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Archive for the ‘Death Tax’ Category

The President today released his budget for fiscal year 2016, a document that also shows what will happen to taxes, spending, and red ink over the next 10 years if the White House’s budget is adopted.

Here are the four things that deserve critical attention.

1. Obama proposes to have spending grow by an average of about 5.4 percent per year over the next five years and more than 5 percent annually over the next 10 years, well more than twice as fast as projected inflation.

Though it oftentimes doesn’t get sufficient attention, the change in government spending is the most important number (or set of numbers) in any budget. If the burden of spending is rising, regardless of whether that increase is financed by taxes or borrowing, more resources will be diverted from the economy’s productive sector.

In President Obama’s budget, he wants government spending in FY 2016 to be $3,999.5 billion, an astounding increase of 9.4 percent over the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of $3,656 billion of spending in the current fiscal year (the President is proposing additional spending for FY 2015, so the annual increase between 2015-2016 in his budget is “only” 6.4 percent).

Even more troubling, he wants government spending to climb by more than twice as fast as inflation in future years. And most worrisome of all, he wants government to grow faster than the private sector, which means that the burden of government spending will climb as a share of GDP, both over the next five years and the next 10 years.

The challenge for the GOP: In part because spending rose so much in 2009, but also in part because Congress waged important fiscal battles over debt limits, shutdowns, and sequestration, there was a de facto spending freeze between 2009 and 2014. Unfortunately, spending is climbing by at least twice the rate of inflation in 2015, and Obama wants additional big increases in the future. It will be very revealing to see whether Republican control of both the House and Senate means policy moves back in the direction of spending restraint.

2. The President wants to renege on the 2011 debt limit agreement by busting the spending caps.

With great fanfare in 2011, the White House and Congress agreed to boost the debt limit, but only because both parties agreed on some modest caps to control the growth rate of discretionary spending.

But these spending caps don’t allow outlays to rise as fast as the President would prefer, so he is explicitly seeking to eviscerate the caps and allow bigger increases. These spending hikes would enable for defense spending and more domestic spending.

The challenge for the GOP: The spending caps and sequestration represent President Obama’s most stinging defeat on fiscal policy, so it’s hardly a surprise that he wants to gut any restraint on his ability to spend. This presumably should be a slam-dunk victory for Republicans since they can simply refuse to change the law. But there are some GOPers who want more defense spending, and even some who want more domestic spending. Indeed, the pro-spending caucus in the Republican Party was one of the reasons why the spending caps were already weakened two years ago.

3. The White House’s new budget wants a new tax on American companies competing in world markets.

The good news is that the President no longer is proposing to get rid of “deferral,” a policy from past budgets that would have resulted in a 35 percent tax on profits earned by American multinationals in other nations (and already subject to tax by the governments of those other nations). The bad news is that he instead wants to tax all previously accumulated foreign-source income at 14 percent and then tax all future foreign-source income at 19 percent.

To make matters worse, he wants to use this new pot of money to finance expanded federal involvement and interference in transportation and infrastructure.

The challenge for the GOP: Some Republicans favor more transportation spending from Washington and some companies may be tempted to acquiesce to some sort of deal, particularly if it only applies to accumulations of prior-year foreign-source income. Advocates of good policy in Congress should not enable a bigger federal role in transportation. Indeed, the only good policy is to phase out federal involvement and eliminate the federal gas tax.

4. President Obama wants class-warfare based increases in the death tax and the capital gains tax.

In addition to many other tax hikes in his budget, the President wants to boost the capital gains tax rate to 28 percent and he also wants to expand the impact of the death tax by eliminating a policy that acknowledges the actual value of assets when they are received by children and other heirs.

Since there shouldn’t be any double taxation of income that is saved and invested, both the death tax and capital gains tax should be abolished. Needless to say, increasing either tax would have a negative impact on the American economy.

The challenge for the GOP: Hopefully this policy will be deemed “dead on arrival.” Republicans presumably should be united in their opposition to class-warfare tax increases.

P.S. This Steve Breen cartoon is a pretty apt summary of the Obama budget (and one that will be added to my bloated government collection).

Particularly when augmented by this Jerry Holbert gem.

P.P.S. Here’s the fiscal policy we should emulate.

P.P.P.S. Here’s the fiscal policy mistake we should avoid.

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The polling data I shared last month about confused young people was a bit of a downer, so let’s look at three different polls that are a bit more encouraging.

