Historical Income Tax Rates Analysis Tool

After the More button is information from ReMapping Debate on how you can download (unfortunately Windows-only) a tool that let’s you analyze and compare tax rates and taxes paid for any type of filer between 1945 and 2010.  For example, you can see if a married filing jointly household with $75,000 in income would have paid more now vs any other year back to 1945.  Interesting tool.

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House Prices Still Pretty High Historically

From Barry Ritholtz at Big Picture.  Note the red portion is Steve’s projection and not based on actual data.  I think it’s a reasonable projection.  House prices nationwide are still too high compared to historical norms.  Of course, things may be different in your neighborhood.

I asked Steve to update Shiller’s NYT chart, now that much of the government intervention has run its course. There is still massive Federal Reserve subsidies in the form of record low rates. But the short term bounce caused by HAMP, Foreclosure abatements and first time home buyers tax credits are mostly over.

Here is Steve’s chart:
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click for ginormous graphic


Chart courtesy of the NYT, as modified by Steve Barry

On S&P and Government Creditworthiness

Standard and Poor’s, one of the big bond rating agencies, has announced today that they are giving a “downgrade warning” on U.S. government bonds.  Not a downgrade in credit rating, but just a “warning” that things could be downgraded.

Ho hum.  Such theatre.  As if we should believe S&P.  First, a sovereign currency-issuing government with a currency that is non-convertible (no gold standard and no fixed exchange rates) and that borrows in it’s own currency cannot go bankrupt. It cannot default unless it chooses to do so.  Period.  Money can always be created to pay the bonds as they come due.  In fact, money and bonds are pretty much the same thing. Issued by the same people. It’s just that bonds pay an interest rate. The currency notes in your pocket don’t.

Besides, S&P has done this before.  Let’s see, in 2002 they not only warned, they actually downgraded Japanese debt.  Let’s see how that worked out.  Surely a down-rated bond issue must have raised Japan’s borrowing costs as lenders (bond buyers) demanded higher rates to compensate for the risk of default, right.  Umm, no.  Japan continues to borrow at extremely low cost. Still payin gless than 1.8%.  No problem.

When you hear this stuff, remember S&P are one of the outfits that told everybody that subprime mortgage debt could be AAA rated, the best. They were wrong on Japan. They were wrong on subprime. They’re wrong now.

Remember it’s all political theater.  It provides talking points for “serious people” to worry about a deficit that’s not a problem so they can cut social programs.

I Don’t Think Corporate Taxes Are Too Low

Ok, just a quickie about taxes with two more startling graphs.  Another proposal that’s making the rounds in Washington is to cut the corporate income tax rate.  This proposal is originally coming from the Republicans, but it looks like Obama has drunk the kool-aid too.  The argument goes that corporations in the U.S. are taxed too much and that’s why corporations don’t invest in the U.S. and therefore don’t grow jobs here.  The “evidence” cited is the fact that the U.S. statutory income tax rate for corporations (at least any with substantial income) is 35%, one of the two highest in the developed, industrialized world.

But it’s a deceptive piece of evidence because what matters is what corporations actually pay, not the statutory rate.  As I’ve noted before, U.S. corporations, particularly multinationals pay little in income tax.  GE, especially,is a welfare queen that pays no taxes despite taking huge contracts from the government. So what’s the trend been for corporate taxes as part of our GDP? The CBPP obliges with a graph:

Um, that doesn’t look to me like a severely burdensome corporate tax rate.  In fact, back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, back when corporate managements were focused on making products and opening markets instead of focused on spreadsheet tricks to gimmick-up this quarter’s earnings, the corporate tax rate was higher.

Can We Afford to Raise Taxes On High Incomes? Can We Afford Not To?


Another tax related post.  It appears that taxes, in particular, taxes on the top income bracket will be a major topic of debate propaganda for the next year and  a half until the next presidential election.  Part of the reason is because the tax deal done last December (2010) between Republicans and Obama last December (2010) perpetuated the Bush-era tax cuts until Dec. 31, 2012, just after the election.  Another reason is because the Republicans in Congress, led by Congressman Paul Ryan have passed a proposed budget that will cut the top individual federal marginal income tax rate to 25%, ten points below the even the Bush-era 35%!  (source: Reuters)

The Republicans and Tea Partiers basically offer three arguments for cutting the top tax rates on high-income folks. None of the arguments hold up under examination.  First, they argue that the U.S. is too heavily taxed already. So, let’s compare the U.S. to other countries in the graph at the right from CBPP.  The U.S. is in fact, a relatively low tax country compared with other developed, industrialized nations.  (although to be fair, we should note that the other countries on the graph pay for healthcare for all their citizens and most of it comes from the government budgets).

So let’s move onto the second argument.  Republicans like to argue that cutting taxes for the top end, for the rich and high income brackets will create jobs.  They repeatedly call these high-end income folks the “job creators”.  Apparently out of some pique, these people refuse to “create jobs” for us lesser people whenever their tax rates exceed some number around 35%.  Unfortunately, this concept has been tried before and found wanting.  Simply put, there’s no empirical support for the idea that cutting tax rates primarily on the top end bracket will create jobs.  See here and here for more details. George Bush and the Republican Congress cut taxes and tax rates in 2001. At the end of the decade, in December 2010, the net increase in jobs (employment) in the U.S. was zero. That’s right. Not a single net new job.  No more people were employed in Dec 2010 than were employed before the tax cuts.  As I’ve discussed before, this doesn’t mean that Keynesian theory that cutting total taxes collected on from the nation has been disproven. Rather it means that how the taxes are cut matters.  Tax cuts only work to stimulate the economy and create jobs when they create new spending.  Tax cuts on the top brackets don’t create new spending, though.  They create a boom market in fixed luxury assets such as mansions in the Hamptons, Vail, or outside the country.  Tax cuts on the top brackets help fuel investments in off-shore funds and overseas entities, but they don’t really drive much spending here at home, at least not the kind of spending that drives good jobs and middle-class incomes.  Let us not make a mistake, while the Bush-era tax cuts included some minor cuts for lower income brackets, the overwhelming benefit accrued to the top bracket, as shown below (again from CBPP).  For more details and to see the real empirical record of tax rates vs job creation/economic growth, see Presimetrics, a site and book well worth the read.

