Australia taxes their Rich People far more than the US but it’s still Not Enough to Pay for their Welfare State

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 10th, 2012

Week in Review

With President Obama’s reelection some are saying it is a mandate to raise taxes on the rich.  Because he said all along that he wanted to tax the rich more.  And he won reelection.  Ergo, ipso facto, mandate.  But we should be careful about raising taxes.  For it seems our government is always raising taxes.  Or demanding that we need to raise taxes.  So the question is where does all this tax-raising end?  A new carbon tax?  A GST?  Well, Australia has both.  Yet they’re still talking about raising taxes (see States to eye online shopping for GST boost – Sydney Morning Herald posted 11/10/2012 on Canberra Hub).

State treasurers will this week consider calls to cut the GST-free threshold for goods bought from overseas online stores, in an attempt to bolster flagging revenues from the tax.

Under current rules, products costing less than $1000 that are privately purchased from overseas are not subject to GST, sparking complaints domestic retailers face an uneven playing field.

State governments – which receive the revenue raised by the GST – also miss out on about $600 million a year due to the threshold, and this foregone revenue is projected to rise as online shopping takes off…

NSW Treasurer Mike Baird, who wants the GST-free threshold to $30, will raise the issue as a “key consideration” at the meeting, a spokeswoman for Mr Baird said…

The simplest way to resolve the situation was to require foreign retailers selling into Australia to charge GST, he said.

Mr Greiner has also called for a debate on raising the GST’s rate from 10 per cent or broadening its base, but this was ruled out on Monday by the Treasurer, Wayne Swan.

Australia’s top marginal tax rate is 45% on incomes over $180,001 ($187,021 US).  They tax companies at 30%.  And capital gains, after some discounting and adjustments, they tax as income.  Whereas in the US the top marginal tax rate is 35% on incomes over $388,350.  The corporate tax rate is 35%.  And a capital gains tax of 15%.  Apart from the higher corporate tax rate, the Australians tax individuals far higher in Australia than the US taxes their individuals.  And yet it’s still not enough.

On top of these higher tax rates are additional taxes.  Like the carbon tax.  And the goods and service tax (GST).  Which they are currently discussing ways of increasing to generate more tax revenue.  There’s an important lesson to learn here.  No matter how much government taxes their people it will never be enough.  For the unsustainable rising costs of a welfare state for an aging population will always exceed the tax revenue from an aging population.  Higher tax rates and new taxes are inevitable.  And for those states with national health care, cost cutting, longer wait times and service rationing are also inevitable.  Because however much they tax it will never be enough.

This is the future in America.  Because we’ve just added Obamacare even though we’re already suffering record budget deficits under the Obama administration.  And 4 years of anemic economic growth.  Which will only become more anemic with higher tax rates.  And new taxes.

The only way a state will ever pay for its welfare state is if they have a population that is getting younger such that there are always more people entering the workforce than leaving it.  Or by reducing the size of the welfare state to a size the current population growth rate can fund.  So the United States has two paths to solvency.  Start having a heck of a lot babies.  Or start slashing state benefits.  Or both.  Which would be a third option.  But the current option, increasing state spending with a declining birthrate, will not work.  No matter how much you tax rich people.

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FT123: “It takes both a tax rate and economic activity to generate tax revenue.” – Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 22nd, 2012

Fundamental Truth

There is an Incredible Amount of Economic Activity behind a 20-Ounce Bottle of Soda Pop 

Have you ever considered all of the economic activity that had to happen before you could buy a cold 20-ounce bottle of soda pop from a convenience store?  First of all, building that convenience store itself required a lot of building supplies.  And construction workers to build it.  People in factories hired people and bought materials to build the food equipment, coffee equipment and coolers.  The people utilities hire make sure the store has access to electric power, gas, water, sewage, telephone and Internet access.  Transportation companies deliver food and merchandise to the store.  Who buy trucks and vans from dealerships who buy them from automotive manufacturers.  They hire drivers for their vehicles and workers for their warehouses.  They buy fuel for their vehicles.  Refineries provide the fuel and they hire people and buy petroleum oil.   Which provides more jobs in the pipeline, railroad, trucking, shipping and oil drilling industries.  Who all hire people and buy things built by other people.

The food and merchandise came from plants that hire people and buy material.  The one brand of soda pop you purchase hires many employees and operates one or more bottling plants.  They buy advertising that provides jobs for others.  They buy cans and bottles that come from suppliers who make them out of raw material that still others extract out of the ground.  These suppliers hire even more people and buy even more materials.  There is label or artwork on the cans or bottles that other people are hired somewhere to provide.  Their offices operate with computers and software built, shipped, installed and programmed by others.  They maintain a web presence which creates further jobs.  Their employees use smart phones the company purchased from others who hire people and material to build them.  And hire even more people to maintain and operate the networks.

And the list goes on.  There is an incredible amount of economic activity behind that 20-ounce bottle of soda pop.  In a vast complex of horizontal and vertical business relationships.  Each providing their little part in the big picture that lets us walk conveniently into a convenience store whenever we want and buy a cool and refreshing beverage in a 20-ounce bottle.  Now multiply this for every product in that store.  And for every store in the country.  Millions of people working in millions of jobs earning a paycheck.  And each paycheck deducts payroll taxes.  Such as Social Security, Medicare, state unemployment, federal unemployment and workers’ compensation.  Each check (in most states) deducts federal and state income withholding taxes.  Some cities even deduct a city withholding tax.  Businesses pay taxes on their earnings.  On their personal and real property.  Just as homeowners pay real property taxes on their homes.  And there’s more.

In 1992 the Middle Class paid approximately 40% of their Total Earnings in Taxes

If you look at your cellular bill there are taxes itemized on it.  When you go to the store you pay a sales tax on most purchases other than food.  Some people even pay a city sales tax.  If you buy cigarettes or drink alcoholic beverages you pay an excise tax.  Or sin tax.  They tax the gasoline you buy for your car to pay for the roads we drive on.  If you buy sugar in the store you’re paying a sugar tariff.  If you make a capital gain on your investments you pay a capital gains tax.  And on and on.  Throughout that complex of horizontal and vertical business relationships there are taxes.  Just as consumers pay taxes throughout their ordinary day.  It adds up.  According to CATO, in 1960 the middle class paid about 30% of their total earnings in taxes of every kind at every level.  In 1992 that number rose to 40%.  And is no doubt rising.

Staying with the 1992 number, this means for every dollar you earn you ultimately can only spend 60 cents of that dollar on you.  The other 40 cents goes to some governmental coffer.  Or looking at it in another way say you gross $800 a week.  Your net pay will be less for the taxes you see withheld from your paycheck.  But when you add the other taxes you don’t see you really only get to spend $480 of that $800 you earned.  Or if you gross $41,600 annually you’ll be paying approximately $16,640 in taxes of every kind at every level of government.  In a word – ouch.

