Category Archives: Taxes

One Banana, Two Banana …

As the political pundits and state apologists breathed a sigh of relief over last week’s deal in Congress to end the government “shutdown” a subtle wrinkle in this deal went largely unnoticed. But this wrinkle, like the proverbial butterfly whose flapping wings results in a hurricane, sets the stage for the transformation of the American Empire into a banana republic and with it the ultimate collapse of that empire. How could this go unnoticed? As with all new government initiatives it is cloaked in the innocence of being “temporary.” As the astute observer of history Milton Friedman once observed, “there is nothing so permanent as a temporary government program.”

The deal that was rushed through Congress last week is, like Obamacare, now withering under the light of public scrutiny of those very details our overlords wished to keep hidden. Although laced with several “special deals” in order to buy the votes of particular congressmen, this deal carries with it something far more sinister than the usual run of the mill horse trading. It carries with it the “temporary suspension” of the debt limit until February 7, 2014. What does that mean in practical terms? Quite simply that the US Treasury may issue an unlimited amount of debt between now and February 7. They could issue treasury bonds for tens of trillions of dollars if they wished and it would all be nice and legal. Now is it likely they will do that? Not really. That is not the source of the hidden danger. The real danger lies in the fact that this “temporary” suspension of the debt limit will never end. This is because through procedural gamesmanship this component of the deal was added in such a way that it will take a two-thirds (!) majority of both the house and senate to reverse it. Considering both sides of the aisle are too craven to face the hard choice of reducing spending or increasing taxes you can lay down good money on the fact that they will never vote against something that would require them to ultimately face that quandary of a decision.

So although there will still technically be a debt-limit on the books, it will for all intents and purposes not exist since all who are bound by it have agreed to simply ignore it. Once this new reality becomes the status quo there will be absolutely NOTHING holding back Congress from spending as much as they desire. As they further inflate the currency through more and more debt creation, prices will rise year after year. This will further devalue the purchasing power of the dollar. Eventually, one day soon the United States’ largest creditors (foreign governments) will decide the US dollar is simply not an asset worth holding (would you continue to own a stock whose price dropped every year?) and will cease buying US Treasury debt and will also begin selling the debt they do own (further plunging the value of the dollar). Once that happens it will be declared a “crisis” by those in power who will once again clamor for a “temporary” suspension of even the most tenuous of rules that support the façade of separation between Fed and State. Currently it is illegal for the Federal Reserve to directly purchase US Treasury bonds (although they can do so indirectly through “the market”). However if no one is willing to buy our debt that leaves just one customer standing: the customer that has the legal monopolistic right to create counterfeit money out of thin air – the Federal Reserve. Once the Federal Reserve is “temporarily” permitted to begin buying US Treasury debt, that will be the last nail in the coffin of the American Empire. History has taught us clearly time and time again that once a government starts printing its own currency with no restraints of any kind, hyperinflation is not very far behind.

Perhaps this might seem like hyperbole to some, however if we combine the lessons of history along with our current government’s unwillingness to cut spending and face the economic failures of their socialist inroads into our economy (i.e. subsidization of ANY economic activity) there is simply no other plausible outcome. So get ready, the roller coaster is poised to plunge straight into the ground. And it all begins not with a “bang” but a mere unnoticed whimper.

Changing the Rules of the Game

September 1 will mark the end of an era, at least in Georgia anyway. This is the date that must begin collecting sales tax in Georgia. Some day you will wax nostalgic and regale your grandchildren with stories of how there was once a place where people could escape the clutches of intrusive government: the Internet. This was a place where anarchism reigned and yet everything worked without any rules or leaders. But slowly government began to stamp out the embers of this freedom bit by bit. First it was taxes, then it was privacy, and next it will likely be access. Internet license, please. As Nature abhors a vacuum, so too does government abhor freedom. Big Brother the busybody knows no boundaries. Big Brother demands his “piece of the action” in every transaction, no matter how small. Just as the mafia feels they have a right to a slice of any economic activity that occurs within their self-proclaimed “territory” so too does government operate upon an identical principal.

