As far as I can tell, if corporations and the top 1% paid anything like a fair share of taxes, budget problems would melt away.
I feel a bit like the recent physicists who seemed to find faster-than-light neutrinos in their data. (There’s the big difference that I’m an amateur at taxes, and they’re anything but amateurs at physics.) But, like them, I’m so boggled by the results that I want to throw it out there for people to pick apart.
Let’s begin at the beginning. The current US deficit is around $1.5 trillion per year. Current US GDP is around $14 trillion per year. Current yearly tax revenues are near $1.1 trillion (IRS pdf, 2008 numbers). In better years revenue is higher, deficits are lower.
An aside: Those numbers are smaller than the multiple trillions of cuts the Super Committee throws around. That’s because they say they need to come up with money for ballooning future costs of social insurance. (The powers-that-be didn’t seem to be worried about the future when tax cuts were implemented.) I don’t consider those future costs a real issue. Social Security doesn’t have any real problems. National health care costs could be cut in half with Medicare for All, based on the evidence from all the industrialized countries that do have national health care systems. (Link is to Congressional Research Service, 2004, pdf. See e.e Table 1, Fig. 1, Fig. 2.) So Medicare for All is the place to start for anyone who is actually concerned about future costs, and not some other agenda.
Further, a healthy deficit level is said to be around 2% of yearly GDP. In addition to other considerations, the ability to buy US Treasury bonds and bills is an important factor in global finance. Zero deficit means the end of that whole asset class, which is not a Good Thing. One wants a sustainable and easily carryable deficit, and 2% is a conservative estimate of that level. Two percent of $14 trillion is $280 billion. (I saw this most clearly expressed somewhere in Krugman’s writing, but all I can find right now is a passing reference here.)
So the yearly shortfall, in round numbers, is $1.2 trillion ($1.5T deficit – 0.280T healthy deficit).
If Fortune 500 corporations actually paid tax on their corporate profits, there’d be much less freeloading from that end. When even Marketwatch headlines “Big Profits, Zero Taxes” you know it’s not a small issue. It’s hard (for me) to find unequivocal numbers on how much difference that would make to revenue, but there are fairly clear data on corporate tax payments as a share of GDP. It’s now at a recent all-time low of 1% of GDP. Moving that back to 4%, about where it was in the 1960s would bring in an extra $480 billion (1% of GDP = $160B, 3% = 480B).
That would entail ending all the corporate loopholes, such as income-shifting in transnationals to whichever tax haven suits them that year, as well as ending special tax breaks for wildly profitable industries such as oil and finance. It would involve adding necessary new taxes, such as a financial transaction tax that would have other beneficial social consequences by slowing down market trading velocity. And it would involve raising rates on large corporations. (Update from comments below: 25 CEOs received more in compensation than their companies paid in taxes. Just mindboggling.)
Then, the other task is to raise taxes on the top 1%. According to the IRS (pdf), in 2008 the top 1% was composed of households making an average of $1.2 million per year. Their effective tax rate is 20% ±5% (CBO pdf, Table 3), and at that rate they contributed well over $350 billion in tax revenue. (For instance, in 2009 the top 1% contributed 36.7% of total income taxes. That proportion is typical during the last decade, plus or minus a few percent. Total income tax revenue in 2008, the last year for which I could find complete IRS data, was $1.081 trillion. 36% of 1.081T = $389 billion.) If their tax rates went to 60%, there would be an extra $700 billion revenue.
So, $700 billion plus $480 billion approaches $1.2 trillion, pretty much the entire yearly shortfall of $1.2 trillion.
That doesn’t pay down the debt. Nor does it provide funds for essential projects such as switching to clean, sustainable energy. But those are one-time charges, as it were, not permanent features of fiscal balance, which I gather is what the Super Committee is worrying about.
Raising taxes on the megarich is not the same as taxing the middle class. It’s not even taxing the upper middle class, such as the heart surgeons and mid-size successful business owners. It involves only having the massively wealthy corporations and households pay something vaguely like their fair share. What’s more, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to their lifestyles. For an income of $1.2 million per year, that tax increase would drop them from living on $80,000 per month to living on $40,000 per month. They could still jet to Paris for the weekend. Anybody who feels deprived living on $40,000 per month needs therapy, not tax breaks.
All this is something to think about while the news covers the new super ways the Super Committee has found to shred the safety net. Nor is this just a classic “Don’t tax him, don’t tax me. Tax the fellow behind the tree.” The fellow behind the tree has been tax cheating for far too long, and it’s time to rebalance. If the megarich paid their fair share, we could have a future that was more than collapsing bridges and work on their plantations.
Crossposted to Acid Test
Wow, these ultra-right-wingers are like zombies. They never stop, they never die. They just keep popping up again and again where you least expect them.
Remember David Addington? He was the secretive, publicity-shy legal counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney from 2001-2005. Later, after Scooter Libby was forced to step down because of his involvement in the Valerie Plame outing, Addington replaced him as Cheney’s Chief of Staff from 2005-2009.
