear whether he was effective since he went out of his way to attack a provision for corporate jets that was part of his failed stimulus bill.

In any event, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was not impressed. His speech on the Senate floor was an excellent response to Obama’s politically motivated, soak-the-rich screed. (h/t: Ed Morrissey)

Being a leader involves a lot more than giving a good speech, to be sure, but Rubio has been consistently impressive in his six months if office. He’s strongly defended Medicare reform and is a leader in the fight against an illegal IRS scheme to force American banks to enforce foreign tax law.

Let’s hope he doesn’t “grow in office” and decide that Washington is a hot tub rather than a cesspool.

And let’s hope America doesn’t become more like Europe, with bigger government, more dependency, and a hostile attitude about wealth creation and capitalism. Those are some of the concerns that motivated my video on the dangers of class warfare.

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Under current law, Social Security is supposed to be an “earned benefit,” where taxes are akin to insurance premiums that finance retirement benefits for workers. And because there is a cap on retirement benefits, this means there also is a “wage-base cap” on the amount of income that is hit by the payroll tax.

For 2011, the maximum annual retirement benefit is about $28,400 and the maximum amount of income subject to the payroll tax is about $107,000.

It appears that President Obama wants to radically change this system so that it is based on a class-warfare model. During the 2008 campaign, for instance, then-Senator Obama suggested that the programs giant long-run deficit could be addressed by busting the wage-base cap and imposing the payroll tax on a larger amount of income.

For the past two years, the White House (thankfully) has not followed through on this campaign rhetoric, but that’s now changing. His Fiscal Commission, as I noted last year, suggested a big hike in the payroll tax burden. And the President reiterated his support for a class-warfare approach earlier this week, leading the Wall Street Journal to opine.

Speaking Tuesday in Annandale, Virginia, Mr. Obama came out for lifting the cap on income on which the Social Security payroll tax is applied. Currently, the employer and employee each pay 6.2% up to $106,800, a level that rises with inflation each year. …Mr. Obama didn’t hint at specifics, though he did run in 2008 on a plan to raise the “tax max” by somewhere between two to eight percentage points for the top 3% of earners. …most of the increase could be paid by the middle class or modestly affluent—i.e., those who merely make somewhat more than $106,800. A 6.2% additional hit on every extra dollar they make above that level is a huge reduction from their take-home pay. If the cap is removed entirely, it will also mean a huge increase in the marginal tax rates that affect decisions to work, invest and save. In a recent paper for the American Enterprise Institute, Andrew Biggs calculates that this and other tax increases Mr. Obama favors would bring the top marginal rate to somewhere between 57% and 68% when factoring in state taxes. Tax levels like these haven’t been seen since the 1970s.

Obama is cleverly avoiding specifics, largely because the potential tax hike could be enormous. The excerpt above actually understates the potential damage since it mostly focuses on the “employee” side of the payroll tax. The “employer” share of the tax (which everyone agrees is paid for by workers in the form of reduced take-home wages) is also 6.2 percent, so the increase in marginal tax rates for affected workers could be as high as 12.4 percentage points.

This video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, narrated by yours truly, elaborates on why this is the wrong approach.

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President Obama didn’t offer a budget plan yesterday. The White House hasn’t released anything beyond a set of talking points.

But that’s not terribly surprising since his speech was really the opening salvo of his 2012 reelection fight. And it’s clear that a central theme of his campaign will be class warfare.

But if we translate his campaign-style demagoguery into the overall budget framework, we get something like this fiscal continuum. Obama, for all intents and purposes, has taken the moderately left-wing proposal crafted by his Fiscal Commission and moved it significantly in the wrong direction by adding class-warfare tax policy. As such, he is close to the left end of the line, which represents “Statism.”

The Ryan plan, by contrast, is the moderately right-wing mirror image of the Fiscal Commission. But rather than cementing in place bigger government, as proposed by Simpson and Bowles,  Ryan’s budget slowly shrinks the fiscal burden of government. As such, it is on the “Liberty” side of the continuum.

America’s Founding Fathers had the right idea, of course, They envisioned a very limited central government, and for much of our nation’s history, the federal budget consumed about 3 percent of GDP. Unfortunately, the Hoover-Roosevelt policies began the process of moving America in the wrong direction, and federal spending now consumes nearly one-fourth of America’s economic output.

But enough history. Let’s revisit Obama’s speech and the accompanying talking points. In addition to the class warfare (more on that below), we also see an explicit call to reduce the growth of Medicare spending by “strengthening the Independent Payment Advisory Board.”

In other words, Obama wants to use his control of the purse strings to give bureaucrats more ability to decide what kind of care seniors can receive. It’s politically incorrect to call this type of entity a “death panel,” so I’ll simply contrast Obama’s top-down bureaucratic approach with the Ryan plan, which is based on giving vouchers to future seniors so they can pick the health plans that best fit their needs (people over 55 would be stuck with the current system). And since this is very similar to the system used to provide health care for Members of Congress and their staff, you know it must work reasonably well.

Let’s briefly return to the tax side of the fiscal equation. I’ll have more to say about this in a separate post giving a behind-the-scenes look at what Democrats really hope to achieve in the area of tax policy, but I want to offer a basic explanation of why the soak-the-rich approach is doomed to fail. There are five reasons in this video to reject class warfare, including a very important warning that high tax rates on the rich almost always are a tactical move to facilitate higher taxes for the rest of us.

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I posted yesterday about the horrible unfairness of life (i.e., I’m not rich). Interestingly, there are a number of rich left-wingers that feel guilty about having a lot of money. In a burst of genius, I came up with an idea that will kill two birds with one stone. They should give their money to me.

Unfortunately, I doubt this idea will work. Rich statists with neurotic disorders tend to deal with their feelings of guilt by supporting higher taxes on other people. I’ve actually debated these crazies (see here, here, and here).

Now more of these odd people are crawling out of the woodwork. Here’s an excerpt from a Yahoo story.

Add PIMCO founder Bill Gross to the list of wealthy Americans who think they aren’t being taxed enough, already. “Of course we should” pay higher taxes, Gross says. …In addition to tax hikes on the wealthy, “let’s raise corporate taxes too,” the famed bond fund manager says, a view that runs in direct opposition to the current discussions in Washington. “Corporations complain and complain and complain and have got the Obama administration suggesting there should be some corporate tax reform,” Gross notes. But at just 1% of GDP, corporate taxes are “historically low.”

To be sure, perhaps the PIMCO guy is just trying to boost his net worth through the back door. His bond fund probably has lots of government debt, so perhaps he thinks higher taxes will protect the value of those bonds. A strange theory, but being a statist means never having to understand how the real world works.

