Category Archives: Taxes

“Medicare For All” is more appealing when you hide the enormous tax increase

According to the Washington Post, the “dam is breaking on Democrats’ embrace of single-payer” for healthcare as a fourth member of Congress co-sponsored Bernie Sanders’s “Medicare for all” bill. But the Post makes no mention of the cost for this bill.

Why, you ask, would they only discuss the benefits to be received without mentioning the cost? Hmm…

Heading over to Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All website, one finds that the cost is estimated to be $1,380,000,000,000. That’s $1.38 trillion.

Bernie Sanders then lists seven ways to raise the required revenue–new taxes, tax increases, and closing loopholes. The largest source of revenue would be a “6.2 percent income-based health care premium paid by employers,” in other words a 6.2% tax on income to be paid by employers, as if employers will just eat the tax increase without passing it on to employees or customers. On top of this is a “2.2 percent income-based premium paid by households,” i.e., a 2.2% tax increase.

Given that all but one of these additional sources of revenue involves directly or indirectly a tax on income, lets just look at the tax increase in aggregate. This year, the federal government is expected to generate revenue of $3.46 trillion. A $1.38 trillion tax increase is the equivalent of all tax rates rising by 40% (40 percent, not 40 percentage points). In other words, social security taxes would have to rise from 6.2% to 8.7%. The lowest tax bracket would have to jump from 10% to 14%. The 25% tax bracket, in which most American probably reside, would need to leap to 35%. And the top tax bracket would have to go from 39.6% to 55.4%.

Bernie Sanders wants to pay for his Medicare For All by taxing the rich. He raises the top tax bracket from 39.6% to 52%, but only on those earning over $10 million. Other high-income people see smaller increases in their income taxes.

How do lower-income earners fare in his proposal? Probably even worse than their high-income counterparts. Although Bernie Sanders tries to hide it by calling one new tax a “6.2 percent income-based health care premium paid by employers” and another a “2.2 percent income-based premium paid by households,” these are, in effect, tax increases of 6.2% and 2.2%, the first to be paid by the employer, who will surely pass all or most of the cost along, and the second to be paid by the earner. If one looks at one’s income tax rate as the total of his income taxes plus social security taxes plus medicare taxes, the lowest tax bracket will go from a current 25.3% to 33.7%, a 33% increase. That may not be the portion paid by the individual, but it’s the amount the government takes and it is the amount paid by earner either directly through his taxes or indirectly through lower wages or highest consumer prices.

The Medicare For All website also claims that a typical family earning $50,000 would save $5,800 in healthcare spending. He does not mention that the new taxes of 2.2% and 6.2% total $4,200. So the saving as much smaller. But the website also points out people currently receive “tax breaks that subsidize health care” to the tune of $310 billion. These would be eliminated under the plan. The website does not say much does a typical family earning $50,000 receive in these “tax breaks.” I wonder why. Needless to say, that $5,800 in savings all but disappears when one accounts for the tax increases and the removal of tax breaks.

Now it’s clear why the Washington Post does not mention the cost of this “Medicare For All” bill. It’s also clear why the Medicare For All website gives a clear picture of how much a typical family saves but not how much it will cost them.

It’s much easier to give away goodies when people think they are free or someone else is paying for them rather than tell them how much it will cost them. If politicians were required to disclose the costs in addition to the benefits (much like a drug advertisement is required to reveal the side-effects), socialist proposals like Medicare For All would surely gather less support than when everything appears to be free.

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Life before the social welfare state

In 1779, before the advent of the welfare state or even a federal government in the US, when taxes were virtually non-existent, François de Barbé-Marbois wrote: “Begging is unknown in America. There are, in almost all towns, hostels which take in old people or those who are unable to work. As for the unemployed, there are other institutions where care is taken that they lack neither work nor food.” Barbé-Marbois, Our Revolutionary Forefathers 71

Taxing offshore accounts would solve 6% of the problem. What about the 94%?

