Monday, December 03, 2007

Taxing High Wage Workers More Heavily Makes Good Politics but Lousy Economics

Over the past decade, it has become fashionable to bash high income earners in the name of equity. For example, Omaha investor, Warren Buffet, recently received high praise from big spending bureaucrats when he claimed that the rich should pay higher taxes. He based his assessment on the fact that he was paying a lower tax rate than his secretary. However, he failed to distinguish between taxes on income from wages and that from capital. That is, the reason he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary is that his income is derived primarily from stocks which are taxed at 15 percent, while his secretary, as most Americans, pays taxes on labor which is taxed at much higher rates.

For example take four 2006 taxpayers, Andrew who receives $250,000 via dividends on stock, Betty who earns $250,000 from wages, Charlie who earns $25,000 from wages and William whose wealth grows by $250,000 due to an increase in the value of his Berkshire Hathaway stock. In terms of federal income taxes including social security, Andrew would pay $33,700, or a 13.5 percent rate, Betty would pay $76,934, or a 31 percent rate, and Charlie, the low income individual, would pay $2,671, or a 10.7 percent rate. Interestingly, William would owe $0 in federal income and social security taxes. One can easily see the economic penalty for earning high income from wages. Given this disparity, it is not surprising that the top 10 percent of income earners, households with income greater than $100,000, pays 70 percent of federal taxes.

However, facts have not stopped a parade of politicians from railing against the “rich.” In the name of fairness, presidential candidates, Clinton and Obama have said they would let President Bush’s 2001 tax cuts lapse for families earning more than $250,000. Edwards goes further, saying he would repeal the Bush tax cuts, and not just wait for them to expire for households earning more than $200,000. And, speaking at a Senate Finance Committee hearing, the fourth ranking Democrat, Senator Schumer from New York, reiterated his opposition to any tax hike on capital, saying it would unfairly hurt New York's economy. But he indicated he was willing to tax high income Americans who earn their incomes via wages. So there does appear to be agreement among the four in terms of more heavily taxing high income WAGE earners, thus allowing lower income individuals, and high income CAPITAL recipients to continue to pay less than their proportionate share of the federal tax burden.

There are three problems with this distribution of burdens. First, politically speaking a large number of low income individuals (the 90 percent) can vote to inflict even higher taxes on the supposed rich (the 10 percent). Second, this shifts the cost of government to a small proportion of the population and thus encourages government overspending. Third, taxing higher wage earners reduces overall economic growth by discouraging work and entrepreneurship thus reducing the size of the economic pie for all, including the poor. That is, high economic growth enhances the quality-of-life for low income families more than elevated government spending.

Not only would repeal of the Bush tax cuts penalize the more productive and the harder working individuals (yes there is a connection between pay and productivity), it would lower overall income for all. A recent investigation of the 2001 Bush tax cuts by the U.S. Treasury concluded that the tax reductions were good for overall economic growth ushering in six years of uninterrupted growth. Furthermore, the tax cuts that were the most effective at generating growth were those that liberals argue go to the wealthy. The least effective tax cuts, according to the Treasury analysis, were the reductions at the lowest end of the income spectrum (the 10% bracket) and the child care credit. Unfortunately, these are the only ones Clinton, Edwards and Omaha wish to retain.

With all the political hyperbole about how high income earners are not paying their fair share, I am calling on politicians and journalists to level with the American people about who is bearing the lion’s share of the cost of government. Furthermore, I am asking elected officials to more equitably spread the burden of government by requiring lower wage individuals to pay a larger proportion of the share of the cost of government. My proposal makes lousy politics, but it makes good economic sense in terms of growing the economic pie more quickly for all, both rich and poor.

Ernie Goss


Mark said...

Are you kidding ? No one wants to tax high wage earners more. What a crock. Some of us want to tax all income like we tax work -- cap gains, etc. Work -- self employed, small business -- is punished in this country - its taxed up to 300% higher than cap gains and dividends. And dont give me that nonsense about cap gains deserves far lower tax rate than work -- cause I make cap gains. I pay far lower tax rates than workers, who make the same income. My cap gains come from Chinese and Canadian mining stocks -- so Im not creating any jobs here. Keep it simple -- let the market work. Tax all income types the same. Right now we punish work with very high taxes, including FICA taxes.

Ernie Goss said...


You make some very good points. Our tax system, at least in terms of rates, is biased against the wage earner--both high income and low income--wage earner.

Ernie Goss

rickgalusha said...

I have found Dr. Goss' writings to be apolitical and quite well informed.

I applaud your venture into this area where politically based bias, from both sides, has ruled with emotion rather than logic.

Its time that this debate employ facts so that those of us in the quishy middle can decipher dogma from economics.

Rick Galusha