Why do they do that? 2 – Conservatives and taxes
Progressives, Democrats, and other proponents of a strong, involved central government can make a pretty compelling case for raising taxes:
Isn’t it time the rich paid their fair share? Shouldn’t the oil companies, which are making record profits while the American consumer struggles to buy gas, give some of their largess to help the poor? With all the concerns facing the average American family – from daily living to health care, college, and retirement – we need to change our economic policy to meets the needs of the little guy rather than giving huge tax breaks to the rich while running up deficits that our grandchildren will have to pay off.
This argument has tremendous emotional appeal. What it lacks is truth.
Their Fair Share
First I need to say this “fair share” line is always powerful because it invokes in the hearers class envy (aka covetousness). “Rich” is a relative term and it is usually defined as those with more than me. This talk always turns into punishing people for having the unmitigated gall to succeed.
The Bible has a lot to say about treating people differently based on how much money they have. It says don’t do it. Repeatedly. Though you usually see the example of looking down on the poor, the opposite is the same sin.
Fair? Demagoguery vs Facts
When we hear that the rich need to pay a “fair share” of taxes, what no one can tell you is what constitutes “fair” – other than “more.”
(With our graduated income tax the general feeling seems to be that the rich should pay a higher tax on their riches. It’s interesting that those who turn to the Bible to defend the idea of taking money from one group and giving it to another never talk about the fact that the biblical system of the tithe “taxed” everyone at exactly the same rate. Everyone paid the same proportion of their income, and even the poor were expected to tithe as long as they had income.)
When politicians decry a tax code that “benefits the rich” rather than making them pay their fair share, we should ask them what is enough.
In 2006, the top 1% of American taxpayers earned 22% of the total income but paid 40% of the nation’s income tax revenues. The top 50% paid 97.1% of income taxes; the other half paid 2.9%. Families in the middle fifth of earners paid an effective tax rate of 2.9% (in 2004); the top 1% paid an effective rate almost 7 times higher – 19.6%.
For all the hand-wringing over oil company profits, the truth is Exxon Mobil makes $1400/second in profits and pays $4000/second in taxes.
Does the top half need to pay all the taxes? Or do we want to push that burden onto the top quarter? What is enough? How do we justify it?
The Morality of Taxes
As we consider how much is “enough” from those we define as rich, the question should be asked: Is there a limit at which taking more is wrong?
One, you’re taking away people’s rightful property. That’s stealing if anyone else does it.
Second, the power to take people’s possessions away is dangerous. You can take too much, and you can damage yourself by taking with the wrong attitude. Are we asking the rich to shoulder a reasonable share of the burden, or are we punishing them? Are we spreading around responsibility, or are we discouraging success?
Most of all, we need to ask: Are we taxing the rich to help the poor, or are we seeking funds for our pet projects?
Limited Government Again
All too often this seems to turn into funds for pet projects. Listen to the politicians today talk about the need to raise taxes; we have to pay for healthcare, college, infrastructure, and education – however they may paint it as helping the poor, there is a certain desire to build their dream [pick one] system.
A great many of those dream projects fall outside of the powers allowed the federal government. Even at the state or local level we should still ask whether government needs to do these things.
The important truth is that government has no money of its own; it only has what it takes from you and me. It is up to us to watch that government only takes what it absolutely needs for what is truly necessary to do in the public interest.
Taxes vs Economic Growth
Generally, low taxes are what’s in the public’s best interest. Taxes siphon energy out of the economy.
This is certainly true of taxing the “rich.” A dollar taken from the wealthy is estimated to take $5 out of the economy. The rich don’t store their money in mattresses; they invest (providing capital), buy stuff (putting money into the economy), and, if they have a business, re-invest (creating jobs).
Raising taxes gives the money to an amazingly inefficient bureaucracy to provide transfer payments and programs for the poor that all too often discourage self-sufficiency and encourage dependence and other self-destructive habits (e.g., multi-generational welfare families).
Lowering taxes on everyone, but especially the “rich,” energizes the economy and generates an environment where “the rich get richer” and in the process create jobs, rising incomes, and more opportunity for everyone – especially the poor.
This is often called supply-side economics. Detractors call it “voodoo” and “trickle down” economics. But the truth is it works.
It worked when JFK tried it. It worked when Reagan did it. Most recently it worked when George W. Bush did it. And it has worked everywhere it has been tried.
Though Democrats generally deny it, even Sen. Obama has implicitly admitted that raising taxes is bad for the economy – suggesting that lowering them would be good.
Finally, if you still want to tax the rich, try this exercise: Quit your job. Now go ask a poor man for a job. Let me know how that works for you.
Tax Cuts and Deficits
If tax cuts are so good, why do they cause deficits?
They don’t. As the links above show, tax cuts increase economic activity and eventually increase tax revenue.
Every time a tax cut is proposed someone comes out with numbers showing how much the cut would cause the deficit to grow. Those numbers always assume no growth in the economy and thus tax revenues.
But we’ve had tax cuts, and we have deficits – why, if they’re so stimulating?
Tax cuts will eventually result in higher revenues. If, however, spending outpaces revenue, deficits result. Spending has been out of sight. Raising taxes will not cure our deficits long term. Fiscal discipline will be required.
Here I’ve tried to show that keeping taxes low is good for the economy – including the poor. Next time I’ll look at poverty more closely.