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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FT130: “Tax dollars pay the bills. Not tax rates.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 10th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

Even though we have a Progressive Tax System we don’t have a Progressive Movie Ticket Price System

The average price for a movie ticket is about $8.  A flat price.  In dollars.  Whatever you earn.  If you earn $50 in gross daily earnings you pay $8.  If you earn $100 in gross daily earnings you pay $8.  If you earn $200 in gross daily earnings you pay $8.  Is that fair?  Based on the amount people could pay, no.  Because $8 is a different percentage of each earner’s daily gross pay.  It’s only 4% for those who earn $200 daily.  It’s 8% for those who earn $100 daily.  And a whopping 16% for those who only earn $50 daily.  Is that fair?  Well, if we measure fairness by the way we pay income taxes, no.  This is not fair.

Look, we live in a fair country.  We have a progressive tax system.  So we should have a progressive movie ticket price system.  And someone who only earns $50 a day shouldn’t be paying 16% of their earnings for a movie ticket.  Not when someone who can more easily afford to pay more only pays 4% for a ticket.  These numbers are upside down.  The lower income people should only pay 4%.  The middle income people should pay 8% because they can more easily afford it.  And the high income earner should pay 16% because if they don’t they’re not paying their fair share.  So let’s say the government makes it so.

Once we make going to the movies fair this is what we can expect at the box office.  Those with daily earnings of $50 pay only $2 for a ticket.  Those with daily gross earnings of $100 pay $8.  And those with gross daily earnings of $200 pay $32 for their movie ticket.  The low-income earners will be very happy with this new fairness.  Those middle-income earners will have mixed feelings but won’t complain because they don’t have to pay any more.  The high-income earners, though, will not be happy with the new ticket pricing policy.  Because sitting in a theater is not worth $32 a ticket.  Especially if they’re taking their spouse and 3 kids.  Making a night at the movies cost $160.  Or 80% of their daily gross earnings.  And that doesn’t include any concession snacks.

The Problem with Fairness is that you can have the Best Intentions and end up with the Worst Results

You know who would love this?  Theater owners.  (As well as movie studios and the actors who share in box office sales.)  They would all be for fairness.  Because they would see greater earnings.  The typical theater seats about 225.  At $8 a ticket that comes to $1,800 in revenue per show.  When they implement the fairness policy, though, they could do better.  Say 40% of theater goers are low-income, 40% are middle-income and 20% are high-income.  Based on the fair ticket price policy the theater owner will increase earnings to $2,340.  That’s a revenue increase of $540.  Or an increase of 30%.  So, sure, the theater owners would all be for fairness when it comes to ticket prices.  (As well as the movie studies and actors.)

Until, that is, when the high-income people stop going to the theater.  If their seats remain empty the theater will not collect their $1, 440 in revenue per show.  Their seats will remain empty.  And half the people watching the movie will be paying only $2 for their ticket.  This will reduce revenue by $900.  Or a decrease of 50%.  Which will change the way theater owners think about fairness.  As they struggle to stay in business.  And if they can’t change the government fair pricing system their costs will exceed their revenue.  They will have to make cuts everywhere they can to get their costs under their revenue.  Lowering the quality of the movie going experience.  To the point people just stay home and watch something they download online while eating microwave popcorn.  Eventually shuttering the theater.  And putting more people out of a job.  (Not to mention making it impossible for a movie studio to make a profit on all but the biggest blockbusters and the cheapest to films to make.  And the big movie stars would all see a hug pay cut.  Which would ripple through the movie industry putting an even greater number of people out of a job.)

This is the problem with fairness.  You can have the best intentions.  And end up with the worst results.  That’s because the ‘fairness people’ think everything in the economy is static.  That a change ‘here’ won’t effect change ‘there’.  But the economy isn’t static.  It’s dynamic.  And a change ‘here’ does effect change ‘there’.  Because people are thinking, rational beings.  While state planners think they know what’s fair the people living their policies often think otherwise.  And change their behavior.  To minimize their costs under their fairness policies.  Because that is human nature.  Just like it is for people every day who shop around to find the lowest price and best value before spending their hard-earned money.

The Rich are more Generous in their Tax Dollar Contributions than the Poor and the Middle Class

The Left wants to raise the tax rates on the high-income earners.  To make them pay their ‘fair’ share.  Foolishly thinking that doing this will bring in more tax revenue.  It won’t.  Because people are thinking, rational beings.  These ‘rich’ people can either invest their money into businesses and create jobs.  Or they can put their money into treasury bonds and create no jobs.  One is high risk (creating jobs).  One is low risk (not creating jobs).  And when you increase the taxes on the high-risk investment you reduce the return on that investment.  And reduce the incentive to create jobs.  So instead of investing in jobs they park their money safely in bonds.  Reducing the income (business owner and employees) the government can tax.  As well as reducing a host of other taxes (sales tax, property tax, Social Security tax, Medicare tax, etc.).  All in the name of fairness.

So why do they do it?  Why are they always imposing fairness on us?  Because when it comes to class warfare tax rates are much more useful in defining fairness.  For they misdirect the people into thinking rich people don’t pay enough in taxes.  Let’s look at a married couple filing jointly who earn a combined income of $125,000.  Based on the 2012 federal income tax rates they will pay approximately $19,470 in federal taxes with a top marginal tax rate of 25%.  Now compare that to a rich person not paying their ‘fair share’ in taxes.  Someone who earns a million dollars in capital gains on investments.  One of those the ‘fairness people’ really dislike.  At a capital gains tax rate of 15% he or she pays $150,000 in taxes.  Now 15% is less than 25%.  And those on the Left will scream, “Unfair!”  Even though that capital gains tax rate will generate $130,530 more in tax dollars.  Or 670% more than the married couple paying a top marginal tax rate of 25%.

So is the ‘rich’ investor paying his or her fair share in taxes?  Well, he or she is sure paying a whole lot more in taxes than that married couple filing jointly.  Even if it’s at a lower tax rate.  Is that fair?  Is that enough?  It depends on how you measure fair.  If you measure by tax rates the rich are tax cheapskates.  If you measure by tax dollars then the rich are very generous in their tax contributions.  More generous than the poor and the middle class.  And that’s what really counts.  Tax dollars.  Because tax dollars pay the bills.  Not tax rates.

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Progressive and Regressive Taxes and Marginal Tax rates

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 9th, 2012

Economics 101

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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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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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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