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“GOP VALUES” — How The GOP Shows Favoritism to Unearned Income over Hard Work

Something else I don’t understand about Republican dogma…

GOP rhetoric seems to idealize the virtues of hard work:  “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” “Just get a job.”  “Quit freeloading.” It’s like they actually believe the Horatio Alger myth.

But look at our federal tax structure, and the changes Republicans have forced through since Ronald Reagan.   There is no reward for hard work.  Instead, our current tax system is tilted strongly in favor of those who already have money.  Investment income — unearned income — is now taxed at about half the rate of wage income.

Flashback to the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis: “Even an architect of the Bush tax cuts, economist Glenn Hubbard, tells Rolling Stone that there should have been a ‘revenue contribution’ to the debt-ceiling deal, ‘structured to fall mainly on the well-to-do.’ Instead, the GOP strong-armed America into sacrificing $1 trillion in vital government services – including education, health care and defense – all to safeguard tax breaks for oil companies, yacht owners and hedge-fund managers. The party’s leaders were triumphant: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell even bragged that America’s creditworthiness had been a ‘hostage that’s worth ransoming.’ ”

Now, let’s look at the impact that this VERY ODD tax preference has had on the US economy.

What happens, when our tax system rewards investment income, rather than actual work?

  1. Private equity “investors” use acquired corporations to borrow money – and then use that borrowed money to pay themselves dividends.  “Investment”?  Not hardly.  The acquired corporations go belly-up when they can’t pay pack the debt, leaving hundreds (or thousands) of workers unemployed.  Read “What Mitt Romney Taught Us about America’s Economy.”
  2. CEOs take more compensation as dividends, rather than wages.  Even accounting for inflation, top-tier taxpayers took home six times more dividends in 2009 than in 1992.  “But each dollar paid to the CEO in dividends costs the company (and the economy) a whole lot of money that could have been reinvested. Going back to Fred Smith as an example, his 15 million shares in the company represent only a fraction of the outstanding stock. For Mr. Smith to receive $8.5 million in dividends, personally, the company has to pay out well over $100 million in total dividends – money that could have been invested in new hires, or new planes, or new facilities (or improved employee benefits).”
  3. Some of those CEOs “invest” that money in politics.  And the cycle repeats itself.

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”??!? Bootstraps are getting very hard to find, these days.

(But please don’t shop for them at Walmart.  The corporation’s “Lowest Prices” policy has had a devastating effect on the US economy.  “Wal-Mart has the power to squeeze profit-killing concessions from vendors. To survive in the face of its pricing demands, makers of everything from bras to bicycles to blue jeans have had to lay off employees and close U.S. plants in favor of outsourcing products from overseas.”   Meanwhile, Walton family members – who receive about half of all dividends paid by Walmart – are doing just fine.)

Meanwhile, down in DC, Simpson and Bowles Work To Wreck Social Security

It’s probably going to get lost in today’s news, now breaking out of Boston, but…

SocialSecurityposter1Down in DC today, Erskine Bowles and Alan K. Simpson are scheduled to announce yet another of their “debt reduction” plans. Yes, it includes chained-CPI; yes, it includes cuts to Medicare. What is doesn’t include is much in the way of new revenues. Here’s how the Washington Post describes today’s plan:

“seeks far less in new taxes than the original, and it seeks far more in savings from federal health programs for the elderly.”

Yeah, this public policy debate is going in the wrong direction.

Here’s a better suggestion: Let’s return to the good ol’ days when investment income was taxed at the same rate as wage income.

Why does US tax policy give preferential tax treatment to dividends, just because investors don’t have to get their hands dirty in order to receive the income? America is supposed to be the land of Horatio Alger (“pull yourself up by your bootstraps, work hard, and you’ll get ahead”). If our tax code is going to have different standards for earned versus unearned income, shouldn’t the “hard work” type of income be the one we prefer?

Instead, ever since the Bush tax cuts, dividends have been taxed at a much lower rate. And that economic distortion has led to all sorts of bad outcomes. (Read “What Mitt Romney Taught Us about America’s Economy” here.)

According to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, this backwards tax preference will cost $616 billion in revenue over the next five years. (It’s one of the largest “tax expenditures” in the tax code.)

So, let’s call that $1.2 trillion over the next decade… and we’re well on our way toward debt reduction – without any cuts to Social Security or Medicare. Toss in another $516 billion worth of estate taxes (I’m doubling the five-year cost of that tax preference, as calculated by the Joint Committee). Maybe throw in $315 billion from ending the special tax treatment for life insurance annuities. And we’re well over $2 trillion in deficit reduction—all without a single cut to a single government program.

Now let’s apply a little “dynamic scoring”. (Haven’t heard of it? It what the GOP used, back in 2001, to argue that the country could afford the Bush tax cuts. Just assume that the tax code changes will improve the economy, and that will generate even more tax revenues.) Ok, you’re right… “dynamic scoring” didn’t work so well with the Bush tax cuts. But remember the Clinton tax hikes? Remember how the economy improved and the budget went from deficit to surplus?

Add in a little “dynamic scoring” (of the tax-HIKE variety) and… Presto Change-o! Suddenly, we’re doing a whole lot better than Simpson-Bowles.

——————–

Also in the message mix, today: a great, big “oops!” for the two Harvard economists whose research has bolstered the GOP’s austerity agenda. Turns out they made a mistake in their spreadsheet analysis. Yes, this is the very same analysis that Paul Ryan used, during last year’s presidential campaign, to argue that our slow economy was caused by national debt. [Hello? Most of us out here in the real world think the economy’s hurting because so many people are out of work.] Yes, these are the same two economists who testified before the Simpson-Bowles Commission.

Here’s the kicker: their mistake was discovered by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Yes, public-funded higher education still works!

——————–

Watching the news this morning, we’re seeing incredible acts of dedication and bravery. Special thanks to everyone whose jobs take them into danger, all those who protect the rest of us. Thoughts and prayers are with the family of the MIT Police officer who was killed; with the MBTA officer who was injured; and with everyone else whose lives have been forever altered by the events of the past few days.

Writing this from the security of my own home, I salute you all.

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