Yeah, we all know that we pay a lot in taxes.  Most of us are just resigned to it.  But with all these debt crises (at the city, state, federal and international levels) it does make you think a little more about all those taxes we pay.  And the cries to get the rich to pay their ‘fair share’.  The amount of taxes the rich pay are even worse.  The percentage numbers may be lower if they pay a lower capital gains tax rate on an investment portfolio, but they are paying from hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions in tax dollars.  Which dwarfs our $16,640.  Yes, they can afford it more than those less rich can.  But that misses an important point.  Tax rates alone do not make tax revenue.  You have to have a prosperous economy, too.

The more People that are Working the more People pay Payroll, Income, Excise and Property Taxes

You cannot tax yourself to economic prosperity.  For if the number of jobs remains the same while we increase tax rates that will only leave businesses and consumers with less money to spend to create economic activity.  And when they spend less in economic exchanges all those taxes we apply to those economic exchanges will generate less tax revenue.  This is why cities, states and national governments have deficits during poor economic times.  Because there is less economic activity to tax.  All you have to do is some simple arithmetic to see why.

Say there is a city with 250,000 working middle class people.  Each earning on average $41,600.  So each contributes $16,640 in taxes at the various levels of government.  Or $4.16 billion in total tax revenue.  Now say a recession comes along.  And the city suffers 10% unemployment.  Putting 25,000 people on the unemployment rolls.  This will reduce that tax revenue down to $3.74 billion.  Or reducing tax revenue at every level by $416 million.  Just about a half billion dollars in lost tax revenue.  All while government benefits increase at every level to cover those 25,000 unemployed.  Add a second city and that could add up to $1 billion in lost tax revenue.  Ten cities could reduce tax revenue at all levels by $5 billion.  Causing deficits at the city, state and federal levels.  It adds up.  And they cannot make up those shortfalls by increasing tax rates.  Because higher taxes reduce economic activity.  Which is what generates those tax revenues.

Now consider the alternative.  Say the government removed some costly regulations for businesses.  Or they repealed Obamacare.  But only removed some costly regulations while leaving tax rates as they are.  This business-friendly environment would encourage businesses to rehire people.  Let’s say they rehire all 25,000 laid-off employees.  If they did they would, of course, restore that lost $416 million in tax revenue.  Without raising tax rates on anyone.  The point being that you can’t generate tax revenue without economic activity.  So any policy that would discourage economic activity would reduce tax revenue.  For the more people that are working the more people pay payroll and income taxes.  The more people that are working the more money consumers will have to spend and pay taxes on their purchases.  And the more people that are working the more houses they will buy which would bring in more property taxes.  Higher tax rates can’t make this happen.  Only economic activity can.

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Obama uses a Joint Session of Congress for a 2012 Campaign Speech on Jobs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 9th, 2011

The Obama Jobs Speech was the Same Old Same Old with the Angry turned up to Eleven

The big speech was last night.  President Obama‘s Jobs speech.  After waiting with bated breath.  For him to come back from vacation.  On Martha’s Vineyard.  Where no one wants for a job.  Or anything.

What you thought of it depends on your party affiliation.  If you’re a Big Government liberal Democrat that wants to stick it to the rich, I’m sure you liked it.  If you were looking for substance, I’m sure you were disappointed.  It was just the same old same old.  With the angry turned up to eleven.

Here are some selections from the transcript with commentary (see Obama jobs speech transcript: Full text (as delivered) posted 9/8/2011 on Politico).

These men and women grew up with faith in an America where hard work and responsibility paid off. They believed in a country where everyone gets a fair shake and does their fair share — where if you stepped up, did your job, and were loyal to your company, that loyalty would be rewarded with a decent salary and good benefits; maybe a raise once in a while. If you did the right thing, you could make it. Anybody could make it in America.

For decades now, Americans have watched that compact erode. They have seen the decks too often stacked against them. And they know that Washington has not always put their interests first.

Yeah, it used to be like that.  Until greed set in.  Government greed.  Their insatiable want of private sector wealth.  And power over our lives.  High taxes.  And punishing regulations.  These have hurt American businesses that once provided those fair shakes.  It’s President Obama and his party that have been making this a business unfriendly nation.  Giving American businesses an unpleasant choice who struggle to compete.  Either close.  Or conduct business in a country that lets them compete.

Just look at the effect of Obamacare.  All hiring is frozen.  And those who can get Obamacare waivers are.  The communist Chinese don’t have these problems.

The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy.

He says as he scolds the American people.  And our Republican representatives.  Yelling at us.  Scowling at us.  Fed up with us.  Because he is not getting his way.

Ultimately, our recovery will be driven not by Washington, but by our businesses and our workers.

Absolutely right.  And the best thing Washington can to is to stop helping.  Their tax and regulatory policies are smothering economic growth.  You want to help?  Then get out of the way.  And let business do what business does best.  Grow.  And create jobs.  To meet demand.  That the market is demanding.  Not building what the government thinks is best.

I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away. It’s called the American Jobs Act. There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans — including many who sit here tonight. And everything in this bill will be paid for.

That urgent is it?  Urgent.  But not so urgent to cancel your luxurious vacation on the exclusive Martha’s Vineyard?  Where the rich and famous vacation to get away from people like us.  You know, if it could wait until after Martha’s Vineyard, it can’t be that important.

Democrats and Republicans support everything in this plan?  If so why isn’t this already law?  If not important before, why is it now?  Some two and a half years into your presidency?  And some two and a half years after applying your laser-like focus on job creation?

It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for long-term unemployed.

Jobs for teachers?  There’s nothing stimulative about that.  They don’t hire workers.  And the kids they teach aren’t going to hire any workers for a very long time.  This is just more money for teachers’ unions.  Which will be funneled back to the Democrat Party via union dues.

We pay teachers with tax dollars.  Paid by the taxpayers.  This is money the government transfers from the private sector economy to the public sector teachers.  So before teachers can stimulate with this money the private sector has to lose it first.  They take a large sum of money from the private sector.  And give it to the teachers.  Less administration costs to make this all happen.  To stimulate the private sector economy.  Which means the teachers spend less money than the private sector would have if they were able to keep their money.  This is a net loss of economic activity.  And is not stimulative.

Teachers are like government.  They provide an important service.  But they are taxpayer financed.  And like anything taxpayer financed, they are a drag on the economy.

More shovel-ready construction projects?  You told us yourself there is no such thing as a shovel-ready project.  This won’t be stimulative either.  Construction projects just don’t happen overnight.  Even if you get rid of all the regulatory red tape.  Projects take months to engineer.  If you cut that short there will be cost overruns to correct all the things missed in the engineering process.  Then there’s the asbestos abatement study.  Lead abatement.  Environmental impact studies.  At best these will start hiring in time for the 2012 election campaign.  Which no doubt is the goal.

