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Archive for the ‘Class warfare’ Category

As far as I’m concerned, no sentient human being could look at what happened in the United States in the 1980s and not agree that high tax rates on upper-income taxpayers are foolish and self-destructive.

Not only did the economy grow faster after Reagan lowered rates, but the IRS even collected more revenue (a lot more revenue) because rich people earned and reported so much additional income.

That should be a win-win for all sides, though there are some leftists who hate the rich more than they like additional revenue.

Anyhow, I raise this example because there are politicians today who think it’s a good idea to go back to the punitive tax policy that existed in the 1970s.

Hillary Clinton proposed big tax hikes in last year’s campaign. And now, as reported by the U.K.-based Times, the Labour Party across the ocean is openly embracing a soak-the-rich agenda.

Labour’s tax raid on the country’s 1.3 million highest earners could raise less than half the £4.5 billion claimed by the party, experts said last night. The policy was announced by Jeremy Corbyn as part of plans to raise £48 billion through tax increases. …At the manifesto’s heart are plans to lower the threshold for the 45p tax rate from £150,000 to £80,000 and introduce a 50p tax band for those earning more than £123,000 a year. …Labour said that the increases could raise as much as £6.4 billion to help to fund giveaways such as the scrapping of tuition fees and more cash for the NHS, schools and childcare.

Here’s a chart from the article, showing who gets directly hurt by Corbyn’s class-warfare scheme.

But here’s the amazing part of the article.

The Labour Party, which has become radically left wing under Corbyn, openly acknowledges that the Laffer Curve is real and that there will be negative revenue feedback.

Under Labour’s calculation, if no one changed their behaviour as a result of the tax changes, a future government would raise an extra £6.4 billion a year. In its spending commitments the party is assuming that the new measures would bring in about £4.5 billion.

This is remarkable. The hard-left Labour Party admits that about 30 percent of the tax increase will disappear because taxpayers will respond by earning and/or reporting less taxable income.

That’s a huge concession to the real world, which is more than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton ever did. Welcome to the supply side, Jeremy Corbyn!

Moreover, establishment organizations such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies also incorporate the Laffer Curve in their analysis. But even more so.

They say Labour’s class-warfare tax hike would – at best – raise less than half as much as the static revenue estimate.

The IFS said that even this reduced figure looked optimistic and the changes were more likely to raise £2 billion to £3 billion — about half the amount claimed. “The amount of extra revenue these higher tax rates would raise is very uncertain,” Paul Johnson, director of the IFS, said. “What we do know is that raising tax levels on those people earning over £150,000 does not bring in additional revenues because the kind of people on these kinds of incomes are significantly more able to work around the tax system.

Now let’s compared the enlightened approach in the United Kingdom to the more primitive approach in the United States.

The official revenue-estimating body on Capitol Hill, the Joint Committee on Taxation, has only taken baby steps in the direction of dynamic scoring (which is an improvement over their old approach of static scoring, but they still have a long way to go).

Fortunately, there are some private groups who do revenue estimates, similar to the IFS in the UK.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget put together this very useful table comparing how the Tax Foundation and the Tax Policy Center “scored” the Better Way Plan.

The key numbers are in the dark blue rows. As you can see, the Tax Foundation assumes about 90 percent revenue feedback while the left-leaning Tax Policy Center only projects about 22 percent revenue feedback.

Since not all tax cuts/tax increases are created equal, the 22-percent revenue feedback calculation by the Tax Policy Center does not put them to the left of the Labour Party, which assumed 30-percent revenue feedback.

Indeed, the Labour Party’s tax hike is focused on upper-income taxpayers, who do have more ability to respond when there are changes in tax policy, so a high number is appropriate. However, there are some very pro-growth provisions in the Better Way Plan, such as a lower corporate tax rate, expensing, death tax repeal, etc, so I definitely think the Tax Foundation’s projections are closer to the truth.

For policy wonks, Alan Cole of the Tax Foundation explained why their numbers tend to differ.

The bottom line is that we are slowly but surely making progress on dynamic scoring. Even folks on the left openly acknowledge that higher tax rates impose at least some damage. You know what they say about a journey of a thousand miles.

P.S. None of this changes the fact that I still don’t like the BAT, but I freely admit that the economy would grow much faster if the overall Better Way Plan was enacted.

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To pick the state with the best tax policy, the first step is to identify the ones with no income tax and then look at other variables to determine which one deserves the top ranking.

