Posts tagged ‘Taxes’

So, Tax Rebates are OK?

I remember Democrats scoffing at GWB's on-time tax refund checks last year.  I agreed with them at the time, thought potentially for different reasons, saying that one-time rebates are far less attractive than permanent rate changes, and a rebate that just increased the national debt was robbing Peter to pay his dad.

So I am not sure how the Democrat's explain this any differently (from an email I got from the SSA)

Dear Colleague:

On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This new legislation provides a one-time payment of $250 to Social Security and Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries.


Over 60 million beneficiaries will receive a one-time payment. We expect all payments to be delivered by late May 2009. To assist us in issuing these payments as quickly as possible, beneficiaries should not contact Social Security unless they do not receive their payment by June 4th. As we move to implement the new legislation, we will continue to provide updates to keep you informed of our efforts in this area.


You can learn more about these one-time payments at www.socialsecurity.gov.

We ask that you share information about these efforts with members, colleagues and any parties who would find them of interest.


I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this important legislation with you.


Sincerely,

Cheri Arnott

Associate Commissioner

for External Affairs

The only difference I see is 1) the rebate is going to a lot of people who do not even pay taxes and 2) by giving it to social security beneficiaries, the generational wealth transfer is all the more stark.  Now we are robbing Peter to pay his grand-dad.

This Crisis is Solely About Lack of Government Regulation

You see, kids, government has to closely regulate evil capitalists, because these capitalists sometimes make investment mistakes, like making highly leveraged investments in risky bubble assets.  The government must be the one to watch over their shoulder, because well-meaning public servants would never make such a mistake themselves:

The California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS)is now warning California's cities that they may have to cough up more money to cover the retirement and other benefits the fund provides for 1.6 million state workers, reports the Wall Street Journal. Some communities are already cutting municipal services and they are blaming CalPERS, not Proposition 13. Dan Cort, mayor of Pacific Grove, has been quoted as saying, "CalPERS could bankrupt us faster than anything else."

According to the Journal, CalPERS has lost almost a quarter of the $239 billion in assets it held in June of this year. Stock market losses are an obvious cause of the fund's distress, but less well known is that CalPERS makes extensive investments in real estate -- investments that have been largely financed by borrowing. Some deals involved as much as 80 percent of borrowed money. While this worked well in a rising market, now that real estate has tanked CalPERS expects to report paper losses of 103 percent on its housing investments for the fiscal year ending in June.

Note especially the text in bold.  It takes some effort to lose more than 100% of your investment in one year.  They would have been better off investing with Bernie Madoff, since a 100% loss would have been better than 103%.

The inherent flaw in every call for government action is not the "insight" that business people sometimes are wrong, even way wrong.  The flaw is assuming that anyone in government is more capable, or has superior incentives, to make better decisions.

Whatever Is The Most Important to You, We Are Cutting That First

The very essence of business decision-making is prioritization and trade-offs.  The same is true in the government, its just that the objective function is reversed:

GM is warming up the propaganda engine for the next run at Congress. "Look, the first thing we had to cut was our electric car program!".

And here I thought that because GM has still, after 30 years, failed to realize their business model needs to change that maybe management there were slow learners.  But they seem to be very, very adept at learning the government game.

When I was in the corporate world, if I wanted extra funds for my projects, I would have to go in and say "Here are all my projects.  I have ranked them from 1-30 from the most to least valuable.  Right now I have enough money for the first 12.  I would like funding for number 13.  Here is my case."

But the government works differently.  When your local government is out of money, and wants a tax increase, what do they threaten to cut?  In Seattle, it was always emergency services.  "Sorry, we are out of money, we have to shut down the fire department and ambulances."  I kid you not -- the city probably has a thirty person massage therapist licensing organization and they cut ambulances first.   In California it is the parks.   "Sorry, we are out of money.  To meet our budget, we are going to have to close down our 10 most popular parks that get the most visitation."  The essence of government budgeting brinkmanship is not to cut project 13 when you only have money for 12 projects, but to cut project #1.

I can just see me going to Chuck Knight at Emerson Electric and saying "Chuck, I don't have enough money.  If you don't give me more, we are going to have to cut the funds for the government-mandated frequency modification on our transmitters, which means we won't have any product to sell next month."  I would be out on my ass in five minutes.  It just floors me that this seems to keep working in the government.  Part of it is that the media is just so credulous when it comes to this kind of thing, in part because scare stories of cut services fit so well into their business model.

So of course, with billions of dollars of waste, absurdly high labor costs, stupid-large executive compensation, etc., GM chooses to cut funding the project that is most important to Congressional Democrats and the new Obama administration.

Worst Economic Prescription of the Week

I hate to pick on Kevin Drum twice in a row, but my God is this the worst economic prescription you have read of late:

The only sustainable source of consistent growth is rising median wages. The rich just don't spend enough all by themselves.

The flip side of this, of course, is that rich people are going to have to accept the fact that they don't get all the money anymore. Their incomes will still grow, but no faster than anyone else's.

How do we make this happen, though? I'm not sure. Stronger unions are a part of it. Maybe a higher minimum wage. Stronger immigration controls. More progressive taxation. National healthcare. Education reforms. Maybe it's just a gigantic cultural adjustment. Add your own favorite policy prescription here.

This isn't just a matter of social justice. It's a matter of facing reality. If we want a strong economy, we can only get it over the long term if we figure out a way for the benefits of economic growth to flow to everyone, not just the rich. This is, by far, Barack Obama's biggest economic challenge. Until median wages start rising steadily and consistently, we haven't gotten ourselves back on track.

This is so crazy, its is hard to know where to begin.  And since it is after midnight, I will keep it short.  But here are a few thoughts:

  • Note the embedded theory here of income and wealth, which is really startling.  For Drum and most of the left, income is this sort of fountain that spews forth on its own out in the desert somewhere.   Rich people are the piggy folks who crowd close to the fountain and take more than their fair share of what is flowing out.  There is absolutely no recognition that possibly wealth is correlated with individual initiative, work, intelligence, and behaviors.  More on zero-sum economic thinking here and here.
  • I am sick and tired of the "stagnant median income" meme.  How many times does this have to be debunked?  But the quick version is
  1. Median total compensation per individual is not stagnant, it has risen steadily.  The only way to show stagnant incomes is to look only at cash wages, and ignore the shift in compensation value to health care and other non-cash benefits.  Also, folks trying to push this meme typically look at household income rather than individual income, but since household sizes have been shrinking rapidly, it skews the data.
  2. Median income numbers are weighed down by strong (legal and illegal) immigration.  New immigrants entering at the bottom bring the median down.  If one were to look at apples and apples, ie the same people without immigrants ten years ago and today, one would see strong median income growth.  Just to drive the point home, if there have been 10 million new immigrants at the poor end of the economy, then one needs to count up the list of incomes 10 million spaces to get the true apples-to-apples median income comparison.
  3. Individuals matter, not medians.  Even with a stagnant median income, all individuals can and probably are doing better as incomes improve with age.
  4. A lot more here
  • I feel like I am living in some weird new incarnation of Brave New World or Midas World where the government sets its highest purpose as promoting ever-higher consumer spending.  The last such goal the government set for itself was increasing home ownership.  And that worked out really well.
  • This is back to the 70's time, something I have been predicting for a while.  How is it that educated people can believe that protectionism + strong restrictions on the free movement of people + higher taxes + government tilt of the labor management bargaining power further towards the unions + creation of a massive new government bureaucracy = increased prosperity?  I think of all the crap I catch from leftists that I am somehow anti-science and anti-reason for being a climate skeptic.  But economics is a science too, and willful ignorance of that science is far more destructive than other instances of scientific ignorance to which they point.
  • Isn't protectionism + strong unions + comprehensive 3rd party-paid health care + high government regulation exactly the approach the US auto industry has taken.  How's that working out?

Purposeful Obfuscation

What better way to inaugurate the new blog site than to rant about a Kevin Drum post?  Drum posts this chart today from the NY Times showing a drop-off in the effective total tax rate (income+social security+other stuff) at very high income levels.

drum-tax-image

Well, no freaking duh.    I suspect that this has been true practically forever.  Why?  Because this is NOT an income tax chart, it is a total tax chart.  And as such, it includes social security and medicare taxes (collectively, with a couple of other minor things, called "payroll taxes".  These taxes, about 8% of total income, are a flat tax with a cap around $100,000.  This means that everyone with income under $100,000 pays 8% of all income.  Someone at $5,500,000 (midpoint of the $1 million to $10 million band) pays only 8%  of the first $100,000 or an effective rate of 0.146% of total income on payroll taxes.  For someone in the top 400 taxpayers, the rate is close to zero.   So you really have to add 8 percentage points or so to the higher rates to make them comparable ex-Social Security to rates for earners under $100,000.

Now, we can argue about the regressive structure of Social Security.  But many on the left have opposed making it more progressive.  They want Social Security to perceived as an insurance program, not a welfare/transfer program.   To be insurance rather than welfare, effectively the same income that is used as the basis for benefits must also be the income basis for taxation.  Income over $100,000 is not used to calculate benefits, so it is not taxed.

Here is one person on the left making this point in 2005:

...when his aides presented him with their initial Social Security proposals 70 years ago, FDR balked: "No dole," he said, "mustn't have a dole" "” because he knew instinctively that welfare programs are both fundamentally unpopular as well as corrosive to the human spirit. Conservatives understand this better than liberals, and know perfectly well that the best way to kill something is to convince the public that it's actually a welfare program.

But that's not what Social Security is. It's a modestly progressive social insurance program that's paid for by everyone and that benefits everyone. If it ever stops being that, if it ever stops being universal, it will eventually cease to exist. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise.

The person who wrote this was ... Kevin Drum.  It is wildly disingenuous to look at income taxes and payroll taxes mixed together.  It is even more so given Drum fully understands why payroll taxes are structured as they are.

Which is all not to say that there is not a really halide point in the article that people in the 100,000-200,000 range are getting hosed.  But I would submit this hosing is more due to work by Drum's intellectual allies than the reverse.  Phase-outs of deductions  occur mostly in this range in the tax code, as does phase-in of the AMT.  Both are leftish creations.

Also, there has clearly been something regressive in the tax code for the top 1% of earners over the last 10+ years.  I am not sure what it is, because it certainly is not in the base rate schedule.  My guess is that they just spend a hell of a lot more on managing their tax bill than you or I do.  I am sure if I spent a million dollars on tax advice, I would cut my bill by 3 percentage points.  Of course, that is a losing proposition for me, but a winning proposition for someone who makes $100 million a year.  But hasn't this always been the case?  And won't it always be the case, at least until we decide to radically simplify the tax code?

I wrote more about Drum's 2005 post here.  I demonstrated how Social Security is promising me a negative rate of return on my money here.  I showed despite Drum's protestations that Social Security is in fact mostly a transfer program here, if one defines a transfer as the difference in the return I get from SS and the return I would get on the private market.

We Just Don't Have Enough Taxes

I propose a survey.  We will ask 500 CEO's of large company's and 500 small business owners just one question

1.  Do you agree/disagree with the following statement:  In order to make my business more competitive in international markets, the federal government needs to raise taxes and expand its scope

How many out of the 1000 would answer "Agree?"  Well, at least the number won't be zero, as long as you ask the NY Times:

"¦the taxes collected last year by federal, state and local governments in the
United States amounted to 28.2 percent of gross domestic product. That
rate was one of the lowest among wealthy countries - about five
percentage points of GDP lower than Canada's, and more than eight
points lower than New Zealand's. "¦the meager tax take leaves the United
States ill prepared to compete. From universal health insurance to
decent unemployment insurance, other rich nations provide their
citizens benefits that the U.S. government simply cannot afford.
"¦revenue will prove too low to face the challenges ahead.

