The Tax Man Cometh Again

Remember, as you read through these stories, the cardinal rule of government: everything you have is theirs. If you have such a thing as “take-home pay” it’s only because of their generosity in allowing you to take it home. Sort of the way a highwayman might let you keep enough bread to feed your family while stealing everything else.

First, Chicago. The city of Chicago has figured out what every economist knows: when you tax something, you get less of it. This is why, for example, paying for healthcare reform with cigarette taxes never works. People smoke less in response and revenues fall below expectations. Taxes and fees on cars and gasoline are driving some people to ride bicycles. This is a good thing, right? Less fossil fuel use, more people getting exercise. The only losers are people like me who wear out their brake pads trying not to run over these hippie fruitcakes when they cut across a road all of a sudden with NO consideration for anyone else and NO concept of how much momentum a car has and there’s a Goddamn bike lane right there and we paid taxes to build that thing so why don’t you use it, you self-important piece of …

Sorry, lost my train of thought there.

Anyway, Chicago is floating the idea of taxing bikes.

A city councilwoman’s recent proposal to institute a $25 annual cycling tax set off a lively debate that eventually sputtered out after the city responded with a collective “Say what?” A number of gruff voices spoke in favor, feeding off motorists’ antagonism toward what they deride as stop sign-running freeloaders. Bike-friendly bloggers retorted that maybe pedestrians ought to be charged a shoe tax to use the sidewalks.

Chicago is by no means the only place across the U.S. tempted to see bicyclists as a possible new source of revenue, only to run into questions of fairness and enforceability. That is testing the vision of city leaders who are transforming urban expanses with bike lanes and other amenities in a quest for relevance, vitality and livability – with never enough funds.

Two or three states consider legislation each year for some type of cycling registration and tax – complete with decals or mini-license plates, National Conference of State Legislatures policy specialist Douglas Shinkle said. This year, it was Georgia, Oregon, Washington and Vermont. The Oregon legislation, which failed, would even have applied to children.

Don’t mention the shoe tax, guys. They’ll take it seriously.

Second story: you remember how our budget deficit problems result from not being able to raise taxes? Well, welcome to 2014 when a slew of new taxes will be heading your way.

The new taxes and fees include a 2 percent levy on every health plan, which is expected to net about $8 billion for the government in 2014 and increase to $14.3 billion in 2018.

There’s also a $2 fee per policy that goes into a new medical-research trust fund called the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

Insurers pay a 3.5 percent user fee to sell medical plans on the HealthCare.gov Web site.

Americans also will pay hidden taxes, such as the 2.3 percent medical-device tax that will inflate the cost of items such as pacemakers, stents and prosthetic limbs.

Those with high out-of-pocket medical expenses also will get smaller income-tax deductions. Americans are currently allowed to deduct expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of their annual income. The threshold jumps to 10 percent under ObamaCare, costing taxpayers about $15 billion over 10 years.

Then there’s the new Medicare tax.

Under ObamaCare, individual tax filers earning more than $200,000 and families earning more than $250,000 will pay an added 0.9 percent Medicare surtax on top of the existing 1.45 percent Medicare payroll tax. They’ll also pay an extra 3.8 percent Medicare tax on unearned income, such as investment dividends, rental income and capital gains.

Oh, and this morning, I found out about this little gem:

The new year is time for change, even in the service industry. Starting January 1, the IRS will classify automatic gratuities as service charges that are taxable as regular wages and subject to payroll tax withholding. That might sound like a bunch of arcane tax law mumbo jumbo, but what it means is that restaurants have to treat those tips like regular wages.

Typically, the IRS left it up to the waiter or tipped employees to declare that money. But with this new change the waiter won’t see those “tips” until payday—instead of the end of the shift. And restaurants will have to withhold federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes on that money, too.

What it means for the diner is that those automatic 18% gratuity charges on tables of 6 or more may well be a thing of the past. The addition has been added onto large parties to ensure that servers are paid for catering to a large group.

That doesn’t mean you should use this an excuse to start stiffing people. Remember, the minimum wage laws here in the states for tipped workers is still at a shocking $2.13 an hour. And, as evidenced by this video, a few extra bucks means a lot to the service workers of America.

