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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France’s New Socialist Policies are pushing France back into Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 24th, 2013

Week in Review

The French brought back the Socialists to power in France with their election of Francois Hollande.  And they voted for him because he was going to stick it to the rich.  Raising the top marginal tax rate to 75%.  All the Keynesian economists said this would solve all of France’s problems.  It would reduce the deficit.  And increase confidence in the business sector.  Boosting the economy.  When critics of the move said this would drive the wealthy and their money out of France they said pish tosh.  They are patriots.  And will simply whistle a happy tune and pay this new high tax rate.  Time has passed.  And now we can see the economic results of the new Socialist policies (see Recession stalks France as business slump hits crisis levels by Leigh Thomas posted 3/21/2013 on Reuters).

French business activity shrank in March at the fastest pace in four years, defying expectations for an improvement and probably plunging the euro zone’s second-biggest economy into a recession, a survey showed on Thursday…

Separate figures for the services and manufacturing sectors showed that business activity was retreating even faster than economists polled by Reuters had forecast…

That would mean that France, which has already abandoned its 2013 deficit target due to the lack of growth, has entered its third recession since the financial crisis…

The increasingly dire state of French business is all the more alarming as consumers, traditionally a major driver of the economy, are in no place to pick up the slack.

Unemployment is above 10 percent and there is no sign that it will fall any time soon, which is weighing on consumer spending.

It also explains in large measure why President Francois Hollande’s approval ratings are at record lows less than a year into his term in office, which he won on promises to revive growth and boost jobs.

Apparently the Socialists and the Keynesian economists were wrong.

You don’t create economic activity by increasing the cost of business.  And lower the rate of return on investment.  You create economic activity by lowering the cost of business to making it attractive to expand business.  You increase the rate of return on investment capital to encourage investors to take more chances on new startup companies.  It’s not rocket science.  If you increase the price of groceries people buy less groceries.  If you increase the cost of gasoline people by less gasoline.  Because people have limited disposable income.  And the higher the prices are the less that disposable income can buy.

If you increase the cost of business it raises the prices on the goods and services they sell.  The higher prices cause people to buy less.  And if you raise the cost of investment capital by taxing rich people more that will increase the cost of financing for businesses.  Which they will pass on to the consumer in higher prices.  Somehow Keynesian economists just don’t understand this.  But people living under their bad economic policies do.  Because they are always getting by on less because of these rising tax rates.

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Product Pricing

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 10th, 2012

Economics 101

The First Thing a Business has to do to Determine their Selling Price is Determining their Costs

Did you ever think about how businesses price their products?  Do they just pull numbers out of the air?  Do they just charge as much as they want?  No, they don’t.  Because they can’t.  For if one gas station charges $12 for a gallon of gasoline while the station across the street is only charging $3.50 guess where people are going to buy their gas from.  So free market competition prevents businesses from charging whatever they want.  So how do they determine what to charge?

Well, some look at what their competitors are charging and match it.  Or charge a little less.  To steal customers away from the competition.  Which can work.  But it can also bankrupt a business.  For if a business owner doesn’t know his or her costs selling at the market price could fail to recover all of their costs.  The market price limits what they can charge.  But if their costs are too great to stay in business selling at the prevailing market price they have to do something about reducing their costs.  Which they can’t do if they don’t know their costs.  So the first thing a business has to do to determine their selling price is determining their costs.  Like this.

This is an abbreviated fictional income statement showing last year’s results.  And forecasting next year’s results.  EBT stands for earnings before taxes.  Income taxes for this year are based on the 2011 federal tax tables.  Income taxes for next year are based on the proposed Obama tax rates (increasing the top marginal rate from 33% to 39.6%).  The business is a subchapter-S where the business earnings pass through to the owners’ personal income tax returns.  The owner does not draw a salary but draws $125,000 from retained earnings to support him or herself, his or her stay-at-home spouse and their 3 children. The percentages show each number as a percentage of revenue.

You need to Sell at the Right Price and at the Right Volume to Pay all of the Bills

The difference between this year and next year is the rise in costs.  Obamacare and other business regulations increase the cost of sales (direct labor, benefits, direct supplies, etc.) by 2%.  And they increase fixed overhead (rent, utilities, administrative labor, benefits, etc.) by 2%.  They will have to recover these higher costs in higher prices.  Which will likely reduce unit sales.  But because each unit will sell for more we assume sales revenue remains the same.