It will provide — it will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. (Applause.) It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and if they hire, there will be customers for their products and services. You should pass this jobs plan right away. (Applause.)

If tax breaks are good for businesses then just cut tax rates.  A tax rate cut is more stimulative than a onetime tax credit.  A tax credit does not instill business confidence.  Because hiring a new employee is far more costly than any onetime tax credit.  Especially with Obamacare bearing down on small businesses.  It’s these permanent costs of current tax and regulatory policies.  These are what are keeping business skittish about expanding and hiring.  And a onetime tax credit won’t change that.  A repeal of Obamacare would probably spark some business growth.  But not a targeted tax credit.

Pass this jobs bill — pass this jobs bill, and starting tomorrow, small businesses will get a tax cut if they hire new workers or if they raise workers’ wages.

Wishful thinking.  Whoever came up with this is an economic simpleton.  He might as well have asked everyone to voluntary pay more for their groceries.  So the stores will hire more people with all that additional profit.  Employees are another cost of doing business.  Voluntarily increasing these costs above the market cost will only make these businesses less competitive in the market place.  Threatening their business.  And all the jobs they currently provide.

It’s not just Democrats who have supported this kind of proposal. Fifty House Republicans have proposed the same payroll tax cut that’s in this plan. You should pass it right away. (Applause.)

Yes, payroll tax cuts are good.  They reduce the cost of doing business.  And let employees keep more of their earnings.  So cutting Social Security and Medicare taxes will help.  But this will only set up higher taxes down the road.  Because these programs are going broke.  Businesses understand this.  They know it will only be temporary.  And illusionary.  For they will pay more in the future.  So they aren’t going to hire more now.

Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us a economic superpower. And now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads? At a time when millions of unemployed construction workers could build them right here in America? (Applause.)

No.  It didn’t.  We took over the title of economic superpower from the British before the federal highway bill.  And private industry built the railroads.  And robber barons.  Sure, government helped.  But it didn’t lead the way.

China?  Really?  Why is China building so much infrastructure?  Because they have cheap labor.  They couldn’t do what they’re doing if their labor costs were the same as ours.  And that high-speed rail system?  They’re now questioning quality and safety.

And there are schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating.

According to my calendar it’s September.  And I’m pretty sure it’s September throughout the country.  Which means what?  That’s right.  The kids just went back to school.  Which means the next round of school renovation projects will take place starting next June.  When the kids get out of school.  Not very stimulative if you ask me.  Unless you just want a lot of people working on these school renovations during the 2012 election campaign.

And to make sure the money is properly spent, we’re building on reforms we’ve already put in place. No more earmarks. No more boondoggles.

Just like you promised your $800 billion stimulus wouldn’t contain any pork or earmarks?  When it was mostly pork and earmarks?  Fool us once shame on you.  Fool us twice shame on us.

And we’ll set up an independent fund to attract private dollars and issue loans based on two criteria: how badly a construction project is needed and how much good it will do for the economy. (Applause.)

Great.  Nothing guarantees to speed things up like making it go through a new government bureaucracy.  Which can better send money to friends of the administration.  Just like that $800 billion stimulus.

Pass this jobs bill, and companies will get a $4,000 tax credit if they hire anyone who has spent more than six months looking for a job.

Let’s crunch some numbers.  Say you hire someone.  Pay them $30,000.  Your half of Social Security and Medicare taxes come to $2,295 for the year.  Now factor in your other costs.  State and federal unemployment insurance.  Workers’ compensation insurance.  Health care.  Etc.  Not to mention their salary.  It adds up to a lot of money.  Far more than that $4,000 tax credit.  For hiring someone they don’t need to support their current level of business.  And you know what?  A smart business owner isn’t going to do this.

The plan also extends unemployment insurance for another year. (Applause.) If the millions of unemployed Americans stopped getting this insurance, and stopped using that money for basic necessities, it would be a devastating blow to this economy.

The government has to take that money out of the private sector economy first.  Before it can pay unemployment benefits.  Someone is still spending that money.  Just a different someone.  By the time you add in the cost of administering those benefits, there is a net loss in economic activity. 

Unemployment benefits help the unemployed while they look for another job.  They don’t stimulate the economy.

The agreement we passed in July will cut government spending by about $1 trillion over the next 10 years. It also charges this Congress to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings by Christmas. Tonight, I am asking you to increase that amount so that it covers the full cost of the American Jobs Act. And a week from Monday, I’ll be releasing a more ambitious deficit plan — a plan that will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run. (Applause.)

Standard and Poor’s wanted to see $4 trillion in real spending cuts.  Not cuts in the out-years that will disappear in the next budget deal.  Real cuts.  If not they said they would downgrade the U.S. sovereign debt rating.  They couldn’t do it.  The best they could do was a $1 trillion tax cut over the next 10 years.  And by golly if S&P didn’t downgrade our credit rating.

And the special commission is to find another half trillion in spending cuts?  On top of the $1.5 trillion they were already looking for?  That Congress was unable to find?  And now they have to find $2 trillion?  Yeah, like that’s going to happen.  That’s a plan with but one goal.  Failure. 

With this kind of spending, a deficit reduction plan can only mean one thing.  More taxes.  Just what the economy needs.  Not.

While most people in this country struggle to make ends meet, a few of the most affluent citizens and most profitable corporations enjoy tax breaks and loopholes that nobody else gets. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary — an outrage he has asked us to fix. (Laughter.) We need a tax code where everyone gets a fair shake and where everybody pays their fair share.

An executive secretary probably earns something north of $60,000 a year.  That puts her in a top marginal tax bracket of 25%.  Crunching the numbers and this executive secretary will pay $11,125 in federal taxes.  Now let’s assume Warren Buffet has a half billion dollars in investments that pay a return of 8%.  That’s a capital gain of about $40 million.  Taxed at a paltry 15% capital gains tax that’s a measly $6 million in federal taxes.  Funny.  His secretary has a higher tax rate.  But Buffet pays approximately 53,833% more in tax dollars.  I don’t know how you can say one person paying $40 million in taxes isn’t paying his fair share.

Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers? Because we can’t afford to do both. Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs? (Applause.) Right now, we can’t afford to do both.

This isn’t political grandstanding. This isn’t class warfare. This is simple math. (Laughter.)

This is nothing but political grandstanding and class warfare.  And rather Orwellian.  In Nineteen Eighty Four, they just changed the meaning of words to control the people.  Such as slavery is freedom.  But changing the meaning of words doesn’t change what slavery is.  It’s still slavery.  No matter what you call it.  And political grandstanding and class warfare is political grandstanding and class warfare.  Even if you say it isn’t.

Now it’s time to clear the way for a series of trade agreements that would make it easier for American companies to sell their products in Panama and Colombia and South Korea -– while also helping the workers whose jobs have been affected by global competition.

