Tag Archives: Fair tax

Warren Buffett is wrong because he doesn’t understand economics. Support the Fair Tax.

Warren Buffett recently remarked:

The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money and we’ll go out and spend more and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you. But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on.

Technically, what Mr. Buffett said may be true but only because he is looking at the wrong thing. I’m sorry that this supposed capitalist and businessman has never learned that spending money is not what creates wealth. To create wealth, one must save, invest, and produce items that had not existed before or items that do exist but of higher quality or at a lower cost.

Instead of encouraging spending, as the current and past Presidents have done, we should be encouraging investment. That means lower taxes on investments (capital gain, interest, and dividends) and, to offset that loss of revenue, either lower government spending (my preference) or higher taxes on spending. Until 1913, with a few rare exceptions (Civil War), all federal taxes were collected on spending while income, both earned and from investments, were non-taxable. During that time, the United States economy grew like nothing the world had ever seen before. Since the income tax has replaced tariffs as the primary source of government revenue, the United States has saved and invested less money and the economy has grown more slowly.

Mr. Buffett argues that we’ve tried trickle-down economics and it has failed. We have also tried trickle-up economics (in the late 1960s) and it too failed. Let’s try something that has succeeded: consumption taxes instead of income taxes.

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Adam Smith and Alexander Hamilton on income and sales taxes.

Back in the 1700s, income taxes were rare, yet more countries were adopting such revenue generating schemes. Adam Smith minced no words in attacking such “absurd and destructive” taxes. In a section of The Wealth of Nations titled “Taxes upon the Wages of Labour,” Adam Smith wonders why countries institute such income taxes:

Absurd and destructive as such taxes are, however, they take place in many countries.

Just a decade later, the Founding Fathers recognized that limits needed to be placed on government. One such limit would be to make it more difficult for government to raise our taxes. In Federalist #21, Alexander Hamilton argued that a consumption tax would effectively limit the size of government:

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.

We have seen how the income tax has accomplished the growth of government that duties were unable to do previously. I return to this chart of the size of government excluding defense dating back to 1910. Remember, the income tax amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1913.

Click on image to zoom in:


Seeing the growth of government since the income tax appeared a century ago, Smith and Hamilton were correct in their assessments. Based on the above quotes and their other writings, Adam Smith and Alexander Hamilton would support a switch to a consumption tax, more commonly called a sales tax today or the proposed Fair Tax.