For what it’s worth, I put South Dakota at the top.

Picking the state with the worst tax policy is more difficult. There are lots of reasons to pick California, in part because it has the highest income tax rate of any state. But there are also strong arguments that New York, Illinois, and New Jersey deserve the worst rating.

And let’s not forget my home state of Connecticut, which invariably ranks near the bottom based on research from the Tax Foundation, the Mercatus Center, the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, and WalletHub.

The Wall Street Journal opined yesterday about Connecticut’s metamorphosis from a zero-income-tax state to a high-tax swamp.

Hard to believe, but a mere 25 years ago—a lifetime for millennials—Connecticut was a low-tax haven for Northeasterners. The state enacted an income tax in 1991 that was initially a flat 4.5% but was later made steeply progressive. In 2009 former Republican Governor Jodi Rell raised the top rate on individuals earning $500,000 or more to 6.5%, which Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy has lifted to 6.99% (as if paying 0.01% less than 7% is a government discount). Connecticut’s top tax rate is now higher than the 5.1% flat rate in the state formerly known as Taxachusetts.

This big shift in the tax burden has led to predictably bad results.

…the tax hikes have been a disaster. A net 30,000 residents moved to other states last year. Since 2010 seven of Connecticut’s eight counties have lost population, and the hedge-fund haven of Fairfield County shrank for the first time last year. In the last five years, 27,400 Connecticut residents have moved to Florida. …More than 3,000 Connecticut residents have moved to zero income-tax New Hampshire in the last two years. While liberals wax apocalyptic about Kansas’s tax cuts, the Prairie State has welcomed 1,430 Connecticut refugees since 2011 and reversed the outflow between 2005 and 2009. Yet liberals deny that tax policies influence personal or business decisions.

The good news is that the state’s leftist politicians recognize that there’s a problem. The bad news is that they don’t want to undo the high tax rates that are causing the problems. Instead, they want to use some favoritism, cronyism, and social engineering.

Connecticut’s progressive tax experiment has hit a wall. Tens of thousands of residents are fleeing for lower tax climes, which has prompted Democrats to propose—get this—paying new college grads a thousand bucks to stick around. …proposing a tax credit averaging $1,200 for grads of Connecticut colleges who live in the state as well as those of out-of-state schools who move to the state within two years of earning their degree.

As the WSJ points out, special tax credits won’t be very effective if the job market stinks.

Yet the main reason young people are escaping is the lack of job opportunities. Since 2010 employment in Connecticut has grown at half the rate of Massachusetts and more slowly than in Rhode Island, New Jersey or Kansas.

By the way, this isn’t the first time that Connecticut’s politicians have resorted to special-interest kickbacks.

The Wall Street Journal also editorialized last year about the state’s one-off bribe to keep a hedge fund from fleeing to a state with better policy.

Last week the Governor presented Bridgewater with $5 million in grants and $17 million in low-interest, forgivable loans to renovate its headquarters in Westport along the state’s Gold Coast.

But the bit of cronyism won’t help ordinary people.

Connecticut has lost 105,000 residents to other states over the last five years while experiencing zero real economic growth. …So here is the new-old progressive governing model: Raise taxes relentlessly in the name of soaking the 1% to pay off government unions. When that drives people out of the state, subsidize the 0.1% to salvage at least some jobs and revenue. Ray Dalio gets at least some of his money back. The middle class gets you know what.

What’s particularly frustrating is that the state’s leftist governor understands the consequences of bad tax policy, even though he’s unwilling to enact the right solution.

Mr. Malloy said that other states including New York were trying to lure Bridgewater, and Connecticut couldn’t afford to lose the $150 billion fund or its 1,400 high-income employees. …The Governor’s office says Nutmeg State tax revenues could shrink by $4.9 billion over the next decade if all of Bridgewater’s employees departed. …“We see what happens in places like New Jersey when some of the wealthiest people move out of the state,” Mr. Malloy warned. This is the same Governor who has long echoed the progressive left’s claim that tax rates don’t matter. Maybe he was knocked off his horse by a vision on the road to Hartford.

This is remarkable.

Governor Malloy recognizes that tax-motivated migration is a powerful force.

He even admits that it causes big Laffer Curve effects, meaning governments actually lose revenue over time when tax rates are punitive.

Yet he won’t fix the underlying problem.