Now let’s consider the third argument often provided as to why we need to cut tax rates for the top bracket.  Strange as it may sound, but the argument is offered that it’s the fair thing to do.  I know when you look at comparable average tax rates by income bracket like I did here and here, that it seems like the tax code is already quite fair to people earning a million dollars or more.  Yet their argument goes that it’s the richest people who pay for most of the government’s total taxes paid.  They cite the fact that the top income bracket people pay the majority of all tax dollars collected by the government.  That’s true.  But they neglect to say that it’s because the top bracket gets the dominant share of income in the U.S, not because the tax rate is too high.  Indeed, the top bracket payers are the only ones who have really benefitted in the last 30 years and seen their incomes grow substantially.  See the accompanying CBPP chart to see how the top 1% has seen it’s income rise 281% since 1979 (as it’s tax rates have been on a long down-hill slide), while the lower 80% barely grew 25% income.  The reality is that the top bracket pays the majority of tax dollars because they get the majority of the nation’s income.  Yes, the income distribution numbers are that out of whack.  The top 1% of households by income get a whopping 17.9% of all national income.  That’s just the top 1%!  Their share was only 7.5% 30 years ago.  (source: CBPP)So, actually the fair thing would be for the top bracket to pay a little more since they’ve benefitted the most from the current tax regime.

During the 30 year time frame that the top bracket has been raking in a larger and larger share of the national income while seeing their income tax rates decline, the lower brackets, the ones with incomes below $100,000 have seen their payroll tax rates double to build a giant Social Security trust fund.

Overall, I think we can afford to raise tax rates on the high income tax bracket.  In fact, if anything, there are good reasons to raise tax rates on the high end. First, since our government persists in it’s belief that it must borrow to finance a deficit (an unnecessary self-imposed constraint) and since many politicians, including those Republicans, think it’s a good thing to reduce the deficit (opinion I do not share), then we should.  As I observed with the post on the do-nothing plan, letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire and letting the existing law take force in January 2013 to raise the top tax bracket to 39%, which it was during the Clinton low unemployment years is a good plan. Let’s see what happens when if we allow the Bush tax cuts to expire and let the top rate go back to the 90’s era 39% vs. keeping the present 35% rate.  Again, CBPP obliges.

A strong argument can be made that the top bracket benefits disproportionately from the work of the government.  It’s not the poorest households that have investments in the middle east and around the world that are protected by the U.S. global military presence. It’s the richest. Time to pay the bill.

More on Tax Fairness – We Pretty Much Have Flat Taxes Now

In the last couple of days I’ve posted a couple times on taxes. In one post, I observed how hedge fund managers have radically lower tax rates than the most of us because of a loophole introduced in the Bush-era tax cuts.  Yesterday, I showed  graphically how average income tax rates are actually lower than most people think.  In that last post, I introduced the idea that comparing income tax rates alone isn’t adequate. Since incomes below $106,150 are fully taxed for payroll taxes (Social Security/Medicare) but income over that threshold is payroll tax-free, the gap in average tax burdern between high income and median income is much smaller than most think.  But you may be asking what about other taxes? What about property taxes and sales taxes and state income taxes?

Well it’s a big task to do this analysis, but the folks at  Citizens for Tax Justice  used 2008 data for all federal, state and local taxes combined to do the analysis.  Here’s their analysis (via New York Times – warning paywall):

It found that the average effective tax rate is 29.8 percent, and that including state and local taxes makes the tax curve look much  less steep:

INSERT DESCRIPTION
Source: Citizens for Tax Justice Horizontal axis shows the income group. Vertical axis shows the percentage of income that the average member of that group pays in taxes. Taxes include all federal, state and local taxes (personal and corporate income, payroll, property, sales, excise, estate, etc.). Incomes include cash income, employer-paid FICA taxes and corporate profits net of taxable dividends.

So what do we learn from this?  It shows us that if we look at the overall tax system in the U.S., the complex patchwork system of federal-state-local income taxes, payroll taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, etc., we are pretty close to having a flat tax system.  The poorest, lowest income folks pay 18.7% of income as some type of tax while the the richest 5% do pay more, but they only pay 32.2%.

What is really stunning is how the top 1%, the really-really rich multi-millionaires actually pay less average tax rate than the those who are only rich enough to make the top 5%.  It must really be nice to be so rich that Congress tweaks the tax code just for you.

So the system is very, very mildly progressive.  A progressive tax system is one where the higher your income, the higher your average rate is.  To make a system progressive, you must have higher marginal tax rates for higher income brackets.  A regressive system is one where the effective average tax rate goes down as your income goes up.  In general, sales taxes and payroll taxes are regressive.  That’s why the overall system is relatively flat.  While the federal income tax system is somewhat progressive (although much less so since the Reagan & Bush cuts), that progressivity is offset by a regressive payroll tax and the  regressive sales taxes of various states.