America can’t compete with China because Chinese labor is cheaper.  So to make American products more competitive the president wants to subsidize our high cost of labor.  With American tax dollars.  Spread the higher cost of U.S. goods throughout the American economy.  Leaving everyone with less money for their own personal needs.  So we can keep Big Union working.  And supporting the Democrat Party.  Which will only increase government spending.  Our deficit.  And our debt.

To subsidize Big Labor they’ll have to pill that money out of the private sector economy first.  So you subtract X from the private sector economy.  And give X to Big Union.  Less an administration fee, of course.  Meaning that there will be a net loss of economic activity.

If we provide the right incentives, the right support — and if we make sure our trading partners play by the rules — we can be the ones to build everything from fuel-efficient cars to advanced biofuels to semiconductors that we sell all around the world.

The free market doesn’t need government incentives and support.  They did fine and dandy in the old days without any government help.  And making our trading partners play by the rules?  If you could do that they would be playing by the rules already.  There’s nothing you can do to make China stop undervaluing the yuan.  Unless you want to throw up protective tariffs on Chinese goods.  Of course they’ll retaliate.  Which will only make everything more expensive for the American consumer.  Besides, we already tried this.  Just before the Great Depression.

You really want to talk about the government picking winners and losers (i.e., incentives and support)?  Really?  After the Solyndra bankruptcy?  And the FBI raid on their executive homes?

Well, I agree that we can’t afford wasteful spending, and I’ll work with you, with Congress, to root it out. And I agree that there are some rules and regulations that do put an unnecessary burden on businesses at a time when they can least afford it. (Applause.) That’s why I ordered a review of all government regulations.

Didn’t Al Gore already reinvent government?  To root out wasteful spending and regulations?  Yeah, he did.  Or tried.  Turns out that’s a lot easier said than done.  Especially when you don’t really mean it.  I mean, come on, the Left lives and dies for these costly regulations.  They’re not just going to sit idly by and let them get repealed.  Not when they fund Democrat candidates in elections.

But what we can’t do — what I will not do — is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades.

Really?  So you’re not going to let anyone do what you did?  Like Rahm Emanuel said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”  When you used the worst recession since the Great Depression to pass your stimulus?

Basic protections are one thing.  But your regulatory zeal has shut down this economy.  Just ask the Gulf oil workers.  If you can find any.  Because they aren’t working on rigs in the Gulf anymore.  Thanks to you.

We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union. Founder of the Republican Party. But in the middle of a civil war, he was also a leader who looked to the future — a Republican President who mobilized government to build the Transcontinental Railroad — (applause) — launch the National Academy of Sciences, set up the first land grant colleges. (Applause.) And leaders of both parties have followed the example he set.

The seeds of the first transcontinental railroad were sowed back in the 1830s.  Lincoln became president in 1861.  The NAS was established by an Act of Congress.  Land grant colleges came into being in with the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890.  First introduced in 1857.  Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation.  But he did not create these other acts of Congress.  Congress did. 

And the transcontinental railroad?  That was Congress, too.  And one of the most corrupt Congresses in history.  The incentives and support Congress gave encouraged them to build track on ice.  Zigzag to cover as much land as possible to claim the mineral rights beneath. And when east and west finally met, they kept building track.  Parallel to each other.  To keep collecting money for track mileage laid.  And the cost overruns made a lot of Congressmen wealthy.  No, this railroad was not America’s finest hour.

How many jobs would it have cost us if past Congresses decided not to support the basic research that led to the Internet and the computer chip?

The government Internet (DARPA) was nothing more than file sharing and email for scientists.  If private enterprise and entrepreneurs didn’t step in that’s what the Internet would still be. 

The computer chip?  Funny. I thought that was Texas Instruments and Fairchild Semiconductor.  Which was ultimately based on the transistor.  Invented in 1947 by John Bardeen, Walter H. Brattain, and William B. Shockley of Bell Labs.  Who replaced vacuum tubes with semiconductors everywhere.  Except in high-end audio amplifiers.

What kind of country would this be if this chamber had voted down Social Security or Medicare just because it violated some rigid idea about what government could or could not do? (Applause.) How many Americans would have suffered as a result?

Actually they’d probably be a lot better off.  As far as a return on investment, Social Security is one of the worst retirement investments out there.  Why?  Because it’s not an investment.  Your money goes into the Social Security trust fund.  Where it ‘waits’ for your retirement.  But before you do, the government takes that money and spends it.  Leaving an IOU in the trust fund.  This is no IRA.  No 401(k).  No mutual fund.  It’s not even a savings bond.  In fact, if you die before you collect, all that money you paid in is kept by the government.  It doesn’t go to your heirs with the rest of your estate.  Like an IRA, a 401(k) or a mutual fund would.

But Social Security has been a real success.  For the government.  Because it has made generations of people dependent on government in their retirement.  Who live in fear of losing their benefits.  And will do anything to keep those benefits coming.  Even if it means screwing their own children.  And their grandchildren.  They’re so frightened by the Democrats that they will vote Democrat.  No matter how much the Democrats steal from future generations.

I don’t pretend that this plan will solve all our problems. It should not be, nor will it be, the last plan of action we propose.

That’s right.  You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.  And they will milk this for all it’s worth.  Stimulus.  Bailing out the UAW pension funds (i.e., the auto bailout).  Financial reform.  Obamacare.  Everything they’ve always wanted.  But could never get through the normal legislative process.

The Problem with Barack Obama is that he’s a Keynesian who wants to Grow the Government

Once again the professor scolds those who don’t agree with him.  And offers more of the same.  Which has already failed to reverse the worst recession since the Great Depression.  And it’s not going to work this time.  How do we know this?  Because if this stuff worked it would have worked the first time.

And it would be nice to see the plan before our representatives pass the plan.  For as CBO said before, you just can’t score a speech.  We need to see the numbers.  And the leaps of faith.  But I guess it’s hard to quantify soaring rhetoric.  Especially when you’re offering the same thing.  That you’re trying to make sound different this time.

The problem with Barack Obama is that he’s a Keynesian.  With one slight difference.  Keynesian stimulus is supposed to be temporary.  Whereas Obama’s stimulus gets added into the baseline budget.  Making his stimulus spending permanent.  His number one goal isn’t growing the economy.  It’s growing the government.  That’s why his polices don’t help the economy.  But they sure have grown the government.  And in Obama’s book that’s mission accomplished. 

But he sure would like a second term to continue the fun.  But I just don’t see that happening.  For I can’t see how he can fool that many people into believing that they’re better off after four years of his policies.

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LESSONS LEARNED #75: “Lower income tax rates generate more tax revenue by making more rich people who pay more income taxes.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 21st, 2011

Inflation is a Bitch

The top marginal tax rate during the Eisenhower administration peaked at 92%.  When it wasn’t at 92% it was at 91%.  This was post-war America.  A happy time.  They even named a TV series after this time.  Happy Days.  Life was good.  There were jobs aplenty.  And lots of baby making.  Everyone lived happily ever after.  Until the war-devastated economies rebuilt themselves and didn’t need American manufacturing anymore.