Then we have Stephen King, who apparently feels guilty about his wealth, so he wants the government to rape and pillage other people. And I’m not aware of any back-door rationale for him to support higher taxes, so this presumably is a classic case of GRLWND (guilt-ridden left-wing neurotic disorder). Here are some of the details from an editorial in a Florida paper.

The horror novelist, a part-time Florida resident, addressed a “Wake the State” rally Tuesday in Sarasota, took a swipe or two at Gov. Rick Scott and complained that rich people — like himself — are getting off too easy. “As a rich person,” he said, “I pay 28 percent taxes. What I want to ask you is, why am I not paying 50? Why is everybody in my bracket not paying 50?”

Of course, there’s nothing to stop Mr. King or Mr. Gross from pissing away their money by voluntarily sending checks to Washington. Indeed, the Daily Caller is offering free psychiatric advice to guilt-ridden left wingers by directing them to the Treasury Department website with the information about making gifts to Uncle Sam.

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The Oregon Ducks will compete for the national championship early next month, so they’ve had a good season. Unfortunately, Oregon’s government isn’t doing nearly so well. Politicians approved a big tax hike on those bad, evil rich people in 2009, and Oregon’s spite-filled voters approved that measure earlier this year.

So how’s is Oregon’s class-warfare approach working? Not surprisingly, the politics of hate and envy is generating poor results. Revenues are much lower than forecast, as anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the Laffer Curve could have explained. The most noteworthy result is that about one-fourth of rich taxpayers have disappeared. Does the name John Galt ring a bell?

None of this should be a surprise. Maryland politicians tried to rape rich taxpayers a couple of years ago and they also crashed on the Laffer Curve.

As the Wall Street Journal opines, Oregon politicians are getting just what they deserve.

In 2009 the state legislature raised the tax rate to 10.8% on joint-filer income of between $250,000 and $500,000, and to 11% on income above $500,000. Only New York City’s rate is higher. Oregon’s liberal voters ratified the tax increase on individuals and another on businesses in January of this year, no doubt feeling good about their “shared sacrifice.” Congratulations. Instead of $180 million collected last year from the new tax, the state received $130 million. The Eugene Register-Guard newspaper reports that after the tax was raised “income tax and other revenue collections began plunging so steeply that any gains from the two measures seemed trivial.” One reason revenues are so low is that about one-quarter of the rich tax filers seem to have gone missing. The state expected 38,000 Oregonians to pay the higher tax, but only 28,000 did. Funny how that always happens. …The tax wasn’t enacted into law until June 2009 but was retroactively applied to January 1, 2009. So for the first half of the year wealthy Oregon residents weren’t able to take steps to avoid the tax ambush because they didn’t see it coming. This suggests that a bigger revenue loss from tax mitigation strategies will show up on tax return data in 2010 and 2011. …All of this is an instant replay of what happened in Maryland in 2008 when the legislature in Annapolis instituted a millionaire tax. There roughly one-third of the state’s millionaire households vanished from the tax rolls after rates went up. If Salem officials want to find where the millionaires went, they might start the search in Texas, the state that leads the nation in job creation—and has a top income and capital gains tax rate 11 percentage points lower than Oregon’s.

Welcome Instapundit readers. Your comments are greatly appreciated, particularly your real-world stories from your respective states.

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In my fiscal policy speeches, I sometimes try to get a laugh out of audiences by including a Powerpoint slide with this image. Leading up to this slide, I talk about the Armey/Forbes flat tax and explain that it would eliminate the corrupt internal revenue code and replace it with a simple 10-line postcard. But I then warn that simplicity is not the same as low taxes and show the Obama slide.

But maybe jokes about Obama tax reform were a bit premature. According to the New York Times, the White House is giving serious consideration to a sweeping plan to streamline the tax system.

While administration officials cautioned on Thursday that no decisions have been made and that any debate in Congress could take years, Mr. Obama has directed his economic team and Treasury Department analysts to review options for closing loopholes and simplifying income taxes for corporations and individuals, though the study of the corporate tax system is farther along, officials said. The objective is to rid the code of its complex buildup of deductions, credits and exemptions, thereby broadening the base of taxes collected and allowing for lower rates — much like a bipartisan majority on Mr. Obama’s debt-reduction commission recommended last week in its final blueprint for reducing the debt through 2020. Doing so would offer not only an opportunity to begin confronting the growth in the national debt but also a way to address warnings by American business that corporate tax rates and the costs of complying with the tax code are cutting into their global competitiveness.

There’s actually much to like in the Administration’s potential plan. Lower tax rates will help the economy by improving incentives for productive behavior. And getting rid of distortions will further enhance growth since people no longer would have an incentive to make inefficient decisions just for tax purposes. And simplification could have a profound impact on cleaning up the horrible mess at the IRS. Moreover, a plan that trades lower tax rates for fewer tax distortions would be a welcome change from the poisonous soak-the-rich tax policy the White House has been pursuing.

This sounds like good news, but there’s a catch. The White House is looking at this exercise as a way to not only clean up the tax code, but also as a way of getting more money for politicians. This blog post explains why this is the wrong approach from an economic perspective, but politics will be an even bigger obstacle.

The American people want tax reform, but they don’t want more of their money going to Washington. And most Republican politicians have wisely pledged not to support legislation that increases the overall tax burden.

So the ball is in Obama’s court. If he genuinely wants to make America more prosperous and competitive, he should move forward with plans to lower tax rates and eliminate tax distortions, but he needs to tell his staff that tax reform should not a Trojan Horse for a tax increase.

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I get nauseated and disgusted when guilt-ridden wealthy people try to come across as friends of the common man by endorsing soak-the rich taxes. I’ve even debated a couple of self-loathing trust fund babies (see here and here) about class-warfare policy.

If neurotic rich people believe that the government should have more money, there’s nothing stopping them from writing big checks to Uncle Sam. This is a free country and they have the right to be stupid.

But they shouldn’t be allowed to lie, either intentionally or accidentally. And this is why I get so upset when Warren Buffett says that rich people have lower tax rates than their secretaries. I’ve already explained on the blog that this is completely inaccurate because it ignores double taxation, and I reiterated that argument in this CNBC interview.

I’m not surprised that my debate opponent disagreed (even though I assume he knows I’m right), but I am surprised that one of the CNBC hosts didn’t understand the concept.

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Warren Buffett once said that it wasn’t right for his secretary to have a higher tax rate than he faced, leading me to point out that he didn’t understand tax policy. The 15 percent tax rates on dividends and capital gains to which he presumably was referring represents double taxation, and when added to the tax that already was paid on the income he invested (and the tax that one imagines will be imposed on that same income when he dies), it is quite obvious that his effective marginal tax rates is much higher than anything his secretary pays. Though he is right that his secretary’s tax rate is much too high. 
 
