Tag Archives: Income Tax

Should Christians support social justice? Is wealth redistribution good for the poor?

Discovery Institute fellow Jonathan Witt pens this article in the American Spectator on the Gospel, business and social justice.

Excerpt:

The third term, social justice, is unlike the other two in its having a justifiable raison d’être. It stretches back to 19th century Catholic social thought and was used in the context of nuanced explorations of law, ethics, and justice. Unfortunately, this nuance and precision usually falls away in popular usage, and the term has been co-opted by the left to imply that ordinary justice is a mere tool of the ruling elite, with the real deal being “social justice.”

This impoverished meaning needs to be addressed. If a society extends justice to the rich and well-connected but allows the poor to be bullied and swindled by corrupt players inside and outside of the government, the problem isn’t unsocial justice but a lack of justice. If the poor in many developing nations can’t get access to credit or the courts because they can’t register their businesses, and they can’t register their businesses because they don’t have the bribe money and connections to navigate a byzantine regulatory maze, the problem is injustice, plain and simple. Such a society doesn’t need a social brand of justice any more than a poor neighborhood without stores needs a social grocery store. The neighborhood needs an ordinary grocery store, and the unjust society needs basic justice. Grocery stores and justice are already intrinsically social.

More than accurate semantics is at stake here. Often the popular call for “social justice” boils down to an ill-conceived call for coercive wealth transfers — for instance, getting rich countries to transfer more of their tax revenues to the governments of poor countries as foreign aid. It’d be nice if this approach actually helped the poor, since we’ve been using it for the past 60 years. Unfortunately, the statistical and narrative testimony on this strategy hovers between mixed and scandalous.

The reasons for this are complex but not so complex as to excuse the status quo. Much of the aid money gets quietly funneled into the pockets of corrupt politicians. In other cases the aid money reaches its intended target but, since the aid money is fungible, it still supports bad actors. It does so by freeing a regime of the political necessity of paying for the schools, road projects and emergency relief already covered by the foreign assistance. This, in turn, allows the regimes to spend more of their tax revenues for enhancing their own wealth and power.

Worse, the small fraction of aid money that actually reaches its intended destination often puts indigenous producers out of business, since it’s difficult to compete against free goods from abroad. Haiti’s rice farmers, for instance, once exported rice, but today their livelihoods have been all but wiped out by subsidized U.S. rice dumped on the country as foreign aid.

Add to all of this international “social justice” the devastating cultural effects of America’s welfare state. The neighborhoods flooded with 50 years of this domestic “social justice” now face far higher levels of criminal injustice and anti-social behavior than before the justice arrived.

Much of the problem stems from welfare’s effect on the institution of the family. The percentage of children being raised by both of their biological parents in America’s poorest neighborhoods used to be low and fairly comparable to what was found in middle and upper class neighborhoods, but the Great Society programs of the 1960s changed that.

As George Gilder put it in Wealth and Poverty, the underclass husband and father was “cuckolded by the compassionate state,” a violation which has incited “that very combination of resignation and rage, escapism and violence, short horizons and promiscuous sexuality that characterizes everywhere the life of the poor.”

Yale University sociologist Elijah Anderson put it almost as bluntly in a 1989 journal article: “It has become increasingly socially acceptable for a young woman to have children out of wedlock — significantly, with the help of a regular welfare check.”

The plain testimony of history is that the left’s strategy for saving the poor has been a tragic failure. It has stifled development in poor countries, bred a fatherless underclass in the United States, and all but bankrupted the European Union. Cloaking all of this in the guise of “social justice” serves only to perpetuate the tragedy.

It turns out that the very people who cry the loudest about wanting to help the poor – by redistributing wealth from those who produce to those who don’t – are the ones who incentivize people to make decisions that will make them poorer and expose them to more violence. Sure, there is a certain amount of uncertainty in life, but when you reward failure and punish success, you get more takers and fewer makers. The alternative to taxation and redistribution is to leave wealth in the hands of the individuals and businesses and trust them to make the decision about sharing. When businesses pay less in taxes, they expand – and more people start up new businesses, because they are attracted by the chance to make higher profits. Although letting individuals and business keep their own money is frowned on by the secular left, that’s because they themselves project their tendency not to give to charity and create jobs onto everyone else. They don’t understand charity and entrepreneurialism, that’s why they take money away from people who work and who create wealth.

I do want to say one other thing. I find it troubling when Christians present themselves to me as being social conservative, and fiscally liberal. There is no such thing as a social conservative and a fiscal liberal. If a person demands that the state provide cheese sandwiches to the children of single mothers in public schools, then  it creates more of an incentive to become a single mother, and less of an incentive to marry. That redistribution lowers the cost of single motherhood and raises the cost of marriage. It has been shown that single motherhood is the leading cause of child poverty – so why would we put into place incentives that encourage people to not make good decisions about sex? Why subsidize people who refuse to exercise self-control in sexual matters? Why make it encourage people to inflict fatherlessness on their own innocent children? Marriage is correlated with increased safety for women and children. Lowering the moral standards and paying people to make mistakes isn’t good for them. And it’s not good for their children.

