A Warm Wind At the Backs of Some, Generated Off the Backs of Others
This piece offers an understandable comparison between wages and dividend income and neatly summarizes the cost to wage earners. (h/t Mike Kimel)
by Peter S. Meyers
Myers Urbatsch PC
A Warm Wind At the Backs of Some, Generated Off the Backs of Others Yesterday, I learned in this Mother Jones article that workers have increased their contribution to government revenue disproportionately since 1980. In other words, payroll tax (paid by workers) is a larger portion of government revenue than it used to be. That’s a macroeconomic analysis, which still doesn’t answer the question of whether rich people are being treated “unfairly” by the current tax system.
So to elaborate a little, let’s take two people who make exactly the same amount: $100,000 in taxable income (after the standard deduction – let’s not get complicated). “Worker Taxpayer” earns her money by working (getting compensation by way of a W2) and “Investor Taxpayer” earns her money from dividends in a $4 million stock portfolio she holds (its about 2.5% in yield – about right). Let’s say they are both unmarried. Investor taxpayer does not work and has no compensation income. They are otherwise “equal,” right? (except that investor taxpayer fits the description of those who vituperate about lazy welfare recipients who sit on the couch all day and watch TV, right?) I’ll keep the rhetoric down, because the facts are outrageous enough to speak for themselves.
Worker taxpayer will pay $7650 in payroll tax, plus $21,617 in income tax (2011 brackets), for a total tax burden of $29,267.
Let’s look at investor taxpayer. You would think they would be taxed at the same rate as worker, right? Wrong. Because investor taxpayer receives all of her income from qualified dividends, they get a “special” tax treatment. Bear with me, we’re almost done. Generally, the maximum tax rate for qualified dividends is 15%, BUT HERE it is actually 0% because investor’s other income (remember she doesn’t work) is taxed at the 10% or 15% rate.
To refresh: worker making $100K pays about $30K in tax. Investor making $100K in qualified dividends pays $0 – no – tax. Huh? Yup.
What this means is that rich people – who are incented by tax policy to remain on their couches (too much earned income would otherwise trip them into the 15% dividend tax bracket) – are now getting off their couches and going to tea-party rallies to maintain this unfair redistribution of wealth in their favor. For if they work, they risk having their dividends taxed at 15% (still half of what, say, worker taxpayer paid in taxes, but confiscatory in their view). Perverse incentive? Yup. Does it sound like the rhetoric of the right wingers about unemployed persons and welfare recipients laying on couches and not incented to work? Hm. . . .
Now let’s say you didn’t work, or you worked very little, and instead you made all of your income from qualified dividends. The “magic number” (the income threshold you need to stay under to avoid paying any tax on your dividend income) is $69,000 (married), $34,500 (single or married filing separately) or $46,250 (head of household). Thus, you can actually work a little, and you have all this extra time – to attend rallies, political functions, cook your food, clean your house or do other things that people who actually earn their income from working have to: (a) pay someone else to do (which is not deductible), (b) do in the evenings or on weekends, or (c) simply let it slide.
I will now illustrate how it is almost impossible for someone who is already rich to not get richer, in fact much richer. Both working taxpayer and investor taxpayer have identical lifestyles and thus spend the exact same amount of money (not likely, given that worker has to pay for commuting expenses – again NOT deductible). Let’s assume that’s $70,000 per year. We know that worker taxpayer already paid $30K in tax, so let’s see what they have left to save: uh, nothing. Investor taxpayer paid no tax, so what do they have left over to save: $30K. Exactly the same amount that worker taxpayer paid in taxes.
The rationale for the tax policy you see illustrated above is George W. Bush’s. In 2003 he said that “double taxation is bad for our economy and falls especially hard on retired people.” He also argued that while “it’s fair to tax a company’s profits, it’s not fair to double-tax by taxing the shareholder on the same profits.”
Its odd to me that the above disparate treatment of otherwise similarly-situated earners is defended on the basis of “fairness.” Is this 1984? And I also wonder whether there is a joke in there somewhere – i.e., given that a zero-percent tax bracket would apply to someone who made all of their money from dividends and capital gains, why wouldn’t they retire? I sure as hell would. Working too much would bump all of their dividend income into the 15% tax bracket. Volunteering for the tea-party rally, or perhaps some other Republican cause, would be a far better use of one’s time.
reposted with permission of the author July 23, 2011 post
My favorite part is when Worker Taxpayer defends Investor Taxpayer’s privileged status out of a belief that one day they will become an Invester Taxpayer themselves. All the while claiming the only thing holding Worker Taxpayer back from moving up in class are liberals, labor unions and welfare queens.