First, I’m glad to see that many Americans feel that government and politicians are their leading cause of daily stress.

Here’s some of what the Washington Post reported on this poll.

…much of that emotional response is completely justified. As if it weren’t enough that our politicians are actively working to harm the global economy and otherwise failing to do their jobs or even show up for work in general, they’re also stressing everyone out with the astonishing breadth and depth of their incompetence. And since high stress is linked to shorter life expectancy, they are also literally killing us with their incompetence. In other words, thanks, Obama (and everyone in Congress too).

My job is to connect the dots so that people understand that the only way to reduce stress is to make government smaller.

And, for what it’s worth, that’s the best way to make government at least semi-competent.

Our second batch of polling numbers come from Rasmussen. I’ve shared research and data on the negative impact of redistribution spending (as illustrated by this powerful chart), but I figured most Americans didn’t understand that such programs trap people in dependency.

I’m glad to read that I’m wrong. In an article entitled, “49% Believe Government Programs Increase Poverty in America,” Rasmussen reports the following.

Most Americans still believe current government anti-poverty programs have no impact on poverty in this country or actually increase it. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that a plurality (44%) of American Adults still think the government spends too much on poverty programs.

The Rasmussen folks also have this encouraging bit of public opinion research.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 67% of American Adults think there are too many in this country who are dependent on the government for financial aid, up slightly from 64% in September of last year.

Our third set of polling numbers come from the periodic Reason-Rupe poll.

I’ll share several pieces of data, but here are the numbers I find most encouraging. Apparently most people realize that pro-growth policy is the right approach, not class warfare and redistribution.

In terms of economic policies, 74 percent of Americans would like Congress to focus on policies to promote economic growth, while 20 percent favor policies to reduce income inequality.

I guess I’m also happy about these results, though I can’t help but think that there are some very confused folks in the Tea Party.

Fifty-five percent of Americans tell Reason-Rupe they have a favorable opinion of capitalism. Meanwhile, 36 percent of those surveyed, including 33 percent of independents and 26 percent of self-described Tea Party supporters, have a favorable opinion of socialism.

I don’t even think Obama’s a socialist, so these ostensibly anti-Obama folks apparently favor even more government than our statist President. Go figure.

Last but not least, I should like this result, but I’m actually disturbed since the margin is much smaller than it should be.

When asked about the size of government, 54 percent of Americans favor a smaller government providing fewer services. Forty-two percent favor a larger government providing more services.

P.S. Remember when I warned that the one downside to personal retirement accounts is that future politicians might steal the money?

Well, it’s happened again according to Reuters, this time in Russia.

Russia’s government has approved a plan to use contributions to employees’ privately-managed pension funds to plug budget holes for a second year running. The move was confirmed by Labour Minister Maxim Topilin on Tuesday in comments published on the ministry’s website. It has been heavily criticised by some officials and analysts, who say it will hurt the pensions industry and financial markets.

P.P.S. I was beginning to feel a bit more positive about the Tory-led government in the United Kingdom, particularly after reading about some well-designed welfare reform, significant corporate tax cuts, and postal service privatization.

Then I read something awful. And what could be worse than imposing a death tax on people who are still alive.

Savers could be forced to pay inheritance tax while they are still alive, under a new drive against tax avoidance planned by the Government. …Under plans put out for consultation, HM Revenue & Customs would have powers to subject people minimising inheritance tax to “accelerated payment” laws, meaning they would be forced to pay up front if officials suspect them of using new schemes to avoid tax. Experts have warned that under the rules, taxpayers will be treated as “guilty until proven innocent”. …there will be concerns that innocent people could be investigated and made to pay large sums before they are able to defend themselves. …Economists, tax experts and Tory MPs have called for reform of the tax, warning that it predominantly hits middle-class families.

Shame on David Cameron for allowing this to happen. But I’m not surprised given the government’s track record.

And what else would you expect from a government that brainwashes children to rat out their parents and also puts despicable Orwellian ads on subways and trains?

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As a fiscal policy economist, one of my responsibilities is to educate policy makers about the impact of taxation.

Simply stated, I try to help them understand that taxes alter behavior. If you tax something at a higher rate, you get less of whatever is being taxed.

Politicians actually understand this basic lesson when it suits their purposes. Many of them will pontificate that we need higher tobacco taxes to discourage smoking.

I don’t think it’s government’s job to dictate our private lives, so I don’t agree with the policy, but I give them an A+ for economics. Higher taxes on tobacco will lead to less tobacco consumption.

My frustration is that politicians conveniently forget this elementary analysis when the discussion shifts to taxes on productive activities such as work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship.

And they also fail to realize that the higher taxes on tobacco will lead to more illegal smuggling and other actions that result in far less revenue than politicians think they’ll collect.

But let’s set that aside and look at some truly remarkable examples of how taxes influence things that – at first glance – seem completely impervious to fiscal policy.

Would anyone think, for instance, that taxes could impact the day people are born? Well, here’s some new research, as summarized by Dylan Matthews at the Washington Post.

…where there are humans making choices, there are public finance economists asking how tax incentives influence them. …Williams’s Sara LaLumia, the University of Chicago’s James Sallee and the Treasury Department’s Nicholas Turner took it upon themselves to figure out if policies like the Child Tax Credit (CTC), the dependent exemption and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC, which is more generous for families with more children) are pushing mothers with due dates in January to move their children’s births forward, so as to reap another year of tax benefits. …What they find is that, after controlling for other factors that could affect birth timing, an additional $1,000 in per-child tax benefits is associated with a 1 percent increase in the probability of a birth occurring in December rather than January.

This study isn’t an outlier. Other research has reached similar conclusions. Indeed, in some case the impact of taxation is found to be much larger.

They actually aren’t the first ones to tackle this question. They cite at least four previous studies that found that parents alter birth timing to maximize tax and other public benefits. …Syracuse’s Stacy Dickert-Conlin and Harvard’s Amitabh Chandra found a 29.6 percent increase in December births resulting from a $500 increase in tax benefits.

Notice, by the way, that the research is also saying that government handout influence behavior, a point that I’ve repeatedly made when analyzing the harmful impact of redistribution programs on work incentives.

Let’s close by recycling some research that shows how taxes even influence when people die.

When Australia repealed the death tax back in the 1970s, researchers found that people lived longer in order to protect family assets.

And don’t forget that the U.S. death tax was repealed for one year back in 2010. I imagine we’ll see some fascinating and illuminating research on this period once economists have a chance to collect and crunch the data.

Though there’s already strong anecdotal evidence that death rates may have been impacted.

At least the statists can be happy that the death tax is now back in place – and that it’s even more onerous than the death tax policies in places such as France, Venezuela, and Greece.

But the main lesson of this post isn’t to complain that we have some very bad features to our tax code.

Instead, the goal is to simply get more people to realize that government policies have real-world effects and specifically that higher taxes will influence behavior.

In the grand scheme of things, it presumably doesn’t make much difference what days people are born and when they die. But when we apply these lessons to the broader economy, it turns out that taxation has a huge impact on economic opportunity and prosperity.

P.S. Heck, taxes even cause gay people to adopt their partners.

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I generally believe that social conservatives and libertarians are natural allies. As I wrote last year, this is “because there is wide and deep agreement on the principle of individual responsibility. They may focus on different ill effects, but both camps understand that big government is a threat to a virtuous and productive citizenry.”

I even promoted a “Fusionist” principle based on a very good column by Tim Carney, and I suspect a large majority of libertarians and social conservatives would agree with the statement.

But that doesn’t mean social conservatives and libertarians are the same. There’s some fascinating research on the underlying differences between people of different ideologies, and I suspect the following story might be an example of where the two camps might diverge.

But notice I wrote “might” rather than “will.” I’ll be very curious to see how various readers react to this story about a gay couple that is taking an unusual step to minimize an unfair and punitive tax imposed by the government of Pennsylvania.

John met Gregory at a gay bar in Pittsburgh nearly 45 years ago and immediately fell in love. …Now, as lifelong partners facing the financial and emotional insecurities of old age, they have legally changed their relationship and are father and son — John, 65, has adopted Gregory, 73. The couple was worried about Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax. “If we just live together and Gregory willed me his assets and property and anything else, I would be liable for a 15 percent tax on the value of the estate,” said John. “By adoption, that decreases to 4 percent. It’s a huge difference.” …the couple had considered marrying in another state, but because their primary residence was in Pennsylvania, which does not recognize same-sex marriage, they would still be subjected to the inheritance law.

The Judge who approved the adoption obviously wasn’t too troubled by this unusual method of tax avoidance.

The judge did turn to John and said, “I am really curious, why are you adopting [Gregory]?” “I said, ‘Because it’s our only legal option to protect ourselves from Pennsylvania’s inheritance taxes,'” said John. “He got it immediately.” The judge agreed to sign the adoption papers on the spot and handed it to the clerk. Then he turned and looked at John, “Congratulations, it’s a boy.”

So what’s your take on this issue? For some groups, it’s easy to predict how they’ll react to this story.

1. If you have the statist mindset of England’s political elite or if you work at a bureaucracy such as the OECD, you’ll think this is morally wrong. Not because you object to homosexuality, but because you think tax avoidance is very bad and you believe the state should have more money.

2. If you’re a libertarian, you’re cheering for John and Gregory. Even if you don’t personally approve of homosexuality, you don’t think the state should interfere with the private actions of consenting adults and you like the idea of people keeping more of the money they earn.

3. If you’re a public finance economist, you think any form of death tax is a very perverse form of double taxation and you like just about anything that reduces this onerous penalty on saving and investment.

But there are some groups that will be conflicted.

Social Conservative Quandary1. Social conservatives don’t like big government and bad tax policy, but they also don’t approve of homosexuality. And, in this case, it’s now technically incestuous homosexuality! If I had to guess, most social conservatives will argue that the court should not have granted the adoption. We’ll see if there are some good comments on this post.

Leftist Quandary2. Leftists also will be conflicted. They like the death tax and they want the government to have more money, but they also believe in identity politics and wouldn’t want to offend one of their constituent groups.  I’m guessing identity politics would trump greed, but I suspect their ideal approach would be to tax all inheritances at 15 percent.

In my fantasy world, needless to say, there’s no death tax and the entire issue disappears.

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Just before the end of the year, I shared some fascinating research about people dying quicker or living longer when there are changes in the death tax. Sort of the ultimate Laffer Curve response, particularly if it’s the former.

But the more serious point is that the death tax shouldn’t exist at all, as I’ve explained for USA Today. And in this CNBC debate, I argue that it is an immoral form of double taxation.

You’ll see that Jared sneakily tries to include wealth taxes and death taxes together in order to accuse me of an inaccuracy, but the chart (click to enlarge) clearly shows that there are many jurisdictions that wisely avoid this anti-competitive levy.

The data is a few years old, but it’s clear that the United states has one of the most punitive death tax systems in the world.

Unfortunately, this is a good description of many parts of our tax system. We also have the world’s highest corporate tax rate and we also have very high tax burdens on dividends and capital gains (and the tax rates on both just got worse thanks to the fiscal cliff legislation).

But probably the key difference between us is that Jared genuinely thinks government should be bigger and that the tax burden should be much higher.

Though I will give him credit. Not only does he want class-warfare tax hikes, such as a higher death tax, but he openly admits he wants to rape and pillage the middle class as well.

Not surprisingly, I argue that more revenue in Washington will exacerbate the real problem of a federal government that is too big and spending too much.

P.S. Here’s a cartoon that is only funny if you don’t think too deeply about what it means.

P.P.S. You’ll notice that the video in this post has good quality, unlike the fuzzy resolution and discontinuous footage in clips I’ve recently shared. That’s because Cato’s expert on such things is back in the office and we’re no longer relying on my sub-par technical knowledge.

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In some ways, it would be fun to be a leftist.

No, I’m not talking about living a life of idleness and letting others pay my bills, though I suppose that’s tempting to some people.

And I’m not talking about becoming a Washington insider and using corrupt connections to obtain unearned wealth, though I confess I’m actually friends with some of those people.

Instead, I’m talking about what it must be like to engage in reckless demagoguery and personal smears.

Remember during the presidential campaign when Mitt Romney was – for all intents and purposes – accused of causing a woman’s death because of his actions at Bain Capital?

The pro-Obama Super-PAC that produced that ad relied on indirect connections and overlooked some very salient facts that completely disproved even the indirect connections.

But even though the ad was exposed as maliciously false, the folks who put it together probably laughed all the way to the bank.

With this in mind, maybe it’s time to publicly ask why President Obama wants to kill old people.

“Time for your death panel appointment”

This isn’t a blog post about Obamacare, though there certainly are enough horror stories from the United Kingdom to make us fearful of government-run healthcare.

I’m referring instead to what might happen because of Obama’s proposal for a much more onerous death tax, which is part of his class-warfare agenda and would take effect in just a couple of days.