The higher costs cause EBT to fall.  A lower EBT means lower federal income taxes.  But it also means less retained earnings to invest back into the business.  The reduction in retained earnings is $36,604.28.  Which limits investments to grow the business.  And leaves a much smaller cash cushion after some of those retained earnings are reinvested into the business.  To pay for the unexpected.  Like a new piece of equipment that fails and halts production.  Things worked well in the current year.  The business owner would like to have things work as well in the following year.  Which means not exposing themselves to such a dangerous cash position.  And how do they do that?  By raising their prices to make next year’s retained earnings as large as this year’s.  By recovering those retained earnings in higher prices.  Like this.

Let’s assume these numbers are for a coffee shop that sells only one type and size of drink (say a large espresso-based drink) to simplify this discussion.  If we subtract this year’s cost of sales from revenue we arrive with the markup on our direct costs.  Dividing this number into cost of sales we get a markup percentage.  For this year it was 72%.  In the current year let’s assume they sold 302,406 cups of coffee.  Which comes to about one cup a minute.  Dividing the costs of sales by the number of cups of coffee sold gives a unit cost of $2.58 for a cup of coffee.  Adding the 72% markup to this cost brings the selling price to $4.45.  Coffee sold at this price and at this volume produced enough revenue to pay all the bills, provided an income for the owner and his or her family while leaving enough left over to invest back into the business.  And provide a cash cushion for the unexpected.  As well as paying state income taxes, city income taxes, etc.

A Business must bring their Cost Structure in Line to be able to Sell at the Prevailing Market Price

To arrive at the new selling price we added the loss of retained earnings to next year’s revenue.  And re-crunched all of these numbers.  Because we are raising the price we can expect a small fall in revenue as customers buy less.  The higher costs and lower unit sales volume raised the unit cost.  The markup percentage is 1 percentage point lower but because the unit cost is higher so is the markup amount in dollars.  Which raises the selling price by $0.32.  Increasing the price of a cup of coffee to $4.77.  But is it enough?  As it turns out, no.  Because the new price raises revenue enough to push the business into a higher tax bracket.  Taking the business owner back to the numbers.

Because of the higher tax bracket, and the higher top marginal tax rate, this higher price still results in a loss of retained earnings.  About another $30,000.  So going through the whole process again brings the selling price up to $4.87.  Adding a total of $0.43 to this year’s price.  As long as the prevailing market price is around $4.87 for a large espresso-based drink this business owner should be able to keep his or her cost structure in place and stay in business.  However, if this exceeds the prevailing market price the business owner will have to make some spending cuts to bring his or her cost structure in line to sell coffee at the prevailing market price.  Make some assumptions.  And some adjustments.  Then crunch these numbers again.  And again.  For getting this price right is very important.  Too high and people will go elsewhere to buy their coffee.  To low and they won’t be able to pay all of their bills.

This may not be how all businesses determine their selling price.  But however they do it they have to bring their cost structure in line to be able to sell at the prevailing market price.   Because if their price is too high no one will buy from them.  If it’s too low everyone will buy from them.  Making them happy.  Until they realize they can’t pay all of their bills because their prices are too low.  The above example was complicated.  And that was with only one product.  Imagine a store full of products to sell.  And trying to calculate new prices on numerous products to cover the costs of new taxes and new regulations.  It’s not easy.  Which is why business owners don’t like big change coming from Washington.  For this change requires important decisions to make.  And if they get these decisions wrong and don’t find out until 6 months or so later they may dig themselves into a hole they won’t be able to get out of.  Putting them out of business.

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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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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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Sixteenth Amendment, Revenue Act of 1913, Progressive Tax, Marginal Tax Rate, Tax Shelter, Tax Cuts and Decade of Greed

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 10th, 2012

History 101

Americans find Taxes Repugnant and have a Long History of Making this Repugnance Known

American independence began with a tax revolt.  The ratification of the U.S. Constitution happened only with safeguards against the new federal government from growing too powerful.  And great efforts went to limiting the amount of money it could spend.  For a long time all federal tax revenue came from import tariffs.  Then from sales of federal lands as the population moved west.  It took a civil war for us to impose an income tax.  Our first income tax was 3% on incomes over $800 (or about $20,000 today).  The first income tax was a flat tax.  They passed this income tax to pay for the war.  They repealed the income tax following the war.  Americans wouldn’t see another federal income tax until 1913 when we ratified the Sixteenth Amendment.  And President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Revenue Act of 1913.