The more you tax those who produce, the fewer of them you get. And the more you subsidize those who collect, the more of them you get. When men see themselves as slaves of the state – working only to be plundered – they stop working and they stop marrying. Why would a man work to feed the children of someone who could not even bother to get married before having babies? Why would a man get married knowing that half of what he earns will go to the state? Let families keep more of their own money, so that families are empowered – and not government. Let families keep their own money so they decide how to spend it, instead of depending on government. Let single mothers have to face the cost of their decisions. Let them ask charities for help, not the government. When people have to ask their neighbors for help, they know that they have done wrong, and that the money they get came from someone who worked for it. That is not there when government taxes and writes them a no-guilt check. Then it’s an entitlement, and they don’t learn their lesson.

Instead, let individuals and businesses make the decision to help those who they think are truly willing to try to improve their lot in life. Those are the ones who need support. When you leave wealth distribution to the government, no one is there to make those moral judgments. And it’s worse than that. When government takes over industries like health care, they are often supported by naive pro-lifers who think that wealth redistribution is compassion. But a secular government has no interest in women who stay home to raise their children – they want women to get out into the work force and pay income taxes. A single-payer health care system is always going to be pro-abortion for that reason. And any pro-lifer who votes “with their heart” for single-payer health care is a fool. They are, in effect, pro-abortion. Think before you vote.

Is Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan revenue neutral? Does it tax the poor more?

Presidential candidate Herman Cain
Presidential candidate Herman Cain

Consider this article by rock-star economist Arthur Laffer.

Excerpt:

In the recent past, federal tax revenues from the personal and business income taxes, all payroll taxes, and the capital gains, gift and estate taxes have averaged $2.3 trillion, while gross domestic product has averaged about $14.5 trillion. The total revenue from these taxes as a share of gross domestic product averages around 16%. Sometimes it’s a good deal higher, as in the boom of the late 1990s, and sometimes its lower, as in today’s “Great Recession.” But a number in the 16%-19% range is as good as you’ll get under our current tax code.

By contrast, the three tax bases for Mr. Cain’s 9-9-9 plan add up to about $33 trillion. But the plan exempts from any tax people below the poverty line. Using poverty tables, this exemption reduces each tax base by roughly $2.5 trillion. Thus, Mr. Cain’s 9-9-9 tax base for his business tax is $9.5 trillion, for his income tax $7.7 trillion, and for his sales tax $8.3 trillion. And there you have it! Three federal taxes at 9% that would raise roughly $2.3 trillion and replace the current income tax, corporate tax, payroll tax (employer and employee), capital gains tax and estate tax.

The whole purpose of a flat tax, à la 9-9-9, is to lower marginal tax rates and simplify the tax code. With lower marginal tax rates (and boy will marginal tax rates be lower with the 9-9-9 plan), both the demand for and the supply of labor and capital will increase. Output will soar, as will jobs. Tax revenues will also increase enormously—not because tax rates have increased, but because marginal tax rates have decreased.

By making the tax codes a lot simpler, we’d allow individuals and businesses to spend a lot less on maintaining tax records; filing taxes; hiring lawyers, accountants and tax-deferral experts; and lobbying Congress. As I wrote on this page earlier this year (“The 30-Cent Tax Premium,” April 18), for every dollar of business and personal income taxes paid, some 30 cents in out-of-pocket expenses also were paid to comply with the tax code. Under 9-9-9, these expenses would plummet without a penny being lost to the U.S. Treasury. It’s a win-win.

I have heard precious few conservative commentators reporting the facts on Herman Cain’s plan, so it’s nice to see Art Laffer looking at the details.

Here are three facts about Cain’s plan:

  • Fact #1: People below the poverty line are exempt from ALL the taxes.
  • Fact #2: It is a stupid objection to say that the tax rate can be raised. ALL taxes can be raised, and Cain has already said that his plan would require a 2/3rds majority to raise the tax rates.
  • Fact #3: This plan has nothing to do with state income taxes or state sales taxes or state corporate taxes – his plan only reforms federal taxes. State tax laws are outside of the jurisdiction of the President.

I was really disappointed to hear some of the people in Tuesday night’s debate disparaging Herman Cain’s plan, especially Michele Bachmann, who ought to know better because this is her strength. When people say that a tax is regressive, that means that it is not progressive. And a progressive tax is communist. It punishes success. What we want to have is a flat tax rate that doesn’t punish success and broadens the tax base so that everyone pays something. What Cain’s plan does is lower the punishment on job creators and workers, and raises the tax on consumers who spend money. And isn’t that a good thing? Aren’t we in this whole mess because we spend too much money? Maybe we should incentivize job creation and work instead of spending. Cain’s plan would be the greatest boon to job creation that this company has ever seen – it’s brilliant precisely because it eliminates the cost of having to comply with an onerous, complicated tax code. We are getting this wealth for free, and the only losers will be the IRS and the Washington lobbyists.

Republicans introduce bill to let Warren Buffett pay more taxes

From Fox News, a plan to allow people who talk about wanting to pay more in taxes to do so.

