Friday, November 16, 2007

The Economy is so confusing

From Business Week Online:

No, it's not just you—the U.S. economy really is bewildering. The government says gross domestic product expanded at an annual rate of nearly 4% in the third quarter, the fastest pace in a year and a half. The stock market is still up by 4% for this year, despite a sharp 3% drop on Nov. 7. On the other hand, growth in consumer borrowing slowed unexpectedly in September. Some economists argue that the U.S. is teetering on the brink of a recession, if it isn't in one already.

Well, you do have to consider that American's real incomes are down. This is from a slightly older article from the Christian Science Monitor, but it's still applicable:

Income fell 8 percent, adjusted for inflation, for those under 35 and 9 percent for those aged 35 to 44. The numbers add new weight to longstanding concerns about whether younger generations of Americans will achieve living standards that are better - or at least equal to - those of their parents.

Although this is quite old now, this blog post on The Big Picture from 2004 still manages to give some idea about why the economy overall can be booming yet doing nothing for for the average American.

The bulk of the tax cuts were for the investor class (ie, the top 10%); As you can see, it had the expected response - it stimulated investment in the market. To stimulate the economy, you cut taxes for the spending classes - the middle class. They typically spend most of their discretionary income. That in turn stimulates manufactured goods and service consumption, which should lead to additional hiring. The trade off is less of a fund flow driven rally, and more of a better set of employment numbers.

All told, I don't believe that's the most effective way to spend a trillion dollars. As the President often says, "if you want more of something, tax it less." So, on top of middle class tax cuts, if you want to increase hiring, give companies a tax credit for new hires or health care costs or just cut the payroll tax. It's really not that complicated - when you increase your domestic headcount over a previous percentage - i.e., 2001's high number, the firm gets a tax credit. Note that overseas outsourcing or reducing US headcount will not qualify you for the cuts."

He also talks about underemployment which really hurts a lot of people. And people who like to point out how well the economy is doing simply like to point out how many people are employed rather than how muchthe employed people are making.

Anyway, there's little in the way of analysis I can offer, but if it's not clear, the point is that for individuals, the picture still isn't that great whereas most businesses are still seeing decent prosperity.


Ian said...

While many who are invested in the current income tax system seek to demagog the well-researched FairTax plan, FairTax's theoretical underpinnings have been professionally reviewed, and its acceptance in the professional / academic community continues to grow.

Renown economist Laurence Kotlikoff believes that failure to enact the FairTax - choosing instead to try to "flatten" what he deems to be a non-flattenable income tax system - will eventuate into an irrevocable economic meltdown, because of the hidden aspects of the current system that make political accountability impossible. Tom Frey, of the DiVinci Institute, foresees the coming collapse of the income tax system.

Here is why the FairTax MUST replace the income tax. It's:

• SIMPLE, easy to understand
• EFFICIENT, inexpensive to comply with and doesn't cause less-than-optimal business decisions for tax minimization purposes
• FAIR, loophole free and everyone pays their share
• LOW TAX RATE, achieved by broad base with no exclusions
• PREDICTABLE, doesn't change, so financial planning is possible
• UNINTRUSIVE, doesn't intrude into our personal affairs or limit our liberty
• VISIBLE, not hidden from the public in tax-inflated prices or otherwise
• PRODUCTIVE, rewards, rather than penalizes, work and productivity

Its benefits are as follows:

• No more tax on income - make as much as you wish
• You receive your full paycheck - no more deductions
• You pay the tax when you buy "at retail" - not "used"
• No more double taxation (e.g. like on current Capital Gains)
• Reduction of "pre-FairTaxed" retail prices by 20%-30%
• Adding back 29.9% FairTax maintains current price levels
• FairTax would constitute 23% portion of new prices
• Every household receives a monthly check, or "pre-bate"
• "Prebate" is "advance payback" for taxes payable on monthly consumption to poverty level
• FairTax's "prebate" ensures progressivity, poverty protection
• Finally, citizens are knowledgeable of what their tax IS
• Elimination of "parasitic" Income Tax industry
• Those possessing illicit forms of income will ALSO pay the FairTax
• Households have more disposable income to purchase goods
• Savings is bolstered with reduction of interest rates

• Corporate income and payroll taxes revoked under FairTax
• Business compensated for collecting tax at "cash register"
• No more tax-related lawyers, lobbyists on company payrolls
• No more embedded (hidden) income/payroll taxes in prices
• Reduced costs. Competition - not tax policy - drives prices
• Off-shore "tax haven" headquarters can now return to U.S
• No more "favors" from politicians at expense of taxpayers
• Resources go to R&D and study of competition - not taxes
• Global "free (and equitable) trade" becomes possible for currently-disadvanted U.S. exports
• US exports increase their share of foreign markets

For the COUNTRY:
• 7% - 13% economic growth projected in the first year of the FairTax
• Jobs return to the U.S.
• Foreign corporations "set up shop" in the U.S.
• Tax system trends are corrected to "enlarge the pie"
• Larger economic "pie," means thinner tax rate "slices"
• Initial 23% portion of price is pressured downward as "pie" increases
• No more "closed door" tax deals by politicians and business
• FairTax sets new global standard. Other countries will follow

The income tax system must ultimately fail, if for no other reason than that Washington politicians cannot seem to wean themselves from being "sucked down the spending hole" while seeking ways to hide the magnitude of taxation from those who ultimately pay for all of it - every working American. It's well past time to scrap the tax code and pay for government the way that America's working men and women are paid - when something is sold.

There is no reasonable equity of distribution under the current INCOME tax system. What's more, the Tax Code has become a "tinkerer's paradise" for 53% of the lobbyists who game it in Washington DC. It's a lucrative business, and the U.S. TAXPAYER pays for ALL of it in higher prices (i.e., a hidden tax which is incomprehensible to the average working person).

Prices after FairTax passage would look similar to prices before FairTax - not "30% higher" as opponents contend - competition would see to it. So, the FairTax rate (figured as an income-tax-rate-non-comparative, sales tax) on new items would be 29.85% (on the new, reduced cost of items because business isn't taxed under FairTax - thus lowering retail prices by 20% to 30%), or 23% of the "tax inclusive" price tag - this is the way INCOME TAX is figured (parts of the total dollar).

The effective tax rate percentages, that different income groups would pay under the FairTax, are calculated by crediting the monthly "prebate" (advance rebate of projected tax on necessities) against total monthly spending of citizen families (1 member and greater, Dept. of HHS poverty-level data; a single person receiving ~$200/mo, a family of four, ~$500/mo, in addition to working earners receiving paychecks with no Federal deductions) Prof.'s Kotlikoff and Rapson (10/06) concluded,

"...the FairTax imposes much lower average taxes on working-age households than does the current system. The FairTax broadens the tax base from what is now primarily a system of labor income taxation to a system that taxes, albeit indirectly, both labor income and existing wealth. By including existing wealth in the effective tax base, much of which is owned by rich and middle-class elderly households, the FairTax is able to tax labor income at a lower effective rate and, thereby, lower the average lifetime tax rates facing working-age Americans.

"Consider, as an example, a single household age 30 earning $50,000. The household’s average tax rate under the current system is 21.1 percent. It’s 13.5 percent under the FairTax. Since the FairTax would preserve the purchasing power of Social Security benefits and also provide a tax rebate, older low-income workers who will live primarily or exclusively on Social Security would be better off. As an example, the average remaining lifetime tax rate for an age 60 married couple with $20,000 of earnings falls from its current value of 7.2 percent to -11.0 percent under the FairTax. As another example, compare the current 24.0 percent remaining lifetime average tax rate of a married age 45 couple with $100,000 in earnings to the 14.7 percent rate that arises under the FairTax."

Further, per Jokischa and Kotlikoff (circa 2006?) ...

"...once one moves to generations postdating the baby boomers there are positive welfare gains for all income groups in each cohort. Under a 23 percent FairTax policy, the poorest members of the generation born in 1990 enjoy a 13.5 percent welfare gain. Their middle-class and rich contemporaries experience 5 and 2 percent welfare gains, respectively. The welfare gains are largest for future generations. Take the cohort born in 2030. The poorest members of this cohort enjoy a huge 26 percent improvement in their well-being. For middle class members of this birth group, there's a 12 percent welfare gain. And for the richest members of the group, the gain is 5 percent."

It's well past time to scrap the tax code and pay for government the way that America's working men and women are paid - when something is sold.

(Permission is granted to reproduce in whole or part. - Ian)

Xanthippas said...

I leave your comment-despite that it's closer to spam than an actual comment-in part becase it's amusing, and also because it gives me the opportunity to link to the two posts in which Nathan thoroughly destroys the argument for the flat tax. Enjoy:

Nat-Wu said...

It is spam, but I guess if you want to leave it for your reason we shall. I do wonder why this post prompted this spammer to comment, given that the post has nothing to do with taxation.

Ian said...

Actually, the FairTax - which is not a flat tax, but rather a progressive consumption tax (national sales tax) - qualifies as a plan favorable to Warren Buffett (as recented quoted, though there are additional advocacy differences).

But the reasons have very much to do with taxpayer visibility which Kotlikoff discusses.

The health of the economy is dependent upon how the Congress spends money, and the manner in which the money is raised. The current income tax system (which uses taxing business to hide additional costs to consumers) would seem to favor politicians, lobbyists, and special interests that curry favor. It certainly puts the U.S. at a disadvantage, globally.

Nat-Wu said...

Actually that's still not relevant to the post, unless you're arguing that tax rates are the most imporant determining factor in the economy overall. We know that's not true because most of the taxes we labor under were instituted either during the Great Depression or after, and one would hardly argue that the lot of the average working American was worse after the Great Depression than before.

As a matter of fact, I have discussed, at least tangentially, the fact that economists can find no certain ties between rates of taxation and the economy in general at all.

In're still spamming. Any further comments not directly related to the topic will be summarily deleted.

But I have to say one thing: all sales taxes are regressive. A supposedly progressive sales tax would be at best a ridiculously back-handed flat tax.