Woodrow Wilson was a progressive.  The precursor to today’s liberals.  Who thought beyond the limited government of our Founding Fathers.  They wanted to expand government.  To make it a part of our everyday life.  Where the brilliant progressive politicians would make better decisions for us than we ever could.  And their changing of society included the funding of the federal government.  For their income tax was a progressive tax.  Everyone paid a flat tax of 1% on income of $3,000 or more.  About $66,100 today.  Then the progressive taxes came into play.   Adding another percentage to the income tax rate for increasing amounts of income.  The thresholds for these increases were as follows: $20,000 (roughly $440,400 today), $50,000 ($1,101,000 today), $75,000 ($1,651,600), $100,000 ($2,202,100), $250,000 ($5,505,300) and $500,000 ($11,010,700).  The top marginal tax rate on the super rich (earning $11,010,700) was 7%.

Our second income tax was quite controversial.  A lot of people hated it.  For Americans find taxes repugnant.  And have a long history of making this repugnance well known.  But thanks to the American Civil War a generation of men was lost.  And a generation of boys grew up without fathers.  Tended on by doting mothers.  Smothering them with love and affection.  And these boys grew up without knowing the manly hardships of life.  And they entered politics.  Becoming those early progressives.  Who wanted to change the government into a great doting mother.  And now they could.  For they had their income tax.

Few paid the Confiscatory Tax Rates of the Seventies by Hiding their Income in Tax Shelters

The rich paid our first federal income taxes after the Revenue Act of 1913.  And these were very small percentages we had them pay.  Back then the top marginal tax rate was lower than our lowest income tax rate today.  Think about that.  The richest of the rich paid only 7% of their income ($11,010,700 or more today) in federal income taxes.  While today single people earning the lowest bracket of taxable income (from $0 to $8,700) pay 10% of their income in federal income taxes.  Clearly the growth of government exploded thanks to the Sixteenth Amendment.  Much as our Founding Fathers feared it would if they had too much money to spend.

Of course, this is ancient history.  Few know about this today.  For few could even tell you why we fought for our independence.  Or even who we fought for our independence from.  (We fought for our independence from Great Britain because of their policies to tax us despite our having no representation in Parliament.  That’s where the phrase taxation without representation came from).  Today high taxes are sadly just an accepted part of life.  In fact, we have referred to our paychecks as take-home pay.  Our net pay.  Because gross pay is a myth.  No one sees their gross pay.  About a third or more of that disappears in withholding taxes.  So gross pay is a meaningless expression for us today.  (It wasn’t before the Sixteenth Amendment or before the progressives came to power).  Something that we sadly accept.  And we now fund our lives on the take-home pay the government allows us to keep.  All the while accepting these high tax rates.

Government spending took off in the Sixties and the Seventies.  As did our taxes.  If we had once thought that a 7% tax on incomes of $11,010,700 or more was an outrage, we didn’t see anything yet.  In 1978 the top marginal tax rate was 70% on incomes of $351,712 or more.  And there were 25 marginal tax rates.  As shown here adjusted for inflation (sources: Tax Rates, Tax Receipts, and Celebrity Incomes).

 In this example we calculated the average of some top celebrities.  And the top celebrities on average earned about $30,000,000 in 2010.  Using the 1978 tax brackets they would have owed $20,936,506 in federal income taxes.  Or approximately 69.8% of their total income.  Which is pretty much equal to the top marginal tax rate.  Of course, few paid these confiscatory tax rates.  They hid their income as best as they could in the Seventies.  In tax shelters.  And you know they did because despite these confiscatory tax rates the federal government still ran budget deficits.  Having to print money to pay for their explosion in government spending. 

The Low Tax Rates of the Eighties created so much Economic Activity the Opposition called it the Decade of Greed

The heyday of Keynesian economics was in the Seventies.  After Richard Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold the Keynesians were free to print money to stimulate the economy.  Which was their answer to ending a recession.  Stimulus spending.  Have the government print money to create economic activity that wasn’t happening in the private sector.  Their policy tool to end a recession was inflation.  By pouring money into the economy people would borrow it and buy cars and houses and furniture.  And everything else under the sun.  Creating a surge of economic activity.  And creating jobs in the process as businesses must hire new workers to meet that government stimulated demand.  With the dollar decoupled from the ‘cross of gold’ the Keynesians were finally able to prove their mettle.  And solve all the country’s economic problems.  It was the dawn of a brave new world.

And that world sucked.  For the implementation of Keynesian economic policy proved those policies did not work.  Instead of replacing high unemployment with inflation they just added high inflation to the high unemployment.  Something that was impossible to happen in Keynesian textbooks.  But it happened.  Stagnant economic activity.  And inflation.  What we called stagflation.  We added the unemployment rate to the inflation rate to come up with a new economic indicator.  The misery index.  The economy was so miserable during Jimmy Carter’s 4 years in office that he lost in a landslide to Ronald Reagan.  Who was a proponent not of Keynesian economics but of the Austrian school.  Or supply side economics.   And the Austrians believed in low tax rates.  For low tax rates would stimulate economic activity.  And the greater amount of economic activity would generate a greater amount of tax revenue even at lower tax rates.  Let’s look at that same celebrity paying taxes a decade later under Ronald Reagan.

