Tax cuts and deficit commissions
by Linda Beale
Tax cuts and deficit commissions
crossposted with Ataxingmatter
The game continues, as Republicans hold out for tax cuts for the wealthy (who are garnering increasing amounts of the total income) and various “deficit commissions” put out austerity plans that all call for cutting Social Security benefits and Medicare benefits.
Alice Rivlin, who spoke here at my campus some time ago, seemed clearly to have cutting Social Security and Medicare in mind even then. See Alice Rivlin on Financial Reform and Deficits, ataxingmatter. She is now “trying to stir a debate” about a national sales tax, according to Bloomberg. Przybyla, Rivlin Proposes 6.5% National Sales Tax as Part of Deficit-Reduction Plan, Nov. 17, 2010. See also Jackie Calmes, New Deficit Reduction Plan from Bipartisan Group, NY Times, Nov. 17, 2010.
Now Rivlin is one of those Clintonites who is a right-center Democrat and, like so many of the Clinton and Obama advisers, close to the banking elite as a former Federal Reserve vice chairperson. She claims her plan would be good for the country, but it isn’t so clear to me. Growth for growth’s sake, we learn, doesn’t work very well. Tax cuts for businesses don’t necessarily translate into US economic growth–they may just lead to higher executive compensation and bigger buybacks of shares for shareholders. Tax cuts for the wealthy don’t lead to more jobs: the claim that “small businesses” are helped when their owners aren’t forced to pay the piddling (for them) additional taxes that would be due if the Bush cuts for the wealthiest were not renewed is a farce–there are very few businesses that even fall into the wealthy owner category, and those businesses aren’t likely to invest a penny more in jobs just because their owners get even wealthier with bigger tax cuts.
The Rivlin plan is a combination of significant tax cuts (lowering corporate rates, even though corporations’ effective tax rates are already at the international norm and perhaps lower if all is taken into account), freezing domestic spending (even though the unemployed, underemployed and vulnerable elderly and poor will need more support, not less, and even though infrastructure projects require additional funding and everything from education to food and drug inspection to disease control are already short-staffed); limit federal spending on health care for the elderly while raising Medicare premiums, eliminate most deductions and credits, cut the Social Security benefits (changing the cost-of-living adjustments and reducing growth in benefits for the top 25% of beneficiaries), give a one-year Social Security payroll tax holiday (aimed, I wager, to make Social Security look like it is insolvent and therefore in need of cuts and privatization), and add a national sales tax of 6.5% (terribly regressive).
The claim is that this combination of tax and spending cuts with the sales tax will increase economic growth and therefore create jobs. I’m not convinced.
Even Bloomberg’s reporter recognizes that the real purpose of these sorts of trial balloons is to “paint an even starker picture of the measures needed to tame the debt” and thereby “sell unpopular remedies”. Aha. The real purpose for Rivlin’s new visibility is as the “bad cop” of the bad cop-good cop act that has as its goal to sell Americans on the need to end Social Security as we know it, to cut back on our societal commitment to provide decent medical care to the aged, and to carry out even more tax cuts for the benefit of our growing oligarchic class. Yet the Social Security funds–paid in by workers and their employers–have been used to reduce the federal operating deficit for years, a process that was carred to extremes under Bush to fund the Bush tax cuts and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Source: OMB via Huffington Post
Why doesn’t Rivlin just support changing the current funding mechanism for Social Security so that it will be a tax on 100% of wages and on capital gains, as is Medicare? Why not support nonrenewal of the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Why not support continued tightening of the corporate tax code, including restrictions on tax-free reorganizations that permit US multinationals to grow bigger and richer and more powerful (and too big to fail)? Why not recognize that the deficit isn’t nearly as bad a problem as the increase in inequality in our country and the potential for an oligarchic takeover of our society?
Aren’t jobs the real need, whether or not we do something now or later to limit the deficit? Shouldn’t we spend money to create jobs, if we have to? Infrastructure and education are two public goods that the government can fund while at the same time creating jobs. We can worry about the deficit later. Or we can just decide not to renew any of the Bush tax cuts. Nobody was clamoring for tax cuts when the Republicans pushed the first through in 2001, so let them go and we’ll all be back more or less where we were then. We’ll manage. If you don’t think so, look at this Tax Policy Center (Urban Institute/Brookings Institution) analysis of the impact of the expiration of the 2001-2003 Tax Cuts. Extending the cuts would result in an average effective tax rate reduction for all taxpayers of 2.7 percentage points (“current policy”) compared with letting them expire (“current law”). Renewing the cuts gives the biggest cuts, both in dollar and percentage points, to the highest income taxpayers.