So how is it that this has come to pass in Georgia? Has Congress managed to stealthily pass the “Tax Fairness Act”? Fortunately no. This current state of affairs is the result of Georgia House Bill 386 passed on March 20, 2012. This bill follows the Orwellian mantra that if conventional definitions of words aren’t working for you, then simply write new definitions. This bill redefines a term called “nexus” in order to dragoon Amazon and similar entities into becoming uncompensated tax collectors for the state of Georgia. Nexus is a tax term which means “a connection” i.e. if a company has a physical presence (office, warehouse, employees, equipment, etc) then they are said to have a connection to the state sufficiently similar to a resident so as to make them liable for the same taxes a resident would be liable for. But this bill has now turned that definition on its head by broadening the term to the point where merely having a business relationship with an entity in Georgia will confer “nexus” upon the foreign entity. It is hard to see how those who voted for this bill did not recognize the perverse incentive buried within it, namely that companies outside of Georgia will choose to NOT establish any business dealings with companies inside Georgia lest they become entangled with the Georgia Department of Revenue.

As if loss of business opportunities and higher taxes wasn’t bad enough, it gets even worse. Nexus and residency have always had a common shared characteristic: physical presence. Not anymore. Now that nexus is based on the most ephemeral of connections to the state how long is it until the residency definition undergoes a similar metamorphosis? If the two are indeed linked in their common purpose of establishing tax liability, then a change in one will invariably result in a change in the other. Therefore Georgia may one day establish that residents of other states are also in fact Georgia “residents” for purposes of income tax. Once that precedent comes to pass then what is to stop others states from likewise inflicting such taxes upon Georgians? Perhaps some day you’ll get an income tax notice from Florida because you vacationed there once. “You enjoyed the generous state benefits of roads and municipal services while here, so certainly you should be paying your fair share” will be the justification. Each blow of the precedential ax upon the tree of freedom accumulates damage until finally one day that tree is felled.

Naturally this new sales tax collection is being heralded by the economically illiterate as a boon for the “brick and mortar” stores. The initiation of sales tax collection will have ZERO effect on expanding local sales in Georgia. Why? People aren’t ordering on line to avoid a few bucks in taxes. They are ordering online because it is convenient. The lack of sales tax is just a perk. Removing that perk is not going to change people’s behavior. It is however going to reduce what people can spend to the tune of $16 million. This will only harm the individual as well as local businesses they are already shopping at. Increased taxes reduce the individual’s capacity to spend – everywhere. This is supposed to help the economy?


On Voluntaryism, Stateless Societies and Contract Slavery

Recently I got involved an interesting philosophical discussion on Facebook (where else!) concerning taxation and the proposition that if you don’t pay your taxes men with guns will come and take you to jail or kill you (all true). One participant brought some focus to the conversation by distilling down the core argument to one of a) should we have government (b) how shall we pay for it (c) constitutions are like contracts. All good points, however embedded in each one is either a false choice or a fallacious assumption. So below I will reproduce his post and then my follow up as I address some of the main fallacies. 

here is the quoted content from the post I will be responding to:

This conversation, and every conversation about the scope of govt comes back to the same place. The first division is you are either an anarchist or you want some kind of law. The moment you say you want some kind of law, you are agreeing that at some point in the process of enforcing the law, a dude from the govt with a gun will come take you away. And I am okay with that – no point in pretending we have laws if they are not going to be enforced.I am willing to listen to discussion, but anarchy is probably not for me, or most of us. So then it’s like the old joke about the prostitute – we’ve already established what you are (pro-govt of some kind), now we’re just haggling over price. Where is the line in the sand as far as your philosophy of the proper scope of the law?I would suggest that the only useful argument by a libertarian about government is that it ought only exist to prevent one adult from using force or fraud to gain from another adult – whether that gain is via money or to forward an agenda. Situations involving children and the mentally impaired are naturally given to tighter governance.So to me, the idea that we’re arguing over whether or not you must / ought pay federal taxes so the govt can fund its activities is a little pointless. The only real argument for strict Constitutionalists or libertarians ought to be about the USE of the money, not the government’s right to take it. The law of tooth and claw was used to appropriate the land upon which I sit and afterward to create the govt that exists here – the RIGHT is almost irrelevant. Were I to be successful in dissolving this (formerly) useful govt, it is most likely a worse govt would take its place. There is no perfect freedom on this side of heaven, so the notion that no entity can curb my inclinations or bind my freedom is almost childish.We can get into a lot of philosophical discussions about man being created free and whatnot, but the fact is that there will be some govt, and we enter into “contracts” (the Constitution, say) with other free people to create these govts that will enforce our individual rights to property and to secure freedom from invasion, etc. With our ancestors having agreed to some form of these contracts, and most of us agreeing that they ought to exist in one form or another, we should be focused on the quality of the contracts, not the terms of enforcement.

