Posts tagged ‘EITC’

Who's Subsidizing Whom? And Should We Oppose All New Anti-Poverty Programs as Crony Giveaways?

Well, the new meme on the Left in favor of higher minimum wages seems to be that since many minimum wage workers also receive government benefits, those benefits "subsidize" the employers paying minimum wage.  Example from Kevin Drum here.  This is utter madness.  A few responses:

  • The implication is that the choice is between a job at $8 an hour or a job at $15 an hour.  But this assumes the jobs still all exist at $15 an hour.  Clearly, many would disappear over time, either as companies automate or as consumers reduce purchases at now higher cost establishments.  If the alternative to offering a $8 an hour job is in fact offering no job at all, then minimum wage employers are reducing government benefits payouts.
  • The Left has pushed eligibility for many programs (e.g. the changes in Obamacare to Medicaid) into higher income bands of people making more than 100% of the poverty line.  How is this creeping up of transfer program eligibility somehow the fault of employers?
  • Does this mean that all right-thinking Americans should oppose any future expansions of transfer programs as crony giveaways?  And if you say no, that they should not be thought of crony giveaways in advance of their passage, why should they be considered such afterwards?
  • The whole point of many of these programs, like the EITC which is listed among the programs in Drum's post, is exactly this -- to provide transition assistance from not working to supporting oneself.  The Left's view on this is, as usual, entirely static.  What are the folks who are on benefits and working in food service doing 5-10 years from now?  Would they look back on that time as a stepping stone to something better?
  • If you require that all employers pay a salary such that none of its workers are on assistance of any sort, which is the logical conclusion of this meme, then you divide the world into two classes -- those 100% employed and those 100% on benefits, with most people in the latter having little or no prospect of moving to the former.
  • My company pays minimum wage to the vast majority of our 300+ campground workers.  But who is subsidizing whom?  Most of these folks are over 60 and on Social Security and find that they need or want more money than their Social Security can provide.  One reason for this is that Social Security is a horrible retirement savings program, essentially paying a negative interest rate on the money contributed to the system in the retiree's name.  If Social Security were a private retirement plan, its proprietors would be in jail by now.  Because Social Security is so lame, older people seek work, and come to me, happy to stay active and earn money to supplement their government checks.  So am I subsidizing the SSA's inability to provide a fair return?

Let Them Buy Whatever They Want

I am frankly exhausted with all the stories of people buying item X with food stamps that some folks fear they really should not be buying, where X is everything from liquor to twinkies.

People are either adults or they are not.  I don't think our act of charity towards them gives us the right to be their mother.  I am all for consolidating all the zillions of existing niche government benefits programs into one single EITC or similar income-floor program.  Then people spend their money however they hell they want -- if they screw up and spend on unwise things, well that is their business.

I used to have this argument all the time with my New England liberal mother-in-law.  Interestingly, in this argument, we would both call the other arrogant.  I would say she was arrogant for assuming she knew better than other adults how they should spend their own money.  She would call me arrogant for assuming that people without my background and education could make quality decisions for themselves.

Since this is my blog, I will grab the last word here.  If we were talking about having the poor choose between a number of exchange-traded derivatives, I could concede her point.  But we are essentially talking about what to buy in a supermarket.  We force everyone through 12 years of public education.  The Left pretty much gets to determine what that education encompasses.  If adults are leaving that system and still can't be trusted with their own money, then why are we even bothering?

The True Poverty Rate

I thought this was interesting.  I guess I never realized that poverty rate excludes anti-poverty programs, nor that frequent comparisons made by the Left that our poverty rates compare unfavorably to those in Europe are essentially completely disingenuous as they are comparing apples and oranges.

the only way anyone’s ever really found to reduce the number living in poverty is to give the poor money n’stuff so that they’re no longer living in poverty. But if we don’t count the money n’stuff that is being given to the poor then we’re not going to be able to show that giving the poor money n’stuff alleviates poverty, are we?

And that’s the point at the heart of this necessary correction to the US poverty numbers. The 15% number is not the number living in poverty. It is the number who would be living in poverty if it weren’t for all the money n’stuff we give to the poor. For when we calculate the poverty number we ignore almost all of what is done to alleviate poverty. We leave out all four of the largest anti-poverty programs in fact. We don’t count the money spent on Medicaid, we don’t count the EITC, we ignore the costs of SNAP and we completely overlook Section 8 housing vouchers. That’s hundreds of billions of dollars worth of spending on poverty alleviation right there and all of it is entirely ignored when calculating the poverty numbers. What’s worse, we could double the amount of money we spend to alleviate poverty and the number under the poverty line wouldn’t change by one single digit.

 

 

 

These alternative measures are explained in WAY more depth here (pdf) by Bruce Meyer and James Sullivan

Silly Economic Plans

Via Kevin Drum, from Dylan Matthews

Second, the president should do more to help the American worker. He should establish a jobs program. Do the simple math: We are spending more than $110 billion annually in Afghanistan. Stop it. Or scale it back to the sort of covert operations and drone war that is warranted. Savings? Perhaps about $100 billion—per year. Use that money to create up to 5 million jobs at $20,000 each....Just as FDR did during the Great Depression, put these Americans to work in states, counties, schools, parks.

Even Drum considers this unrealistic, though for the wrong reasons (i.e. the evil Republicans in the House would never let us do it).  I have a series of thoughts on this

  1. FDR had low paying jobs programs in part because this was the only form of relief -- there was not welfare or food stamps or medicaid or unemployment or EITC or social security.  A $20,000 dig-a-hole-and-then-fill-it-in government make-work job would likely just displace about the same amount of other government transfer payments.  I can't see this doing squat.
  2. We are really going to kick-start the consumer market with $20,000 jobs?
  3. The Left needs to get its story straight on the stimulative effects of wars.  Democrats blame Bush for the current economy in large part because of his wars, and the author here implies that moving spending out of wars would be a net plus.  But Keynesians believe WWII ended the Great Depression and Krugman wrote just the other day that what we really need is a war with space aliens (I kid you not) to end the Great Recession.  So which is it?

By the way, I think wars are a total economic waste and drag on the nation.  Dedicating scarce resources to blowing stuff up is the worst possible use of capital.  However, diverting this into politically correct, politician-selected make-work projects is not really a lot better.

On Class Warfare and Income Taxes, Part 1

This has actually become part 1 of a two-part post. In part one, we will look at the unbelievable proportion of income taxes paid by a small percentage of people in this country, and reflect on how crazy it is to talk about the rich getting a free ride. In post 2, we will look at a couple of truly regressive taxes where the rich really do get a free ride, and wonder why these issues get mostly ignored.

Something interesting has happened in this country over the last decade, and it is shown below in one of my favorite statistics. There is much talk in the media about this or that group paying their "fair share" of taxes, but as is usually true in the media, there are depressingly few facts in these articles. This is strange, since there are several government reports that pretty clearly outline the share of taxes paid by various income brackets. The numbers below are from a Congresional Budget Office Report, but the same numbers are buried in the IRS web site as well.

For 2003, the estimated share of total individual income taxes paid by:

Wealthiest 1%: 33.6%
Wealthiest 5%: 55.1%
Wealthiest 10%: 67.9%
Wealthiest 20%: 83.0%
Wealthiest 40%: 97.8%
Wealthiest 60%: 103.0%

The way to read this is that the wealthiest 10% of taxpayers pay 67.9% of the country's individual income taxes. And yes, that 103% is not a typo - the bottom 40% in income as a group pay negative personal income taxes (because of the EITC).

This leads to the following fascinating conclusion: Half of the people in this country pay more than 100% of the personal income taxes. The other half get, as a group, a free ride (though there are individuals in this group that pay paxes, net, as a group, they do not). We are basically at the point in this country where 51% of voters could vote themselves all kinds of new programs and benefits knowing that the other 49% have to pay for them.

Extra Credit Exercise: Given the numbers above, and all the talk about "tax cuts for the rich", craft an income tax cut that does not disproportionately benefit the top half of the income spectrum.

Hard, huh? The same CBO report had an interesting comparison. They estimated what these same numbers would have been without the recent tax cuts. Without the "George Bush tax cuts that unjustly benefit the rich" these same numbers in 2003 would have been:

Wealthiest 1%: 31.9%
Wealthiest 5%: 51.8%
Wealthiest 10%: 63.9%

OOPS - Coyote, that can't be right? That means that the wealthiest people pay a higher share of income taxes after the Bush tax cuts. That must mean that the tax cuts disproportionately helped the lower income brackets? Can that be right?

Yes, thats right. Without the Bush tax cut, the top 60% would have paid 99.9% of all individual income taxes. Now, after the tax cut, they pay 103%, meaning the bottom 40% have gone from paying about 0% to actually getting a bunch of money in net EITC.

Which just goes to prove a related point I make a lot - agree with him or disagree with him, G.W. Bush has got to be one of the worst presidential communicators in recent memory. For further proof, see debate #1.

Interestingly, John Kerry used this same report to say that these tax cuts shifted the burden of taxation to the middle class. And, in one way, he is right, though not in the way that his statement is generally interpreted. For more, see part 2, coming soon. (hint - think total taxes, not just income taxes)

UPDATE

Reason, my favorite libertarian rag, has a related analysis from Nick Gillespie and Mike Snell here. I don't think I trust either Bush or Kerry on fiscal discipline. Neither, apparently, do Gillespie and Snell:

But the fact remains that Bush's cuts have reduced the amount of income tax we all pay. Though Kerry will certainly suggest otherwise in Friday's debate, the trouble with Bush's budget policy isn't that he cut income taxes. It's that he hasn't cut spending. Indeed, perhaps the strongest case for electing Kerry may be that he will usher in an age of divided government that will restrain federal spending and the various problems that accompany it.

UPDATE #2

Fixed an unbelievably bad triple negative - Even I could not figure out what I was trying to say.