Well, it turns out that Warren Buffett also doesn’t understand much about other areas of fiscal policy. Like a lot of ultra-rich liberals who have lost touch with the lives of regular people, he thinks taxpayer anger is misguided. Not only does he scold people for being upset, but he regurgitates the most simplistic Keynesian talking points to justify Obama’s spending spree. Here’s an excerpt from his hometown paper.
Taxpayer anger against President Barack Obama and Congress is counterproductive because policy makers took measures including deficit spending to stimulate the economy, billionaire investor Warren Buffett told CNBC. …“I hope we get over it pretty soon, because it’s not productive,’’ Buffett said. “We will come back regardless of how people feel about Washington, but it is not helpful to have people as unhappy as they are about what’s going on in Washington.” …“The truth is we’re running a federal deficit that’s 9 percent of gross domestic product,” Buffett said. “That’s stimulative as all get out. It’s more stimulative than any policy we’ve followed since World War II.”
About the only positive thing one can say about Buffett’s fiscal policy track record is that he is nowhere close to being the most inaccurate person in the United States, a title that Mark Zandi surely will own for the indefinite future.

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I’m dumbfounded and amazed. When Democrats and Republicans have a game of chicken, the GOP blinks 99 percent of the time. And I thought for sure this was going to happen in the fight about whether to extend all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts (the GOP position), or whether to impose a big, class-warfare tax increase on investors entrepreneurs (the Obama position to punsih the so-called rich). Democrats simply needed to get one Republican senator to surrender and they would have 60 votes in the Senate to overcome any procedural objection. But, to my astonishment, this didn’t happen. Democrats threw in the towel. Not totally, the issue is simply being postponed to a “lame duck” session after the election, but it’s hard to see how the left will feel any more emboldened after being kicked in the teeth by voters. But there is a very dark lining to this silver cloud. As the Wall Street Journal warns, many statists actually want a big tax increase on everybody, and they can make this happen by simply sitting on their hands.
Only a week ago, President Obama and his media supporters were asserting that they had Republicans caught in their class-war pincers: They’d lure the GOP into opposing an extension of lower tax rates for the middle class in order to defend lower tax rates for those making more than $200,000 a year. …[but] the Democrats have cut and run, lest they get blamed for voting for a tax increase in a slow-growth economy. This is how legislative majorities behave when they’ve lost the political argument and can sense their days are numbered. …Democrats will now enter the campaign’s home stretch with the threat that all of the Bush-era tax rates could expire on January 1. That means the lowest tax bracket would revert to 15% from 10%, the per child tax credit would revert to $500 from $1,000, and millions of middle class families would pay thousands of dollars more in federal taxes. Keep in mind that this is the not-so-secret desire of many on the left who think the country “can’t afford” to let Americans keep so much of their own money. Peter Orszag has already admitted this since leaving his post as White House budget director. What these Democrats really mean is that they think the only way to pay for their spending plans is by soaking the middle class—because that’s where the real money is. …Liberals pretend they can finance a European-style entitlement state by taxing only the rich because they know that soaking the middle class is unpopular.

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Thanks to the Obamacare legislation, we already know there will be a new 3.9 percent payroll tax on all investment income earned by so-called rich taxpayers beginning in 2013. And the capital gains tax rate will jump to 20 percent next year if the President gets his way. This sounds bad (and it is), but the news is even worse than you think. Here’s a new video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity that exposes the atrociously unfair practice of imposing this levy on inflationary gains.

The mini-documentary uses a simple but powerful example of what happens to an investor who bought an asset 10 years ago for $5,000 and sold it this year for $6,000. The IRS will want 15 percent of the $1,000 gain (Obama wants the tax burden on capital gains to climb to 23.9 percent, but that’s a separate issue). Some people may think that a 15 percent tax is reasonable, but how many of those people understand that inflation during the past 10 years was more than 27 percent, and $6,000 today is actually worth only about $4,700 after adjusting for the falling value of the dollar? I’m not a math genius, but if the government imposes a $150 tax (15 percent of $1,000) on an investor who lost nearly $300 ($5,000 became $4,700), that translates into an infinite tax rate. And if Obama pushed the tax rate to almost 24 percent, that infinite tax rate gets…um…even more infinite.

The right capital gains tax, of course, is zero.

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In a very predictable editorial this morning, the New York Times pontificated in favor of higher taxes. Compared to Paul Krugman’s rant earlier in the week, which featured the laughable assertion that letting people keep more of the money they earn is akin to sending them a check from the government, the piece seemed rational. But that is damning with faint praise. There are several points in the editorial that deserve some unfriendly commentary.

First, let’s give the editors credit for being somewhat honest about their bad intentions. Unlike other statists, they openly admit that they want higher taxes on the middle class, stating that “more Americans — and not just the rich — are going to have to pay more taxes.” This is a noteworthy admission, though it doesn’t reveal the real strategy on the left.

Most advocates of big government understand that it will be impossible to turn America into a European-style welfare state without a value-added tax, but they don’t want to publicly associate themselves with that view until the political environment is more conducive to success. Most important, they realize that it will be very difficult to impose a VAT without seducing some gullible Republicans into giving them political cover. And one way of getting GOPers to sign up for a VAT is by convincing them that they have to choose a VAT if they don’t want a return to the confiscatory 70 percent tax rates of the 1960s and 1970s. Any moves in that direction, such as raising the top tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent next January, are part of this long-term strategy to pressure Republicans (as well as naive members of the business community) into a VAT trap.

Shifting to other assertions, the editorial claims that “more revenue will be needed in years to come to keep rebuilding the economy.”  That’s obviously a novel assertion, and the editors never bother to explain how and why more tax revenue will lead to a stronger economy. Are the folks at the New York Times not aware that both economic growth and living standards are lower in European nations that have imposed higher tax burdens? Heck, even the Keynesians agree (albeit for flawed reasons) that higher taxes stunt growth.

The editorial also asserts that, “Since 2002, the federal budget has been chronically short of revenue.” I suppose if revenues are compared to the spending desires of politicians, then tax collections are – and always will be – inadequate. The same is true in Greece, France, and Sweden. It doesn’t matter whether revenues are 20 percent of GDP or 50 percent of GDP. The political class always wants more.

But let’s actually use an objective measure to determine whether revenues are “chronically short.” The Democrat-controlled Congressional Budget Office stated in its newly-released update to the Economic and Budget Outlook that federal tax revenues historically have averaged 18 percent of GDP. They are below that level now because of the economic downturn, but CBO projects that revenues will climb above that level in a few years – even if all of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are made permanent. Moreover, OMB’s historical data shows that revenues were actually above the long-run average in 2006 and 2007, so even the “since 2002″ part of the assertion in the editorial is incorrect.