Here is my response:

Your points I think have helped to focus the discussion, however the underlying assumptions simply reinforce the false dichotomous choice that is beaten into us from day one (by our educators, our literature and the state media) – namely that one has a choice of either being ruled by others (in the form of this thing we call government) OR absolute and total chaos with no laws or order whatsoever. Obviously with a choice like that who would pick the latter? And to an extent I think part of the failure for the proper alternative being made understood falls at the feat of us libertarians – we (or some of us) throw the word “anarchy” around and do not explain at all what is intended by the use of that phrase. I personally prefer “voluntaryism” – it’s enough of a neologism that it carries none of the associated emotional baggage of “anarchy”. We want the freedom of choice. Not the freedom to state our choice and have it vetoed by a “majority”, but to actually be allowed to execute our choice.

When we libertarians speak of “freedom from government” we do not intend a lawless, chaotic, anything goes sort of wild west world. Far from it. We want government. We want order. It’s just that we want to pick our own government to associate with. And we do not believe that simply because I happen to live next door to you and you want to associate with a government that establishes rules that promote Ideology A and I want to associate with one that promotes Ideology B, your choice should have any bearing on my choice. 

Think about it for a minute. I’m proposing something no more controversial than what we currently practice today – freedom of religion. If I’m Catholic and I live in a town full of Baptists it would seem ludicrous to anyone to suggest that “well since a majority of people who live here are Baptist, well, you have to be Baptist too, or at the least you have to do all the things the Baptists require” – and that if I didn’t comply I would be throw in jail. That’s insane – and rightly so, and everyone would agree that that would be insane. And so it is no different with government. This type of governance is not unknown. It is sometimes referred to as a “clan” system. In more “primitive” stateless societies families had a self-interest in protecting each other. They came to each other’s defense and helped each other in times of need. In time it became customary for non-family members to join a family or clan for such protection purposes (voluntarily paying or contributing something in return – i.e. truly voluntary “taxation”). However all members of the clan were responsible for the behavior of its members. If one member injured someone in another clan then all members must make restitution. They then obviously had a self-interest in preventing such behavior from those they knew to be the most troublesome. Eventually if a member behaved badly enough consistently enough they were thrown out of the clan and thus had no protection of any kind from any group. They were an “outlaw” – which meant that anyone could kill them, rob them whatever without any consequence whatsoever. That’s a pretty big incentive to not become an outlaw and behave as directed by the customs and laws of your clan. (For a brief discussion of this system in Ireland please see this interview with Gerard Casey by Tom Woods ). In order for all clans to get along they tended to adopt the same basic “common laws” against violence, theft, rape, etc. So in this way we can see how “law” can exist without an over arching state. Everybody is against rape and murder. But not everyone might be for space exploration, or green energy, etc. Essentially each clan is a government, the only difference being they did not have specific geographical boundaries. Members of multiple clans could all live in the same city and get along just fine. There is no reason such a system could not operate today on a larger scale, one where entities very similar to insurance carriers took the place of the role of government in dispute resolution, restitution, crime mitigation (less crime, less to pay out in losses). If such an entity does not provide what people want, they will go elsewhere. Without a barrier to entry imposed by outside regulations no one could ever “take over” such an industry, the market would always be providing those that could do it better, faster, cheaper, etc.

This has gotten a lot longer than I intended, but let me just touch on another point you made. The one of contracts is germane, however you again accept the “party line” that the fact that our ancestors freely entered into a contract (the Constitution) somehow morally binds us to that same contractual obligation in perpetuity. How can it? Are we bound by the contracts our parents sign? If your parents had a huge amount of debt and then died would you want to suddenly be saddled with that? What if I could vote myself out of the contract, but my siblings wanted to remain party to it, and thus I was then bound by their vote – why should I be bound by their choice? There really is no difference between that and the idea that we are all still adhering (or pretending to adhere) to a contractual document signed by people that have all been dead for nearly 200 years. I talk about this idea of contractual slavery more here

Internet Tax

“The word bipartisan means some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out” – George Carlin.