I love the part about unemployment insurance particularly -- other countries are more competitive than we are because they pay their citizens more not to work.  Huh?  Daniel Mitchel responds:

The editorial conveniently forgets to explain, though, how America is
less competitive because of supposedly inadequate taxation. Is it that
our per capita GDP is lower than our higher-taxed neighbors in Europe?
No, America's per capita GDP is considerably higher. Is it that our disposable income is lower? It turns out that Americans enjoy a huge advantage in this measure. Is our economy not keeping pace? Interesting thought, but America's been out-performing Europe for a long time. Could higher rates of unemployment be a sign of American weakness? Nice theory, but the data show better job numbers in the United States.

I also would point out the general direction of net immigration, which has always been towards the US from nearly every country in the world rather than the other direction.

The favorite argument du jour for more taxes is that the US has more income inequality than other countries.  Well, that is sort of true.  Our rich are richer than theirs.  But are our poor poorer?  In fact, as I posted here, the data (from a liberal think tank) shows that they are not.   The poor in European countries have a higher percentage of a lower median wage.  When you normalize European income distribution numbers to percentages of the US median wage, you can see our poor do at least as well as those in Europe, while our middle class and rich do better.

Study2

The US poor still trail countries like Switzerland, but that is because of very different immigration realities.  The US numbers for the bottom quartile are weighed down by tens of millions of recent immigrants (both legal and not) whereas those of Switzerland and Norway are not.  If you left out recent immigrants, my guess is that the US poor would be the richest in the world.

Carnival of the Capitalists 12/19/2005

Welcome to the Carnival of the Capitalists and my second time hosting the COTC.  Note that several people tried to submit multiple posts - when that happened, I picked just one to include this week.

Many thanks to Silflay Hraka for starting the Carnival of the Vanities, of which this is a spin-off, to showcase smaller blogs to a wider readership.  Look for future Carnivals of the Capitalists at these sites (you can submit articles here):

December 26, 2005      Multiple Mentality   

January 2, 2006      Chocolate and Gold Coins   

January 9, 2006      The Social Customer Manifesto   

January 16, 2006      Wordlab   

January 23, 2006      Patent Baristas   

January 30, 2006      PHOSITA   

While you're here, feel free to look around -- this post will tell you more about what I do at Coyote Blog.

In what has now become a tradition of my hosting the COTC, and, in true capitalist fashion, I have taken on a sponsor for this week's Carnival:

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Maker of fine anvils for over 50 years

Government Spending and Regulation

Here at Coyote Blog, I have been warning for years that government-funded health care is a Trojan horse for more regulation of your personal life.  I hate it when I am right.

Porkopolis,
a blog highlighting the insanities of pork barrel spending, offers an
out-of-the-box alternative to rebuilding New Orleans at government
expense.

BardsEyeView takes a look at the Federal Budget through the lens of Shakespeare.  Really.

Joshua Sharf at A View from a Height looks at government price and supply regulation of taxis, and wonders what's the point.

Taxes

Jeff Cornwall at the Entrepreneurial Mind gives us the happy news that 2006 will bring us more IRS audits and more people paying the AMT.

Property Rights

Multiple Mentality asks why a man in Atlanta was handcuffed and arrested for selling his own property.

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Escalating crises since 1952

Blogging and the Internet

Kicking over My Traces observes that robot blogs are clogging up Technorati, and that Google blog search does a better job of weeding these out

Wayne Hurlbert of Blog Business World is, not surprisingly given his blog's name, bullish on professional blogging and business blogs.

Similarly, ProHipHop is bullish on the business of podcasting.

Barry Welford
brings us a fable to illustrate that InternetLand or cyberspace can be
as complex and confusing to executives as Wonderland was to Alice

The China Stock Blog has the 12 hottest search term keywords in China.   Not sure the Coyote is doing well on any of these...

Gaurav Agarwal's Blog
observes that while computers have penetrated the developed world,
mobile phones have been much more popular in the develop ping world.

Marketing and Growth

Elisa Camahort in Worker Bees Blog reinforces the idea, via two customer service tales, that a bad customer experience can last a lifetime.

Fire Someone Today goes after the difference between "small business owner" and "entrepreneur", and posits that every self-described small business owner who is not focused on growth is probably a hobbyist, a slave, or an impending failure

Jim Logan advises aiming customer communications at the customers, not at grammatical nitpickers.

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
The secret to Glenn Reynolds success

Business Opportunities

Jane's Fit by Five enjoys getting her first "press" credential and reviews the Fortune Innovation Forum

Anita Campbell at Small Business Trends is doing her annual trends series, and spoke by phone with noted futurist Watts Wacker who gave his forecast
of trends we can expect to see in 2006, along with a bit of advice
about how to interpret and use trends.

Starling David Hunter investigates the success of the $15 apple in Japan, and draws some broader conclusions about the nature of business opportunity.

Barry Ritholtz observes in the Big Picture that the film industry has been much savvier in responding to market and technology changes than has the music industry.

Personal Finance

My Money Blog deconstructs Ameriprise Financial and finds their hiring criteria and training seem to support his concerns about the company (Lots of interesting comments to the post as well with further information)

All Things Financial has a positive review of Lee Eisenburg's book "The Number", which discusses the dollar figure you need to have set aside to retire the way you want to retire.

Free Money Finance lists 10 questions you should be asking about your retirement

Why Homeschool discusses the importance of early economics training for your kids, and some approaches for teaching them outside of the classroom.

Searchlight Crusade responds to privacy concerns over real estate and mortgage forms, and explains why you have few alternatives to providing your information if you want to close the deal.

Jim at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity describes how he saved $200 on a car repair by ordering parts himself, but still letting the mechanic do the work.

David Porter advises you to make sure you understand your ARM in the light of recent interest rate increases.

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Leader in dehydration technologies

Wall Street & Investing

Retired at 30 announces the brand-new Carnival of Investing, which seems like a pretty good idea given how many investing and personal finance posts the CotC is attracting.

George at Fat Pitch Financials discusses the phases associated with
publicly traded corporations going private to avoid Sarbanes-Oxley
regulations
.

The Internet Stock Blog analyzes what impact the new Google music search function may have on other search and music sales-related stocks.

Mike Price discusses his value-investing strategy

The Japan Stock Blog brings news that the XBOX 360 is not selling well in Japan, for reasons that may be bad news for Microsoft.

Triple Pundit reports that institutional investors are beginning to press insurance companies over their risks/exposure to global warming.