On the issue of temporary tax relief for the non-rich, the editorial is right but for the wrong reason. The editors rely on the Keynesian rationale, writing that, “low-, middle- and upper-middle-income taxpayers…tend to spend most of their income and the economy needs consumer spending” whereas “Tax cuts for the rich can safely be allowed to expire because wealthy taxpayers tend to save rather than spend their tax savings.”

I’ve debunked Keynesian analysis so often that I feel that I deserve some sort of lifetime exemption from dealing with this nonsense, but I’ll give it another try. Borrowing money from some people in the economy and giving it to some other people in the economy is not a recipe for better economic performance. Economic growth means we are increasing national income. Keynesian policy simply changes who is spending national income, guided by a myopic belief that consumer spending somehow is better than investment spending. The Keynesian approach didn’t work for Hoover and Roosevelt in the 1930s, it didn’t work for Japan in the 1990s, and it hasn’t worked for Obama.

And it doesn’t matter if the Keynesian stimulus is in the form of tax rebates. Gerald Ford’s rebate in the 1970s was a flop, and George W. Bush’s 2001 rebate also failed to boost growth. Tax cuts can lead to more national income, but only if marginal tax rates on productive behavior are reduced so that people have more incentive to work, save, and invest. This is an argument for extending the lower tax rates for all income classes, but it’s important to point out that the economic benefits will be much greater if the lower tax rates are made permanent.

Last but not least, the editorial asserts that, “The revenue from letting [tax cuts for the rich] expire — nearly $40 billion next year — would be better spent on job-creating measures.” Not surprisingly, there is no effort to justify this claim. They could have cited the infamous White House study claiming that the so-called stimulus would keep unemployment under 8 percent, but even people at the New York Times presumably understand that might not be very convincing since the actual unemployment rate is two percentage points higher than what the Obama Administration claimed it would be at this point.

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Caroline Baum of Bloomberg has an excellent column explaining why soak-the-rich taxes don’t work. Simply stated, wealthy people are not like you and me. They have tremendous control over the timing, composition, and level of their income. When the rich are hit with higher tax rates, they adjust their behavior and protect themselves by reducing the amount of taxable income they earn and/or report to the IRS. That usually causes collateral damage for the economy, but the class-warfare crowd is either oblivious or uncaring about real-world effects.

Why, after all this time and an extensive body of data, are we still questioning whether reductions in marginal and capital- gains tax rates increase economic activity enough to generate more revenue for the federal government? “Because they don’t like the answer,” Laffer says of the doubters. “It’s not tax cuts that pay for themselves. Tax cuts on the poor cost you lots of money. Tax cuts on the rich pay for themselves. Rich people can afford lawyers, accountants, and can defer income.” …The rich have the luxury to respond to incentives, to opt for more work and less leisure when the return on work is greater. They are motivated to take risks, maybe start a business, invent something, and get even richer while giving others the opportunity, through hiring, to do the same. The opposite is true for low-income workers. When the government raises taxes, someone struggling to put food on the table for his family may have to go out and get a second job to maintain his level of take-home pay. For this socio-economic group, higher taxes translate to more work. To ignore evidence that the rich behave differently is silly. The government can’t get more blood from a stone, yet it keeps trying. Instead of demagoguing tax cuts for the rich, Democrats should try embracing them for a change. …Academics are busy churning out articles claiming tax cuts for the rich deliver less bang for the buck because the rich save more of the money than the poor. That’s true. It also misses the point. The goal isn’t spending, or distributing other people’s money to create “aggregate demand.” That’s a wealth transfer, not a net stimulus. (Fiscal policy gets its punch from monetary policy, from the increase in the money supply to pay for the spending.) The goal should be to incentivize individuals to work hard, save and invest in the future. It’s about growing the pie. Sound familiar? We’re right back to square one. I, for one, would like to see the debate shift from class warfare over tax rates and targeted tax relief to tax reform. Either scrap the tax code and introduce a simple flat tax with no deductions, or scrap the IRS and move to a consumption tax. If you want to get money out of politics, there’s only one way to do it. Take the tax code out of Congress’s hands.

Baum’s column touches on most of the key issues, but she doesn’t address the political economy of class-warfare taxation. In this video on soak-the-rich tax policy, I provide five reasons why high tax rates are misguided – including the oft-overlooked point that politicians impose punitive taxes on the rich as a prelude to hitting the rest of us with higher taxes.

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I have a column in today’s New York Post about Obama’s plan for higher taxes next year. My main point is that higher tax rates on the so-called rich have a very negative impact on the rest of us because even small reductions in economic growth have a big impact over time. This is a reason, I explain, why middle-income people in Europe have been losing ground compared to their counterparts in the United States. This is an argument I’m still trying to develop (this video is another example), so I’d welcome feedback.

The most important indirect costs are lost economic growth and reduced competitiveness. You don’t have to be a radical supply-sider to recognize that higher tax rates — particularly steeper penalties on investors and entrepreneurs — are likely to slow economic growth. Even if growth only slows a bit, perhaps from 2.7 percent to 2.5 percent, the long-term impact can be big. After 25 years, a worker making $50,000 will make about $5,000 more a year if economic growth is at the slightly higher rate. So if this worker gets hit next year with a $1,000 tax hike, he or she understandably will be upset. In the long run, however, that worker may be hurt even more by weaker growth. …The Obama administration’s approach is to look at tax policy mainly through the prism of class warfare. This means that some of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts can be extended, but only if there is no direct benefit to anybody making more than $200,000 or $250,000 per year. That’s bad news for the so-called rich, but what about the rest of us? This is why the analysis about direct and indirect costs is so important. The folks at the White House presumably hope that we’ll be happy to have dodged a tax bullet because only upper-income taxpayers will face higher direct costs. But it’s the rest of us who are most likely to suffer indirect costs when higher tax rates on work, saving, investment and entrepreneurship slow economic growth. When the economy slows, that’s bad news for the middle class — and it can create genuine hardship for the working class and poor. Indeed, punitive taxation of the “rich” is one reason why middle-class people in high-tax European welfare states have lost ground in recent decades compared to Americans.

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The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of this year, which means a big tax increase in 2011. Tax rates for all brackets will increase, the double tax on dividends will skyrocket from 15 percent to 39.6 percent, the child credit will shrink, the death tax will be reinstated (at 55 percent!), the marriage penalty will get worse, and the capital gains tax rate will jump to 20 percent. All of these provisions will be unwelcome news for taxpayers, but it’s important to look at direct and indirect costs. A smaller paycheck is an example of direct costs, but in some cases the indirect costs – such as slower economic growth – are even more important. This is why higher tax rates on entrepreneurs and investors are so misguided. For every dollar the government collects from policies targeting these people (such as higher capital gains and dividend taxes, a renewed death tax, and increases in the top tax rates), it’s likely that there will be significant collateral economic damage.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s approach is to look at tax policy only through the prism of class warfare. This means that some tax cuts can be extended, but only if there is no direct benefit to anybody making more than $200,000 or $250,000 per year. The folks at the White House apparently don’t understand, however, that higher direct costs on the “rich” will translate into higher indirect costs on the rest of us. Higher tax rates on work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship will slow economic growth. And, because of compounding, even small changes in the long-run growth rate can have a significant impact on living standards within one or two decades. This is one of the reasons why high-tax European welfare states have lost ground in recent decades compared to the United States.