It seems that there’s good evidence this may lead to some premature deaths. CNBC reports.

Many families are faced with a stark proposition. If the life of an elderly wealthy family member extends into 2013, the tax bills will be substantially higher. An estate that could bequest $3 million this year will leave just $1.9 million after taxes next year. Shifting a death from January to December could produce $1.1 million in tax savings. It may seem incredible to contemplate pulling the plug on grandma to save tax dollars. While we know that investors will sell stocks to avoid rising capital gains taxes, accelerating the death of a loved one seems at least a bit morbid—perhaps even evil. Will people really make life and death decisions based on taxes? Do we don our green eye shades when it comes to something this serious? There is good evidence that there is some “elasticity” in the timing of important decisions about life and death.

And what does that mean? Well, according to some of the academic research, the President is going to have proverbial blood on his hands.

Gans and Leigh looked into another natural experiment. In 1979, Australia abolished its federal inheritance taxes. Official records show that approximately 50 deaths were shifted from the week before the abolition to the week after. “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,” Gans and Leigh write. This isn’t just something peculiar to Australia. Economists Wojciech Kopczuk of Columbia University and Joel Slemrod of the University of Michigan studied how mortality rates in the United States were changed by falling or rising estate taxes. They note that while the evidence of “death elasticity” is “not overwhelming,” every $10,000 in available tax savings increases the chance of dying in the low-tax period by 1.6 percent. This is true both when taxes are falling, so that people are surviving longer to achieve the tax savings, and when they are rising, so that people are dying earlier, according to Kopczuk and Slemrod. “Death elasticity” does not necessarily mean that greedy relatives are pulling the plug on the dying or forcing the sickly to extend their lives into a lower taxed period. According to a 2008 paper from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Doctor G. Stuart Mendenhall, while tax increases give potential heirs large economic incentives to limit care that would prolong life, distressed patients may “voluntarily trade prolongation of their life past the end [a low tax period] for large financial implications for their kin.

I’ve previously cited the research from Australia, and also wrote a post about incentives to die in 2010, when the death tax temporarily was abolished, so this research makes sense.

What’s the bottom line?

…based on past reactions to changes in taxes, it at least seems likely that some deaths that might otherwise have occurred shortly after January 1 will occur shortly before. Death may slip in ahead of the tax man for some with estates worth over $1 million.

In the grand scheme of things, I have a hard time feeling anguish about some elderly rich guy dying today rather than one week from now. But there is real data to suggest that Obama’s policies will cause premature deaths.

And these premature deaths will only occur because the President is greedy for more revenue from a tax that shouldn’t even exist. Indeed, it’s worth noting that every pro-growth tax reform plan – such as the flat tax or national sales tax – eliminates this pernicious form of double taxation.

Since I’m an economist, I can’t resist a final comment about this tax having a terrible impact on capital formation. This is bad for workers, since it translates into lower wages.

And it’s definitely not good for U.S. competitiveness.

P.S. Whatever you do, don’t die in New Jersey.

P.P.S. It’s a morbid topic, but there is such a thing as death tax humor.

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I’ve previously shared the famous parable that uses beer drinking to explain the tax system and here’s a funny video of a comedian talking about taxes and Halloween.

I also found this bit of tax humor from England, though it’s really more about redistribution than taxes, and I think this cartoon about class-warfare taxation and the economy hits the nail on the head.

But in all my years of blogging, I’ve never found a worthwhile cartoon on the death tax.

So I was very pleased when a professor of tax law gave a presentation in the Cayman Islands earlier this week and showed this clever cartoon about the death tax. He was kind enough to share it with me so I could share it with you.

If you want a serious but concise explanation of why the death tax is very bad policy, check out my column from USA Today. And here’s some very depressing data on how the death tax undermines American competitiveness.

P.S. One final serious point about the death tax. If you have a nest egg for your kids, it’s better to die in Australia than New Jersey.

P.P.S. There are a lot of jokes targeting the IRS, which isn’t really the same as tax policy humor. But many of them are worth sharing, including a new Obama 1040 form, a list of tax day tips from David Letterman, a cartoon of how GPS would work if operated by the IRS, an IRS-designed pencil sharpener, two Obamacare/IRS cartoons (here and here), a sale on 1040-form toilet paper (a real product), a song about the tax agency, the IRS’s version of the quadratic formula, and (my favorite) a joke about a Rabbi and an IRS agent.

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