Michael Cale of Financial Methods argues that based on current inflation and interest rates, investors should
allocate more assets to bonds and gold and fewer assets to equities.

Triple Witching Friday has camera-phone pictures of the floor melee that ensued from MIzuho's $335 million trading error, potentially one of the most expensive typos in history.

Patri Friedman of Catallarchy argues that index funds using the S&P 500 are not true index funds as the composition of the index is actively managed by humans

Having just exercised some employee stock options, Early Riser explores potential investments for his money.

Economic Forecasts

Financial Options has a summary of economic indicators for release next week, with commentary.

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Never be without a date on Friday night

Economic & Business Theory

James Hamilton in Econbrowser takes another stab at bringing sanity to the gas price "gouging" meme.

The Prudent Investor discusses a seismic shift in power in global financial markets from west to east.  "When a conflict-torn dwarf nation like Serbia can sell debt maturing in
20 years with a coupon of 3.75% while the USA has to pay 4.50% for the
same maturity it is high time to throw the old dogmas of investing
overboard."

Sophistpundit looks at the effect of tradition on journalism and the evolution of successful media companies.

The Common Room draws from a book written in the 1870s where 'Aunt Sophronia' advices her nieces on economic principles.

Thinking about Peter Drucker leads David Foster of Photon Courier to some conclusions about what is wrong with today's business schools.

Health Care and Malpractice

Good News!  InsureBlog reports that it may be getting easier for cancer survivors to get life and health insurance.

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
California Dreamin' with Earthquake Pills

Business Practices

David Daniels in Business and Technology Reinvention argues that companies' use of forced stack ranking of employees is out of date.

Ed at Daily Dose of Optimism observes that when a Japanese business struggles, its execs often get a pay cut.  He wonders why this logical practice is much rarer in the US.

Jack Yoest writes that corporations don't seem to be showing their traditional hesitation at firing employees before Christmas.

Joe Kristan tells us a tax fraud story and draws the moral:  Don't cheat on your taxes and then piss off the CFO who is helping you do it.

200Motels engages the Three Stooges to explain why Enron is pushing up daisies.

The Coyote Within (hmmm, coyotes and business blogs) provides us a business fable about finding out your true character.

Humor and Other

Wordlab looks at politically correct alternatives to "Christmas"

Noah Kagan advises the occasional reversal of holiday gift-giving.

Gill Blog has a picture of the portable inflatable meeting room

Closing Notes

Thanks to the Original Illustrated Catalog of Acme Products for the advertising copy.  You can find more ACME promotional material here.

Thanks, its been fun.  Gotta go...

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Escape from it all with the Smoke Screen Bomb

Update: More on Taxes and Class Warfare

Earlier this week I posted my thoughts on taxation, which included thoughts on taxation and class warfare and linked this recent WSJ editorial on tax shares paid by the rich.

Today, Kevin Drum rebuts the WSJ editorial with a post of his own.  Though I find Mr. Drum's consistent socialism and the-rich-will-be-first-against-the-wall rhetoric tedious, he is a smart guy and does have a point.  There is, as usual, a mixed message in the data.  However, this also means, as I will point out in a second, that Drum is guilty of picking and choosing his data points just as much as does the WSJ.

Drum points out, rightly, that while the share of taxes paid by the "super rich" (his term for the top .5% of income earners) has increased, their share of income has increased faster, such that their rates have gone down (god forbid that anyone violate the left's rule of the tax ratchet that says that tax rates may always go up but can never ever come down).  Using the same study as the WSJ, he rebuts this table of share of tax burden...

Share of Taxes (Income & Social Security) Paid By Income Classes

Category of Earners

1979

1999

1999 (at 2003 rates)

Top .1%

5.06%

11.05%

9.52%

Top 5%

14.69%

16.84%

17.75%

Top 20%

58.28%

68.17%

67.47%

Bottom 20%

1.22%

0.63%

0.65%

...with this chart , including Drum's subtle annotations in red:

His point is that the Super Rich actually pay lower rates now and the middle class pays higher rates, or as he puts it:

So shed no tears for the super rich in America. Their incomes have tripled in
the past couple of decades and at the same time their tax rates have decreased
by 9 percentage points. That's a pretty sweet deal in anybody's book.

Here are some thoughts on Drum's rebuttal:

Drum cherry-picked data too:  I will get back to the folks in the top 1 percentile in a minute.  Leaving them aside for a minute, note that Drum's storyline breaks down for everyone else.  If you compare the merely rich in the 1-20th percentiles, they got a smaller reduction in the Bush tax cuts than anyone in the middle and lower quintiles.  For example (comparing the 1999 before tax cut and 1999 after tax cut lines) the 1-5% richest got a rate reduction of 0.21%, while Kevin's favored group at 40-60% got a 1.45% rate reduction.

Don't blame this administration for previous tax increases:
  Drum is correct in saying that the tax rate has risen for the middle class over 20 years, but incredibly disingenuous not to explain why.   Note that the 1 point rise (which presumably Drum wants to hang on the current administration) actually consists of a 2.5 point rise from past tax increases, AMT creep, and payroll tax changes (passed by Democratic Congresses and generally supported by Drum) offset by a 1.5 point cut courtesy of the current administration.  Drum is in fact using data that clearly disproves his ongoing "tax cuts for the rich" mantra.  By the way, it is also interesting to see a good "progressive" ignoring progress on the lower two quintiles to decry higher taxes on the upper middle class -- seems like an interesting shift in focus.