 Much simpler.  And more in keeping with the Founding Fathers.  Instead of paying 70% of their earnings in federal income taxes they will only pay 28% (again, equal to the top marginal tax rate.  Which is pretty much the only tax rate the rich pay).  That’s still a lot of money to give to the federal government.  But it’s so much smaller that in many cases it was cheaper and easier to pay Uncle Sam than trying to hide that income.  So economic activity took off in the Eighties.  It was so great that the opposition called it the Decade of Greed.  Out of sour grapes because their policies could never produce anything like it.  But what about tax revenue?  Those on the Left say this economic activity came at a price.  Exploding deficits.  Well, the deficits did grow.  But it wasn’t because of the cuts in the tax rates.

Higher Tax Rates do not Necessarily Increase Tax Revenue 

In 1978 total tax revenue was $1,113.6 billion.  In 1988 total tax revenue was $1,421.1 billion.  So Reagan’s cuts in the tax rates produced $307.5 billion more in tax revenue.  An increase of about 27.6%.  Dropping the top marginal tax rate from 70% to 28% actually increased tax revenue.  So the cut in tax rates did not cause the deficits.  It wasn’t a revenue problem.  Revenue went up.  Spending just increased more.  And it was this excessive government spending that caused the deficits.  Not the tax cuts. 

The lesson here is that higher tax rates do not necessarily increase tax revenue.  Because changes in tax rates changes behavior.  Higher tax rates discourage people from investing in businesses.  They discourage businesses from expanding.  Or hiring new workers.  Higher tax rates may decrease the opportunity costs for hiding income.  The cost and inconvenience of hiding income in tax shelters and offshore accounts may become less that the cost of paying higher taxes.  Like it was during the Seventies.  Where despite confiscatory tax rates the government could not generate enough tax revenue to meet their spending obligations.

Income tax rates grew from a very small percentage on only the largest of incomes to high tax rates on very modest incomes.  And yet our deficits have never been larger.  Proving that our tax rates are either too high and dampen economic activity (as well as encouraging people to avoid paying their taxes).  Or that government spending has just grown too large.  More than likely it’s a combination of the two.  A fact that would shock and dismay the Founding Fathers were they alive to see what we did with the republic they gave us.

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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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Ronald Reagan’s Reaganomics Increased GDP and Tax Revenue, Decreased Unemployment and Tamed Inflation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 8th, 2011

Ronald Reagan’s Supply-Side Reaganomics caused an Economic Boom

Politics is a struggle.  Between those on the Left.  And those on the Right.  And nowhere is it more partisan than when it is about one subject.  ReaganomicsRonald Reagan‘s supply-side economics.  Of the Austrian School.  That the Left belittles as trickle-down economics. 

His tax cuts during the Eighties sparked an economic boom.  No one denies this.  In fact, life was very good during the Eighties.  So good that the Left denounce those years as the Decade of Greed.  “Yes, a lot of people got rich,” the Left says.  “But at what cost?”  And then they point to those ‘soaring’ Reagan deficits.  Peaking at about $221.2 billion in 1986.  Or about $358.3 billion adjusted for inflation.  (Pretty tame by today’s standards.  Barack Obama has one in the $1.6 trillion neighborhood.)  But did Reagan cause them with his tax cuts?

To answer this question we look at historical GDP (gross domestic product).  And tax receipts.  From the Seventies and the Eighties.  From the heyday of Keynesian economics.  After the Nixon Shock in 1971. That ended the ‘gold standard‘.  When Nixon said, “I am now a Keynesian in economics.”  And through Reaganomics.  All dollar amounts are constant 2005 dollars (shown in billions).  These are graphed along with the top marginal tax rate, inflation and the unemployment rate.

(Sources: GDP, tax revenue, top marginal tax rate, inflation, unemployment)

Inflation Eroded GDP and Raised Unemployment in the Seventies

There are two relatively flat plateaus on the GDP graph.  Flat or falling GDP growth indicates a recession.  One starting sometime after 1972.  The other one around 1979. 

Both of these correspond to a spike in the inflation rate.  This happens because inflation erodes GDP.  By raising prices.  Higher prices mean we buy less.  Which means less GDP.  And higher prices tend to inflate business profits.  Where profit gains are from inflation.  Not from selling more stuff.  Which means less GDP.

Inflation is one half of the business cycle.  Which is a boom-bust cycle.  A booming economy.  And a busting recession.  Inflation.  And deflation.  Growth.  And recession. 