Proponents of big government and haters of the rich are making a big deal about $21 trillion that is being hidden in tax-free offshore accounts. The Observer reports:

A global super-rich elite has exploited gaps in cross-border tax rules to hide an extraordinary £13 trillion ($21tn) of wealth offshore – as much as the American and Japanese GDPs put together – according to research commissioned by the campaign group Tax Justice Network.

James Henry, former chief economist at consultancy McKinsey and an expert on tax havens, has compiled the most detailed estimates yet of the size of the offshore economy in a new report, The Price of Offshore Revisited, released exclusively to the Observer.

He shows that at least £13tn – perhaps up to £20tn – has leaked out of scores of countries into secretive jurisdictions such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands with the help of private banks, which vie to attract the assets of so-called high net-worth individuals. Their wealth is, as Henry puts it, “protected by a highly paid, industrious bevy of professional enablers in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries taking advantage of the increasingly borderless, frictionless global economy”. According to Henry’s research, the top 10 private banks, which include UBS and Credit Suisse in Switzerland, as well as the US investment bank Goldman Sachs, managed more than £4tn in 2010, a sharp rise from £1.5tn five years earlier.

The information I wanted didn’t appear until paragraph eleven:

Assuming the £13tn mountain of assets earned an average 3% a year for its owners, and governments were able to tax that income at 30%, it would generate a bumper £121bn in revenues – more than rich countries spend on aid to the developing world each year.

That £121 billion is about $200 billion. The global budget deficit runs at about $3.5 trillion or 5.3% of GDP.  (The United States leads the way with a deficit of $1.3 trillion or about 9.3% of GDP.) If these hidden assets suddenly became taxable, the global budget deficit would decline by about 6%, assuming the governments don’t just spend the newfound money.

No plan to “tax the rich” or “close loopholes” can possibly reduce the budget deficit by a significant amount. As I noted previously, the U.S. government would need to double income tax rates to close the budget deficit. Obviously, this is unfeasible because tax avoidance would rise when the “wealthy” are faced with a 70% income tax rate in addition to state and other taxes. Additionally, this doubling would also apply to the poor and middle class.

The government simply cannot raise taxes enough to make any significant dent in the deficit. The idea of taxing “hidden” money would only solve 6% of the problem and that excludes the cost of enforcement. Maybe we should focus on the other 94% of the deficit rather than the 6%.

Supreme Court approves of unlimited taxes

Logic holds that taxes cannot exceed the value of the thing being taxed. Income taxes cannot exceed 100%, though FDR wanted them to. Sales taxes can never exceed 100% because the value of the good must make up a certain percentage of the cost. Property taxes can never exceed the value of the property because the value of the property would immediately fall to zero and there would be nothing to tax.

But with today’s Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare, in which non-activity is being taxed, there is no limit to the taxes that could, in theory, be imposed. The government could, if it wanted to, implement a tax of whatever it wants, let’s say one million dollars per person, for not buying health insurance, or not buying a house, or not buying something else.

Alexander Hamilton argued that the Constitution should not limit the power to tax or the power to spend. He wrote in his Report on Manufactures:

The power to raise money is plenary and indefinite; and the objects to which it may be appropriated are no less comprehensive than the payment of the public debts, and the providing for the common defence and general welfare. The terms “general welfare” were doubtless intended to signify more than was expressed or imported in those which preceded; otherwise numerous exigencies incident to the affairs of a nation would have been left without a provision. The phrase is as comprehensive as any that could have been used.*

Nevertheless, he and all the other Founding Fathers understood that there are natural limits to taxation, as Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist No. 21:

It is a signal advantage of taxes on articles of consumption, that they contain in their own nature a security against excess. They prescribe their own limit; which cannot be exceeded without defeating the end proposed, that is, an extension of the revenue. When applied to this object, the saying is as just as it is witty, that, “in political arithmetic, two and two do not always make four.” If duties are too high, they lessen the consumption; the collection is eluded; and the product to the treasury is not so great as when they are confined within proper and moderate bounds. This forms a complete barrier against any material oppression of the citizens by taxes of this class, and is itself a natural limitation of the power of imposing them.