Payroll taxes skew the picture:
  Including payroll taxes (social security and Medicare) in these numbers causes funny things to happen.  Why?  Because social security tax is straight-out regressive since it is flat up to about $90,000 in income and then zero after that.  This means that the total tax rate shown for the lower quintiles will include nearly 8% for payroll taxes (if this looks funny to you because it seems to imply that the lowest quintile must be paying negative income taxes, you are right, they are paying negative income taxes via the EITC).  However, as incomes rise above $90,000, taxpayers get an effective total rate reduction.  For an income of $180,000, a taxpayer only is effectively paying 3.1% to Social Security.  At $1 million, they are only paying 0.56%.  So, even if income tax rates were perfectly flat with no deductions for anything, those in the 1% category of richest people would have a total rate including payroll taxes over 5.5% points lower than the middle class.  If you recast the numbers above leaving out payroll taxes, you would not see the decrease in rates into the 1% group, the numbers would continue to increase, as can be seen here (from government data):

Effective Income Tax Rate (excludes payroll taxes) by income class

Category of Earners

2005 Fed Income Tax rate (effective)

Top 1%

21.4%

Top 5%

19.2%

Top 20%

15.4%

2nd quintile

7.5%

3rd quintile 4.1%
4th quintile 0.6%
Bottom 20% -5.6%

So, for income tax rates, there is still progressivity all the way to the top.  If you want to argue Social Security taxes, fine, but don't use Social Security tax effects to make a point about income taxes

By the way, in terms of the regresivity of Social Security, the defenders of that program need to stick with a story - is it a transfer payment or is it a government run insurance program?  If it is a government run insurance program (as defenders want to argue, since that seem more palatable to the public) then the $90,000 income cutoff makes sense:  Since the program does not pay benefits based on any incomes higher than this, "premiums" shouldn't be based on higher incomes.  Update: Kevin Drum says in this post that Social Security is

a modestly progressive social insurance program that's paid for by everyone and
that benefits everyone. If it ever stops being that, if it ever stops being
universal, it will eventually cease to exist.

OK, but stop lumping the "premiums" of this program in with income taxes to try to prove a point about the income tax system.

All that being said, there may be something funny going on in the top 1%:  As pointed out above, a portion of the apparent rate reduction for the top taxpayers is in fact due to the odd math surrounding Social Security taxes.  Any income tax cut, even if it is progressive, can make total taxes more regressive by shifting the mix to the very regressive social security tax. All that being said, the taxes of the very very rich are odd, because their income streams are so very different than those of you and I.   In particular, that weird mess of targeted tax reductions that I have decried on any number of occasions come much more into play in the very rich's tax returns, with results that are almost impossible to understand or forecast.  If Drum wants to use this data to argue for flat taxes and an elimination of deductions, I am all ears.

Five Worst Traits About Taxes

Generally, in any discussion of taxes, I focus on the foundations of
property rights
, to argue that taxation is no different than
stealing.    Most of us agree that grabbing someone else's money at
gunpoint is immoral.  I do not hold to a theory of government that says
that this immoral action is suddenly moral if 51% of my neighbors
sanction it.

Anyway, I am going to leave behind the moral basis (or lack thereof)
for taxes and focus instead on five practical problems that a
well-crafted tax system should be able to avoid.

1.  Complexity and Preparation Time

I probably don't need to go into great depth on this one to convince you that taxes and tax returns are ridiculously complex.  We all know how complicated even the individual 1040 has become, so much so that using tax preparation software is nearly de riguer for most middle class taxpayers.  Last year, our federal and state income tax returns for the company were over 400 pages long.

For a small business, the tax preparation burden goes much further.  For example, the burden of payroll tax preparation, not to mention staying on top of compliance issues, is so high that no sane business person does payroll in house any more.  Quarterly state and federal unemployment and withholding tax returns must be filed, with salary detail to the last penny for every single employee.   As a result, everyone uses a service like ADP, and though this solves the workload problem, it still costs money - about $12,000 a year in our case.  That's not the tax bill, just the cost to keep up with the government paperwork. 

But with payroll taken care of, businesses still must file sales tax returns, excise tax returns, detailed property tax returns, census data requests, labor and commerce department surveys, and of course income tax returns.  Each of these typically have to be done at the state level and in many cases separately for every single county and city where we do business.  Each in and of itself is horribly time consuming - see this example for property taxes, this one for sales taxes, and this one for government surveys

In Kentucky, for example, we have to file quarterly state withholding tax returns, quarterly payroll withholding returns in each county we operate in, a quarterly state unemployment return, an annual property tax return in each county, and annual income tax return at the state level, an annual income tax return in each county, a monthly sales tax return, a monthly survey for the US Department of Labor about Kentucky headcount levels, an annual foreign corporation renewal, a new hire report whenever we hire a new employee, and a monthly report to the workers comp state fund


2.  Disguising the Tax Load

Quick, how much total do you pay in taxes?  Perhaps the greatest innovation of statists in the 20th century was the tax load shell game - the clever balkanization of the tax load that makes it nearly impossible for the average person to truly know how much they pay in taxes to the government.

Start with income taxes.  OK, April 15 has just passed, but even so, how many people know how much they paid in income taxes last year?  For many people, this is the single largest expense they have, but the total amount is disguised by the fact that most income taxes are taken out as direct payroll deduction.  Statists and leftists everywhere in the US should get up in the morning and give thanks for direct payroll deduction -- without it, if every American had to write a single check once a year for the sum total of their annual income taxes, there would have long since been a revolution.

OK, so you don't know how much you paid in federal, state and local income taxes.  But in addition to that, how much did you pay in social security and medicare (typically about 8% of salary)?  Property taxes (typically 1-2% of your home value)?  How about sales taxes (typically 6-9% of your purchases)?  What about vehicle licensing fees and special taxes on hotels and airfare and rent cars?  If you add all these up, the average American pays about 30% of his/her salary in taxes.  The Tax Foundation has a great chart summarizing this shell game, with relative burdens expressed as days of work each year required to pay the tax.  Note that on average, your federal income tax is only 1/3 of the total of what you are paying:

 

Taxchart


 
So those are the direct ones, but how much are you also paying in higher prices due to government import duties?  What about the 8% FICA and medicare that employers pay on your behalf - how much higher might your salary be if they did not have to pay these?  What about corporate taxes - you may not pay them directly, but they certainly get passed on to you in the form of higher prices and lower dividends.  What else? - try this list on for size.

3.  Taxes on Wealth and Savings

Most taxes are on income or sales, and so they are at least marginally calibrated with an individual's cash flows.  The exceptions to this are property taxes and inheritance taxes.  These two taxes both go after an individual's savings -- property taxes mainly on the home, the primary savings vehicle for most Americans, and inheritance taxes on everything you've saved when you die.