When the economy slows down, that’s not good news for upper-income taxpayers. But it’s also bad news for the rest of us – and it can create genuine hardship for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. The White House may be playing smart politics. As this blurb from the Washington Post indicates, the President seems to think that he can get away with blaming the recession on tax cuts that took place five years before the downturn began. But for those of us who care about prosperity more than politics, what really matters is that the economy is soon going to be hit with higher tax rates on productive behavior. It’s unclear whether that’s good for the President’s poll numbers, but it’s definitely bad for America.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner took the lead Sunday in continuing the Obama administration’s push for extending middle-class tax cuts while allowing similar cuts for the nation’s wealthiest individuals to expire in January. …The tax cuts, put in place between 2001 and 2003, have become an intensely political topic ahead of the congressional elections this fall. Republicans have argued that extending the full spectrum of tax cuts is essential to strengthening the sluggish economic recovery. Geithner rejected that notion, telling ABC’s “This Week” that letting tax cuts for the wealthiest expire would not hurt growth. …On Saturday, the president used part of his weekly address to chide House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) and other Republicans who oppose the administration’s approach, saying the GOP was pushing “the same policies that led us into this recession.”

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The Wall Street Journal ponders the mini-tax revolt among some Democrats, ranging from Kent Conrad in the Senate to Jerrold Nadler in the House, who are suddenly making arguments that it would be a bad idea to allow higher tax rates in 2011 (because the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts automatically expire).
 
I’m not holding my breath waiting for good results. Almost all of the Democrat “tax cutters” are making flawed Keynesian arguments, so they don’t even understand why it’s a good idea to focus on lowering marginal tax rates. But the WSJ’s editorial makes a good point about accepting good policy even if it’s based on bad analysis. But since extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts would require the support of almost 20 Democrat Senators and 40 Democrat Congressmen, I’m afraid it’s a moot issue – especially since the Obama White House is dominated by the hate-n-envy class-warfare crowd.

The revelation that tax increases could hurt the economy has recently been heard from Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and, most surprising, even from Kent Conrad of North Dakota. On a scale of unlikely events, this is like the Pope coming out against celibacy. As Senate Budget Chairman, Mr. Conrad has rarely seen a tax increase he didn’t like, but this week he averred that “As a general rule, you don’t want to be cutting spending or raising taxes in the midst of a downturn.” …Even Jerrold Nadler, a liberal from central casting, is worrying publicly that the tax hike will hit his New York constituents too hard. And he’s certainly right given that the combined top state and federal income tax rate will be close to 54% in 2011 in New York City. Mr. Nadler is proposing—seriously—to adjust the income tax brackets based on regional cost of living so fewer New Yorkers pay the rates …These are hardly supply-side conversions, but they’re a start. The economic recovery is far from robust, and socking it with one of the largest tax increases in history in January is not going to make anyone more eager to invest or create new jobs. Even Lord Keynes opposed raising taxes in a recession, and good Keynesian Democrats like the late economist Walter Heller persuaded JFK to cut tax rates in the 1960s. Those cuts kicked off that decade’s economic boom. Only in the age of Obama have Democrats convinced themselves that the best “stimulus” is higher spending and higher taxes. …even if all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are made permanent, the share of national output that goes toward federal income taxes will in every year stay well above the post-World War II average of 8.2%. Income tax receipts will rise gradually to 10% of GDP, even with the current tax rates intact, because as the economy grows the progressive tax code takes a larger share. If tax increases weaken the economy, revenues won’t increase as fast as Democrats hope and the deficit won’t fall by as much in any case. Which brings us back to the Speaker, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Mr. Obama, who remain prisoners of their spend-and-tax dogma. Even as the Democratic tax revolt broke into the open yesterday morning, the White House rolled out Mr. Geithner to declare that the tax increases will arrive as scheduled. So the same Mr. Geithner who says the economy is weak enough that we must have new spending “stimulus” says it is strong enough to endure a huge tax increase.

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Australia got rid of its death tax in 1979. A couple of Aussie academics investigated whether the elimination of the tax had any impact on death rates. They found the ultimate example of supply-side economics, as reported in the abstract of their study.
In 1979, Australia abolished federal inheritance taxes. Using daily deaths data, we show that approximately 50 deaths were shifted from the week before the abolition to the week after. This amounts to over half of those who would have been eligible to pay the tax. Although we cannot rule out the possibility that our results are driven by misreporting, our results imply that over the very short run, the death rate may be highly elastic with respect to the inheritance tax rate.

It looks like this experiment will be repeated in the United States, but in the other direction. There was a rather unsettling article in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend. The story begins with a description of how the death tax rate dropped from 45 percent in 2009 to zero in 2010, and then notes the huge implications of a scheduled increase to 55 percent in 2011.