The above quote may be from a comedian but the sentiment is no laughing matter. Late last week the US Senate held a vote on a budget resolution and decided they would sneak in a wholly unrelated bill, the euphemistically named “Marketplace Fairness Act”. Sadly there was strong bipartisan support for this embedded bill (75 for 25 against). The putative goal of this legislation is to put brick and mortar stores on an equal footing with online retailers with respect to sales tax collection. Presently, if you purchase goods online from a seller that has no “nexus” (that is, no physical presence) in your state then YOU, not the reseller, are responsible for submitting the appropriate sales tax to your state. As I’m sure you’re aware this is hardly ever enforced (as it would be political suicide).

The politically expedient route then is to go after out of state retailers who have no voice or vote and shake them down for tax money. So apparently if Party A is harmed and Party B is not, it makes more sense to start harming Party B rather to stop harming Party A. Brilliant.

My goal is not pick through everything wrong with this bill (and there is a lot) but rather to suggest a simple and viable alternative. Instead of forcing retailers to keep track of a myriad of different taxing authorities and a multitude of filing deadlines and burdensome paperwork (the claim that this bill simplifies filing is a ruse), why not simply impose the sales tax on the source of the sale rather than the destination? This is how our current sales tax system operates. Brick and mortar retailers do not vary the tax they charge based on their customer’s zip code. There is no functional difference between a buyer driving out of state, buying a good, then driving back home versus that same buyer buying that same good on-line and paying a shipper to retrieve said good.

Internet based retailers should therefore collect sales taxes just as though the customer walked into their premises and made the purchase. Then they only have one tax rate and one taxing authority to deal with and their locality benefits from those sales just as they would from a local sale. This approach entirely undercuts the arguments of brick and mortar stores. 1) Most of the country has sales taxes so anything bought on line will not be “tax free” but will bear the cost of the local sales tax of the seller and 2) for every sale “lost” to a remote seller the local retailer can also “steal” sales by selling their wares on line (this is already taking place: Amazon and Ebay have become a virtual shopping mall of brick and mortar stores selling on line).

The only plausible objection to this plan would be that online retailers would move their operations into low or no sales tax regions of the country or that high tax region retailers would be at a disadvantage relative to low tax regions. Tough. If that is the case then either (a) those businesses can leave or (b) they can bring political pressure to bear on their LOCAL politicians to lower their rates. The tax competition arising from this system will tend to equalize tax rates across the country as they are shifted downward toward the absolutely minimum sustainable level (just as competition pushes prices down in any market). Source based taxing exposes the tax policies of each region to the worldwide “wallet voting” of potential customers. However destination based taxing limits interregional competition and removes the possibility of locals benefiting from lowered taxes due to outside tax competition. Government doesn’t like competition, so it is little wonder the destination based system is favored by the political class.

At the end of the day it’s a gamble: you can go with the destination taxing and gain taxes on internet sales to locals while losing out on taxes on internet sales to non-locals or go with source taxing and have the reverse. The former is an untested, complicated and burdensome system, the latter far simpler and requires no procedural changes from our current method of sales tax collection. Of course the simplest way to “level the playing field” would be to simply eliminate all sales taxes. But that is an altogether different discussion.

Theft by any other name

“The state is a gang of thieves writ large.” Murray Rothbard

It is curious that this simple fact is not more widely accepted, however given that the state itself has mastered the magician’s art of misdirection (via state apologists given a platform in the public media coupled with the indoctrination of our children into venerating the state) it should perhaps not be all that surprising. We remain as blissfully unaware of our cage as fish are to the invisible boundaries of their aquarium. But sometimes cracks develop in those transparent walls revealing the deceit that has been there all along. A case in point is the recent EU-IMF bailout of Cyprus’ troubled banks this weekend. For those whose eyes glaze over at the prospect of a discussion of Eurozone financial policy I will spare you the gory details. In fact, skipping the details and looking at the big picture makes the crime occurring all the more clear. The bottom line is that the Cypriot government is confiscating between 6.5% – 10% of all money on deposit in Cypriot banks (more precisely they are being forced to buy an equivalent amount of bank stock). The short narrative is this: Cypriot banks gambled away depositors’ money on bad financial bets, then turned to the government to bail them out, who on their behalf went before the EU & IMF with hat in hand begging for a loan lest all their banks go bankrupt. The IMF agreed to a loan based bailout only upon condition the Cypriot government could prove it had the tyrannical cojones to take what it wanted from the people thus assuring the IMF of the loan’s solvency (insofar as the solvency rests on the ability of the government to confiscate and repay). This is simply gang initiation at the state level. It is crony capitalism at its worst and most blatant.

However it is as Barack Obama would say “a teachable moment.” What the Cypriot government has done is no different than what our government did with the TARP and other bailouts of our banks in 2008-9. The only difference is form, the result is identical, namely theft of the citizen’s money in order to benefit the banking elite. The countries that use the Euro cannot simply print up more to their heart’s content as we can with the US dollar. Therefore the only way to obtain needed euros is to a) borrow them or b) take them. The US government has a third funding source, which is c) inflate them (which is just a variant of (b)). Of course no government is honest enough to say “we’re taking your money” – no, this is a “one time tax.” So while the Cypriot government will simply take what it wants from depositors through the front door, our government comes in through the backdoor and through the inflation tax chips away at the value of the money on deposit. Naturally the whole scheme was justified on “greater good” grounds in that had they not gotten the bailout then the whole banking system might have collapsed and all depositors might have lost their money. Yes, the whole “you might benefit if we help these other people, therefore you must provide us with the means to help them” argument (put forth by every persuasion of statist, from the so-called conservative that supports publicly funded schooling to the super progressive advocating socialized medicine) is forever the justification for any and all types of state sponsored intrusion into the lives of individuals.

So for anyone taking solace in the notion that such bank account confiscation could never happen here please realize that it already has in the form of inflation sponsored bailouts. As long as we maintain a system of fractional reserve lending, legal tender laws, a central bank (Federal Reserve) and government “monetary policy” we will never rid ourselves of the gang of thieves bailing out their big banking friends with our money.

A tax by any other name

And so it has come to pass – nearly 100 years since the post office ceased Sunday mail delivery (dropped in 1912 primarily due to religious and workers rights reasons) the United States Postal Service will cease Saturday mail delivery later this year. This time the reasons are financial rather than ecclesiastical. The Postal Service expects this change to save $2 billion a year – although this barely scratches the surface of a $15.9 billion loss in 2012 (although $11.1 billion of that loss was the result of a Congressional mandate forcing it to pre-fund future retiree health benefits – something it requires of no other federal agency). The Postal Service is a quasi-private entity. It technically receives no funding from Congress, however it’s ability to operate is tightly controlled by Congressional whim. But one area where it does benefit from its governmental relationship is with respect to the “Private Express Statutes”. These are a set of statutes that confer on the US Postal Service a legal monopoly of letter delivery. This monopoly is enforced by a mandate that any entity delivering “letters” must charge at least 6 times the current rate for the first ounce of a single piece First-Class mail letter. Fortunately “parcels” do not fall under that mandate; otherwise FedEx and UPS would be nothing but big “What ifs”.

Although Congress is specifically authorized in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) to  “establish Post Offices”, such authorization does not on its face imply that the federal government is the ONLY entity permitted to do so, merely that this is one thing it MUST do. The reasoning behind establishing a monopoly position in the marketplace was the concern that private business would simply come in and “poach” business away from the more profitable mail routes. This would then mean either prices would have to rise on the less profitable (rural) routes or tax dollars would need to be employed to subsidize costs along these less profitable routes. Gee, with a justification for monopoly like that I don’t understand why we don’t establish a monopoly within each sector of the economy. Why not give Publix a monopoly on groceries in this country? Then they wouldn’t have to waste money on competing or advertising and could provide “affordable” food prices for everyone by subsidizing less profitable stores with the receipts from the more profitable stores.