Excerpt:

President Obama’s proposed “Buffett Rule”– which would force the wealthiest Americans to pay higher taxes to help cut the nation’s deficits — has met its Republican match.

Republican lawmakers have introduced their own “Buffett Rule” that would allow billionaire investors like Warren Buffett who say they’re not paying enough taxes to voluntarily give more money to the federal government.

Under the legislation, authored by Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and Rep. John Scalise of Louisiana, taxpayers can donate at least a $1 to the Treasury fund for deficit reduction when they file their federal income tax returns starting next year.

“If individuals like Warren Buffett or President Obama are inclined to donate their own personal money toward paying down the federal government’s debt, they ought to have that right to do so voluntarily,” Thune said. “This bill would make it easier for those wealthy individuals who feel they are currently under-taxed to pay more to the U.S. Treasury above and beyond their current obligations, without raising taxes on America’s job creators.”

The first thing to note is that John Thune is a Biola University graduate. He defeated that leftist jackass Tom Daschle to become Senator in South Dakota.

The second thing to note is that Warren Buffett is a big fat hypocrite, since his company is involved in a massive dispute with the IRS over unpaid taxes.

Nearly half of U.S. households are receiving some government benefits

Percentage of households receiving some government benefits
Percentage of households receiving some government benefits

(Click for larger image)

This is the top story on the Wall Street Journal at the time I am writing this (Thursday at midnight).

Excerpt:

Families were more dependent on government programs than ever last year.

Nearly half, 48.5%, of the population lived in a household that received some type of government benefit in the first quarter of 2010, according to Census data. Those numbers have risen since the middle of the recession when 44.4% lived households receiving benefits in the third quarter of 2008.

The share of people relying on government benefits has reached a historic high, in large part from the deep recession and meager recovery, but also because of the expansion of government programs over the years. (See a timeline on the history of government benefits programs here.)

Means-tested programs, designed to help the needy, accounted for the largest share of recipients last year. Some 34.2% of Americans lived in a household that received benefits such as food stamps, subsidized housing, cash welfare or Medicaid (the federal-state health care program for the poor).

Another 14.5% lived in homes where someone was on Medicare (the health care program for the elderly). Nearly 16% lived in households receiving Social Security.

High unemployment and increased reliance on government programs has also shrunk the nation’s share of taxpayers. Some 46.4% of households will pay no federal income tax this year, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. That’s up from 39.9% in 2007, the year the recession began.

A plan like Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan would make sure that everybody is paying their fair share of taxes, and maybe then people who collect these benefits without paying their fair share would have a reason to want to cut government spending.

Do secretaries usually pay more in taxes than their rich bosses?

From ABC News.

Excerpt:

Treasury Secretary Geithner yesterday declined to answer a key question about the president’s proposed “Buffett Rule”:  How many millionaires and billionaires pay lower tax rates than middle-income families?

The answer: not that many.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has crunched the numbers and found that Warren Buffett and his secretary are the exception to the rule.  For the most part, the wealthy pay a significantly higher percentage of their income in taxes than middle-income workers.

The key numbers:  this year those earning over $1 million will pay, on average, 29.1 percent on federal taxes.  Those earning between $50,000 and $75,000 will pay 15 percent.

That’s not to say that there aren’t wealthy people who are even better than Buffett at avoiding taxes.  In 2009, 1,470 people with incomes over $1 million a year paid absolutely no taxes.  But that represents less than 1 percent of those earning over $1 million a year.  Raising their taxes may be the fair thing to do, but it will not bring in much revenue.

The Cato Institute has a lovely graph of income tax rates by income earned.

Well, how much revenue can we generate if we take 100% of everything that people making over earn? (Assuming that they keep working solely for the government, of course, which Democrats would assume)

The Tax Foundation explains.

Excerpt:

So taking half of the yearly income from every person making between one and ten million dollars would only decrease the nation’s debt by 1%.  Even taking every last penny from every individual making more than $10 million per year would only reduce the nation’s deficit by 12 percent and the debt by 2 percent.  There’s simply not enough wealth in the community of the rich to erase this country’s problems by waving some magic tax wand.

Finally, to put everything in perspective, think about what would need to be done to erase the federal deficit this year:  After everyone making more than $200,000/year has paid taxes, the IRS would need to take every single penny of disposable income they have left.  Such an act would raise approximately $1.53 trillion.

George W. Bush’s last deficit, with a Republican House and Senate, was 160 billion. But Obama’s deficits are about TEN TIMES that amount.

See:

Obama Budget Deficit 2011
Obama Budget Deficit 2011

But Obama’s current annual budget deficits exceed 1.53 trillion. So taxing the rich at 100% isn’t enough to pay for All of Obama’s spending. That’s how big a hole Barack Obama has got us into.

By the way, Warren Buffett’s blathering about wanting to pay more taxes is a load of garbage. His company is currently in a dispute with the IRS to avoid paying as much as ONE BILLION DOLLARS in back taxes. You would not have heard of this if all you watched was Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on the Comedy Channel, or Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.