Pay Up

February 10, 2019

by Steve Stofka

When I was growing up in New York City, each kid’s name was shortened to one syllable, two at the most. New York is a busy town; people didn’t have time to pronounce long names. Guillermo became Will or Bill.  An exotic name like Anastasia was shortened to a rather pedestrian Ann. Melodic names like Florinda became Flo. In a sign of the changing times, N.Y. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has became known as AOC. That’s a generous three syllables!

She has proposed a 70% Federal income tax on Adjusted Gross Income over $10 million. That’s a straight 70% haircut on only the income above that threshold. Deductions, credits and favorable tax treatment for capital gains could apply to income below $10 million but everything above that is a bada-bing-bada-boom 70%.

How much revenue would that generate? I used IRS sample data from 2016, the latest available (Note #1) and calculated an extra $218 billion collected on 15,000 returns for tax year 2016 (Note #2). This would have been an additional 14% over the $1550 billion collected in individual income taxes that year (Note #3). It would make up for the corporate taxes that are not being collected because of the 2017 Tax Act.

If AOC’s proposal were passed by the House, it would not make it out of the Senate Finance Committee, which is controlled by Republicans. If it did become law, it would incentivize the accountants and lawyers of the super-rich to craft clever solutions to avoid the tax. Most of them can buy citizenship in another country. They can put income in tax havens (Note #4). They can make hefty political campaign contributions to buy loyalty in Congress.

The rich complain about taxes. Yes, they do pay much of the income taxes collected. It should be all of the income taxes. The 16th Amendment was “sold” to the American people as a tax that would apply only to the rich, the top 1% of incomes. When the amendment was passed in 1913, half of the population worked in farming and thought that the tax would never impact their lives. It didn’t until a few months after the U.S. entered World War 2.

Under FDR, the tax base increased ten-fold and now affected 42% of the population. FDR called it the “greatest tax bill” (Note #5). The American people didn’t think so. Many were not paying their income taxes. As the fate of nations lay bloody on the altar of history, FDR regarded tax delinquency as a personal disloyalty. He turned to economist John Kenneth Galbraith who suggested that employers should be forced to become the tax collector for the government. In 1943, Congress passed legislation requiring that employers withdraw taxes from their employees’ paychecks. Employing more than 7% of the workforce, the Federal government was the largest employer (Note #6). Before employees could feed their families or pay their rent, the government had its taxes.

It’s time for Democrats and Progressives to undo what they did under FDR. World War 2 ended 75 years ago. Let’s return to the original intent of the 16th Amendment and impose most of the income tax burden on the rich.

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Notes:
1. 2016 IRS tax data by adjusted gross income
2. A screenshot below of the IRS spreadsheet with my calculations of revenue collected.
3. A breakdown of 2016 federal revenue
4. The Rolling Stones, Bono, and Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits took advantage of tax havens to avoid paying hefty U.K. taxes on royalties
5. Highlights of IRS history
6. Federal Employees CES9091000001 series / PAYEMS (All employees) series in the FRED database

IncTaxbyAGI2016.xls

Manufacturing Miracle Coming Soon

August 21, 2016

In the olden days, like the late ’90s and early ’00s, it was a good thing that America was ridding itself of heavy manufacturing industries. They were, like, so 20th Century, man.  We were entering a new century of computers, the internet and high tech manufacturing.  Compaq Computer, Sun Microsystems (Java), Microsoft, Oracle (databases), and Apple expanded in Massachusetts, Colorado, California and N. Carolina.  Bye, bye old smoke belching industries and hello new clean room high tech industries.  America was becoming a knowledge and service economy.  Let those third world countries like Mexico, China and Thailand make stuff and pollute their cities, and ship the finished products to our shores.

Wind the clock of history to the present day and we are having a markedly different discussion.  Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for President, vows to bring old time manufacturing back to the U.S.  Under pressure from the leftist wing of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton pledges to kill the Trans-Pacific-Partnership (TPP) trade agreeement in its present form. The theme of this election: jobs and security.

Remember the billionaire Ross Perot who ran for President in the 1992 and 1996 elections?  Ross and The Charts.  Sounds like a Motown group.   While Perot didn’t get any votes in the electoral college, 20% of voters pulled the lever for him and probably pulled most of those votes away from George H.W. Bush, the incumbent Republican President in the 1992 election.  Bill Clinton won that one with the lowest popular vote in history and may send Mr. Perot a Christmas card each year as a thank you.  Perot said that if NAFTA passed – and it did pass in 1993 – there would be a big sucking sound as jobs were vacuumed from the U.S. into Mexico. In the late 90s, not too many companies had moved to Mexico yet.  The high tech and internet booms were in full swing and the unemployment rate was less than 5%.

 No big suck until…

In 2001 China was admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Put into a big pot a lot of cheap labor, eager urban planners in China, and lax environmental regulations.  Stir vigorously.  A black hole forms that sucks jobs from America and other developed countries.

From 2000 to mid-2008, before the financial crisis, manufacturing industries lost four million jobs.  Almost 25% of the work force gone in just eight years.  The transition from manufacturing had been going on for several decades but at a much slower pace.  In the previous twenty-two years, from 1978 to 2000, the manufacturing work force fell by two million.  As more product manufactures moved to China and southeast Asia in the 2000s, the job loss rate was five times what it had been in those two decades.

Manufacturing is a stew of many ingredients called the supply chain.  The chain includes the companies that make parts and tools for big industry as well as the transport needed to get raw materials to these suppliers.  It includes the housing, schools, shops and hospitals for a large regional work force.  Donald is going to bring that huge infrastructure back.  All by himself.  Yay for Donald.

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Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Banking Panic of 1933

Two days after FDR took office in March 1933, he declared a national bank holiday, shutting the nation’s banks for a week.  For a month before FDR took office, depositors had been withdrawing their money from banks in a concerted panic.  The conventional narrative is that FDR’s quick action saved the banking system from a certain collapse.  But wait, there’s more.  Why were people in a panic?

In order to win the election in November 1932 against the incumbent Herbert Hoover, FDR used a familiar tactic – scare the voter.  In the midst of the Depression, this wasn’t difficult.  Britain had gone off the gold standard in 1931 and American confidence in their financial institutions and their very currency was sorely tested. FDR’s oratorical and theatrical skills helped convince many voters that only an FDR presidency could rescue the American family.

In those days, a new President did not take office until March of the year following a November election. Soon after FDR was elected, people began to fear that he would devalue the dollar once he took office. En masse, people wanted to trade in their dollars for gold or something that could be converted to gold. In the first months of 1933, states began to declare bank holidays to halt the wave of withdrawals but the panic caused many more banks to fail. (A detailed account of the bank panic)

When FDR took office, 35 states had declared bank holidays of various extent.  FDR made the bank holiday a national one that included the reserve banks.  In the ensuing week people grew more confident as they realized that FDR would not devalue the dollar and that the Federal Reserve would guarantee all deposits until a national insurance program could be enacted.  When the holiday was over, people began to return the hoarded money to the banks. To sum it up, FDR’s quick action helped alleviate the panic which was started in part by FDR’s election.  Here’s a more complete account from the FDIC    I wish history was more like the simple version found in our grade school history books.