Maybe there’s some unwritten rule that Connecticut has to have bad governors?

Mr. Malloy’s Republican predecessor Jodi Rell raised the top marginal tax rate to 6.5% from 5% on individuals earning more than $500,000, and Mr. Malloy raised it again to 6.99%. Hilariously, Ms. Rell said last month that she’s also moving her residence to Florida because of the “downward spiral” in Connecticut that she helped to propel.

And lots of other people are moving as well.

The death tax plays a role, as explained in a column for the Hartford Courant.

Connecticut spends beyond its means and, therefore, taxes more than it should. …they’re driving the largest taxpayers away. We’ve passed the tipping point beyond which higher taxes beget lower revenues… The wealthy, in particular, have decided in swelling numbers they won’t be caught dead — literally — in our state. Evidence strongly suggests that estate and gift taxes are the final straw. To avoid Connecticut’s estate tax, wealthy families are moving to one of the 36 states without one.

And the loss of productive people means the loss of associated economic activity.

Including tax revenue.

Where wealthy families choose to establish residency has important ramifications for Connecticut’s economy and fiscal health. The earlier these golden geese flee, the greater the cumulative loss of golden eggs in the form of income taxes, sales taxes, jobs created by their companies, philanthropic support and future generations of precious taxpayers.

The data on tax-motivated migration is staggering.

Between 2010 and 2013, the number of federal tax returns with adjusted gross incomes of $1 million or more grew only 9.5 percent here vs. 22 percent in Massachusetts, 16 percent in New York and Rhode Island, and 30 percent in Florida. Slow economic growth and ever higher taxes are both cause and effect of out-migration. …In 2008, the state Department of Revenue Services asked accountants and tax lawyers whether clients moved out of state due to the estate tax, and 53 percent of respondents said it was the principal reason. …The outflow accelerated following 2011’s historic $2.5 billion tax increase. In the following two years, Connecticut suffered a net out-migration of more than 27,000 residents who took nearly $4 billion in annual adjusted gross income elsewhere, a stunning $500,000 per household. According to the Yankee Institute, the average adjusted gross income of each person leaving tripled in the past 10 years. At an average tax rate of 6.5 percent, this represents more than $250 million in lost income tax revenue annually, which is 50 percent more than the state collected in estate and gift taxes in 2014.

By the way, just in case some of you are skeptical and think that Connecticut’s deterioration is somehow unconnected to tax policy, I’ll close with this excerpt from some academic research that calculated the nationwide impact of state tax policy differences.

We consider the complete sample of all U.S. establishments from 1977-2011 belonging to firms with at least 100 employees and having operations in at least two states. On the extensive margin, we find that a one percentage point increase (decrease) in the state corporate tax rate leads to the closing (opening) of 0.03 establishments belonging to firms organized as C corporations in the state. This corresponds to an average change in the number of establishments per C corporation of 0.4%. A similar analysis shows that a one percentage point change in the state personal tax rate a§ects the number of establishments in the state per pass-through entity by 0.2-0.3%. These effects are robust to controls for local economic conditions and heterogeneous time trends. …This lends strong support to the view that tax competition across states is economically relevant.

To be sure, the numbers cited above may not sound large.

But keep in mind that small changes, if sustained over time, grow into very big results.

In the case of Connecticut, we have a state that has suffered dramatic negative consequences ever since the income tax was imposed back in 1991.

P.S. While my former state obviously has veered sharply in the wrong direction on fiscal policy, I must say that I’m proud that residents are engaging in civil disobedience against the state’s anti-gun policies.

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I wrote yesterday about how the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is pushing for bigger government in China. That’s a remarkable bit of economic malpractice by the Paris-based international bureaucracy, especially since China is only ranked #113 in the latest scorecard from Economic Freedom of the World. The country very much needs smaller government to become rich, yet the OECD is preaching more statism.

But nobody should be surprised. The OECD, perhaps because its membership is dominated by European welfare states, has a dismal track record of reflexive support for bigger government.

It supports higher taxes and bigger government in Asia, in Latin America, and…yes, you guessed correctly…the United States.

And here’s the latest example. In a new publication, OECD bureaucrats recommend policy changes that ostensibly will produce more growth for the United States. Basically, America should become more like France.

Income inequality has continued to widen… Public infrastructure is not keeping pace… Promote mass transit… Implement usage fees based on distance travelled…to help fund transportation… Expand federal programmes designed to improve access to fixed broadband. …Expand funding for reskilling… Require paid parental leave… Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and raise the minimum wage.