Congress, quite by accident, is incentivizing death. When the Senate allowed the estate tax to lapse at the end of last year, it encouraged wealthy people near death’s door to stay alive until Jan. 1 so they could spare their heirs a 45% tax hit. Now the situation has reversed: If Congress doesn’t change the law soon—and many experts think it won’t—the estate tax will come roaring back in 2011. …The math is ugly: On a $5 million estate, the tax consequence of dying a minute after midnight on Jan. 1, 2011 rather than two minutes earlier could be more than $2 million; on a $15 million estate, the difference could be about $8 million.
The story then features several anecdotes from successful people, along with observations from those who deal with wealthy taxpayers. The obvious lesson is that taxpayers don’t want the IRS to confiscate huge portions of what has been saved and invested over lifetimes of hard work.
“You don’t know whether to commit suicide or just go on living and working,” says Eugene Sukup, an outspoken critic of the estate tax and the founder of Sukup Manufacturing, a maker of grain bins that employs 450 people in Sheffield, Iowa. Born in Nebraska during the Dust Bowl, the 81-year-old Mr. Sukup is a National Guard veteran and high school graduate who founded his firm, which now owns more than 70 patents, with $15,000 in 1963. He says his estate taxes, which would be zero this year, could be more that $15 million if he were to die next year. …Estate planners and doctors caution against making life-and-death decisions based on money. Yet many people ignore that advice. Robert Teague, a pulmonologist who ran a chronic ventilator facility at a Houston hospital for two decades, found that money regularly figured in end-of-life decisions. “In about 10% of the cases I handled at any one time, financial considerations came into play,” he says. In 2009, more than a few dying people struggled to live into 2010 in hopes of preserving assets for their heirs. Clara Laub, a widow who helped her husband build a Fresno, Calif., grape farm from 20 acres into more than 900 acres worth several million dollars, was diagnosed with advanced cancer in October, 2009. Her daughter Debbie Jacobsen, who helps run the farm, says her mother struggled to live past December and died on New Year’s morning: “She made my son promise to tell her the date and time every day, even if we wouldn’t,” Mrs. Jacobsen says. …Mr. Aucutt, who has practiced estate-tax law for 35 years, expects to see “truly gruesome” cases toward the end of the year, given the huge difference between 2010 and 2011 rates.
The obvious question, of course, is whether politicians will allow the tax to be reinstated. The answer is almost certainly yes, but it’s also going to be interesting to see if they try to impose the tax retroactively on people who died this year.
So far in 2010, an estimated 25,000 taxpayers have died whose estates are affected by current law, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. That group includes least two billionaires, real-estate magnate Walter Shorenstein and energy titan Dan Duncan. …”Enough very wealthy people have died whose estates have the means to challenge a retroactive tax, and that could tie the issue up in the courts for years,” says tax-law professor Michael Graetz of Columbia University.
It should go without saying, by the way, that the correct rate for the death tax is zero. It’s also worth noting that this is an issue that shows that incentives do matter.

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Much of the economic debate in Washington revolves around the silly Keynesian notion that politicians can stimulate an economy by borrowing money from the private sector and using the funds to make government bigger. That didn’t work for Hoover and Roosevelt during the 1930s, Japan during the 1990s, Bush in 2008, or Obama last year and this year, but the theory is convenient for politicians seeking ways to justify their natural tendencies. There are other factors that impact economic performance, however, and Amity Shlaes explains in the Washington Post that Obama is making the same mistakes as Roosevelt in some of these other areas. Here’s a blurb from her column, comparing Obama’s class-warfare tax agenda with FDR’s disastrous “soak the rich” law.
By fixating on the debt and stimulus plans, Obama and Congress are overlooking challenges to the economy from taxes, employment and the entrepreneurial environment. President Roosevelt’s great error was to ignore such factors — and the result was that sickening double dip. …Income taxes, the dividend tax and capital gains taxes are all set to rise as the Bush tax cuts expire. The Obama administration portrays these increases as necessary for budgetary and social reasons. …The administration and congressional Democrats are also striving to ensure that businesses pony up. …Roosevelt, too, pursued the dual purposes of revenue and social good. In 1935 he signed legislation known as the “soak the rich” law. FDR, more radical than Obama in his class hostility, spoke explicitly of the need for “very high taxes.” Roosevelt’s tax trap was the undistributed-profits tax, which hit businesses that chose not to disgorge their cash as dividends or wages. The idea was to goad companies into action. The outcome was not what the New Dealers envisioned. Horrified by what they perceived as an existential threat, businesses stopped buying equipment and postponed expansion. They hired lawyers to find ways around the undistributed-profits tax. In May 1938, after months of unemployment rates in the high teens, the Democratic Congress cut back the detested tax. That bill became law without the president’s signature.

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I’ve frequently argued that the main purpose of “taxing the rich” is not to collect more revenue. Smart leftists, after all, understand that there are very strong Laffer Curve effects at the top of the income scale since investors and entrepreneurs have considerable ability to control the timing, level, and composition of their income. So if higher tax rates on upper-income taxpayers don’t collect much revenue, why is the left so insistent on class-warfare taxation? The answer, I think, is that soak-the-rich taxes are a “loss-leader” that politicians impose in order to pave the way for higher taxes on the middle class. Indeed, I made this point in my video on class warfare taxation, and noted that are not enough rich people to finance big government. As such, politicians that want to tax the middle class hope to soften opposition among ordinary people by first punishing society’s most productive people. We already know that tax rates on the so-called rich will jump next January thanks to higher income tax rates, higher capital gains tax rates, more double taxation of dividends, and higher death taxes. Now the politicians are preparing to drop the other shoe. Excerpted below is a blurb from the Washington Post about a member of the House Democratic leadership urging middle-class tax hikes, and let’s not forgot all the politicians salivating for a value-added tax.

Tax cuts that benefit the middle class should not be “totally sacrosanct” as policymakers try to plug the nation’s yawning budget gap, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Monday, acknowledging that it would be difficult to reduce long-term deficits without breaking President Obama’s pledge to protect families earning less than $250,000 a year. Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, said in an interview that he expects Congress to extend middle-class tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration that are set to expire at the end of this year. But he said the extension should not be permanent. Hoyer said he plans to call for a “serious discussion” about the affordability of the tax breaks. …The overarching point in Hoyer’s remarks is the need for a bipartisan plan that includes spending cuts and tax increases, in the tradition of deficit-reduction deals cut under former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Drafting such a plan would require a reexamination of tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003, Hoyer says — cuts that benefited most taxpayers.

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CNBC is reporting that 51 German millionaires and billionaires have endorsed the idea of that rich people should have to give an extra 10 percent of their income to the government. I’m tempted to dismiss this story since (according to my rudimentary math skills) these clowns represent only 6/1000th of 1 percent of all wealthy Germans, but there’s a more important point to discuss. There’s no law stopping these neurotic people from giving extra money to government, so the real story is that they want the government to impose this bad policy on all successful people. I’ve debated this topic with a couple of ultra-rich American leftists (see here and here) and they never have a good answer when I ask them why they don’t give away their fortunes to the politicians and stop trying to impose their neurotic views on others.

A group of 51 German millionaires and billionaires founded a Club of the Wealthy and wrote to Chancellor Angela Merkel proposing to give up 10 percent of their income in the form of a “Rich Tax” for 10 years to consolidate the budget. With an estimated 800,000 millionaires (in dollars) — about 1 percent of the total population — Germany is eye-to-eye with the USA and has long overtaken the UK as Europe’s number one “millionaire-land”, both in terms of absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population. But traditionally, the Germans don’t dare to feel good about their riches.

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Hillary Clinton recently opined that Brazil was a great role model for the idea of soaking the rich with higher tax rates. She didn’t really offer evidence for that specific assertion, but Politico reports that she did say that “”Brazil has the highest tax-to-GDP rate in the Western Hemisphere and guess what — they’re growing like crazy.”

I’m not sure if “growing like crazy” is an accurate description, particularly since poor nations normally have decent growth rates because they start from such a low baseline.

But let’s excuse that bit of rhetorical excess and focus on the really flawed portion of her remarks.