What surprises me — actually it doesn’t surprise me — is how much this stuff is going to hit the middle and working classes. Cycling taxes, insurance taxes, tip taxes — these will hit hardest on young people, the working poor and the middle class. This is a running theme in Obama’s America: the plebs get screwed; the elites pat themselves on the back for caring so much. Even when the elites do bad things, they are never punished for their misdeeds, not to the extent the rest of us would be for smoking a joint or chewing a pop-tart into the shape of a gun. It’s enough to make you think the system is broken beyond repair.

Enjoy your new taxes.

What the class warriors are really aiming for: tax everyone more

Thrill had a post up discussing the upcoming tax battle as the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of this year. The donkeys are clamoring for that to happen, because they want stupid people to believe that tax hikes on the rich will somehow cover the $1.3 trillion – estimated since we conveniently have had no budget in the last 3 years to verify it is only this much that they are over spending by – of annual deficit spending we have had since the democrats took over (BLAME BOOSH! – trademark). But the fact is that this tax hike is not going to change anything in any meaningful way.

Let us start with the real numbers, and we can take a look at the Tax Foundation’s site where they have this special report breaking down the numbers. First up, the table showing the Bush tax cut provisions and what is going to happen on January 1st (table 2 in the report):

Major Bush Tax Cut Income Tax Provisions

Let’s break down the tax changes, focusing on income tax brackets. The first thing to notice is that the lowest bracket, 10% goes away. All those that were in that bracket now are moved into the 15% bracket. Note that this apparently still leaves a sizable chunk of people that are not paying income taxes because of some earnings threshold, still not paying any income taxes. All other brackets jump some 3 ½ percent. According to this Tax Foundation’s special report’s table 1, line one, this change across the board will result in a measly $156 billion dollars of extra annual revenue.

Tax Changes Effective 1-1-2013

So an across the board hike of 3 ½ percent for ALL BRACKETS that are currently paying income tax will yield us just $156 billion more. Focusing only on the hike the left wants, the top earner’s bracket, the question begs to be asked: what’s the revenue then? If we want to be generous, apply historical precedent where these rich people already pay 50%+ of the taxes, we can guestimate their share amounts to some $80 billion. Yeah, I am fudging it upwards, but in the grand scheme of things – they are spending over $1.3 trillion more than they are collecting each year – that $2 billion is a rounding error, and then one in the left’s favor. Shit, let’s just say it is an even cool $100 billion they are going to rake in, because these stupid rich people are not going to react at all to the government wanting to fleece them even more. So where are the other $1.2 trillion they need to just break even going to come from? There is no way this gap gets covered by just the rich. Even if they jack their bracket up to over 50%. And that’s the point.

This Obamanomics strategy here is just that: a fake. The intent is to allow the left to pretend they created new revenue by socking it to the group people envy the most. We have had more than a decade of this conditioning. The Boosh tax cuts caused a deficit! (Not the fact government spent more than it took in). Those evil Boosh wars caused the deficit (again: not the fact government spent more than it took in). The rich are not paying their fair share! Boosh’s tax cuts and wars, not the stupid and doomed attempt to social engineer through mortgage lending, caused that horrible economic down turn that still plagues poor genius Obama. Even after 4 years of Obamanomics, and that’s because these evil republicans are protecting their rich fat cat buddies! The fact that 4 out of every 5 of these rich people voted for Obama be damned.

Anyway, back to the plan. So the left socks it to the group everyone loves to hate, and then what? Well, then jack up spending, yet again. After all, they have provided new revenue, and in the mind of the math challenged tools that love this nonsense, they think things are all fine and more spending is no big deal. After all, their buddies in government can just confiscate more from those rich people to cover any new spending, right? Heh, sure. Eventually taxes will have to go up on everybody to cover the gap, or that gap is only going to grow, sine the end goal is to provide an excuse to spend more. And that’s the big goal: an excuse to spend more.

Now, if all that we ere facing was an economic growth crushing tax hike and increased government spending, things would only look ugly. But there is another monster on the horizon that promises to make this bleak scenario downright frightening on account that it is going to not just siphon even more money out of the economy and allow government to mismanage it, but drastically affect employers, and thus employment. And that is on top of the fact that while they told us this thing would end up collecting more than it would cost to sell it, we now know that is not even remotely close to the truth. Yeah, we are talking about Obamacare and the pain that will cause us.