Unlike Hamilton’s and the Founder’s system of relying primarily but not exclusively on consumption taxes, we now have a system wherein a tax can exceed a person’s income or net worth and be totally “constitutional.” The Obamacare penalty, I mean tax, can be set at whatever dollar level the politicians choose regardless of income or wealth. Or they can enact other similar taxes for not purchasing a given good or service. They have paved the way for unlimited taxes .

* For those who argue that this gives the government unlimited power, Hamilton added:

A power to appropriate money with this latitude which is granted too in express terms would not carry a power to do any other thing, not authorised in the constitution, either expressly or by fair implication.

– Michael E. Newton is the author of the highly acclaimed The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny and Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution. He is currently writing a book about Alexander Hamilton.

A proposal to satisfy Warren Buffett and raise his taxes

I’m tired of hearing Warren Buffett complain about not paying enough in taxes.

I propose a 10% property tax on all Americans with personal wealth in excess of $40 billion. This should bring the government about $10.5 billion in new revenue; $4.4 billion from Warren Buffett and $6.1 billion from Bill Gates.

What say you Mr. Buffett? Willing to put your money where your mouth is?

The government would have to double income tax rates and not see any tax avoidance or evasion to close the deficit.

Did you know? The government would have to double income tax rates and not see any tax avoidance or evasion to close the deficit.

Taxes paid keeps rising, despite the media’s claims to the opposite

Headline: “Tax bills in 2009 at lowest level since 1950

The reality according to the very same article:

“Federal, state and local income taxes consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century. The overall tax burden hit bottom in December at 8.8.% of income before rising slightly in the first three months of 2010.”

Notice that this is only talking about income taxes. As if income taxes are the only means of collecting taxes. In fact, look at what has been happening in Arizona. The legislature has been dropping income tax rates here, but at the same time they and the people through ballot initiatives have been raising the sales tax rate. Looking at only income taxes is looking at about a third of the total.

I decided to collect the data from http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/ and http://www.usgovernmentrevenue.com and create some simple charts.

Yes, taxes paid have declined recently and hit their lowest level as a percentage of GDP since 1959 (not 1950). However, as you can see, tax revenue is 2010 was back up to the same level as 1971 and 2011’s are expected to be the same as 1973’s. In fact, 2011’s tax revenue is expected to be just a point less than that of 2003’s. Big deal! Yet, look at that outstanding increase in taxes between 1910 and 2000.

But that only tells part of the story. As government’s share of GDP grows, the shrinking private sector has to pay for all that new government. So let’s look at taxes as a percentage of the private economy:

The decline in taxes is now much less pronounced. Taxes paid as a percentage of the private economy hovers around 50%. Looking at taxes against the private is much better because it is the private economy tax actually produces. Let’s look at it another way. If taxes were 60% of GDP but 100% of GDP, everybody in the private economy would stop working and government would get no revenue and would be forced to close down. So the private economy is the determining factor in tax revenues, not the total economy.

So the average person working in the private sector as an employer or employees pays, on average, a tax rate of 50%. This includes income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, vehicle registration taxes, social security and Medicare taxes, corporate taxes, capital gains taxes, etc. FIFTY PERCENT!

And people have the nerve to complain that tax rates and tax revenues are falling.

Taxes need to fall much further. A decline to the 100-year average of 25% of GDP and 36% of private sector GDP would be a good start. In other words, to return to the average would mean a tax cut of $750 billion to $1300 billion. But with huge deficits, spending would have to decline by two to three trillion. But given the immense growth in government over the last 100 years, spending cuts like that would simply return us to the 100-year average.

Remember, USA today compared 2009 income tax revenue to the 50-year average. I am simply following their lead, but looking at all taxes and looking at a 100-year average.