To be fair, not every recommendation involves bigger government.

Adopt legislation that cuts the statutory marginal corporate income tax rate…

But even that single concession to good policy is matched by proposals to squeeze more money from the private sector.

…and broaden the tax base. …Continue with measures to prevent base erosion and profit shifting.

By the way, even though European nations dominate the OECD’s membership, American taxpayers provide the largest share of funding for the OECD.

In other words, we’re paying more taxes to have a bunch of international bureaucrats urge that we get hit with even higher taxes. And to add insult to injury, OECD bureaucrats are exempt from paying taxes!

Maybe that’s why they’re so blind to the harmful impact of bad tax policy.

It’s especially discouraging that the bureaucrats are even advocating greater levels of discriminatory taxation of saving and investment. Here are some blurbs from a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The Paris-based think tank has just junked the conventional economic wisdom on tax it had been promoting for years. …“For the past 30 years we’ve been saying don’t try to tax capital more because you’ll lose it, you’ll lose investment. Well this argument is dead…,” Pascal Saint-Amans, the OECD’s tax chief, said in an interview. …Since the 1970s economists had argued capital income should be taxed relatively lightly because it was more mobile across countries and attracting investment would boost economic growth, ultimately benefiting everyone.

Actually, the argument on not over-taxing capital income is based on the merits of a neutral tax system that doesn’t undermine growth by punishing saving and investment.

The fact that capital is “mobile across countries” was something that constrained politicians from imposing bad tax policy. In other words, tax competition promoted better (or less worse) policy.

But now that tax havens and tax competition have been weakened, politicians are pushing tax rates higher. And the OECD is cheering this destructive development.

Here are some passages from the OECD report on this topic.

…there have been calls to move away from a narrow focus on economic growth towards a greater emphasis on inclusiveness. …Inclusive economic growth…implies that the benefits of increased prosperity and productivity are shared more evenly between people… More specifically with regard to tax policy, inclusive economic growth is related to managing tradeoffs between equity and efficiency. Growth-enhancing tax reforms might come at certain costs in terms of meeting equity goals so tax design for inclusive growth requires taking into account the distributional implications of tax policies.

In other words, the OECD wants to shift away from policies that lead to a growing economic pie and instead fixate on how to re-slice and redistribute a stagnant pie.

And here’s a flowchart from the OECD report. Keep in mind that “inclusive growth” actually means less growth. I’ve helpfully put red stars next to the items that involve more transfers of money from the productive sector of the economy to the government.

That flowchart shows what the OECD wants.

But if you want a real-world example, just look at Greece, France, and Italy.

Which brings me to my final point. To be blunt, it’s crazy that American taxpayers are subsidizing a left-wing overseas bureaucracy like the OECD.

If Republicans have any brains and integrity (I realize that’s asking a lot), they should immediately pull the plug on subsidies for the Paris-based bureaucracy. Sure, it’s only about $100 million per year, but – on a per-dollar spent basis – it’s probably the most destructive spending in the entire budget.

P.S. The OECD even wants a type of World Tax Organization.

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Why would the economy grow faster if we got fundamental reform such as the flat tax?

In part, because there would be one low tax rate instead of the discriminatory and punitive “progressive” system that exists today. As such, the penalty on productive behavior would be reduced.

In part, because there would be no distorting tax breaks that lure people into making decisions based on tax considerations rather than economic merit.

But we’d also enjoy more growth because there would be no more double taxation. Under a flat tax, the death tax is abolished, the capital gains tax is abolished, there’s no double taxation on savings, the second layer of tax on dividends is eliminated, and depreciation is replaced by expensing.

In the wonky jargon of public finance economists, this means we would have a “consumption-based” system, which is just another way of saying that income  would be taxed only one time. No longer would the internal revenue code discourage capital formation by imposing a higher effective tax rate on income that is saved and invested (compared to the tax rate on income that is consumed).

Indeed, this is the feature of tax reform that probably generates the most growth. As I explain in this video on capital gains taxation, all economic theories – even Marxism and socialism – agree that capital formation is a key to long-run prosperity.

The good news is that reducing double taxation is a goal of most major tax plans in Washington. Trump’s campaign plan reduced double taxation, and the House Better Way Plan reduces double taxation.