The table below breaks down Obamacare taxes, and man are there a lot of them.

Obamacare Taxes

This monster is just going to have staggering implications. But that’s a post for another day. Right now, let’s focus on why the class warriors really want that tax hike, and that it will not be just on the rich, by necessity.

A Gold Medal in Pandering

There’s been a bit of a furor lately over Olympians having to pay taxes on cash bonuses they get for winning medals. Yglesias has the details:

In this particular case, the issue is that the U.S. Olympic Committee—the nonprofit group that organizes Team USA for the games—rewards athletes with cash bounties for medals won. Gold medalists receive $25,000, silver medalists get $15,000, and bronze medalists receive $10,000. That’s income, so come spring of 2013 when medalists are filling out their tax forms, it’ll be reported and taxed like any other income. Their after-tax income will be higher if they do win a medal than if they don’t. There’s no “extra tax bill” waiting for anyone. There’s simply extra income, and the income would be taxed.

Just to clear up a piece of misinformation: the bonuses will be taxed at the marginal rate. For athletes who are making a lot of money, that could be 35%. For most, it will be much lower. And it seems very unlikely that the medals themselves will be taxed; just the bonuses.

Marco Rubio has proposed and President Obama has indicated he will sign a bill that exempts the Olympian bonuses from income tax.

I think it’s a bad idea.

Look, I’ve loved watching the Olympics and our athletes have made me immensely proud. It’s not just the performances; it’s the way they have carried themselves. With a few notable exceptions, they go into interviews well-spoken, polite, enthusiastic and patriotic. They’ve been respectful of the sport and their fellow athletes. I was particularly impressed last night with Allyson Felix, who was gracious, winning and plans to become a school teacher when she retires.

But does this mean we should be exempting them from taxes? Yglesias again:

The underlying issue is that taxes aren’t supposed to be a cosmic judgment on the underlying worthiness of people’s activities. The earnings of a great artist and a reality TV show producer are taxed the same. That can seem a bit perverse at times, but having Congress try to assess which professions are important and which are bad would be much worse. The goal of the tax code should be to try to raise an adequate amount of money in a way that’s economically efficient and meets social equality goals. That tends to mean as broad a tax base as possible—few deductions or exemptions, in other words—to make it possible to raise revenue with relatively low tax rates. Exceptions should generally be justified in terms of broad benefits to society.

Now, to be fair, Olympic athletes in other countries tend to have public support. And prizes of any kind were not taxed until 1986 (the law was changed because companies were hiding salary in ‘prizes’ given to employees). It also should be noted that Olympians make tremendous sacrifices for our national pride. To take Gabby Douglas as an example: she basically hasn’t had a personal life, moved across the country to train and her training bills bankrupted her family. I recently saw an estimate that a typical Olympian spends $250,000 to get there. I believe it when I see parents spending thousands a month just for cheerleading.

But making yet another wrinkle in the tax code is not a proper response to this. It’s merely a ridiculous bit of pandering to popular sentiment and the issue of the moment. We’ve heard all this bullshit from the Republicans and Democrats about how we need to overhaul the tax code to remove the hundreds of billions of dollars in deadweight loss it inflicts on the economy. Yet the second a pet issue comes up — Olympians having their bonuses taxed — that goes out the window.

The last thing we need is to be putting more complications into the tax code. We need to be streamlining it. If they can’t resist the outrage of the day, how the hell are they going to stand up to really powerful lobbies that want their special break protected?

If you want to subsidize Olympians, do it honestly like other countries do, with direct spending. That would actually be better, since it would support all Olympians, not just the tiny fraction that happen to win medals. (Think of the poor 4th place finishers who made as many sacrifices but don’t get the benefits). I’d be against that — we have plenty of private resources to support the Olympics — but at least it would be honest. At least it would be fair to all the athletes. And at least it wouldn’t clutter up our tax code with more bullshit.

Sunday Six Pack

NPR recently had group of economists discuss policies that they think are great for the country but that politicians consider radioactive. The group of economists was actually quite diverse, ranging from George Mason libertarian (and frequently linked Cafe Hayek blogger) Russ Roberts to Cornell liberal Robert Frank. What six policies could that group possibly agree on? And why wouldn’t politicians embrace policies that enjoy such a broad consensus?