Things started to change in the Sixties.  Sure, a top marginal tax rate of 92% was high.  But few paid it.  Creative accounting and useful tax shelters avoided that punishing rate.  But government was still fat and happy with the money it was collecting.  Until the Vietnam War came along.  Johnson‘s Great Society.  And let’s not forget the Apollo moon program.  With renewed competition for American manufacturing, trouble in the oil-rich Middle East and rising inflation, the Seventies weren’t going to be happy.

And they weren’t.  Oil shockNixon shockStagflationMiseryKeynesian economics says to tax and spend to tweak the economy back to health.  When you can’t tax enough, you borrow.  When you can’t borrow, you print.  Nothing is more important than creating demand where no demand exists.  Give consumers more money to spend and ignore the debt, deficit and inflation.  The problem is, inflation is a bitch.

Reaganomics increased GDP 82.9%

Ronald Reagan routed Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential election.  Carter’s economic numbers were some of the worst in history.  Double digit interest rates, unemployment and inflation.  All being flamed by an expansionary Keynesian monetary policy.  Until Paul Volcker took over the Fed during Carter’s last year or so in office.  And there really is only one way to cure a bad inflation.  With a bad recession.  And the Reagan recession of the early 1980s was one of the more severe ones.

Reagan was from the Austrian school of economics.  Supply-side.  His Reaganomics embraced the following tenets: cut spending, cut taxes, cut regulation and cut inflation.  In 1980 the top marginal tax rate was 70%.  When he left office it was 28%.  During his 8 years in office he took GDP from $2,788.1 billion to $5,100.4 billion (an increase of 82.9%).

The Reagan critics will note this explosive economic growth and say, “Yeah, but at what cost?  Record deficits.”  True, Reagan had some of the highest deficits up to his time.  But those deficits had nothing to do with his tax cuts.  For Reagan increased tax revenue from $798.7 billion to $1,502.4 billion (an increase of 88.1%).  Those deficits weren’t from a lack of revenue.  They were from an excess of spending.  And, therefore, not the fault of the Reagan tax cuts.

A Downward Trend in Prices is like an Upward Trend in Wages

And the Reagan critic will counter this with, “Sure, the economy grew.  But the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.”  Yes, his income and capital gains tax cuts made a lot of rich people.  But they also transferred the tax burden from the poor to the rich.  In 1980, the top 1% of earners paid 19.1% of all federal income taxes.  By the time he left office that number grew to 27.6% (an increase of 44.8%).  Meanwhile the bottom 50% of earners paid less.  Their share fell from 7.1% to 5.7% (a decrease of 18.9%).

Of course, the Reagan critic will then note that Reagan slashed domestic spending to pay for his military spending.  Well, yes, Reagan did spend a lot.  He increased spending from $846.5 billion to $1,623.6 billion (or an increase of 91.8%).  But he made a tax deal with Congress.  For every new $1 in taxes Congress would cut $3 in spending.  Those spending cuts never came.  Hence Reagan’s monstrous $200 billion deficits.  That’s a lot of money for both guns and butter.

But the greatest thing he did for low-income people was curbing inflation.  High inflation makes everything cost more, leaving low-income people with less to live on.  In 1980, inflation was at 13.5%.  When Reagan left office he had lowered it to 4.1% (a decrease of 69.6%).  No one benefited more from this reduction in inflation than low-income people.  A downward trend in prices is like an upward trend in wages.

The Reagan Economy was Better than the Clinton Economy

The Reagan critic likes to point to the Clinton years as a better economic period with better economic (and fairer) policies.  The Nineties were a period of economic growth.  But even with the dot-com bubble near the end of that period the Clinton GDP growth of 56.9% was less than Reagan’s 82.9%.   

Whereas Reagan achieved spectacular GDP growth while fighting inflation, the Clinton growth did not have to slay the inflation beast.  In fact, inflation rose from 3.0% to 3.4% during his two terms, indicting the GDP growth was not as real as Reagan’s.  Reagan’s was measured with a strengthening dollar.  Clinton’s was measured with a weakening dollar.  Also, real prices fell under Reagan.  While they rose under Clinton.  Making life more expensive for low-income people under Clinton than under Reagan.

Thanks to the dot-com boom, though, Clinton continued to transfer the tax burden to the rich.  He experienced a wind-fall of capital gains tax revenue when all those rich dot-com people cashed in their stock options.  In 1992, the top 1% of earners paid 27.4% of all federal income taxes.  By the time he left office that number grew to 37.4%.  This was an increase of 35.9% (compared to Reagan’s 44.8%).  Meanwhile the bottom 50% of earners paid less, too.  Their share fell from 5.1% to 3.9%.  This was a decrease of 22.7% (compared to Reagan’s 18.9%). 

Over all, though, Clinton’s policies increased tax revenue 69.8% compared to Reagan’s 88.1%.  And this was with the dot-com boom thrown in.  Had there been no dot-com bubble (that burst after he left office) no doubt his GDP and tax revenue would have been less.  Some of this economic dampening perhaps being caused by his increase of the top marginal tax rate from 31% to 39.6%. 

Both Reagan and Clinton made more Rich People

Reagan’s tax cuts led to an economic boom.  He cut inflation making life more affordable for lower-income people.  And he transferred the tax burden to the rich.

Clinton increased taxes.  His economic boom was good but not great.  A big part of his GDP growth and tax revenue was due more to irrational exuberance than real economic growth. 

But both Reagan and Clinton made more rich people.  And these rich people paid more taxes.  And because they did low-income people paid less.  Which would seem to prove that the best way to increase tax revenue (and make the tax system more progressive) would be to create more rich people.  And yet the very people who want to do this advance policies that work against these objectives.  Why?

Politics.  Sure, the Austrian school of economics has a proven track record over the Keynesian school.  But Austrian school economics has a terrible side affect.  It doesn’t grow government.  And all the economic growth and tax revenue doesn’t mean a thing if you lose your comfy federal job.  At least to a Big Government politician.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #75: “Lower income tax rates generate more tax revenue by making more rich people who pay more income taxes.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 19th, 2011

The top 1% of Earners pay close to 40% of all Federal Income Taxes

Poor people pay little income taxes.  Rich people pay a lot of income taxes.  Everyone else pays somewhere in between.  The tool to make this happen is the progressive tax system.  Government designed it so that people with more income pay more taxes.   Via progressive tax brackets.  And the current (2010-2011) brackets (for head of household) are:

  • 10% on first $12,150
  • 15% on income from $12,150 – $46,250
  • 25% on income from $46,250 – $119,400
  • 28% on income from $119,400 – $193,350
  • 33% on income from $193,350 – $379,150
  • 35% on income over $379,150

If you earn $8,000 you owe $800.  Simple.  If you earn $83,600 you owe $15,668.  If you earn $450,000 you owe $131,435.  If you earn $2,500,000 you owe $848,935.  See the pattern?  Earn more.  Pay more.  Almost as if you’re penalized for being successful.

