Progressive and Regressive Taxes and Marginal Tax rates

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 6th, 2014

Economics 101

(Originally published July 9th, 2012)

The Beatles fled Britain to Escape a Confiscatory Top Marginal Tax Rate of 95%

George Harrison wrote Taxman.  The song appeared on the 1966 Beatles album Revolver.  It was an angry protest song.  For George Harrison was furious when he learned what exactly the progressive tax system was in Britain.  In the song the British taxman is laying down the tax law.

Let me tell you how it will be
There’s one for you, nineteen for me
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman

Should five per cent appear too small
Be thankful I don’t take it all
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah I’m the taxman

That’s one for you, Mr. Harrison.  And nineteen for us.  The government.  Meaning that for every £20 the Beatles earned they got to keep only £1.  This is a 95% top marginal tax rate.  A supertax on the super rich imposed by Harold Wilson’s Labour government.  So if the Beatles earned £1 million because of their incredible talent and hard work touring in concert, working on new albums in the studio and making movies, of that £1 million they got to keep only about £50,000.  While the government got £950,000.  If they earned £10 million they got to keep about £500,000.  While the government got £9,500,000.  As you can see 5% is a very small percentage.  Which is why George Harrison got so angry.  The harder they worked the less of their earnings they were able to keep.

Is this fair?  George didn’t think so.  Nor did his fellow Beatles.  For they fled Britain.  Moved to another country.  Becoming tax exiles.  For they were little more than court minstrels.  Who the government forced to entertain them.  Earning a lot of money so they could take it away.  To help pay for an explosion in social spending Harold Wilson unleashed on Britain.  Socializing the UK like never before.  And all those social benefits required a lot of taxes.  Hence the progressive tax system.  And marginal tax rates.  Where the super rich, like the Beatles, paid confiscatory tax rates of 95%.

The Top Marginal Tax Rate was around 70% under President Carter and around 28% under President Reagan

As social spending took off in the Sixties and Seventies governments thought they could just increase tax rates to generate greater amounts of tax revenue.  For governments looked at the economy as being static.  That whatever they did would result in their desired outcome without influencing the behavior of those paying these higher tax rates.  But the economy is not static.  It’s dynamic.  And changes in the tax rates do influence taxpayer behavior.  Just ask the Beatles.  And every other tax exile escaping the confiscatory tax rates of their government.  Because of this dynamic behavior of the taxpayers excessively high tax rates rarely brings in the tax revenue governments expect them to.

Even when it comes to sin taxes government still believes that the economy is static.  Even though they publicly state that taxes on alcohol and tobacco are to dissuade people from consuming alcohol and tobacco.  (The U.S. funded children’s health care with cigarette taxes clearly showing the government did not believe these taxes would stop people from smoking).  Perhaps some in government look at sin taxes as a way to discourage harmful habits.  But the taxman sees something altogether different when they look at sin taxes.  Addiction.  Knowing that few people will give up these items no matter how much they tax them.  And that means tax revenue.  But unlike the progressive income tax this tax is a regressive tax.  Those who can least afford to pay higher taxes pay a higher percentage of their income to pay these taxes.  For sin taxes increase prices.  And higher prices make smaller paychecks buy less.  Leaving less money for groceries and other essentials.

Most income taxes, on the other hand, are progressive.  Your income is broken up into brackets.  The lowest bracket has the lowest income tax rate.  Often times the lowest income bracket pays no income taxes.  The next bracket up has a small income tax rate.  The next bracket up has a larger income tax rate.  And so on.  Until you get to the high income threshold.  Where all income at and above this rate has the highest income tax rate.  This top marginal tax rate was around 70% under President Carter.  Around 28% under President Reagan.  And 95% under Harold Wilson’s Labour government in Britain.  An exceptionally high rate that led to great efforts to avoid paying income taxes.  Or simply encouraged people to renounce their citizenship and move to a more tax-friendly country.

When the Critical Mass of People turn from Taxpayers to Benefit Recipients it will Herald the End of the Republic

Progressive taxes are supposed to be fair.  By transferring the tax burden onto those who can most afford to pay these taxes.  But the more progressive the tax rates are the less tax revenue they generate.  What typically happens is you have a growing amount of low-income earners paying no income taxes but consuming the lion’s share of government benefits.  The super rich shelter their higher incomes and pay far less in taxes than those high marginal tax rates call for.  They still pay a lot, paying the majority of income taxes.  But it’s still not enough.  So the middle class gets soaked, too.  They pay less than the rich but the tax bite out of their paychecks hurts a lot more than it does for the rich.  Because the middle class has to make sacrifices in their lives whenever their tax rates go up.

As social spending increases governments will use class warfare to increase taxes on the rich.  And they will redefine the rich to include parts of the middle class.  To make ‘the rich’ pay their ‘fair’ share.  And they will increase their tax rates.  But it won’t generate much tax revenue.  For no matter how much they tax the rich governments with high levels of spending on social programs all run deficits.  Because there just aren’t enough rich people to tax.  Which is why the government taxes everything under the sun to help pay for their excessive spending.

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.
If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.

Don’t ask me what I want it for
If you don’t want to pay some more
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman

Now my advice for those who die
Declare the pennies on your eyes
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman
And you’re working for no one but me.

This is where excessive government spending leads to.  Excessive taxation.  And confiscatory tax rates.  Taking as much from the wealth creators as possible to fund the welfare state.  And as progressive tax systems fail to generate the desired tax revenue they will turn to every other tax they can.  Until there is no more wealth to tax.  Or to confiscate.  When the wealth creators finally say enough is enough.  And refuse to create any more wealth for the government to tax or to confiscate.  Leaving the government unable to meet their spending obligations.  As the critical mass of people turn from taxpayers to benefit recipients.  Heralding the end of the republic.


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