Mandated monopolies, whether in private industry (e.g. utilities), or in government (Postal Service) make no economic sense. Consider the argument here: private mail delivery companies would out compete the Postal Service by charging less thereby depriving the Postal Service of income. So instead of overcharging some customers in order to subsidize the undercharging of other customers it would be necessary to overtax some people in order to provide a net benefit to some other people. How are the two processes different exactly? Both involve individuals in Group A paying more than necessary in order that individuals in Group B pay less than necessary. So if the worst outcome (raising taxes) is equivalent to what you are doing right now, then there is nothing to lose in trying the alternate approach. Best case it is a zero sum game (the money people save is simply taxed away to fund the Postal Service losses). The more probable outcome is that there is a net benefit to society when multiple entities compete for the customer’s dollar. Perhaps private competitors might be so efficient that they could provide mail service to even the “unprofitable” areas at an “affordable” price (which is what I believe UPS and FedEx currently do in the area of package shipments).

Congress should eliminate the monopoly provisions on mail delivery, let the chips fall where they may and let the market solve this problem. In the age of $20 cell phones somehow I doubt there will be an issue in providing “affordable” delivery of folded pieces of paper.

“Wimpy” Governance

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

Words to live by for those in government. For example, the word “surplus” is supposed to denote the result of consuming less than one receives. But that is not the meaning employed by our wise overlords. Or rather, they choose to cherry-pick what constitutes “receive” and “consume” so that the difference between those terms can be any value they desire. It’s time for some myth busting: there was no Clinton surplus. The entire thing is a fabrication, an accounting sleight of hand. “Hogwash!” you’re thinking! Certainly if this had been the case the conservatives pundits would have been all over this, right? Wrong. Their collective silence speaks volumes in testament to the fact that the same “math” used to show a surplus under Clinton also shows smaller deficits under their guys (e.g. Bush Sr. claimed $1 trillion in deficits, but it was actually $1.5 trillion, likewise Clinton claimed a $62 billion surplus but actually had a $1.4 trillion deficit)

Here is the essence of the subterfuge:  Let us imagine a single mom, let’s call her, I don’t know, Julia. Julia earns $30,000 a year. She receives $5,000 a year from her ex-husband that is to be put into a savings account for her son’s education. However she has $32,000 a year in expenses and a $1,000 credit card debt. So she “borrows” $5,000 from the education account. $2,000 of it goes to the extra expenses, and $1,000 of it goes to pay off the credit card debt. Quite pleased with the situation she tells her friends she has paid off her credit cards and has a $2,000 surplus to boot! To celebrate she spends the “surplus” $2,000 on clothes and a new TV. She rationalizes owing the $5,000 to her son’s account with the idea that in the future she’ll make more money and pay it back later, but she needs it now for her and her son’s benefit, so that makes it ok. Fast forward 18 years and we find that although her pay has increased, so have her expenses, and she has continued to accumulate $5,000 IOU’s each year such that the account contains nothing but $90,000 in IOU’s. In any other arena except government this process is known as embezzlement.

One difference between what Julia did and what the government does is that the theft is legally mandated: all federal government trust funds (there are others besides social security) are required to turn over excess funds to the federal government by way of purchasing special government bonds (IOUs). The government then counts these “excess” funds as REVENUE, even though that money is obligated to future recipients. Let me repeat: the government is counting loaned money as income! That might balance cash flow but it is merely “Wimpy” can-kicking governance: “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Guess what? Today is Tuesday.

“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

The effect of this fake revenue is to decrease the gap between normal tax revenue and spending (the deficit), which is why every administration loves this technique. However even the government can’t hide from the effects of ignoring reality. Any money the government borrows from itself is added to the Intra-Government debt holdings account. The IG debt account is distinct from the “Public Debt” account (money lent to the government by non-government entities). The Public Debt went down under Clinton by using IG debt to pay it down (i.e. using credit card A to pay off credit card B). Adding these two numbers together reveals that total debt went up. If you don’t believe me, check for yourself; see the US Treasury data. Each and every year from 1992 to 2000 the “Historical Debt Outstanding” increases. Pundits can try and confuse the public with jargon, but at the end of the day it simply is a matter of checking just one number (total debt). If it goes up, there was a deficit, if it goes down, there was a surplus. End of story.