But that doesn’t mean there’s an easy path for reform. The Hill reports on some of the conflicts that may sabotage legislation this year.

The fight over a border-adjustment tax isn’t the only challenge for Republicans in their push for tax reform. …Notably, some business groups have criticized the proposal to do away with the deduction for businesses’ net interest expenses. …the blueprint does not specifically discuss how the carried interest that fund managers receive would be taxed. Under current law, carried interest is taxed as capital gains, rather than at the higher rates for ordinary income. During the presidential race, Trump repeatedly said he wanted to eliminate the carried interest tax break, and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told CNN on Sunday that Trump still plans to do this. Many Democrats also want carried interest to be taxed as ordinary income.

The border-adjustment tax is probably the biggest threat to tax reform, but the debate over “carried interest” also could be a problem since Trump endorsed a higher tax burden on this type of capital gain during the campaign.

Here are some excerpts from a recent news report.

Donald Trump vowed to stick up for Main Street over Wall Street — that line helped get him elected. But the new president has already hit a roadblock, with fellow Republicans who control Congress balking at Trump’s pledge to close a loophole that allows hedge fund and private equity managers to pay lower taxes on investment management fees. …The White House declined to comment on the status of negotiations between Trump and congressional Republicans over the carried-interest provision. …U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., a House Financial Services Committee member and former Goldman Sachs executive, said there is chaos on the tax reform front. “That’s on the list of dozens of things where there is disagreement between the president and the Republican majority in Congress,” Himes said.

Regarding the specific debate over carried interest, I’ve already explained why I prefer current law over Trump’s proposal.

Today I want to focus on the “story behind the story.” One of my main concerns is that the fight over the tax treatment of carried interest is merely a proxy for a larger campaign to increase the tax burden on all capital gains.

For instance, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee openly uses the issue of carried interest as a wedge to advocate a huge increase in the overall tax rate on capital gains.

Of course, when you talk about the carried interest loophole, you’re talking about capital gains. And when you talk about capital gains, you’re talking about the biggest tax shelter of all – the one hiding in plain sight. Today the capital gains tax rate is 23.8 percent. …treat[ing] income from wages and wealth the same way. In my view, that’s a formula that ought to be repeated.

The statists at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development also advocate higher taxes on carried interest as part of a broader campaign for higher capital gains taxes.

Taxing as ordinary income all remuneration, including fringe benefits, carried interest arrangements, and stock options… Examining ways to tax capital income at the personal level at slightly progressive rates, and align top capital and labour income tax rates.

It would be an overstatement to say that everyone who wants higher taxes on carried interest wants higher taxes on all forms of capital gains. But it is accurate to assert that every advocate of higher taxes on capital gains wants higher taxes on carried interest.

If they succeed, that would be a very bad result for American workers and for American competitiveness.

For those wanting more information, here’s the Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s video on carried interest.

Last but not least, wonky readers may be interested in learning that carried interest partnerships can be traced all the way back to medieval Venice.

Start-up merchants needed investors, and investors needed some incentive to finance the merchants. For the investor, there was the risk of their investment literally sailing out of the harbor never to be seen again. The Venetian government solved this problem by creating one of the first examples of a joint stock company, the “colleganza.” The colleganza was a contract between the investor and the merchant willing to do the travel. The investor put up the money to buy the goods and hire the ship, and the merchant made the trip to sell the goods and then buy new foreign goods that could then be brought back and sold to Venetians. Profits were then split between the merchant and investor according to the agreements in the contract.

Fortunately for the merchants and investors of that era, neither income taxes nor capital gains taxes existed.

P.S. Italy didn’t have any sort of permanent income tax until 1864. Indeed, most modern nations didn’t impose these punitive levies until the late 1800s and early 1900s. The United States managed to hold out until that awful dreary day in 1913. It’s worth noting that the U.S. and other nations managed to become rich and prosperous prior to the adoption of those income taxes. And it’s also worth noting that the rapid growth of the 18th century occurred when the burden of government spending was very modest and there was almost no redistribution spending.

P.P.S. Now that we have income taxes (and the bigger governments enabled by those levies), the only silver lining is that governments have compensated for bad fiscal policy with better policy in other areas.

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In my never-ending strategy to educate policy makers about the Laffer Curve, I generally rely on both microeconomic theory (i.e., people respond to incentives) and real-world examples.

