|02-22-2012, 09:12 AM||#1|
It is what it Is.
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: in a bunker
Tax Code not aligned with Basic principles.
Tax Code Not Aligned With Basic Principles
By BRUCE BARTLETT
Bruce Bartlett held senior policy roles in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and served on the staffs of Representatives Jack Kemp and Ron Paul. He is the author of “The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform – Why We Need It and What It Will Take.”
It is clear that the rising inequality of wealth and income and how the wealthy should be taxed will be major issues in the political campaign.
Perspectives from expert contributors.
All the Republican candidates are committed to at least preventing any increase in taxes on those with large incomes. President Obama is pressing the so-called Buffett Rule that would require those making $1 million a year or more to have an effective federal tax rate (taxes divided by income) of at least 30 percent, while raising the top statutory tax rate for those with incomes over $250,000 to 39.6 percent from 35 percent.
One problem that undoubtedly will arise is how to generalize about any particular income class’s tax burden. As I pointed out last week, tax burdens depend a lot on how one defines “income.” In particular, the tax law makes a sharp distinction between income earned through wages and salaries, sometimes called “earned” income, on the one hand, and income from capital, or “unearned” income.
Wage income is very heavily taxed because both the income tax and payroll tax apply to it. The lower one’s income is, the more likely that it consists solely of wages. Therefore, the heavy taxation of labor necessarily hits hard those with low and middle incomes.
By contrast, income from capital is lightly taxed. Unrealized capital gains are untaxed, realized gains are taxed at a maximum rate of just 15 percent, and gains held until death are never taxed. Moreover, wealthy hedge fund managers are permitted to treat their managerial fees as if they are capital gains, something that is called “carried interest.” Dividends on corporate stock are also taxed at a maximum rate of 15 percent.
The wealthier one is, the less his or her income is derived from labor. According to the Tax Policy Center, households in the middle three quintiles get about 70 percent of their total income from wages and salaries. Those in the top quintile get 55 percent of their income from labor.
For those in the top 1 percent of the income distribution, only about 30 percent of their income comes from labor and for those in the top tenth of 1 percent, just 20 percent of their income comes from labor.
By contrast, those with low and middle incomes derive very little of it from capital. The bottom 80 percent of households get less than 4 percent of their income from capital. For those in the top quintile, however, 16 percent of their income comes from capital. And among the top 1 percent it is 35 percent.
But looking at the data this way understates how low taxes on capital benefit the wealthy, because if one looks only at capital income, virtually all of it goes to them. Those in the top quintile get 86 percent of all the capital income in the United States — $960 billion out of $1.1 trillion in total capital income. Most of that went to the top 1 percent, which received $633 billion — 57 percent of the total. And the top 0.1 percent got two-thirds of that.
The point is that a tax system that lightly taxes capital and heavily taxes labor is necessarily going to benefit the wealthy. As this chart illustrates, federal tax rates on the wealthy have been falling since 1978, when Congress cut the maximum capital gains rate to 28 percent from 35 percent.