Addington was heavily involved in designing the Bush administration’s torture and NSA wiretapping policies. In addition, his was the legal mind behind Bush’s hundreds of signing statements and generally was a powerful force in the Bush administration’s efforts to expand executive power.
You’d think someone who had been involved in such execrable behavior would have the good grace to slink away and never be heard from again, but that’s not how it works with these psychopathic types. Today, according to The National Journal,
Addington has taken on a new role as enforcer of tea party dogma during the intensifying partisan bickering over the debt ceiling. From his perch as the Heritage Foundation’s vice president for domestic and economic policy, Addington is throwing verbal thunderbolts at House Speaker John Boehner’s current debt-ceiling proposal, which he argues will pave the way to tax increases.
The merits of Addington’s arguments about the need to oppose Boehner’s proposals are in some ways less interesting than the simple fact that Addington is the one publicly making them. Addington kept a low profile during the Bush years, granting no interviews and largely shunning lawmakers from either party. But he wielded enormous power behind the scenes, helping Cheney craft the Bush administration’s warrantless eavesdropping program and most of its detention initiatives.
Critics of those policies say they’re horrified by Addington’s reemergence onto the public stage.
“To see this person who led the country into legal and moral disaster resurface as a respected commentator is somewhat galling,” said Ben Wizner, the litigation director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project. “Addington was as responsible as anyone else for the U.S. becoming a torturing nation. He has done damage to the U.S. that will take decades to reverse.”
Indeed. Especially because we’ll have to wait until President Obama leaves office before much reversing takes place–if it ever does. But I digress. Addington’s new role is to help keep the Tea Party Caucus in line while undercutting House Speaker Boehner. How very very interesting. At the New Republic, Jonathan Chait called it “Hot Republican-On-Republican Action.”
The internecine fighting among conservatives over the Boehner plan has much of the same ideological and stylistic feel of a late 1960’s feud pitting left-wing factions that favor immediate violence against those seeking more time to radicalize the masses. The less-extreme faction clearly has the better of the argument, yet the overwhelming impression is the sheer fanaticism of the whole political subculture.
Is it possible this GOP infighting could be helpful to our side? Addington’s greatest concern about the Boehner plan is that it includes the “committee” that we have been calling “Catfood Commission II.” Addington fears that because this group will have the power to write legislation that cannot be amended and must be voted on up or down, they might end up proposing new taxes. Now I never thought of that possibility! Here’s Addington blogging at the Heritage Foundation website on Monday:
The second step in the [Boehner] plan is a set of recommendations from a new dozen-member joint select committee of Congress. The committee’s recommendations to Congress would not be subject to amendments and would get a straight up-or-down vote. The plan directs the committee to propose reductions in the deficit by at least $1.8 trillion over 10 years. The government runs a deficit when it spends more than it takes in from Americans as taxes, and the government has run deficits in most years for decades. As always, there are two ways to reduce a bloated government’s deficit — the right way of cutting spending and the wrong way of hiking taxes. While the second step of the Boehner plan may produce some useful spending cuts, the second step also allows the Committee to propose raising taxes as part of its unamendable, fast-track legislative package. Thus, the second step greases the way for tax hikes.
As you can imagine, taxes are anathema to Addington.
Tax hikes in a weak economy slow economic growth and kill jobs. As students of American history (or the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) know, enactment of the tax hike known as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act during the Great Depression hurt the already weak economy and made unemployment worse. Job-killing tax hikes in the current weak economy, as millions of Americans go without jobs and the unemployment hovers above 9 percent, will have a similar effect. However good the intentions of the drafters of the Boehner plan may have been, the plan sets up America for higher taxes and fewer jobs. Conservatives should continue to fight plans that either hike taxes now or set America up for tax hikes in the future.
Now wait a minute. I know Dakinikat will have plenty to say about that last paragraph–if she can get away from all the student exams and papers she’s grading. But I’ll take a crack at it even though I am not an economist.
Tarriffs are not equivalent to income taxes. The Smoot-Hawley Tarriff Act was raised tarriffs so high that our trading partners retaliated with their own tarriffs, leading to dramatic decreases in U.S. imports and exports. Now that is a job-killing tax. That is not the same thing as restoring the tax rates on the rich to Clinton administration levels and perhaps making the children of the super-rich pay a little more in estate taxes. As Dakinikat is fond of saying, if cutting taxes led to job creation, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now. The Bush tax cuts would have taken care of everything.
Addington summed up his insane economic theories in another post, written in response to President Obama’s speech on Monday night.
Americans sent a message in the election of 2010 — cut the size and cost of government. Conservatives must act now to drive down spending on the way to a balanced budget, while protecting America, and without raising taxes. Forget the McConnell, McConnell-Reid, Coburn, Gang-of-Six, Boehner, and Reid plans. Go with the American plan — cut government spending, deeply and right now, for the good of the country.
Man, he’s looney-tunes!
Anyway, I think it’s just fascinating that Addington is leading the charge against the Boehner plan and pushing for an even crazier one. Addington has a history of accomplishing a great deal. What he accomplished was evil, of course, but he showed himself to be highly competent and efficient, unlike President Pushover. This battle could be really entertaining. I’m hoping for a major Republican meltdown.