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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