Contrary to her direct quote, Brazil does not have the “highest tax-to-GDP rate in the Western Hemisphere.” It may have the highest tax burden in South America. And it may even have the highest tax burden in all of Latin America, but its overall tax burden of about 24 percent of GDP is slightly below the aggregate tax burden in America.

I suppose I should issue a caveat and say there’s a very slight chance that the recession has temporarily pushed American tax receipts as a share of GDP below the Brazilian level, but that isn’t apparent from the IMF data. Moreover, there’s no doubt that the tax burden in Canada is significantly higher than the Brazilian burden.

So Mrs. Clinton either was unaware that the United States and Canada are in the Western Hemisphere, or has no clue how to read fiscal statistics.

But let’s suspend reality and assume that Brazil has a higher tax-to-GDP ratio. Would that somehow be proof that Brazil is a role model for class-warfare taxation? There is no precise definition of that term, to be sure, but high tax rates on the rich presumably are a necessary component of any class-warfare system. Yet Brazil’s top tax rate is 27.5 percent. That’s not exactly a low-rate system such as Hong Kong, and it’s 27.5 percentage points higher than the zero-percent rate in the Cayman Islands, but it also happens to be significantly lower than the 35 percent (soon to be 39.6 percent) rate in the United States. If that’s class warfare, sign me up for the Brazilian approach.

I suppose it’s possible that Brazil’s top tax rate recently has been boosted, but that didn’t show up in a Google search. And even if the rate was just increased, that would hardly be proof of Mrs. Clinton’s strange hypothesis that high tax rates and/or high tax-to-GDP rates are a magical formula for growth. That would require looking at future economic performance with the higher top tax rate, not the recent growth rates with the 27.5 percent top tax rate.

But pointing out Mrs. Clinton’s mistakes seems a bit rude and I do like to be a gentleman, so let’s at least give her points for consistency. Earlier this year, she urged higher tax rates on the so-called rich in Pakistan, so at least she doesn’t discriminate in her desire to punish success.

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Every economic theory – even socialism and Marxism – agrees that saving and investment (a.k.a., capital formation) are a key to long-run growth and higher living standards. Yet the tax code penalizes with double taxation those who are willing to forego current consumption to finance future prosperity. This new Center for Freedom and Prosperity video explains why the capital gains tax should be abolished.

 

Unfortunately, Obama wants to go in the wrong direction. He wants to boost the official capital gains tax rate from 15 percent to 20 percent – and that is after imposing a back-door 3.8 percentage point increase in the tax rate as part of his government-run healthcare scheme.

Share this post with your friends and neighbors. If enough people understand why the capital gains tax is a job killer that reduces American competitiveness, perhaps the wrong thing won’t happen.

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The President had another “spread the wealth” slip of the tongue the other day, this time remarking that “at some point you have made enough money.” Some have commented that this exposes Obama’s anti-capitalist ideology, and others have correctly noted that the government should have no role in determining the “right” level of income. But I think Michelle Malkin hit the nail on the head by exposing the absurd levels of hypocrisy when Obama (who is in the top 1 percent) and his cabinet (filled with other people who are very wealthy) push policies designed to make it more difficult for other people to get rich. And as Michelle notes, Obama and his cronies largely got rich because of favoritism rather than producing anything of real value:

President Obama spoke the most revealing and clarifying ten words of his control-freak administration this week: “I think at some point you have made enough money.” …Obama then ad-libbed peculiar definitions of what he called the “American way” and the profit motive: “You can just keep on making it if you’re providing a good product or providing good service. We don’t want people to stop, ah, fulfilling the core responsibilities of the financial system to help grow our economy.” Fundamental lesson of Capitalism 101: Governments and bureaucrats don’t make what people want and need. They only get in the way. It is individuals, cooperating peacefully and voluntarily, working together without mandate or central design, who produce the world’s goods and services. They make what people desire and demand for themselves, not what Obama and his imperial overlords ordain that the masses should have. As usual, Obama’s populist demagoguery is telling in its omissions and selectivity. While he lectures on the morality of salary caps for everyone else, his own cabinet is filled with fabulously wealthy CEOs and statist creatures who have parlayed government employment (a “good” service) into private gain as lobbyists, consultants, and advisers (“core responsibilities of the financial system”), and then back again to public stints. Revolving doors have always grown the Beltway economy. …That famous mock-up poster of Obama as the creepy socialist Joker has never seemed more apt.

The only thing I would have added is that Obama and friends represent the interests of government, and people in government receive twice as much compensation, on average, as the taxpayers (i.e., serfs) who pay their lavish salaries and benefits. This is utterly disgusting.

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Obama imposed higher tax rates on the so-called rich as part of his government-run healthcare scheme, and he wants to punish success with additional tax rate increases at the end of this year. This excerpt from a New York Post column comments on how many people are getting a free ride from the tax system, but then goes on to explain why a spiteful policy based on class warfare will backfire:

Nearly half of American tax filers didn’t have to pay any federal income tax last year. But Americans — especially New Yorkers — shouldn’t enjoy the free ride. Soon enough, everybody will pay for the higher spending that Washington’s “generosity” encourages. And thanks to Washington, we’ll be paying for higher state and local spending at the same time, too. Just a decade ago, two-thirds of American tax filers still paid into the tax system. …everyone should have to pay something — and anyone who earns enough to have cable TV can pay something toward their own national defense, too. A big majority of people, in fact, should pay enough to be annoyed on April 15 rather than excited. Otherwise, the politicians will figure they can just keep spending without angering a critical mass of voters. …seems certain to let the Bush tax cuts for upper-income Americans expire — so in January the top rate will jump back to 39.6 from 35 percent. Two years later, a new 3.8 percent tax kicks in on investment income earned by families who make $250,000 and up (part of the health-care bill). Thing is, the rich already do pay. And when it comes time to pay for all of the spending we’re doing now, the rich may not be able or willing to pay even more. Taxpayers earning over $200,000 paid more than 54 percent of federal income taxes in 2007, way more than the 32 percent of the nation’s income they earned. …there’s a limit to how much the government can get. Last year, New York hiked income taxes on people who earn more than $200,000. But, as E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center for New York State Policy noted last month, the expected take from that tax hike seems likely to come in half a billion below estimates. There’s good reason to think Obama’s tax hikes on the rich will fall short, too. No, federal taxpayers can’t leave the country as easily as a handful of Bloomberg’s Upper East Side neighbors can leave New York — but they can park more money in tax-free investments or simply decline to earn it in the first place. Such tax-avoidance is perfectly legal — but it means less economic growth, and thus less income earned by everyone else.