Lets take property taxes first.  Many people complain that modern life has become a treadmill, forcing families to work harder and harder to keep up their lifestyle.  To a large extent, I think this is a myth - people may be working harder but their effective standard of living is way, way higher than say 30 years ago.  But one of the things that definitely creates a treadmill are property taxes. 

Many people have worked hard to pay off their mortgage, thinking they could settle down into their retirement in a paid off house.  Unfortunately, they may find that their home has increased in value so much that their property taxes at retirement are actually much higher than their original payment on the house.  Take the case of a couple who bought their house in an urban area for $25,000 and find its now worth $375,000 forty years later (this is an average urban price increase over the last 40 years).  For simplicity, we will assume the effective tax rate has stayed at $1.50 per $100 for these forty years (though its more likely to have gone up).  In 1965, they paid $375 a year in taxes.  Today, they have to pay $5,625.  In other words, their property taxes today are over 22.5% a year of the original price they paid for the house.  Now, this is all fine if the couple strove to work up the corporate ladder and get promotions and grow their income proportionately.  But what if they didn't want to?  What if they just wanted to buy that house, pay it off, and live modestly selling driftwood sculptures at farmers markets, or whatever.  The answer is, because of property taxes, they can't.  Likely they will have to sell this house, give up the urban life they wanted, and either move to an urban dump they can afford the property taxes on, or they move out to the country.  Here is an example, via Reason, of this process of property taxes forcing out urban residents living small in favor of yuppies living the dream.  It is ironic that a tax initially invented for populist reasons to cut back on wealth accumulation hurts the lower income brackets and those trying to step off of the capitalist treadmill the most.  In fact, it was the poor in the Great Depression who typically lobbied for laws to put moratoriums on property tax collections.

The estate tax has many of the same origins and issues.  The biggest downside of the estate tax is that it tends to force premature sales of productive business assets to pay the tax.  Rather than leaving small businesses in the family, who have the experience and passion to make them work, they typically must be sold to third parties outside the family to pay the estate taxes.  Again, the law of unintended consequences crops up - estate taxes and the sales they force have done more to contribute to merger and acquisition activity, which in turn drives consolidation of economic assets into fewer and fewer corporations.  The tax meant to stifle wealth accumulation among individuals has in fact spurred wealth accumulation among corporations.  While used for many purposes today, LBO's, that bogeyman of the left, were invented to manage this estate tax forced sale problem.

Asymmetrical Information has a thoughtful series of posts going on estate taxes.

4.  Picking Favorites for Special Treatment

One of the defining characteristics of statist politicians of both the left and the right is that they think they are smarter and more moral than the average American, and certainly than the average American businessman.  Statists and technocrats distrust markets and assume that they can succeed in managing the economy in general and individual decision-making in particular where markets have "failed" to reach whatever end-state politicians would prefer.

Therefore politicians insist on using tax policy to reinforce (or discourage) certain behaviors or to influence certain outcomes or to frankly enrich some favored group.  Examples are all around us, but include:

5.  Class Warfare and Punishing Success

Many of the taxes we pay - income, property, estate - have strong class warfare origins.  Heck, the income tax and the Constitutional Amendment that made it possible because Americans were told that only the richest 1% or so would ever have to pay it.  Today, tax debate is littered with class warfare arguments. 

Today, the richest 1% of Americans pay about a third of the total individual taxes, and the richest 10% pay two-thirds.  The richest 50% of Americans pay 100% of the taxes (in the other half, some pay a bit, and some get a bit back in EITC, but the net is zero).  So, a small percentage of Americans pay for the services and government
cash subsidies enjoyed by the majority.  So how do we treat these
people?  As heroes, or benefactors, or as the most productive?  No we treat them as evil parasites who are not
doing their fair share
.

By the way, These shares paid by the rich actually went up after the Bush tax cuts (yes, that's not a typo).  The very fact that this statement might seem unbelievable points to how much ridiculous class warfare demagoguery permeated the last election.  By the way, these numbers are for income taxes.   The numbers for total taxes, including the regressive payroll taxes, yields slightly different numbers but the same results, as outlined in TaxProfBlog today.

The fact is that most "progressive" taxes are in fact punishing the successful and most productive.  The Left loves to wave Paris Hilton around as an example of the useless and unproductive rich who presumably should be taxed into poverty.  They want to obscure the fact that 99% of the rich got to be rich honestly, through hard work, and via the uncoerced interaction with others.  Because saying that your government rewards success with its highest tax rates and confiscates the vast majority of its operating funds from the people who would employ this money the most productively, um, doesn't sound very good.

UPDATE:  I have more here, including a rebuttal of Kevin Drum.

Carnival of the Capitalists

Welcome to the Carnival of the Capitalists.  Many thanks to Silflay Hraka for starting the Carnival of the Vanities, of which this is a spin-off, to showcase smaller blogs to a wider readership.  Look for future Carnivals of the Capitalists at these sites (you can submit articles here):

March 7, 2005 Blogcritics.org
March 14, 2005 The RFID Weblog
March 21, 2005 Beyond The Brand
March 28, 2005 The Mobile Technology Weblog
April 4, 2005 Law and Entrepreneurship News
April 11, 2005 TJ's Weblog
April 18, 2005 Gongol.com

While you're here, feel free to look around -- this post will tell you more about what I do at Coyote Blog.

For this week's Carnival, I have decided to take a bit of a risk, and, in true capitalist fashion, I have taken on a sponsor for this week's Carnival:

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Maker of fine anvils for over 50 years

Continue reading ‘Carnival of the Capitalists’ »

"Sin" Taxes Put Perverse Incentives on Government

The government has found over time that it is able to sell higher taxes to the voters on certain items if they can portray those items as representing some socially unwanted behavior. These are often called "sin" taxes. The justification for the tax in its beginning is as much about behavior control as revenue generation.  Taxes on cigarettes, alcoholic beverages and even gasoline and plastic grocery bags have all been justified in part by the logic that higher taxes will reduce consumption.