Of course, low-income people often don’t pay any federal income taxes.  In fact, a lot of people don’t.  About half.  Thanks to tax credits, deductions and exemptions.  But when you’re a rich CEO earning a multimillion dollar salary there aren’t enough tax credits, deductions and exemptions to avoid your taxes.  That’s why the top 1% of earners pay close to 40% of all federal income taxes.  Something we should thank them for.  Instead of demonizing them.

The higher the Top Marginal Tax Rate is the more the Rich avoid paying Income Taxes

There are no Mom and Pop hardware stores anymore.  The big box home improvement stores like The Home Depot, Lowe’s and, for those of you old enough to remember, Builder’s Square put them out of business.  Because of greedy consumers like you.  And me.  Who want to get the best value while shopping.  And if we can buy something of equal quality at a lower price we do.  We work hard for our money.  We spend it carefully.  Wisely.  And we don’t pay more for something when we can get the same for less elsewhere.

It’s the same for rich people.  When they shop.  And when they invest their wealth.  Or their ability.  They look at their options.  Create a new business?  Work at an established business?  If you’re highly skilled you can earn a lot of income.  Which rich people take into consideration.  But there are costs.  Payroll taxes.  Employee compensation and benefits.  Compliance and regulation costs.  And, of course, the progressive tax system.

The higher the top marginal tax rate the less incentive they have to start or run a business.  The less incentive they have to create jobs.  And the more likely they won’t start or run a business.  Instead they’ll invest their money and pay the simpler and (so far) lower capital gains tax.  And this is what happens.  The higher the top marginal tax rate is the more the rich avoid paying income taxes, leaving the middle class to pick them up.  Just like you avoided that Mom and Pop hardware store on your way to The Home Dept.  And with an abundance of government debt available, the rich can invest and live on interest.  Sitting on the sidelines.  Watching the rest of us struggle to find a job.

You don’t need Employees to live on Interest Income

So, the progressive tax system is a way to make rich people pay more.  To transfer the tax burden to them.  And it does.  To a point.  But if you try to tax them too much they’ll just drop out of the economy.  And take their jobs with them.  Which is a double whammy.  We lose some of that generous 40% of income taxes they pay.  And we lose who knows how many thousands of jobs.  And taxpayers.  Thus transferring the burden the other way.  Away from the rich.  To those less able to afford it.

The progressive tax system is supposed to make paying taxes easier on the poor.  The less you earn the less you pay, leaving you with more money for the necessities of life.  Whereas the rich can afford to pay more so they do.  But a flat tax is a progressive tax, too.  The more you earn the more you pay.  For example, going to a 15% flat tax, our sample earners above would change their taxes owed as follows:

  • $8000:  $800  →  $1,200
  • $83,600:  $15,668  →  $12,540
  • $450,000:  $131,435  →  $67,500
  • $2,500,000:  $848,935  →  $375,000

It’s still progressive.  And, yes, the rich will pay less individually.  But there will be more of them.  For this lower income tax rate changes the dynamic.  It will be more profitable to get off of the sidelines and get back into the economy.  Because a flat 15% income tax rate will beat or equal the capital gains tax.  And the profit from creating or running a business will blow away the earnings on a portfolio of treasury bonds.

Better still are the jobs.  You don’t need employees to live on interest income.  But you need them to run a business.  More jobs mean more taxpayers.  So more rich people are back in the economy earning income and paying income taxes.  And more employees are working.  That’s more payroll taxes.  And more personal income taxes.  In the end, the numbers win.  More jobs.  More GDP.  And more federal tax receipts.

Keeping People Poorer and more Dependent on Government

If the goal of government tax policy is to raise tax revenue, the logical thing to do would be to design a tax code that creates more rich people.  A lower top marginal tax rate does this.  So does a flat tax.  Such a tax policy will create incentives to earn income instead of living on capital gains from investments.  Each rich person will pay less income tax individually but there will be far more of them paying income taxes overall.  And they will create jobs.  The more jobs there are the more payroll taxes and personal income taxes there are.

History has shown that cutting tax rates has done just that.  The Mellon tax cuts of the 1920s.  The JFK tax cuts of the 1960s.  The Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s.  The Bush tax cuts of the 2000s.  So if the record shows that lower tax rates produce more tax revenue, why are we always trying to raise the top marginal tax rates?  Simple.  Politics.

Being in politics is the closest you can get to being part of an aristocracy in the United States.  Unless you’re born a Kennedy.  Whether its ego or the graft, people aspire to be in the privileged few.  Life is better there.  If you have no talent or ability.  Other than being able to tell a pretty good lie.  So you use class warfare to get the masses to support you.  And the progressive tax system.  Which keeps people poorer and more dependent on government.  Like it used to be in the old days when there was an aristocracy.

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Obama Prolongs the Recession with High Food and Gas Prices and anti-Business Policies

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 27th, 2011

Consumer Spending and Wages are Flat thanks to Inflation

Consumer spending at last shows some growth.  No, wait a minute.  It’s not growth.  It’s only inflation (see April consumer spending shows weak gain by the Associated Press posted 5/27/2011 on the Los Angeles Times).

Consumer spending rose 0.4 percent, reflecting a surge in the category that covers food and gasoline, areas which showed big price gains last month, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Excluding price changes, spending rose a much smaller 0.1 percent.

Incomes rose 0.4 percent but after-tax incomes adjusted for inflation were flat for a second straight month.

Analysts are worried that weak income growth and big gains in gasoline and food prices are leaving consumers with little left to spend on other products. That could dampen economic growth. Consumer spending is closely watched because it accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.

Increased consumer spending is a good thing.  But not when consumers are only paying more for the same stuff.  That’s not new economic activity.  That’s just inflation making life more expensive.  Food and gasoline are the main culprits.  And it’s gasoline that plays a large role in making food more expensive.  Because gasoline is used everywhere in bringing food to our grocery stores.

Worse, Americans are paying more.  But not earning more.  Which leaves less disposable income to stimulate the economy. In other words, the U.S. is still in recession.  And won’t be coming out of it anytime soon.

Still no Recovery in the Housing Market

So we’re still mired in recession.  Of course that means houses should still be cheap.  With low interest rates.  Put the two together and someone should be buying houses at least (see Pending Home Sales Plunge, Reaching Seven-Month Low by Reuters posted 5/27/2011 on CNBC).

Pending sales of existing U.S. homes dropped far more than expected in April to touch a seven-month low, a trade group said on Friday, dealing a blow to hopes of a recovery in the housing market.

