REBUTTING ARGUMENTS AGAINST INCREASING INCOME TAXES ON THE WEALTHY

ABSTRACT: The Bush tax cuts, and the even larger cuts in the income tax rates for high incomes over the last 30 years, have contributed to creating the federal government’s deficit (see post of 12/22/12) and to dramatically widening income and wealth inequality in the U.S. There has been a dramatic shift of the tax burden from the well-off and corporations to middle and lower income households. This shift in the tax burden has contributed to stagnant incomes for middle and lower income earners while incomes at the top have skyrocketed.

 Despite the Republican rhetoric that high income individuals are “job creators,” the fact is that increased income for them is far less effective in stimulating job growth than increased incomes for low and middle income individuals. There is strong evidence, from multiple perspectives, that increasing taxes on the wealthy and redirecting the funds to productive investments or to lower income individuals, for example through unemployment benefits, will benefit the economy and job creation. It would also reduce inequality and address a root cause of the deficit.

FULL POST: The Bush tax cuts, and the even larger cuts in the income tax rates for high incomes over the last 30 years, have contributed to creating the federal government’s deficit (see post of 12/22/12) and to dramatically widening income and wealth inequality in the U.S., which are at their highest levels since the 1930s.

The 400 richest individuals in the US, as identified by Forbes magazine, have pocketed $1.3 trillion because of the Bush tax cuts. The best estimates are that these individuals actually pay only about 18% of their income in taxes, while their predecessors in 1960 paid more than 70%. Not only have their tax rates fallen dramatically (from 91% in 1960 and 70% in 1980 to 35% today [see 11/27/11 post for more detail]), but their increased use of offshore tax havens and other tax reduction strategies has further reduced the taxes they actually pay. For example, the tax return Mitt Romney released shows that he, and presumably his partners at Bain Capital, reported their management fees as capital gains rather than earned income. Assuming they all did, they saved an estimated $200 million on income taxes and another $20 million on the Medicare payroll tax. [1] Also since the 1960s, corporate taxes have fallen from over 27% of federal government revenue to about 10% today. [2]

These reductions in government revenue from high income individuals and corporations have dramatically shifted the tax burden from them to middle and lower income households at the federal, state, and local levels. This shift to regressive revenue sources [3] includes flat rate payroll taxes (i.e., Social Security and Medicare), and in the case of Social Security a cap so that no tax is paid on earnings over $110,000. It also includes most state and local revenue sources, such as sales and excise (e.g., cigarette, alcohol, and car) taxes; flat rate state income taxes; and state revenue from gambling (i.e., lotteries and casinos), all of which are quite regressive. [4] This shift in the tax burden has contributed to stagnant incomes for middle and lower income earners while incomes at the top have skyrocketed. [5] (See my post of 11/13/11 for more detail.) Both fairness and reversing causes of the deficit would argue for increased income tax rates on high incomes.

Despite the Republican rhetoric that high income individuals are “job creators,” the fact is that increased income for them is far less effective in stimulating job growth than increased incomes for middle and low income individuals. The US economy is driven by consumer spending; it’s 70% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a measure of overall economic activity. The lower an individual’s income, the more likely he or she is to spend any additional income to buy goods and services in the local economy. On the other hand, the wealthy are more likely to save additional income or to spend or invest it outside of the US. Furthermore, they are much more likely than the less well-off to use the money for speculative rather than productive investments. Speculative investments do not help the economy or create jobs; they actually harm the economy by increasing prices for consumer goods (e.g., food and gasoline [see my post of 3/5/12]) and by contributing to speculative bubbles (e.g., Internet stocks and mortgage investments) that eventually burst and harm the economy.

Republicans have opposed an increase in the tax rate on high incomes, claiming it will hurt small businesses. But only about 2 – 3% of “small businesses” would be affected and many of these aren’t really small or aren’t businesses at all. Republicans also claim that such a tax increase would hurt the economy and job creation, but “yearly gains in employment, GDP growth, and small business job growth were all greater after the Clinton tax hikes of 1993 than after the Bush tax cuts of 2001.” [6]

In summary, there is strong evidence, from multiple perspectives, that increasing taxes on the wealthy and redirecting the funds to productive investments (such as infrastructure building) or to lower income individuals (who will spend it in their local economies), for example through unemployment benefits, will benefit the economy and job creation. [7] It would also reduce inequality and address a root cause of the deficit.

In my next posts, I’ll take a look at cutting the deficit through spending cuts, the spending cuts in the austerity package, and alternatives to them.


[1]       Peters, C. Nov./Dec. issue, “The Bain of my existence,” Washington Monthly

[2]       Van Gelder, S., 12/8/12, “4 ways to leap the ‘fiscal cliff’ to a better USA,” YES! Magazine

[3]       Regressive revenue sources place a greater burden, relative to one’s ability to forego the income, on middle and lower income households than on higher income individuals.

[4]       Jacoby, J., 12/9/12, “Biggest lottery winner? That’d be the Treasury,” The Boston Globe

[5]       Appelbaum, B., & Gebeloff, R., 11/29/12, “Tax burden is lower for most Americans than in the 1980s,” The New York Times

[6]       Lehigh, S., 12/14/12, “Points of clarity through the fiscal cliff fog,” The Boston Globe

[7]       Judis, J.B., 12/12/12, “Rein in the rich: How higher taxes could lift the economy,” The New Republic

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One comment

  1. It is alarming that the Republican Party are able to implement regressive tax changes (and in doing so contribute to the disaster that is the Federal government’s deficit) and then lecture the Democrats on “responsibility” and not raising taxes on middle earners. But then in politics, it’s often a matter of who shouts the loudest, and the facts are buried.

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