However, a funny thing happens on the way to the treasury.  Over time, government becomes dependent on the revenue from these taxes.  The government begins to suffer when the taxes have their original effect -- ie reducing consumption -- because then tax revenues drop.  The government ultimately finds itself in the odd position of resisting consumption drops or restructuring the tax so it no longer incentivizes reduced consumption so that it can protect its tax revenue collections.

Cigarettes are a great example.  In this article, via overlawyered, from Forbes (simple registration required):

Big tobacco was supposed to come under harsh punishment for decades of deception when it acceded to a tort settlement seven years ago. Philip Morris, R.J.Reynolds, Lorillard and Brown & Williamson agreed to pay 46 states $206 billion over 25 years. This was their punishment for burying evidence of cigarettes' health risks.

But the much-maligned tobacco giants have subtly and shrewdly turned their penance into a windfall. Using that tort settlement, the big brands have hampered tiny cut-rate rivals and raised prices with near impunity. Since the case was settled, the big four have nearly doubled wholesale cigarette prices from a national average of $1.25 a pack (not counting excise taxes) in 1998 to $2.10 now. And they have a potent partner in this scheme: state governments, which have become addicted to tort-settlement payments, now running at $6 billion a year. A key feature of the Big Tobacco-and-state-government cartel: rules that levy tort-settlement costs on upstart cigarette companies, companies that were not even in existence when the tort was being committed.

So, a tax that was originally meant to punish supposed past wrong doing by cigarette makers is causing problems because it was... actually doing what it was supposed to by hurting those companies.  Lots of good stuff, I encourage you to read it all - basically state governments have gone from opponents of the cigarette companies to their partners.  Antarctic Liberation Front opponent Eliot Spitzer comes in for particular attention.

A second example I discussed comes from San Francisco, where a tax aimed at discouraging use of plastic garbage bags was modified so that it collected more money, but no longer discouraged use of plastic.

A third example comes to us via Vodka Pundit, which points out that California now is considering supplementing their gas tax with a per-vehicle-mile tax.  The gas tax was always effectively a per-vehicle-mile tax, since the amount of gas you used was proportional to the number of miles you drove.  And, of course, the gas tax is far easier to manage than a per-vehicle-mile tax (yes, coming soon, its the odometer auditors!)

So why a need for the new tax?  Well, it turns out that Californians are buying a lot of very fuel-efficient cars, including new hybrids, which reduces gas consumption and thus taxes.  Of course, this is EXACTLY what most people hope the gas tax is doing - helping to conserve gasoline and reduce emissions and incentivizing people to purchase efficient vehicles.  Now California is considering substituting a new tax that collects more money but provides no conservation incentives.

UPDATE:  Welcome Carnival of the Vanities!  If you're looking to kill more time at work today, check out my rant on the recent New London eminent domain case in front of the Supreme Court titled "all your base are belong to us".

Welcome Business Blog Awards

If you are coming from the "Best Business Blog" poll, welcome  (if you are a regular reader, you can vote for Coyote Blog here).  Here are some examples of our business blogging:

Real-life small business experiences:  Buying a company; Outsourcing to Your CustomersWorking with the Department of LaborA Primer on Workers CompDealing with Sales TaxesServices and Brands

Economics:  Taxes and Class Warfare; The Harvard MBA indicatorMessed-up Pensions

Capitalist Philosophy: 60 Second Refutation of Socialism, While Sitting at the Beach;   Respecting Individual Decision-Making

Libertarian political commentary:  Post election wrap-up; Thoughts on KyotoFisking the NEA

Frustration with runaway torts:  Jackpot Litigation; Coyote vs. ACMEPlenty More Here

Camping (my business):  New American nomads; This RV is just wrong

Attempts at humor:  Replacements for Dan Rather; My Manhood vs. the Pocket Door

Extending Occam's Razor: Meyer's Law

ACME Products:  Instant Girl; Ultimatum Gun; Earthquake Pills

Fairly Rich Irony

Apparently blue state Democrats, who a couple of months ago were bashing Bush for his "tax cuts for the rich", have a new-found concern about...taxes being too high on the rich.  Specifically, as in this post on BlogCritics, the AMT is apparently hurting blue state rich folks disproportionately:

There is certainly a measure of rich irony in hearing stalwart Democrat Congressman Marty Meehan fretting (in front of microphones and camera of course) that the Bush administration's future tax policies will hit the well-to-do among his constituents. Says Meehan, "if this tax is not fixed, virtually every four person family in Massachusetts making $75,000 a year will have its taxes automatically increased by the AMT".

Duh.  I have been saying for years that the AMT, particularly without indexing, will soon constitute a huge stealth tax increase.  Which is why I hate this kind of unprincipled partisanship out of the Republicans:

Some Republicans have suggested leaving the minimum tax in place because those hardest hit tend to be in states that did not support Bush, including Massachusetts, California, and New York. "˜"˜It is a tax of people living in "˜blue' states,'' said Grover Norquist, the conservative activist who heads Americans for Tax Reform.

Wrong.  Taxes on the rich, even with recent tax cuts, are unbelievably high, even after the Bush tax cuts.  As I wrote here, the wealthiest 10% already pay 2/3 of the income taxes.  It is time for AMT reform.

Welcome Weblog Award Voters

Welcome!  Thanks to Elise Bauer for ways to make this post sticky in TypePad.  Please, have a look around.  Here are some examples of what I do here:

Real-life small business experiences:  Buying a companyWorking with the Department of Labor

Economics:  Taxes and Class WarfareThe Harvard MBA indicator

Libertarian political commentary:  Post election wrap-upThougts on Kyoto

Frustration with runaway torts:  Jackpot Litigation; Coyote vs. ACME

Camping (my business):  New American nomadsThis RV is just wrong

Attempts at humor:  Replacements for Dan RatherMeyer's Law

ACME Products:  Instant Girl; Ultimatum Gun; Earthquake Pills

Enjoy.  And, don't forget to support small blogs by voting in the "best of the rest" category -- you can go vote here.  Coyote Blog (hint, hint) is in the middle of the list.