Damn.  Housing sales had been the backbone of the U.S. economy.  Because furnishing a house drives so much consumer spending.  The more people that bought houses the better.  So that was U.S. policy.  Putting people into houses.  Which led to the subprime mortgage market.  A housing bubble.  The subprime mortgage crisis.   And a glut of foreclosed homes on the market driving housing prices down further.

It’s a buyer’s market now.  Because so few are buying.  So the economy is not going to get any assistance from the housing market any time soon.

Universal Health Care Ruins Massachusetts First, then the United States

So things are bad.  But can they get any worse?  Are there any new big regulatory compliance or taxes in the pipeline?  Anything that could snuff out even the most anemic of economic recoveries?  As it turns out, yes (see Health Insurance Premiums Continue to Rise Under RomneyCare by Peter Suderman posted 5/27/2011 on reason).

Not only are Masachusetts’ health insurance premiums higher than elsewhere in the U.S. on average, they’ve grown at a faster rate since the adoption of RomneyCare, according to a report released yesterday by the state government. The report, which was published by the state’s Division of Health Care Finance & Policy, notes that for the last two years, private group insurance premiums rose by between five and 10 percent per year despite the fact that the regional consumer price index, which measures inflation on common goods and services, rose by just two percent..

The Obama administration has explicitly stated on numerous occasions that RomneyCare was the model for the federal overhaul. Given the Bay State’s spiraling costs, it seems more and more likely that, thanks to ObamaCare, we can all expect higher health insurance premiums in our future.

So Obamacare is Romneycare at the national level.  So the American people can expect spiraling health care costs and insurance premiums.  That can’t be good for the economy.

Obamacare hasn’t really kicked in yet.  Most of the activity has been by companies seeking waivers to be excluded from the requirements of Obamacare as it places too great a cost burden on their small businesses.  But these are only one-year waivers.  So small business costs will be going up eventually.  When they do in fact comply with Obamacare.  And that will be a great disincentive to hire new employees.  Being that small business is the biggest generator of jobs, Obamacare will further stretch out this recession.  Or make it an even more severe recession.

The Obama Administration would like Gas at $8/Gallon

If only we could get a break on gasoline prices.  That is such a large part of consumer prices that if they went down the economy might tick up.  So the government should focus all of its powers on lowering gas prices (see Obama’s Bad Policy, Harmful Regulations Add to Gas Prices by Darrell Issa posted 5/27/2011 on USNEWS).

From the campaign trail, then Senator Obama spoke of increased electricity prices as a means for advancing his agenda, noting that costs would “necessarily skyrocket.” Energy Secretary Stephen Chu was equally blunt. “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe [currently $8 a gallon],” Mr. Chu announced. Last year, President Obama declared that America must be the nation that leads the “clean energy economy.”

So the plan was to make gasoline prices high all along.  To make gasoline so expensive that the more expensive green energy became cost competitive.  To encourage the American people to choose it.  And by ‘encourage’ I mean force.  Talk about devious. 

Even as compliance costs for traditional and affordable sources of energy rise, the administration’s willingness to promulgate even tighter regulatory controls and raise taxes on oil and gas producers rolls along. In his fiscal year 2012 budget, President Obama requested more than $60 billion in direct tax and fee increases on American energy production over the next 10 years.

Tighter regulatory controls and higher taxes won’t help the economy.  Especially when those controls and taxes are on the one thing that drives most prices.  Gasoline.  It’s almost as if the Obama administration is trying to prolong the greatest recession since the Great Depression.

The Government’s Help is killing Small Business

So how about the man in the street.  Or, rather, a man on an airplane.  Stephen Carter, Yale law professor, sat next to a small business owner on a recent flight.  An actual person.  Not the abstract business people who are trying to cheat the government out of their taxes or take grandma’s medications away.  A flesh and blood real person.  They had an interesting conversation.  About small business.  The greatest generator of American jobs.  And he asked this business owner why he was prolonging the recession by not hiring new employees (see Carter: Economic Stagnation Explained, at 30,000 Feet by Stephen L. Carter posted 5/26/2011 on Bloomberg).

“Because I don’t know how much it will cost,” he explains. “How can I hire new workers today, when I don’t know how much they will cost me tomorrow?”

He’s referring not to wages, but to regulation: He has no way of telling what new rules will go into effect when. His business, although it covers several states, operates on low margins. He can’t afford to take the chance of losing what little profit there is to the next round of regulatory changes. And so he’s hiring nobody until he has some certainty about cost.

One thing business people don’t like is uncertainty.  Because when they screw up they can’t just raise taxes or print money.  They have to deal with real the consequences of bad decisions.  So they are very careful about making costly decisions.  Like hiring people.

“I don’t understand why Washington does this to us,” he resumes. By “us,” he means people who run businesses of less- than-Fortune-500 size. He tells me that it doesn’t much matter which party is in office. Every change of power means a whole new set of rules to which he and those like him must respond. ‘‘I don’t understand,” he continues, “why Washington won’t just get out of our way and let us hire.”

Republican.  Democrat.  It doesn’t matter.  Every time there is a change there are new rules to follow.  And more of that thing they so hate.  Uncertainty.

“I think about retirement a lot,” he says. “But I can’t.” I wait to hear about how much he loves the business he founded, or about his responsibilities to his employees, or perhaps to the town, somewhere in the Dakotas, where his factory is located. Instead, he tells me that it’s impossible to make a sensible decision about winding down his firm when he doesn’t even know from one year to the next what the capital gains rate is going to be.

So it’s just not the Wall Street robber barons affected by the capital gains tax.  The greatest employer, small business, is affected, too.  He is just one of many.  Unable to make decisions like when he can retire.  Does he have enough money to retire?  And pay his capital gains tax?  If not it could be a problem.  Because you just can’t un-retire when you sell or close down a small business if you calculated wrong.  Instead, you’ll be an old guy trying to find a job.

I ask him what, precisely, he thinks is the proper role of government as it relates to business.

“Invisible,” he says. “I know there are things the government has to do. But they need to find a way to do them without people like me having to bump into a new regulation every time we turn a corner.” He reflects for a moment, then finds the analogy he seeks. “Government should act like my assistant, not my boss.”

An assistant doesn’t tell the boss how to run his business.  Because an assistant doesn’t know how to run his boss’ business.  Government bureaucrats aren’t even as knowledgeable as the assistant.  The assistant at least has a job in a business.  Few in Washington have ever run a business.  Let alone had a real job.  Yet here they are constantly trying to tell others how to run their businesses.

On the way to my connection, I ponder. As an academic with an interest in policy, I tend to see businesses as abstractions, fitting into a theory or a data set. Most policy makers do the same. We rarely encounter the simple human face of the less- than-giant businesses we constantly extol. And when they refuse to hire, we would often rather go on television and call them greedy than sit and talk to them about their challenges.

Recessions have complex causes, but, as the man on the aisle reminded me, we do nothing to make things better when the companies on which we rely see Washington as adversary rather than partner.