Arbitrary Fairness

With the fiscal cliff looming there has been renewed discussion of “fair share” and how it’s only “fair” to ask the wealthiest Americans to be pay more taxes. Yes, “ask”. I believe that is the same kind of “asking” a mugger engages in when he “asks” for your wallet. I have yet to have revealed to me a definition of “fair share” so perhaps it is time to offer one myself. The income tax system is built on the notion that one’s payment burden should correlate to net income. If your share of society’s aggregate income is 25% then it logically follows under such a system that it is not unfair to demand you pay at least 25% of total taxes. A “progressive” tax system (the one we have today and which is a plank in the Communist Manifesto) demands one pay more than their proportionate revenue stream. Some argue this is “fair” on the grounds that mere ability to pay more is sufficient grounds to take more because on balance society (supposedly) benefits. However there exists no non-arbitrary method that reveals precisely how much more above one’s revenue proportion one’s tax burden should be. How exactly do these wise sages propose to derive a fair ratio between tax burden and income share that results in a perfect balance between societal benefits at the expense of the individual? Is a 2:1 ratio fair, but a 3:1 ratio not fair? If not, why not?

Sadly the mainstream media leaves us (unsurprisingly) with the impression that top taxpayers are paying less than their proportionate share. Nothing could be further from the truth. For 2010 (IRS data) 3% of taxpayers (earning above $200,000/year) had a 27% share of income and a 52% share of all personal income taxes with an average tax rate of 22%. Yes you read that correctly, 3% of taxpayers pay over HALF of all personal income taxes even though they earn only ONE-QUARTER of income. Earners between $75k – $200k (18% of taxpayers) receive and pay about a third in income and taxes with an average tax rate of 11%, so in terms of balancing income and tax burden this group is perhaps the most “fairly” taxed. Those solidly in the middle class ($25k-$75k – 38% of taxpayers) earn 30% of all income and pay only 14% of the tax burden with an average tax rate of 6%. And lastly those in the under $25k (41% of taxpayers) range earn 9% of all income but pay a mere 1% of the tax burden with a 1% average tax rate. Including payroll and corporate taxes would alter the numbers somewhat however the overall analysis remains the same: there is only one segment of taxpayers paying far in excess of their share of national income and for some bizarre reason they as a group are the ones most vilified for not paying enough. I’m not suggesting those in the lower brackets pay more and the top less. What I am suggesting is we cut spending so that everyone can pay less.

Due to the persistent fairly tale that there was a budget surplus during the Clinton years people somehow imagine that if we simply let rates rise back to where they were under Clinton we will magically close the budget gap and have surpluses again. As the Democrats are fond of saying “the math just doesn’t work.” Allowing the top marginal rate to rise on 3% of taxpayers would raise only approximately $100 billion/year. Coupled with a projected $900 billion deficit for 2013 that barely scratches the surface.

Consider what a $100 billion increase in taxes means. It is $100 billion removed from the private sector where it could be spent OR used to build new factories, hire more employees or invest in R&D. All of these events occur regardless of current demand. They are the direct result of the speculation incentive, that is, the incentive to possibly make more money in the future by spending money today. Increasing taxes kills the speculation incentive on two fronts: slowing the rate of investment (as more money goes to taxes and less to saving) and decreasing the incentive to invest due to lowered potential after tax returns.

Instead the tax dollars are redirected to government favored entities. If you think this might produce a net benefit, then ask yourself: Is society really better off if we allow the government to funnel money to those businesses that are most effective at the art of lobbying and suckling at the government teat (the political entrepreneur) by taking from those businesses and individuals that are most effective at actually producing things people want (the market entrepreneur)? Until we can face the reality that wants are infinite but resources finite nothing will stop us from going over that fiscal cliff.

The Mortgage Interest Myth

There is a persistent myth that the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction (HMID) does the following: (a) promotes home ownership by (b) providing a financial benefit to the middle class taxpayer. That’s the funny thing about myths; they aren’t true. In fact, the truth here is the exact opposite. The HMID has not expanded homeownership in any meaningful way. Between 1960 and 1997 the rate of owner occupied homes has bounced around in the 62-66% range. This is no different than other Western countries that lack a tax favored deduction for mortgage interest. Why? The HMID is a government subsidy and subsidies drive the costs of whatever they are subsidizing upward (healthcare, education, sugar, etc). The government is effectively paying people to engage in approved behavior (home buying). However, these subsidies do not occur in an information vacuum: home sellers are aware of this subsidy and adjust asking prices upward accordingly. There is no net benefit to the buyer (who pays more upfront and is then reimbursed by the government) or to the seller (who gets more when selling but paid more when buying). The only consistent beneficiary is the real estate agent. The National Realtors Association lobbies hard to maintain the HMID. Their protestations to the possibility of losing this part of the tax code make clear current policy benefits them. Their reaction makes sense in light of the fact that by their own admission the HMID drives prices upward (as much as 15% higher) thus effectively keeping all home prices 15% higher than they otherwise would be. A government-sponsored program that maintains artificially high prices is beneficial for what reason again?