Filing Sales Taxes Online

Just finished up preparing our sales tax returns for October.  We file in 9 states (Oregon does not have a sales tax) and about 5 municipalities or counties.  Being located outside of cities cuts down on the number of separate returns we have to file, but being in the lodging business adds returns (there are a lot of local lodging taxes out there).  NONE of these taxes work the same, and every return is unique.

I am working on a longer post with some observations about sales taxes, the states that have it right and the states that are over-complicated messes.  However, in the mean time, one observation.  Most states offer an online filing option.  If every state had a nice online tool, or better yet, a tool I could upload data to right out of Excel, I would love it.  This is a true win-win, with the business owner saving time and the state saving LOTS of time by not having to re-key handwritten returns.

However, several states currently have awful, totally non-intuitive online filing systems, or systems that are down all the time, or systems that make correcting errors a real pain in the butt, or all three.  The problem is, in most states, there is no way to try before you switch.  Many states play a kind of brinkmanship, requiring that if you file even once online, you can never go back to paper.  I did this with one state and the online tool really sucked, and now I am stuck  using it, despite the fact that their paper return is easier to use.

So, as a result of this nutty requirement, despite being totally committed to doing things online, I sit here filing paper returns, too risk-adverse to play Russian Roulette with various states' online filing systems.

On Class Warfare and Taxes: Part 2

In part 1, which you should read first, we discussed how the US has crossed a milestone where fewer than 50% of the taxpayers in this country pay about 100% of the personal income taxes. We also discussed how the recent tax cuts actually shifted personal income tax burden more onto the rich, rather than less.

However, John Kerry has cited the same CBO Report I used to make the points in the previous post to say just the opposite - i.e. that the recent tax cuts actually shifted the tax burden away from the rich to the middle class. Assuming he is reading the study correctly (which he is) how can this be?

The answer is in the difference between Federal income taxes and total federal taxes. The tables I used in part 1 were for income taxes only. It strikes me as reasonable to use income tax numbers for analyzing income tax changes. The total tax numbers Kerry uses includes not only income taxes but social security and Medicare taxes (including the employer contribution), federal excise taxes (such as the gasoline tax) and the corporate income tax. Lets look at who bears the brunt of these taxes.

1. Social security taxes are regressive. Very regressive. While your paycheck may show 6.2% FICA, the bill is really 12.4% because your employer matches this payment with funds they probably would otherwise pay you in wages. What makes this tax regressive is that it is a straight 12.4% of every dollar up to a limit, currently $87,900, after which the tax is zero. This kind of profile would never be tolerated in the income tax system. The reason for this is the carryover of the original idea that social security is not a tax and social benefit program but an insurance and retirement plan, a characterization that is becoming increasingly out of whack from reality. (If it was a private retirement plan, the managers would all be in jail right now for the terrible long term returns it pays out).

2. Gas and excise taxes are generally considered regressive as well, since gasoline is probably a much higher percentage of lower and middle class spending than for the rich (those rich who own Hummer H2's notwithstanding).

3. Its harder to pinpoint who pays corporate income taxes. The CBO report allocates corporate income taxes in proportion to dividends reported on income tax statements, which seems reasonable. Fifty years ago, one would have said that this meant the rich pay it, since we pictured the rich as owning all the stock. Today, in our mutual fund world, a lot is probably born by the middle class, particularly middle class retirees.

As a result, the sum of these non-income taxes are probably net regressive - i.e. they disproportionately hit the lower and middle classes. This means that an income neutral income tax cut, i.e. one that does not shift the tax burden but lowers it proportionately for everyone, will still shift the total tax burden to the middle class, because it reduces the amount paid in the progressive system (e.g. income taxes) in proportion to the amount paid in the regressive system (e.g. social security).

This leads me to a couple of thoughts. First, I think while he is quoting correct stats, Kerry is using the data a bit disingenuously. First, it implies to people that the middle class is paying more so the rich can pay less, which is untrue - everyone is paying less. Second, he is trying to use the data to show that personal income tax burden is shifting to the middle class, which we showed in post 1 that it is not - it is actually going the other way. Third, he uses it to justify a tax increase (or a tax cut rollback) on the richest Americans. We showed that already the Bush tax cuts shifted more of an already ridiculously high burden to the rich. This will shift even more.

However, there is a point here if Kerry wanted to latch on to it. Forget the class rhetoric about the income tax system - focus instead on social security. There are two good reasons for this: 1) Social Security is broken, and the financial reckoning is coming 2) unlike the income tax system, social security is truly indefensibly regressive. Yes, you can dig through Kerry's web site and find something on this, but he is for some reason so drawn to the income tax issue he never really hits it hard.

If John Kerry really wants to take up a populist tax banner, leave income taxes as they are (for all the fiscal deficit crisis talk, an economic recovery plus fewer new military invasions will bring the deficit back in line without tax increases). He should instead propose a reduction in the 12.4% FICA tax rate and then an elimination of the $87,900 wage cap. To make this palatable to Congressional Republicans (and me, if I were voting) it should be tied to a package of other reforms such as allowing some investment choice by individuals.

Of course, this is not going to happen. Politicians have used Social Security scare tactics with retired and older people so often that these folks have come to react negatively to any hint of change to Social Security. Reasonable discussion about the future of Social Security is just not possible in the last five weeks of an election, particularly with Florida in play.

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.

OMG -- Wash. State Sales Taxes

Just pulled out the new Washington State sales tax forms to do my September taxes. The form is now 8 (dense)pages long! This is really getting out of control. In contrast, the sales tax forms for Florida (which has other problems, but we will talk about those later) fit on one side of a 3x5 card.

Washington is the worst offender I have seen in at adding jillions of new small targeted sales based taxes. They have become even more complicated than California. The basic sales tax rate varies by industry and by location - and I am not talking about just by county or city but by town. Each of something like 350 towns have their own tax rate. Then there are add-on taxes that don't follow any recognized borders, such as convention taxes and transit district taxes. Then there are lodging taxes, that vary by town but also depend on the number of sites we have in a campground, but of course that threshold number of sites changes by town as well. I have spent litterally hours with maps trying to figure out what rate we collect at for each of our locations. The Washington State tax return takes longer to prepare than any 4-5 other returns we have.