The best thing Washington can do to help small business?  Stop helping. 

In the Recession Business?

From small business regulation to inflation to the high cost of health care to the high cost of gasoline it would appear that the current administration is actually in the recession business.  Or utterly incompetent.  One almost has to lean towards incompetence.  Because there is an election in 2012.  And making the worst recession since the Great Depression more like the Great Depression can’t possibly help at the polls.  Even if you have compromising photographs of the Republican candidate having a good time with someone that is not his or her spouse.

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LESSONS LEARNED #34: “Sure, until you win the lotto you’re all for sticking it to the rich.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 7th, 2010

Buddy Can You Spare a Dime

In the old days, we used to jail people who didn’t pay their debts.  Even in the United States.  A couple of signers of the Declaration of Independence even served time in a debtors’ prison.  We took it seriously.  Honoring your debts.  For those who didn’t, they found themselves inside a jail until they did.  Or until they died.

We jailed some people over small sums.  The severity of the punishment (broken families, disease, starvation, privation, physical abuse, etc.) was often extreme in comparison to the size of the debt owed.  In time we would move away from such barbaric justice.  No, in the modern, caring world, we don’t torment those who are down on their luck and find themselves penniless.  You see, the modern world is a caring world.  We abhor the sufferings of our fellow man.  So we show them kindness.  Charity.  We forgive them their debts and help them rebuild their lives.  Well, most of us do.

If you find yourself owing the IRS, you better pay up.  For they will send you to prison.  And take whatever you have.  They will destroy your life.  And your family.  Because they want to make something perfectly clear.  You don’t f*ck with the IRS.  They play to keep.  All the time.

The War on Alcohol

The 18th Amendment prohibited “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes.”  The government may have shut down supply, but the market remained.  Enter criminal gangs.  Who furnished the supply to meet the demand.

None did it better than Al Capone.  His gang ruled Chicago.  People admired him.  After all, he wasn’t hurting anyone.  He was just giving the people what they wanted.  A way to relax and blow off steam.  Like we do today when we enjoy an alcoholic beverage with our friends.  But the gang violence grew.  The pictures following the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre were just too gruesome.  Soon thereafter the FBI branded Scarface as public enemy #1.

Bootlegging, prostitution, murder, extortion…Capone broke a lot of laws.  But he crossed the line.  He committed a crime that was so heinous that it would land him ultimately in Alcatraz, America’s most secured federal prison.  That crime?  Income tax evasion.

On the Road Again

Willie Nelson is a big time Democrat.  He’s into saving the environment.  Animal rights.  Legalizing marijuana.  Helping the farmers.  And he’s a regular peacenik.  So you’d think he’d be a big fan of Big Government.  Well, yes and no. 

He became very wealthy by the 1980s.  And like a good Democrat, he tried to shield some of that wealth from the IRS.  He parked some of it in some talk shelters.  Then came along Ronald Reagan.  He understood what Andrew Mellon understood (Secretary of the Treasury for Warren G. Harding).  High tax rates made rich people hide their money.  Lower tax rates encouraged rich people to invest their money.  When Mellon cut the tax rates wealthy people paid more taxes and less wealthy people paid fewer taxes.  The progressive tax system worked even better at lower tax rates.  Tax revenue increased as the wealthy invested their money instead of finding creative ways to hide it.  It worked for Reagan, too.  He even closed tax shelters as a further incentive for the wealthy to invest their money to grow the economy and create jobs.  That worked, too.  Savvy wealthy people everywhere were putting Americans back to work.  Only one small problem.  The not so savvy wealthy were caught unawares.

Willie Nelson didn’t move his money from his tax shelters.  When Reagan disallowed those shelters, his money sat there accruing federal taxes.  And interest and penalties.  He blamed and sued his accountants.  The accountants countered that they only did the accounting and taxes.  They were not investment advisors.  Anyway, the IRS seized his assets.  He went on the road again and often to pay off his tax bill.  His total bill came to about 16 million in back taxes, interest and penalties.  Which he paid.  As he no doubt would have from the get-go if he had sought appropriate counsel to help him negotiate the 1,000+ page U.S. tax code.

Easy Money – For the IRS

There are many stories like Willie Nelson’s.  Even Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the smartest man in America, couldn’t figure out his own taxes.  (But we were to excuse him for this because no one else was as qualified as he was to write and administer the U.S. tax code).  But it’s not only the not-so-savvy celebrity rich and the intellectually challenged intellectuals who have trouble with the U.S. tax code.  The poorest of the poor who never had money can sometimes run afoul of the IRS.

Playing the lotto.  Millions do.  Most lose.  And they’re lucky that they do.  Many lotto winners have their lives take a turn for the worse.  Friends and relatives you don’t know are reacquainting themselves with you.  Well, not you so much as your new found wealth.  Con men target you.  Charities.  Neighbors.  Some spend the money fast.  Or recklessly.  Develop drug addictions.  Get robbed.  Even murdered.  There are a lot of stories out there.  Just search the Internet.

When you win the lotto, you can take a lump-sum payment.  Or you can take a series of payments.  Either way the IRS taxes this as income.  And the amount of these payouts will most probably push you in the highest income tax bracket during the period of these payouts.  So the IRS likes lotto winners.  Your odds of winning are slim to none but someone always wins.  And that’s a tax bonanza for the IRS.  Not-so-savvy people who become rich overnight.  The full force and power of the U.S. government falling on some poor schmuck who probably never had a tax liability in his or her life.  Money just doesn’t get any easier. 

Capital Gain or Income?

Some may sell the rights to their future payments.  It’s sort of like selling a rental property.  For example, take a house that rents for $1,000 per month and sells for $150,000.   The buyer gets those future rent payments.  The seller gets the money back that they paid for the house and, hopefully, a capital gain (i.e., they sell the house for more than they paid for it).  The seller pays a capital gains tax on their capital gain.  They do not pay any further income tax on the rental income that the buyer now collects.

Some lotto winners see selling their rights to future payments in the same light.  And that they should only pay a one-time capitals gain tax (at a lower capital gains tax rate) in lieu of the higher income tax rate.  The IRS begs to differ.  And they usually get their way.

Sadly, some buyers advised those selling their rights that they could pay the lower capital gains tax rate.  Which they did.  And faced heavy tax bills for back taxes, interest and penalties as a consequence.  Once again, easy money for the IRS.  You can search the Internet for stories like these, too.

Pay or Else

Whether a gangster, a celebrity, a Democrat brainiac or a low-income lotto winner, we all share something in common.  Whatever our politics, when it comes to our money, we all try to avoid paying our ‘fair share’ of taxes.  We may demand that other rich people pay their taxes, but we will do everything we can to avoid paying our taxes.  But we play a dangerous game when we do.  For those who do and lose, they learn a painful lesson.

You don’t f*ck with the IRS.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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