And my favorite real-world example is what happened in the 1980s when Reagan cut the top tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent. Critics said Reagan’s reforms would deprive the Treasury of revenue and result in rich people paying a lot less tax. So I share IRS data on annual tax revenues from those making more than $200,000 per year to show that there was actually a big increase in revenue from upper-income taxpayers.

It has slowly dawned on me, though, that this may not be the best example to share if I’m trying to convince skeptical statists. After all, they presumably don’t like Reagan and they may viscerally reject my underlying point about the Laffer Curve since I’m linking it to the success of Reaganomics.

So I have a new strategy for getting my leftist friends to accept the Laffer Curve. I’m instead going to link the Laffer Curve to “successful” examples of left-wing policy. To be more specific, statists like to use the power of government to control our behavior, often by imposing mandates and regulations. But sometimes they impose taxes on things they don’t like.

And if I can use those example to teach them the basic lesson of supply-side economics (if you tax something, you get less of it), hopefully they’ll apply that lesson when contemplating higher taxes on thing they presumably do like (such as jobs, growth, competitiveness, etc).

Here’s a list of “successful” leftist tax hikes that have come to my attention.

Now I’m going to augment this list with an example from the United Kingdom.

By way of background, there’s been a heated housing market in England, with strong demand leading to higher prices. The pro-market response is to allow more home-building, but the anti-developer crowd doesn’t like that approach, so instead a big tax on high-value homes was imposed.

And as the Daily Mail reports, this statist approach has been so “successful” that the tax hike has resulted in lower tax revenues.

George Osborne’s controversial tax raid on Britain’s most expensive homes has triggered a dramatic slump in stamp duty revenues. Sales of properties worth more than £1.5million fell by almost 40 per cent last year, according to analysis of Land Registry figures… This has caused the total amount of stamp duty collected by the Treasury to fall by around £440million, from £1.079billion to a possible £635.7million. The figures cover the period between April and November last year compared to the same period in 2015.

Our leftist friends, who sometimes openly admit that they want higher taxes on the rich even if the government doesn’t actually collect any extra revenue, should be especially happy because the tax has made life more difficult for people with more wealth and higher incomes.

Those buying a £1.5 million house faced an extra £18,750 in stamp duty. …Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg…described Mr Osborne’s ‘punitive’ stamp duty hikes as the ‘politics of envy’, adding that they have also failed because they have raised less money for the Treasury.

By the way, the fact that the rich paid less tax last year isn’t really the point. Instead, the lesson to be learned is that a tax increase caused there to be less economic activity.

So I won’t care if the tax on expensive homes brings in more money next year, but I will look to see if fewer homes are being sold compared to when this tax didn’t exist.

And if my leftist friends say they don’t care if fewer expensive homes are being sold, I’ll accept they have achieved some sort of victory. But I’ll ask them to be intellectually consistent and admit that they are implementing a version of supply-side economics and that they are embracing the notion that tax rates change behavior.

Once that happens, it’s hopefully just a matter of time before they recognize that it’s not a good idea to impose high tax rates on things that are unambiguously good for an economy, such as work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship.

Yes, hope springs eternal.

P.S. In addition to theory and real-world examples, my other favorite way of convincing people about the Laffer Curve is to share the poll showing that only 15 percent of certified public accountants agree with the leftist view that taxes have no impact have taxable income. I figure that CPAs are a very credible source since they actually do tax returns and have an inside view of how behavior changes in response to tax policy.

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Back in 2014, I shared some data from the Tax Foundation that measured the degree to which various developed nations punished high-income earners.

This measure of relative “progressivity” focused on personal income taxes. And that’s important because that levy often is the most onerous for highly productive residents of a nation.

But there are other taxes that also create a gap between what such taxpayers earn and produce and what they ultimately are able to consume and enjoy. What about the effects of payroll taxes? Of consumption taxes and other levies?

To answer that question, we have a very useful study from the European Policy Information Center on this topic. Authored by Alexander Fritz Englund and Jacob Lundberg, it looks at the total marginal tax rate on each nation’s most productive taxpayers.

They start with some sensible observations about why marginal tax rates matter, basically echoing what I wrote after last year’s Super Bowl.

Here’s what Englund and Lundberg wrote.

The marginal tax rate is the proportion of tax paid on the last euro earned. It is the relevant tax rate when deciding whether to work a few extra hours or accept a promotion, for example. As most income tax systems are progressive, the marginal tax rate on top incomes is usually also the highest marginal tax rate. It is an indicator of how progressive and distortionary the income tax is.