The second part of this myth is that the HMID actually benefits the middle class. As of 2009 only 22% of federal returns took advantage of the HMID and of that only 30% were classified as “middle class”. In other words, only a mere 6% of returns constitute middle class usage of this deduction. The average tax savings for people in this group is only $152/year. The primary beneficiaries of the HMID are the “wealthy” – those making over $200k/year. Over 70% of returns above $200k/year claim the HMID. Because the wealthy pay disproportionately more tax they reap a likewise disproportionate advantage from this deduction with an average savings of $1862/year. Technically no taxpayers “benefit” from the HMID. Absent this deduction they would have paid a lower price for their home so their net payment is roughly the same.

Eliminating tax subsidies coupled with a lowering of marginal rates would allow a tax savings to be spread around to ALL taxpayers, not just a narrow few. In fact, Obama’s own “Deficit Commission” aka the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson Deficit Reduction Plan called for eliminating nearly ALL tax exemptions coupled with lowered rates. Those benefiting the most (the wealthy with large exemptions) from current exemptions will effectively pay more tax even with decreased marginal rates because the net benefit to all other taxpayers from lowered rates must come from somewhere if revenue neutrality is maintained.

It’s time to let go of tax myths that act as obstacles to change and move toward a simplified tax system (ideally the Fair Tax but for now we are discussing income tax) with a low (and ideally flat) rate structure and broad base that is built on a relative foundation of fairness (to the extent that the concept of “tax fairness” is not an oxymoron) that does not attempt to manipulate behavior by rewarding a few for behavior that many are unable to participate in.

Hey man, you owe me!

President Obama’s now infamous “You didn’t build that” speech offered up two worldviews that betray his social-collectivist tendencies. The President engaged in a non-sequitur fallacy in his effort to establish the validity of two falsehoods by invoking a truism that is best embodied in the quote of Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” That is to say, we owe our entire standard of living to the countless billions that came before us. Each new innovation relies on the tools and knowledge of prior generations. No one builds anything in a vacuum. The President falsely presumes that societal advancement is necessarily impossible without government involvement (e.g. building roads and schools). This presumption rests on the notion that absent government it would simply never occur to the simpletons in society to build a road, a bridge, a school, or to pursue research. We are but helpless babes that require the gentle guidance of our wise overlords.

Upon the (false) precept that government must play an integral role in society he now presumes this establishes a basis to conclude that society (the people) are morally obligated to pay government whenever, however and in whatever arbitrary amount deemed appropriate by government. More abstractly he is saying that because party A did something for party B then it is permissible for party A to unilaterally impose an open ended arbitrary obligation onto party B in perpetuity. This is little different than a drug dealer who showers gifts on a kid for a few years and then expects that kid to return the favors by doing anything that is asked: “Hey man, you owe me!”

The President’s fatal conceit is in believing that because government plays a tangential role in producing some societal goods it must then follow that government has the right to erect a barrier to the collective goods of society that may only be breached by accepting the necessity of an arbitrary debt obligation (taxes) to that gatekeeper (government). We do not owe any particular group or individual in society anything as a consequence of something they did or are doing. If that were so then perhaps we should pay taxes to GE as well for all the things they have produced that benefit society.

The only barrier to society’s goods is a natural one: our ability to produce goods or services that society values. If we desire to take something out of society’s pot of goods, we must first deposit something equivalent to the value that we wish to withdraw. Money is merely a claim ticket to the value put in the pot; it gives us the right to withdraw that value later (which is why counterfeiters and thieves are reviled, they withdraw without putting anything in). Conspicuous consumption must be preceded by conspicuous production. Taxes represent confiscation of our withdrawal rights that are diverted to government favored industries or classes of individuals. Government puts nothing in the pot; it simply forces us to pay for things we don’t want or to overpay for things we might want. Government’s limited role in society cannot justify arbitrary taxation with specious appeals to “fair share” (an objective definition for which you will have as much success in extracting from a progressive as you will in nailing Jello to a wall.)