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I’ve always thought it would be nice to inherit a big pile of money, but whenever I debate some trust-fund collectivist, it makes me wonder whether there’s too much risk that unearned wealth causes…well, let’s just say causes strange opinions. Here’s my recent debate on Kudlow’s show with a rich guy who wants to pay more tax to the crooks in Washington.

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 Appearing on Larry Kudlow’s show, I talk about the poisonous class-warfare tax policy in the United Kingdom and United States.

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A Washington Post columnist reports on a group of limousine liberals who are lobbying to pay more taxes. Of course, there’s no law that prevents them from writing big checks to the government and voluntarily paying more, so what they’re really lobbying for is higher taxes on the vast majority of investors and entrepreneurs who don’t want more of their income confiscated by the clowns in Washington and squandered on corrupt and inefficient programs. I debated one of these guilt-ridden, silver-spoon, trust-fund rich people on CNN last year and never got an answer when I asked him why he wanted to pull up the ladder of opportunity for the rest of us who would like to become rich some day. Here’s what the Post reported on the issue:

A group of liberals got together Tuesday and proved that they, too, can have a tax rebellion. But theirs is a little bit different: They want to pay more taxes. “I’m in favor of higher taxes on people like me,” declared Eric Schoenberg, who is sitting on an investment banking fortune. He complained about “my absurdly low tax rates.” “We’re calling on other wealthy taxpayers to join us,” said paper-mill heir Mike Lapham, “to send the message to Congress and President Obama that it’s time to roll back the tax cuts on upper-income taxpayers.” …For them, Obama’s plan to “spread the wealth” (by raising taxes on families earning more than $250,000) is too conservative. “The Obama plan we don’t think goes far enough,” Lapham protested. “We think probably more like the top 5 percent should have their taxes raised.” That would be those above $200,000. “Or go beyond that,” he suggested. … They are among 50 families with net assets of more than $1 million to take a “tax fairness” pledge — donating the amount they saved from Bush tax cuts to organizations fighting for the repeal of the Bush tax cuts. According to a study by Spectrem Group, 7.8 million households in the United States have assets of more than $1 million — so that leaves 7,799,950 millionaire households yet to take the pledge. …Of course, if millionaires really want to pay higher taxes, there’s nothing stopping them. The Treasury Department Web site even accepts contributions by credit card to pay the public debt. …His donation will, however, ease the sense of guilt that comes with great wealth, described poignantly by the millionaires: “In 1865, my great-great-grandfather Samuel Pruyn founded a paper mill on the banks of the Hudson River in Glens Falls, New York,” Lapham explained. Judy Pigott, an industrial heiress on the call, added her wish that her income, “mostly unearned income, be taxed at a rate that returns to the common good that I have received by a privilege.” Confessed Hollender, who now runs the Seventh Generation natural products company: “I grew up in Manhattan on Park Avenue in a 10-room apartment.”

P.S. It’s also rather revealing that Massachusetts had (and maybe still has) a portion of the state tax form allowing people to pay extra tax, yet very rich statists like John Kerry decided not to pay that tax while urging higher taxes for mere peasants like you and me.

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Writing in the Wall Street Journal, my Cato Institute colleague Alan Reynolds offers a simple economics lesson about pitfalls of class-warfare tax policy:

…the evidence is clear that when marginal tax rates go up, the amount of reported incomes goes down. Economists call that “the elasticity of taxable income” (ETI), and measure it by examining income tax returns before and after marginal tax rates claimed a bigger slice of income reported to the IRS. The evidence is surveyed in a May 2009 paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research by Emmanuel Saez of the University of California at Berkeley, Joel Slemrod of the University of Michigan, and Seth Giertz of the University of Nebraska. They review a number of studies and find that “for an elasticity estimate of 0.5 . . . the fraction of tax revenue lost from behavioral responses would be 43.1%.” That elasticity estimate of 0.5 would whittle the Obama team’s hoped-for $1.2 trillion down to $671 billion. As the authors note, however, “there is much evidence to suggest that the ETI is higher for high-income individuals.” The authors’ illustrative use of a 0.5 figure is a perfectly reasonable approximation for most purposes, but not for tax hikes aimed at the very rich. For incomes above $100,000, a 2008 study by MIT economist Jon Gruber and Mr. Saez found an ETI of 0.57. But for incomes above $350,000 (the top 1%), they estimated the ETI at 0.62. And for incomes above $500,000, Treasury Department economist Bradley Heim recently estimated the ETI at 1.2—which means higher tax rates on the super-rich yield less revenue than lower tax rates. If an accurate ETI estimate for the highest incomes is closer to 1.0 than 0.5, as such studies suggest, the administration’s intended tax hikes on high-income families will raise virtually no revenue at all. Yet the higher tax rates will harm economic growth through reduced labor effort, thwarted entrepreneurship, and diminished investments in physical and human capital. And that, in turn, means a smaller tax base and less revenue in the future.

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An insightful editorial from the Wall Street Journal examines how soak-the-rich taxes in Maryland backfired, leading to less revenue for the government. The politicians would like us to think this is just the effect of the recession, but the article points out that one out of every eight millionaires who filed a tax return in 2007 did not file one in 2008. A few may have died, but the big reason for this shocking reduction is migration. As one study discovered, Maryland’s tax base fell by $1 billion because successful taxpayers escaped to other states:

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is the latest Democrat to demand a tax increase, this week proposing to raise the state’s top marginal individual income tax rate to 4% from 3%. He’d better hope this works out better than it has for Maryland. …The politicians in Annapolis had said they’d collect $106 million by raising its income tax rate on millionaire households to 6.25% from 4.75%. In cities like Baltimore and Bethesda, which apply add-on income taxes, the top tax rate with the surcharge now reaches as high as 9.3%—fifth highest in the nation. Liberals said this was based on incomplete data and that rich Marylanders hadn’t fled the state. Well, the state comptroller’s office now has the final tax return data for 2008, the first year that the higher tax rates applied. The number of millionaire tax returns fell sharply to 5,529 from 7,898 in 2007, a 30% tumble. The taxes paid by rich filers fell by 22%, and instead of their payments increasing by $106 million, they fell by some $257 million. Yes, a big part of that decline results from the recession that eroded incomes, especially from capital gains. But there is also little doubt that some rich people moved out or filed their taxes in other states with lower burdens. One-in-eight millionaires who filed a Maryland tax return in 2007 filed no return in 2008. Some died, but the others presumably changed their state of residence. (Hint to the class warfare crowd: A lot of rich people have two homes.) A Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysis of federal tax return data on people who migrated from one state to another found that Maryland lost $1 billion of its net tax base in 2008 by residents moving to other states. …Thanks in part to its soak-the-rich theology, Maryland still has a $2 billion deficit… The state’s best hope is that politicians in other states are as self-destructive as those in Annapolis.

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