During growth there’s inflation.  Prices go up as more people want to buy the same things.  Bidding up prices.  The unemployment rate falls.  Because businesses are hiring more people.  To expand.  To meet this demand. 

When they expand too much there’s too much stuff on the market.  People can’t buy it all.  So prices go down.  To encourage people to buy.  And businesses cut back.  Lay people off.  With fewer people working there’s fewer people to buy that excess supply.  So prices fall more.  And businesses lay more people off.  To reflect the falling demand.  Which increases the unemployment rate.

The business cycle, then, corrects prices.  And readjusts supply to demand.  Keynesian economics was going to change this, though.  By removing the recession part.   Through permanent inflation.  At least, that was the plan.  The two plateaus in the GDP graph shows that the business cycle is still here despite their best efforts.   

And the Keynesians only made things worse.  By causing double-digit inflation.  By creating more demand than existed in the market.  People used that easy money.  To buy things they wouldn’t have otherwise bought.  Creating ‘bubbles’ of inflated prices.  Which are corrected by recessions.  And the greater the bubble, the greater the recession.

Easy Monetary Policy (i.e., Printing Money) made Inflation Worse in the Seventies

Government spent a lot during the Seventies.  A lot of that was Keynesian spending paid for with easy monetary policy (i.e., printing money).  Something governments can only do.  They are the only ones that can say, “Use these paper bills as legal tender.  We guarantee it.”

Making fiat money is easy.  But there is a cost.  The more you make the more you devalue your currency.  That’s the cost of inflation.  Money loses some of its purchasing power.  The greater the inflation the greater loss of purchasing power. 

They printed a lot of money during the late Seventies.  So much that the dollar lost a lot of its purchasing power.  Hence the double-digit inflation.

Paul Volcker was a Federal Reserve chairman.  He started in the last year of Jimmy Carter‘s presidency.  And remained chairman for about 8 years.  He raised interest rates severely.  To constrict the money supply.  To pull a lot of those excess dollars out of circulation.  This caused a bad recession for Reagan.  But it killed the double-digit inflation beast.  This sound money policy was a tenet of Reaganomics.  Which was an integral part of the Eighties boom.

Reagan’s Tax Cuts Increased both GDP and Tax Revenue

The hallmark of Reaganomics, of course, is low taxes.  Reagan cut the top marginal tax rate.  He dropped it from 70% to 28% in four cuts.  After the first cut GDP took off.   Because rich people reentered the economy. 

They weren’t parking their money in investments that helped them avoid paying the top marginal tax rate.  They were starting up businesses.  Or buying business.  Creating jobs.  Because the lower tax rates provided an incentive to earn business profits.  And not settle for lower interest income.  Or capital gains. 

For business profits can be far greater than interest earned on ‘income tax avoiding’ investments.  Such as government bonds.  And if we don’t penalize rich people for risk-taking they will take risks.  Create another Microsoft.  Or Apple.  But they are less likely to do that if they know we will penalize them for it.  And that’s what a high marginal tax rate is.  A penalty.  Remove this penalty and they will choose risky profits over safe interest every time.  And make a lot of jobs along the way.

And this is what they did during the Eighties.  Their ‘greed’ created a boom in employment.  A rising GDP.  Accompanied with a falling unemployment rate.  Rich people were pulling their money out of tax shelters.  And putting it into businesses.  Where they could make fat profits.  And making fat profits in business requires employees.  Jobs.  Unlike making money with safe tax-sheltered investments. 

Tax revenue increased.  There were more business profits.  And more business income taxes on those profits.  There were more jobs.  More employees in the workforce.  Paying more payroll taxes.  And more personal income taxes

Successful businesses made more rich people.  And more rich people pay more income taxes than fewer rich people.  A lot more.  The top marginal tax rate was lower.  But there were more businesses and people paying taxes.   Because the lower rates created more taxpayers.  And richer taxpayers to tax.  Which increased overall tax revenue.

Tax Revenue Increased under Reaganomics but Government Spending simply Increased More

So to summarize the data during Reaganomics, GDP grew, tax revenue grew, unemployment fell and inflation was tame.  All the things you want in a healthy economy.  And this all happened when the top marginal tax rate was cut from 70% to 28%. 

So, no, the Reagan deficits were NOT caused by the Reagan tax cuts.  That’s a myth created by the Left to revise history.  To recast the successful policies of Ronald Reagan as failures.  So they can continue in their tax and spend ways.

Those deficits were a spending problem.  Not a revenue problem.  For tax revenue increased after the tax cuts.  So why the deficits?  Because government spending simply increased more.

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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.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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