If raising taxes on the rich is not possible politically now and raising taxes on the middle class possibly hard on the recovery, then at least do nothing other than extend them for a year or two while the country gets back on its feet. And then let them go, along with a repeal of the preferential rate for capital gains and the extension of Social Security to full income. Problem solved, and people put back to work.
Meanwhile, the Republicans are intent on letting the deficit go wherever so long as they can get the tax cuts they want most–for the wealthiest taxpayers amongst us. See, e.g., MichaelTomasky’s Blog, Tax Battle Lines Drawn (Nov. 17, 2010). Camp, Republican from Michigan, says the GOP would be “foolish” to go along with any idea to renew tax cuts for 80% of Americans without giving a tax break to the wealthy at the same time. Everybody knows that the GOP wants to make those Bush tax cuts that were designed to expire into permanent reductions in tax revenues. See e.g. (but note my “caution” below), Will Obama Extend the Bush Tax Cuts?, Human Events (Nov. 16, 2010) (indicating that “Republicans said they are still determined to make all of the Bush tax cuts permanent, rejecting White House overtures to decouple the top rates for a shorter extension”). And the biggest beneficiaries are the GOP’s primary backers–the wealthy and big business–not the jobless. See, e.g., “GOP to Jobless: Drop Dead“, Washington Post (Nov. 16, 2010).
(CAUTION–the “human events” blog just cited is a right-wing propaganda sheet scattered with contextually faulty or otherwise typically misleading statements , such as claiming that the scheduled expiration of the Bush cuts “could plunge the economy into another recession” or quoting Michael Steele in saying that the Republicans are fighting to “permanently stop the Democrats’ tax hikes” –even though, of course, the scheduled expiration of the Bush tax cuts was designed by the Republicans as a way to fool the people about the actual multi-trillion-dollar cost and if the expiration of the Bush cuts according to schedule is a tax hike (which I’d dispute), it is a Republican one and not a Democratic one).
Polls fairly consistently show that Americans think at least the cuts for the wealthy should expire and possibly the cuts for all of us. A recent poll shows that about a third of Americans think we shouldn’t renew any of the tax cuts, and another third think that at least we shouldn’t renew the tax cuts on the wealthy–that means that there’s a 2-1 vote against renewing the tax cuts for the wealthy. See Steinhauser, Do Americans Want to Extend Tax Cuts for the Wealthy?, CNN Politics, Sept. 14, 2010. As noted in that article, another poll (Gallup/USA Today)showed 44% want to roll back the cuts for wealthy Americans and 15% want the cuts to expire for everybody (including wealthy Americans), so also a 2-1 vote against renewing tax cuts for the wealthy.
And rightly so. Because there is no way that renewing the tax cuts will be a significant stimulus to the economy nor any way that failure to renew them will hurt “small businesses”. See, e.g., Fisher, The Economics of Extending Bush’s Tax Cuts. On the other hand, not renewing the cuts for the wealthy would do wonders for the economy–it would give us about $800 billion over ten years, “enough to pay for all veterans’ hospitals, doctors, and the rest of the Veterans Affairs health system, plus the United States Coast Guard, plus the Food and Drug Administration, plus the operation and maintenance of every single national park for the entire 10-year period–with more than $100 billion left over.” Id (quoting Michael linden at the Center for American Progress).
I agree with most of what you say, but
why should i pay attention to you if you don’t pay attention to me?
To suggest, even in passing, that raising the cap on Social Security to cover 100% of wages would be a good way to address the deficit is to tell me you haven’t followed the Angry Bear “debate” on Social Security.
If you had, you would at least have heard that raising the cap would turn Social Security into welfare by taxing the rich for a benefit they will not receive.
And if you had been paying attention, you would have learned there is no need to do anything to “save
Social Security, and that it has nothing to do with the deficit. If the thirty or seventy five year predictions about a Social Security shortfall are correct (as projected by the Trustees), that shortfall can be fixed entirely by a payroll tax increase that amounts to twenty cents per week per year. This is the CBO optioin number three. The “Northwest Plan” accomplishes the same thing at the same average cost by waiting until the Trustees project an actual “short term actuarial insolvency” and then raises the tax one tenth of one percent on each the employee and employer (about eighty cents per week in today’s terms.}
I suspect you have two problems.
The first is a general preference to get the rich to pay for everything… something that FDR was too smart to do. The second is the complete inability of “liberals” to work together.
Disagreeing is not the same as not paying attention. This is Linda’s piece, not yours, and there is no more requirement to address your views in her piece than to address Ryan’s. Diagnosing the “problems” of someone who disagrees with you is something that you, coberly, have an ugly tendency to do. Just to be clear, I tend to agree with you on this point. Your way of making your point borders on ad hominem. It stinks.
Both deficit reduction plans reflect the long-standing plan of the right to drive deficits up to the point that the US government will stop looking like a (watered down) post-industrial rich country government. The choices that are being offerred represent an acknowledgement that driving up the deficit and driving down the oversight role of government to the detriment of the overall economy has worked to limit out options. It is a poor set of policies that leaves us with fewer options, rather than more.
Part of the propaganda effort behind the effort to strangle government is the claim that a rising tide lifts all boats and that the way to prosperity for the less prosperous is to allow the rich unfettered access to the economy’s resources. The “Economists View” has a nice bit today on that very claim, showing that the poor do better when the public sector makes sure they do better. Weakening the public sector means hurting the poor.
I concur with kharris. You can add me to the advocates for removing the cap on income and moreover I will disclose that I have the income to be affected by it.
I’m no fan of slick willie but I agreed with him when he pointed out that this was a tax break “he didn’t need” and neither do I.
So now you have a problem with me too. I also am sparticus!
The deficit, caused largely by irresponsible tax cuts for people who don’t need them, and by a very unnecessary and unpaid-for war, is a raging inferno. The wealthy didn’t invest in infrastructure or American jobs as a result of these tax cuts, so there is no indication they will miraculously start doing so if the cuts are extended. I never knew of any fire that was ever put out by dumping gas on it, and that is exactly what we’ll be doing by extending these irresponsible tax cuts for the rich. Let’s stop all this nonsense right now and start taxing the rich that measley 4.6% extra. What a bunch of spoiled little crybabies!
YOU FOLKS IS ALL WRONG!!!
THE ROARING 20s PROVED THAT ECONOMIES ‘ROAR’ WHEN THE WORKFORCE IS PAID JUST ENOUGH TO STAY BELOW THE POVERTY LINE!!!
OF COURSE WAGES ARE MUCH TOO DAMN HIGH FOR THAT TO BE POSSIBLE NOW, GETTING OUR POVERTY NUMBERS FROM 15% UP TO ABOVE 70% JUST AIN’T DOABLE QUICKLY ENOUGH, BUT SOME TAX TWEAKING COULD GET US TO WHERE WE NEED TO BE!!!
LEARN YOUR HISTORY AND STOP INTERFERING WITH PROGRESS…DAMNED liberals!!!!!!
AND SOME ECONOMICS WOULD HELP Y’ALL SOME TOO, LIKE PAPPY ALWAYS SAID, LIQUIDITY IS LIKE MOONSHINE, THERE CAN’T NEVER BE TOO MUCH!!! AND PAPPY KNEW A THING OR TWO ‘BOUT ECONOMICS.
(A little humor from Texas)(TEXANS DO OF COURSE KNOW HISTORY STUFF!)
Yer pappy’s boy cain’t spell cain’t right. NancyO, writing you from beautiful downtown Thomasville GA.
And, as long as I’m at it, the standard you (coberly) offer is pretty bad. Why should you listen to someone who doesn’t listen to you? Um, to learn something? Because the rightness (or not) of the other person’s view will, in many cases, be independent of whether they listen to you?
Learning only as a quid-pro-quo is an argument for remaining ignorant.
the US went to perpetual war on terrorists who have no GDP to rely on,
and the US is occupying 179 independent nation states in one form or another
with expensive bases
with for profit contractor provided services and support,
and none of this matter to the common defense.
Why only talk about cutting the 62% (down from 66% before the terrorists’ war on the US taxpayer) of USG outlays for individuals (wrongfully termed entitlements to cintrast with corporate welfare) while war and corporate welfare are now up to 38% of the cash outlays of the US.
Why not look at cutting the % of corporate, high margin, no competition/no fail outlays in the recently grown 38% of US G outlays??
If the US is trending toward the kind of VAT financing seen in the Euro Socialist Zone why don’t it take its trend toward regressive taxes and increase the share going to the populace rather than maintain the share going to the corporatists.
For example the UK exchequer outlay for “defence” was 7% before austerity, while the US oultay is >20% of expenditures.
If you emulate the Brits let’s spend like them.
Good point, Tex.
However, I was ruminating last night, no Lone Stars in sight, how a roaring economy as the US in the 20’s could go to a depression even in Red China today!!!
Just needs a significant enough blip on the pysche and a bunch of failed economic policies broke banks…..
HE CAN TOO. HIS COMPUTER’S SPELL-CHECK JUST CAUSES ENDLESS CONFUSION!!! IT AIN’T LIKE PAPPY’S BOY DESIGNED THIS STUPID CONTRAPTION!!!
“If you had, you would at least have heard that raising the cap would turn Social Security into welfare by taxing the rich for a benefit they will not receive“
This is already the case.
I make good money but would not consider myself rich — all the same, I will NEVER get back what I put in — certainly not in any “investment” sense, and not even if I were stuffing the money in a mattress instead of handing it over to the government.
I’m not against that, but let’s not pretend the system is something that it’s not.
For those who want to eliminate SS, I say fine — just give me back what I’ve put in.
Mr. Ray–And, don’t fergit it’s “kin” not “can”. Nevertheless, to quote the immortal Kingston Trio, “You got a point there, judge.” NancyO
Sorry John….mattress stuffing comes out to be less return. Hope you have no mattress fires in the meantime. Do the math first.
I was being somewhat facetious, but if you do even a rough calculation, it may not be much less if you happen not to live to a ripe old age.
Since your comment appears “off-hand”, I would suggest you do the math yourself — you might be surprised.
Here’s what I worked with:
1. Maxing out SS payments quite early in a career.
2. The self-employment percentage (i.e. the “real” contribution to the system).
3. Retirement at the “normal” age (which for me is 67).
Assuming that SS is indexed to inflation (I know, a big if), and benefits stay about the same (another big if), you have to be collecting the maximum SS benefit for about 1/3 of the years that you payed in to break even. This assumes that your return on this money was only enough to match inflation (and yes, I realize that won’t happen in the mattress scenario).
According to the SS actuarial tables, they expect me to live about 11.5 years after I retire. So, for someone in my situation, I need to live about a year longer than expected for the numbers to balance (i.e. it’s in the government’s favor). And since it’s not my “estate” that gets the benefit, if I happen to die even younger, it’s worse for me.
So, it’s bad to start out with. Now, to move to the real world (where I’m not putting it in my mattress), there is a real cost to me, as I can’t do anything with that money (I’m assuming that I can at least match inflation through investments). I feel that I get to include that cost into the evaluation of “what I give” vs. “what I receive”.
“mattress stuffing comes out to be less return”
Just for fun, I should also add…
…if there were no inflation (I know, it’s an imaginary world I’m positing), and I live to the age that the SS Admin expects me to, it turns out that mattress stuffing really would yield a higher return. And, of course, I can give away anything left over when I die.
John, I don’t know what actuarial table would say that if you retire at 67 (full/normal for you) that your life expectancy at that point is 11.5 years. It’s at least 17.7 at the SS calculator at http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/population/longevity.html. I think you’d have to be quite unhealthy or pessimistic to lower it even to 13 or thereabouts.
That aside, some simple calcs can lead to the conclusion that a mattress is better for someone who earned more than the wage cap for more than 35 years. But simple calcs can be highly misleading in this subject area.
i think you failed to realize that i was addressing Linda’s point about raising the cap. I put in the… what you call ad hominem, which apparently you don’t know the meaning of… because I was addressing Linda personally, not you.
as for those of you who want to raise the cap, i guess some people just like taking handouts.
i have done the calculations. not “rough” calculatons, but rather thorough calculations. you are wrong.
with a little research (hint: Trustees Report) you can find that someone who earned over the cap (paid the max) for their entire career, will get back his tax plus about 2% real return, if he lives the expected life expectancy.
oh… “entire career” is 35 years, and life expectancy is the life expectancy of people in his income bracket.
John Elliot has a point:
2. The self-employment percentage (i.e. the “real” contribution to the system).
Everyone with wages pays the self employment tax as well as their half. I write and manage contracts for the government.
The contractors charge Uncle Sam (pretty much like any other customer): Direct Labor, sometimes benefits are accounted for as part of direct labor other times they are separated, Indirect and other indirect costs, overhead, general and admin costs, and prfit. CoRev may add or subtract, I was not a pricer/coster.
Point is all the taxes a labor pays or are paid for her are included in the costs of doing business so it is rather disengenuous to say the employer pays the employer side of the SS payroll tax. It is out of the value of the labor performed.
But I guess if the employer could keep the SS tax as part of his retained excess value of labor then the employers is contributing some of the excess value of labor to the SS trust fund.
I read this after I wrote this and long after I considered the idea.
Mr. Elliott–Don’t forget that Social Security retirement benefits are only one part of the total program. SS also pays survivors’ and disability benefits as well as Medicare Parts A through D. The value of the Medicare benefit you may receive will vary according to your usage, what programs you enroll in, and what premiums you pay.
However, don’t forget that your SS eligibility also pays benefits for your spouse and any eligible children. Among those are any natural children under age 16, children who were disabled before age 18, step children you are supporting, your parents, and any divorced spouses meeting a 10 year duration of marriage requirement. Your survivors would also receive benefits. Among them are any your surviving spouse living with you at death, any divorced spouses meeting the duration requirement, disabled kids and anyone meeting the same elibibilty requirements as for family members if you retire. Same system applies for disabled beneficiaries. Last estimate I read of the value of the survivors’ benefits alone was that it is the equivalent of a $450K life insurance policy. (contnd.)
Mr. Elliott–Pt. II–So, SS is not an investment program. It is an insurance program which provides benefits to a number of your close family members who would suffer financially if you retired, died, became disabled or have medical expenses after age 65. (I forgot adopted kids above.) It is worth a great deal more than a retirement check. Now, you already know that private annuities and retirement plans do not provide benefits for spouses and other family members as a general rule. And, if you want to have a survivors’ benefit plan, you have to pay extra. Under SS, your FICA pays for it all.
If you are like half of those individuals who marry in the US, you will be divorced one or more times. If you have been divorced, you know that one’s former spouse has a one-half interest in any retirement funds or similar retirement assets you accumulated while married. The SS program does not create a property interest in your future benefits. So, your former spouse will be entitled to benefits on your account, but such benefits will not reduce your own check. And, the total contribution you have made to the SS system will be untouchable in any property division agreement reached in the course of a divorce. True, your FICA contributions aren’t refundable and are not part of your estate. But, ya know, this is an offer you can’t refuse. Think abouddit. And get back to me. NancyO
Off hand because in a hurry John. There are a lot of caveats, yes, but to the whole debate, including your rough calculations..
Ilsm- having been self-employed much of the latter part of my career, Schedule C and such, also carries caveats in taxes…
when SS was started the tax was one percent on the employee and one percent on the employer. i guarantee the employer did not cut the employees wages 1% in order to pay the employers share of the tax.
if you think about it hard enough you will realize it is a stupid question.
the big insurance value of SS is that it insures you against finding yourself old and out of work without enough money to live on. lots of ways that can happen. but those to whom it did not happen are sure, absolutely sure it could never have happened to them. so they want their premium back.
after all, if you die without having had a fire, doesn’t the insurance company refund your premiums?
but to make SS politically palatable the max contribution is set at where it can pay a maximum benefit just for reaching age 65, and use the “excess earnings” to pay a little extra for those whose lifetime earnings do not, even adjusted for inflation and the general rise in real wages, add up to enough to retire on.
the formula works. but all this yelling from petersons makes every idiot in the village think he can improve on the program.
you see, SS is an unusual insurance policy in that the “insured event” is highly probable and very expensive. that makes the premium rather substantial. since about 80% of the population ends up relying heavily on their SS benefits, the “company” has to collect a premium high enough to pay for all this. it works better if they just pay benefits to everybody who pays in, adjusted progressively for income, than to come up with an arbitrary cut off point… above which you don’t collect benefits at all, even if you paid it near the max….
oh, hell, why try to explain it. i have already exceeded Elliott’s attention span.
there was a time when an intelligent person could be a socialist. today, it’s just a way for progressives to marginalize themselves.
social security has worked to keep people out of poverty for 70 years exactly because it is not socialism. workers need a fair deal and maybe a little help finding good jobs, but they don’t need to have a welfare check as a regular part of a major part of their lives.
and while you may not have noticed it, the people who run things in this country are not going to stand around and let you take “their” money away. it’s hard enough trying to explain to them that social security is not their money, but the workers own money, without some feel gooder running around saying “save social security: tax the rich!”
not sure how you have managed to remain so ignorant then. i think you should ask your therapist to go over the concept of “projection” one more time. it is you who are doing what you accuse me of.
the key to why it’s a stupid question is your own observation about “retained excess value.”
there is no “whose” to money that has not yet changed hands. the employer will keep as much of it as he can. SS introduces a new factor into the market. but it’s as real a factor as gravity and friction, and a number of other things “most economists” never think of.
besides “it’s really the employees money” is the old story… they used when returns from stocks were high and they wanted the returns from SS to look low. now that the economy is bad, “SS is a jobs killing tax.” if it’s really the employees money, they are saying that without SS they would be able to pay less and so offer more jobs… but of course they say anything they think you are stupid enough to buy.
the point is that whatever the “true” roi on SS is, the fact is that it is insurance that guarantees you get “enough” when you need it. priceless.
coberly — out of curiosity, why be insulting? “Attention span” — really? Do you encourage this type of discourse as productive? Jeez.
I have a good attention span and am quite highly educated. If you disagree with my numbers, wouldn’t a more productive approach (and presumably useful for your readers) be to ask where my numbers came from. FYI, ALL of my numbers, including life expectancy, maximum benefit, maximum contribution, etc. came from the OFFICIAL SS site. Now, it certainly is possible that there are inconsistencies on the site — which would be an interesting conversation. Instead, you assume I’m some idiot. It’s interesting that you can’t consider the possibility that we might both be right. One possibility is there is an issue between the tables and calculators. I took the numbers from the tables — apparently other values can be produced by the calculators.
Unfortunately, I think you miss something interesting in the overall conversation. Certainly other intelligent people could look at the SS site and reach the same conclusions as I did — instead of convincing me otherwise, your approach is to insult me and chase me away.
I suspect that some of the rhetoric is based on an assumption that because of my conclusions, I must be against SS — that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m pretty far left and actually believe that social programs need to be expanded — especially in these times of trouble.
I used to read this blog quite a lot, but took some time off. It seems like the level of intelligent “discourse” from the “regulars” has really degraded over time — I guess it matches the overall degradation of civilized conversation in this country — I hope that the main moderators / contributors realize the change.
So, it seems like no use in reading again… too bad — this used to be good. Yes, there was some name calling, but it seemed that there was always a “parent” moderator around to keep things in line. Perhaps their attention span has been exceeded? Or is there a parent still out there?
Oh, and BTW, nah nah nah nah nah — I believe that makes me correct, right? 🙂
Addressing Linda rather than me in no way obviates the possibility of an ad hominem. And I’m pretty sure you don’t really think I have mistaken the use of the term. You’ve simply resorted to casting doubt on my knowledge rather than addressing my point. You have diagnosed a “problem” in Linda as the source of her view. That, you little weasel, is the essence of ad hominem.
you are quite right. the attention span remark was uncalled for. but after years in the trenches dealing with people who have “rough calculations” i have gotten grouchy.
i get really tired of proving the same thing over and over again to people who stopped paying attention after the third word but are still sure they know better than i do.
thank you for your kind and intelligent correction of my errors.
So where, exactly, did you get your life expectancy number? As somone else already pointed out, it should be higher.
If you are tired of correcting people, then stop doing it.
I insist that you acknowledge my amateur status as a socialist. The professionals haven’t really accomplished much as you acknowledge.
I’ll take your marginalization and raise you an eyebrow. Good luck with the condescension though.
Logical fallacy alert: Because I support raising the cap I like taking handouts. I’d ask you to show how one follows from the other if I thought you could.