David Cay Johnston reported this a few weeks ago and I almost missed it. It’s particularly relevant, though, what with official Washington talking about how to cut spending, restrain the deficit, etc. (at least attacking the English language with euphemisms about war in Libya).
Let’s recap what Washington, especially Republicans, have been saying (from Johnston’s article):
Notice these almost identical quotes from the Sunday morning talk shows five days after the midterms:
We don’t have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.— Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Washington does not have a revenue problem. It’s got a spending problem.— House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
We do not have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.— House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
I think it’s not a revenue problem; it’s a spending problem.— Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
As framed, these advertising lines are matters of opinion, but how many Americans recognize them for what they are — opinions, not facts?
When these people talk about taxes at all, they claim that tax rate cuts actually raise tax revenues and grow the economy. Unfortunately the facts don’t bare that out. In fact, tax rate cuts result in lower tax revenues. In plain terms, tax rate cuts create deficits. If you add a recessions to the mix, you get even lower tax revenues and bigger deficits because unemployed people don’t pay much tax.
Johnston points out, using officially released data, that we’ve had an excellent test of this assertion that “tax rate cuts grow the economy and create more tax money”. In 2001, at the beginning of the last decade, the Bush administration pushed through a very large cut in tax rates for both high-income individuals and for corporations. I’ve already mentioned how this has allowed General Electric to avoid paying taxes despite billions in profits. But that’s just one corporation, albeit a very large one.
How have people overall done? Are we over-taxed as the TEA Party folks claim? Have taxes been rising? The answer is a very clear: NO. Despite real GDP being 17.62% higher in 2010 Q4 than in 2000 Q4., total federal tax revenues are down. That’s why we have a huge deficit.
Federal tax revenues in 2010 were much smaller than in 2000. Total individual income tax receipts fell 30 percent in real terms. Because the population kept growing, income taxes per capita plummeted.
Individual income taxes came to just $2,900 per capita in 2010, down 36 percent from more than $4,500 in 2000. Total income taxes and income taxes per capita declined even though the economy grew 16 percent overall and 6 percent per capita from 2000 through 2010.
Let me repeat that. Individual income taxes per person in the U.S. are down 36 percent in 2010 vs. 2000. Now you may be skeptical. You may be thinking, I dont’ think my taxes are down. You may be right. That might be because you’re in the lower 1/3 or so of income earners who only pay payroll taxes (Social Security, Medicare) but don’t pay income taxes. You can’t pay lower than zero. The people who pay the bulk of income taxes got the rate cuts. Did they respond with such increased effort that incomes rose and they still pay more tax dollars at the lower rate (this is what Laffer-curve oriented Republicans claim)? No. They pay less tax now.
But it wasn’t only high income individuals who benefitted from the generosity of Bush and the Republicans in 2001 (and again by both parties in 2010), corporations also benefitted. In particular, large multi-national firms benefitted. So what happened to the tax revenue they pay?
Corporate income tax receipts fell 27 percent and declined 34 percent per capita, even though profits boomed, rising 60 percent.
Johnston does note that payroll taxes, the taxes that workers pay for Social Security and Medicare did increase during the decade. But these are taxes paid by all workers on income up to only $106,000. The same politicians who falsely claim that income tax rate cuts increase revenues are in fact trying to use the deficits created by too-low income tax revenues as an excuse to cut Social Security benefits for those very workers who stepped up to the plate and paid their taxes.
There’s more damning evidence against both the politicians that perpetuate these false ideas that “tax cuts raise revenue” but also against the economists and pundits who repeat it despite the facts. I urge the interested reader to read the whole article at: