Taxation’s Rhetoric: Today and yesterday’s economic crap

by: Divorced one like Bush

In a posting regarding which presidents would be considered socialist I found the following curious:
1921 – 4% 73% Census
1922 – 4% 56% Census
1923 – 3% 56% Census
1924 – 1.5% 46% Census
1925-1928 – 1.5% 25% Census
1929 – 0.375% 24% Census
1930-1931 – 1.125% 25% Census

1982-1986 12 brackets 12% 50% IRS
1987 5 brackets 11% 38.5% IRS
1988-1990 3 brackets 15% 33% IRS
1991-1992 3 brackets 15% 31% IRS

2001 5 brackets 15% 39.1% IRS
2002 6 brackets 10% 38.6% IRS
2003-2008 6 brackets 10% 35% IRS

Notice anything about these 3 groups of income tax rates? No, I’m not suggesting that the lower rates are the smoking gun of today’s economic crap. Don’t want to run afoul of those scoldings of association is not causation critiques. But, do you not find it just a bit curious that approximately 8 years prior to an economic troubling time we get talked into reducing that tax rates? Three periods in history, all preceding an economy of crap. Varying degrees of crap, but crap just the same. We even had a housing bubble for 2 of them!

None of these tax changes can happen without convincing. A dialog has to have happened to convince the people that it is a good idea. And, I bet that the rhetoric of tax reduction is only part of a package regarding the overall idea of what is best to “grow the economy”. I bet, that tax reduction presentations have never been presented as a stand alone, single issue, unrelated to accomplishing a larger money shift. Being that we are relating today to the Big One, while at the same time hearing muttering that we are in “new territory”, my Angry Bear side asked: What else is similarly presented in the 20’s as part of a sales job of an over all ideology that preceded today’s and yesterday’s crap?

Installment Sell

Manufacturers realized they could expand their profits if they could grow their markets and so installment selling was introduced. The increased production volumes reduced the unit cost of items making them more affordable, and easy terms made for easy sales.

There is a reprint of an article specifically looking at the pros and cons of credit purchasing. Rather fascinating reading.

PAYING FOR THINGS ON “EASY” TERMS has become such a conspicuous element in American life, and so large a factor in our prosperity, that the economists have been doing a great deal of worrying about it. Source: The Literary Digest for March 5, 1927

Sub-prime anyone? Oh, did you notice that it was a concerted effort to sell the consumer that installment purchasing was good? I wonder if blaming the consumer for spending what they did not have was part of the discussion when the economy turned to crap then?


Christmas distribution of bonuses in Wall Street, when finally added up, is expected to prove the most generous ever made except during some of the flush World War years.

No accurate account of sums paid out can be made, according to the New York Times, because many firms do not announce their benefactions, but last year’s total was estimated at $50,000,000, and it is expected that the Wall Street firms paying bonuses are being no less generous this year. In fact, some firms which have never paid bonuses will start the custom this Christmas. Probably the largest distribution, we read, is being made by banks, which have been exceptionally prosperous.

Converting that $50 million we get various amounts: $586 million via CPI, $494 million via GDP deflator, and (drum roll please), $1.999 million via unskilled wage factor.

There was one perspective that was not accurate in their prophecies for America:

America has played square in China, and will have an inside track in China against the commerce of other nations.
China buys one billion dollars worth of outside goods every year. But that’s only, a drop in the bucket compared with what this customer may buy some day. “When the per capita foreign trade of China,” runs one government report, “is equal to that of Australia, the total will be sixty-five billion dollars a year which China will pay to the outside world for her imports.
“You can’t help seeing American business grow in China,” a business man from China told me. “Why, it has multiplied itself by four within the past dozen years. It’s eight times bigger than it, was thirty years ago.

The inaccuracy? The quotes are from a perspective of the American selling to China, not from China. And you thought Nixon opened up China.

Getting back specifically to the tax reductions, this web site offers a lot: The Tax History Museum
From reading the site, it appears a progressive tax system was put in place for the WW I war effort. They even put in a munitions tax to “appease” opponents of American involvement in the war; levied on manufacturers of military equipment, it was designed to prevent war profiteering”. There was an “excess profits” tax put in place which appears to be what the later progressive income tax became. Arguments for it were as today: equality. Against it:

It attracted bitter opposition from business groups, who considered the tax a threat to managerial prerogatives. They were certainly justified in their suspicion, since both Wilson and his allies in Congress considered the levy a legitimate means of business regulation.

Well slap me silly! A tax used to curb the excess of business. I hear some of you saying: Excessive CEO compensation regulation please?

After the war, the argument was that such high rates were “unsustainable”. It was the party of today’s tax cuts who yesterday cut the taxes:

Republican lawmakers joined with a series of GOP presidents to engineer tax cuts in 1921, 1924, 1926, and 1928. Andrew Mellon — who moved into his Treasury office in 1921 and stayed their until 1932 — was the principal architect of these reforms.

Certainly some Democratic elected joined in (early Blue Dogs, DLC’s of their time?).

In 1980 we got schooled in the Stockman trickle down theory of economic growth which included lower taxes will raise collections and bolsters economic growth. It was all about cutting taxes by his confession though. So, as I look to find evidence of selling tax cuts as a part of an ideology sell job regarding how an economy should run, such being clues that in the near future we will have economic crap, the following regarding Mr. Mellon’s position just confirms how ignorant we have been in our recent times (post 1981) to have followed those who suggest tax cuts as part of their economic program:

“Any man of energy and initiative in this country can get what he wants out of life,” he wrote. “But when initiative is crippled by legislation or by a tax system which denies him the right to receive a reasonable share of his earnings, then he will no longer exert himself and the country will be deprived of the energy on which its continued greatness depends.”

Worse yet, Mellon argued, high rates didn’t even raise money. By encouraging both legal tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion, they eroded the tax base and reduced overall revenue. Lower rates, he said, would actually raise money by spurring economic growth and reducing the incentive for tax avoidance. “It seems difficult for some to understand,” he complained, “that high rates of taxation do not necessarily mean large revenue to the government, and that more revenue may actually be obtained by lower rates.”

Can we have been any more stupid, shown our ignorance more than to have taken as a new idea, language regarding taxation’s need to be reduced and it’s effect on filling the government coffers that is as old as almost the day progressive taxation came into existence? Unfortunately, our stupidity has been worse than accepting Mr. Mellon’s similar arguments to those used by Reagan et al suggests. That is because, back in Mr. Mellon’s day he at least understood what Mr. Buffet of today understands but congress and by extension US do not:

Of particular note, he suggested taxing “earned” income from wages and salaries more lightly that “unearned” income from investments. As he argued:

The fairness of taxing more lightly income from wages, salaries or from investments is beyond question. In the first case, the income is uncertain and limited in duration; sickness or death destroys it and old age diminishes it; in the other, the source of income continues; the income may be disposed of during a man’s life and it descends to his heirs.

Surely we can afford to make a distinction between the people whose only capital is their metal and physical energy and the people whose income is derived from investments. Such a distinction would mean much to millions of American workers and would be an added inspiration to the man who must provide a competence during his few productive years to care for himself and his family when his earnings capacity is at an end.


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