One: Eliminate the mortgage tax deduction, which lets homeowners deduct the interest they pay on their mortgages. Gone. After all, big houses get bigger tax breaks, driving up prices for everyone. Why distort the housing market and subsidize people buying expensive houses?

One thing they don’t talk about: the mortgage interest deduction is a lot smaller than most people think it is. People see they can deduct $10,000 off their taxable income and think that’s pretty big. But mortgage interest is deducted only if you throw out the standard deduction, which is $12000 for a married couple. For most people, if their home costs less than about $250,000, they are gaining little, if anything. The host says the deduction saves him $5000. Assuming he’s calculating that correctly (i.e,. what it gives him above the standard deduction), that means he’s paying off a half million dollar mortgage.

The home mortgage interest deduction has its destructive aspects, too, distorting the real estate market. As noted above, it mostly subsidizes the purchase of large and expensive homes, driving up that end of the market. But even worse is that by creating the perception that the government is paying up a third of your mortgage, in induces people to buy more home than they can afford. Ironically, this drives up the cost of housing for the poor and middle class.

I don’t think the market can take the shock of an immediate cessation. But phasing it out would be a great idea. Even better, as we’ll see later, would be to scrap the entire tax system.

Two: End the tax deduction companies get for providing health-care to employees. Neither employees nor employers pay taxes on workplace health insurance benefits. That encourages fancier insurance coverage, driving up usage and, therefore, health costs overall. Eliminating the deduction will drive up costs for people with workplace healthcare, but makes the health-care market fairer.

Have the tax deduction for all health insurance or have it for none. Encouraging people to get insurance through their employer has been one of the biggest drivers of healthcare cost over the last few decades, pushing consumers further and further away from the actual costs. The Wyden-Bennett bill, one of the things I hope becomes part of the “replace” part of “repeal and replace”, would have done this.

Three: Eliminate the corporate income tax. Completely. If companies reinvest the money into their businesses, that’s good. Don’t tax companies in an effort to tax rich people.

Four: Eliminate all income and payroll taxes. All of them. For everyone. Taxes discourage whatever you’re taxing, but we like income, so why tax it? Payroll taxes discourage creating jobs. Not such a good idea. Instead, impose a consumption tax, designed to be progressive to protect lower-income households.

The Fair Tax is one of the more coherent plans on this subject. I’ve detailed before why I oppose it. A VAT would work much better but only if it mostly replaced the existing system. A lot of libertarians oppose the VAT because they see it as a gateway to big government. My opinion is that we already have big government and, given our commitments to seniors, it’s not going to get small anytime soon. The question is how to pay for it without crippling the economy and a VAT has the minimum of deadweight loss.

I lived in Texas, which does not have an income tax, for four and a half years. It was awesome. You weren’t taxed until you spent money. I would love to see the entire nation enjoy that freedom and empowerment.

Note also something important in the broadcast: the most ardent advocate of eliminating the corporate tax? The two liberals on the panel. They know how destructive corporate taxes are to our economy.

Five: Tax carbon emissions. Yes, that means higher gasoline prices. It’s a kind of consumption tax, and can be structured to make sure it doesn’t disproportionately harm lower-income Americans. More, it’s taxing something that’s bad, which gives people an incentive to stop polluting.

This is the one that will cause the most disagreement on the blog. I don’t want to open another global warming debate. I would support a carbon tax but if and only if it came with steps three and four of eliminating our current tax system. It is infinitely preferable to the cesspool that would be cap and trade.

Six: Legalize marijuana. Stop spending so much trying to put pot users and dealers in jail — it costs a lot of money to catch them, prosecute them, and then put them up in jail. Criminalizing drugs also drives drug prices up, making gang leaders rich.

We’ve talked about this before. No need to rehash.

Here’s where the NPR segment falls on its face: they imagine a politician putting forward the above platform and being rejected by the public. There’s some validity to that. If you cornered politicians, they would probably agree that most of these ideas are sensible but fear the public backlash. However, I think that if you polled the American people on that platform, they wouldn’t be too opposed either. Oh, they might have reservations about one or two policies but they would probably accept it over the current system.

No, I don’t think the problem is necessarily one of marketing. I think the problem — a problem that NPR glosses over — is that our politicians and political class are simply too invested in the current mess. Part of it is special interests that would rather have a tax system tailored to them or a booming prison industry or a booming housing market. Part of it is simple inertia in favor of policies we have pursued for decades. Part of it is spinelessness — the unwillingness to propose policies that, as NPR noted, can be easily demagogued.

But the largest problem is that our politicians like the system we have. The system we have — especially the tax system — keeps titans of industry, atlases of production and prometheii of invention groveling to them. The system we have keeps special interests on bended knee, constantly asking for and getting favors from politicians. Remember how, earlier this year, Apple had to start ramping up their political contributions and lobbying under threat of regulation and lawsuit? Politicians love that.

The system outlined above isn’t actually libertarian. It sounds like it, because I’ve cast in libertarian terms. But steps 1-4 would be accomplished by replacing our tax system with a VAT — versions of which have propped up some of the most socialist countries in the world. That and step 5 just detail how taxes are collected, not how much are collected. It would create a tax system that was essentially “Dial a Revenue” — capable of supporting either an expansive welfare state or a limited federalist state. Opposing those changes and supporting the current system is not an issue of big government versus little government. It is an issue of just how much of our lives and our industry Washington can control.

Even step 6 isn’t a necessarily libertarian issue; it’s more a matter of common sense. I’ve heard support for marijuana legalization from all parts of the political spectrum. My mother has never voted Democrat. My best friend from college has never voted Republican. Both think marijuana should be legal.

So, no, it’s not that the above platform would necessarily be Republican or Democrat. Or conservative or liberal. Or libertarian, for that matter. The problem with it is not that it would produce smaller or bigger government but that it would produce less invasive government, less powerful government. It would disperse the groveling lackeys and toadies are politicians have grown used to. It would produce a government less besieged by special interests and lobbyists. It would produce a government that spends a lot less time looking over shoulder and poking through our underwear drawer.

And that’s the reason it can’t happen. Our establishment enjoys the genuflection too much.

The Most Hated Woman In America?

OK, “hate” might be a bit strong, how about the most hypocritical?

Sticking with that truism that you dance with the girl who brought ya, the president will not let go of that class warfare bone. The politics of envy and deflection, worked before, and since there are no magic bullets for what is ailing this economy (from a social European POV) making the rich pay their fair share is as old reliable.

But how stupid (and typical of these guys) was it to make Warren Buffet’s secretary as the poster child of wealth redistribution?

She was held up as an example of how the current U.S. tax system is unfair to ‘middle-class households’ by President Obama in his State of the Union speech – but all may not be as it first appeared.
Warren Buffet’s long-term secretary, Debbie Bosanek, has been the go-to reference during the debate over raising taxes for millionaires – as it is claimed that due to current loopholes in the system, she pays more tax than her billionaire boss.
Obama focused on Ms Bosanek again last night in Washington as she sat listening to the speech as a guest of the First Lady.

Yep, her and the first lady were yucking it up, basking in the spot light of equity and fairness. Your typical middle class earner, screwed by the system because she pays income taxes at a higher rate (false!!!!) then her famous/wealthy boss, except:

According to Forbes, Ms Bosanek takes home an annual income between $200,000 and $500,000 – based on the most recent tax tables from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Wahoo, the middle class is doing great under Obama, “Please, sir, can I have some more”?

Yeah, I guess it would be a bit crass to have his butt buddy Jeff Immelt sitting next to Michelle as the embodiment of the middle class, so we got the next best thing, a half a million dollar a year earner who complains about her tax bill.

Dear Ms. Bosanek, you keep squirreling away your pennies and buy some dividend paying stocks, then you too can live (without working and garnishing income) on the dividend rate of 15%, just like your boss, but until then, STFU.

As an aside, for those this week arguing the concept of an infinite size pie/wealth (that just because I get a big piece does not necessarily translate that you by cause/affect will get a smaller piece), and that the rich are in fact paying their fair share now (some would say above and beyond that), the explanation is rather simple and rudimentary, but some will never figure out the difference between income taxes and dividend rates. Whether by indolence, bad luck, or myopia, they are stuck in their rut, unable to get out, too bad for them.