They then explain why they include payroll taxes in their calculations.

The income tax alone does not provide a complete picture of how the tax system affects incentives to work and earn income. Many countries require employers and/or employees to pay social contributions. It is not uncommon for the associated benefits to be capped while the contribution itself is uncapped, meaning it is a de facto tax for high-income earners. Even those social contributions that are legally paid by the employer will in the end be paid by the employee as the employer should be expected to shift the burden of the tax through lower gross wages.

Englund and Lunberg are correct. A payroll tax (sometimes called a “social insurance” levy) will be just as destructive as a regular income tax if workers aren’t “earning” some sort of additional benefit. And they’re also right when they point out that payroll taxes “paid” by employers actually are borne by workers.

They then explain why they include a measure of consumption taxation.

One must also take value-added taxes and other consumption taxes into account. Consumption taxes reduce the purchasing power of wage-earners and thus affect the return to working. In principle, it does not matter whether taxation takes place when income is earned or when it is consumed, as the ultimate purpose of work is consumption.

Once again, the authors are spot on. Taxes undermine incentives to be productive by driving a wedge between pre-tax income and post-tax consumption, so you have to look at levies that grab your income as it is earned as well as levies that grab your income as it is spent.

And when you begin to add everything together, you get the most accurate measure of government greed.

Taking all these taxes into account, one can compute the effective marginal tax rate. This shows how many cents the government receives for every euro of additional employee compensation paid by the firm. …If the top effective tax rate is 75 percent, as in Sweden, a person who contributes 100 additional euros to the economy will only be allowed to keep 25 euros while 75 euros are appropriated by the government. The tax system thus drives a wedge between the social and private return to work. …High marginal tax rates disconnect the private and social returns to economic activity and thereby the invisible hand ceases to function. For this reason, taxation causes distortions and is costly to society. High marginal tax rates make it less worthwhile to supply labour on the formal labour market and more worthwhile to spend time on household work, black market activities and tax avoidance.

Here’s their data for various developed nation.

Keep in mind that these are the taxes that impact each nation’s most productive taxpayers. So that includes top income tax rates, both for the central governments and sub-national governments, as well as surtaxes. It includes various social insurance levies, to the extent such taxes apply to all income. And it includes a measure of estimated consumption taxation.

And here’s the ranking of all the nations. Shed a tear for entrepreneurs in Sweden, Belgium, and Portugal.

Slovakia wins the prize for the least-punitive tax regime, though it’s worth noting that Hong Kong easily would have the best system if it was included in the ranking.

For what it’s worth, the United States does fairly well compared to other nations. This is not because our personal income tax is reasonable (see dark blue bars), but rather because Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were unsuccessful in their efforts to bust the “wage base cap” and apply the Social Security payroll tax on all income. We also thankfully don’t have a value-added tax. These factors explain why our medium-blue and light-blue bars are the smallest.

By the way, this doesn’t mean we have a friendly system for upper-income taxpayers in America. They lose almost half of every dollar they generate for the economy. And whether one is looking at Tax Foundation numbers, Congressional Budget Office calculations, information from the New York Times, or data from the IRS, rich people in the United States are paying a hugely disproportionate share of the tax burden.

Though none of this satisfies the statists. They actually would like us to think that letting well-to-do taxpayers keep any of their money is akin to a handout.

Now would be an appropriate time to remind everyone that imposing high tax rates doesn’t necessarily mean collecting high tax revenues.

In the 1980s, for instance, upper-income taxpayers paid far more revenue to the government when Reagan lowered the top income tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent.

Also keep in mind that these calculations don’t measure the tax bias against saving and investment, so the tax burden on some upper-income taxpayers may be higher or lower depending on the degree to which countries penalize capital formation.

P.S. If one includes the perverse incentive effects of various redistribution programs, the very highest marginal tax rates (at least when measuring implicit rates) sometimes apply to a nation’s poor people.

P.P.S. Our statist friends sometimes justify punitive taxes as a way of using coercion to produce more equality, but the net effect of such policies is weaker growth and that means it is more difficult for lower-income and middle-income people to climb the economic ladder. In other words, unfettered markets are the best way to get social mobility.

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Since I can’t even keep track of schools of thought on the right (libertarians, traditional conservatives, neocons, reform conservatives, compassionate conservatives, Trump-style populists, etc), I’m not going to pretend to know what’s happening on the left.

But it does appear that something significant – and bad – is happening in the statist community.

Traditionally, folks on the left favored a conventional welfare state, which revolved around two components.

  1. Means-tested programs for the ostensible purpose of alleviating poverty (e.g.., Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, etc).
  2. Social-insurance programs for the ostensible purpose of alleviating sickness, unemployment, and aging (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, etc).

This agenda was always a bad idea for both macro and micro reasons, and has become a very bad idea because of demographic changes.

But now the left has expanded its goals to policies that are far more radical. Instead of a well-meaning (albeit misguided) desire to protect people from risk, they now want coerced equality.

And this agenda also has two components.

  1. A guaranteed and universal basic income for everyone.
  2. Taxes and/or earnings caps to limit the income of the rich.

Taking a closer look at the idea of basic income, there actually is a reasonable argument that the current welfare state is so dysfunctional that it would be better to simply give everyone a check instead.

But as I’ve argued before, this approach would also create an incentive for people to simply live off taxpayers. Especially if the basic income is super-generous, as was proposed (but fortunately rejected by an overwhelming margin) in Switzerland.

I discuss the pros and cons in this interview.

By the way, one thing that I don’t mention in the interview is my fear that politicians would create a basic income but then not fully repeal the existing welfare state (very similar to my concern that politicians would like to have a national sales tax or value-added tax without fully eliminating the IRS and all taxes on income).

Now let’s shift to the left’s class-warfare fixation about penalizing those with high incomes.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. We’ve had ideologues such as Bernie Sanders, Thomas Piketty, and Matt Yglesias arguing  in recent years for confiscatory tax rates. It appears some modern leftists actually think the economy is a fixed pie and that high incomes for some people necessitate lower incomes for the rest of us.

And because of their fetish for coerced equality, some of them even want to explicitly cap incomes for very valuable people.

The nutcase leader of the U.K. Labour Party, for instance, recently floated that notion. Here are some excerpts from a report in the Guardian.

Jeremy Corbyn has called for a maximum wage for the highest earners… The Labour leader would not give specific figures, but said radical action was needed to address inequality. “I would like there to be some kind of high earnings cap, quite honestly,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday. When asked at what level the cap should be set, he replied: “I can’t put a figure on it… It is getting worse. And corporate taxation is a part of it. If we want to live in a more egalitarian society, and fund our public services, we cannot go on creating worse levels of inequality.” Corbyn, who earns about £138,000 a year, later told Sky News he anticipated any maximum wage would be “somewhat higher than that”. “I think the salaries paid to some footballers are simply ridiculous, some salaries to very high earning top executives are utterly ridiculous. Why would someone need to earn more than £50m a year?”

This is so radical that even other members of the Labour Party have rejected the idea.

Danny Blanchflower, a former member of Corbyn’s economic advisory committee, said he would have advised the Labour leader against the scheme. In a tweet, the former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee said it was a “totally idiotic, unworkable idea”. …Labour MPs expressed reservations… Reynolds also expressed some uncertainty. “I’m not sure that I would support that,” she told BBC News. “I would like to see the detail. I think there are other ways that you can go about tackling income inequality… Instinctively, I don’t think [a cap] probably the best way to go.”

The good news, relatively speaking, is that Crazy Corbyn has been forced to backtrack.

Not because he’s changed his mind, I’m sure, but simply for political reasons. Here’s some of what the U.K.-based Times wrote.

Jeremy Corbyn’s attempt to relaunch his Labour leadership descended into disarray yesterday as he backtracked on a wage cap… The climbdown came after members of the shadow cabinet refused to back the idea of a maximum income while former economic advisers to Mr Corbyn criticised it as absurd.

There don’t seem to be many leftists in the United States who have directly embraced this approach, though it is worth noting that Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax hike included a provision disallowing deductibility for corporate pay over $1 million.

And that policy was justified using the same ideology that politicians should have the right to decide whether some people are paid too much.

In closing, I can’t help but wonder whether my statist friends have thought about the implications of their policies. They want the government to give everyone a guaranteed basic income, yet they want to wipe out high-income taxpayers who finance the lion’s share of redistribution.

I’m sure that work marvelously in the United States. Just like it’s producing great outcomes in place like Greece and Venezuela.

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