Mr. Meyers, Mike, and Rdan,
I assume your ignoring the huge assumoption you made in the paragraph starting,”So to eleborate a little…” for dramatic effect, correct?
Where did that guy get the $4 million to start? From thin air? Lottery ticket? Aliens gave him a bunch of gold? You assumed these two are equal even thought they start from totally different points and then somehow decide to compared them. Apples to space shuttles.
How about two that start at the same place: Investor works (just like Worker) for his $100K and lives frugally and saves $20K each year. Worker works for his $100K doesn’t save anything and lives the high life. Flash forward 30 years (and assume everything is held steady for inflation etc)
Now we are at your example. Investor has lived frugally for 30 years and now has saved a rather nice lump sum of $4 million (with compound interest). Investor took some risk in the market (risking losing his hard earned saved money) and now retires to live on the fruits of his labor. Plenty of free time to attend OWS rallies or join the Tea Party or just blow it all off and go to the beach.(freeing up the job he used to do for the next generation). Worker on the other hand has not lived frugally and has blown every penny he ever made. So he’s still working away.
So now you want tax away Smart Investors savings, savings he has already paid taxes on at least once and will pay taxes as he spends it (plus property taxes), savings he is still willing to risk losing by providing capital for other people to borrow and build businesses & employ people. Yep, smart Investor (definitely smarter than the Worker) decides this is dumb and shoves everything in Tax-exempt muni’s just like 2004 Democratic Presidential loser and 1%er Kerry and avoids the tax anyway.
But it all about ‘fairness’ & ‘for the children’ (TM). Go read ‘A Millionaire Next Door.’
And burn into your brain: “Life is NOT Fair.’ and ‘There is no such thing as a free lunch.’
Islam will change
Does the AMT not apply to the investor?
Buff read some Thomas Paine especially the stuff he wrote after the French Revolution.
you did miss a point, after the worker pays $30K for taxes and all the other costs, like transportation, day care and clothing and other expenses there are no $30K left to save.
You have a much better chance to become richer if you start out rich, like with a wealthy daddy. It sure helped Donald Trump.
There is also the question why a few $$$ of unemployment compensation should be a disincentive to work and inherited wealth is not?
hate to get into an argument between the grasshopper and the ant
but need to say that it is a fatal mistake to think of the payroll tax as a tax. it is really the worker paying in advance for his own retirement. saving his own money, that is, in a program run by the government but not paid by the government, that protects his money from inflation and bad days on the stock market.
of course what makes this all very funny is that after reducing real taxes to the point where the country’s bearings are seizing, they all point to the payroll tax and say “it’s half of all government spending!” so lets cut it so workers can’t retire and that will boost the economy.
oh, if you don’t understand that bit about the bearings..
it’s that cuting taxes below what the country needs to run is like trying to save money by putting only three quarts of oil in your new Mercedes’ crankcase.
They didn’t say where Mr. Investor got his money. Part of my point, it just magically appeared. Inherited wealth of the idol rich is a small percentage of the dollars out there and to solve that problem you have a robust inheritance tax. I agree it helps if your parents are rich.
And I’m sorry, you can easily save $20K on a $100K salary. Using the numbers above you get $100K Gross – $30K Taxes = $70K – $20K Savings = $50K to live on. No problem. Lots and lots of people live on that today and raise kids, etc.
Lastly there is a big difference between inherited wealth and unemployment compensation. The fact that you don’t understand that speaks volumes.
Islam will change
Oh, I agree with buffy. Life isn’t fair. Let’s take a purely practical approach to the issue of who gets taxed, and leave fairness out of it. Buffy complains that taxing investment income follows on taxing the income from which the investment was generated. Oops. That’s nothing more than an argument about fairness. There is no practical reason to avoid taxing the same money twice.* When a government needs money, it necessarily turns to someone who has money. The well-off have more than the rest, so as a practical matter, they should be taxed fairly heavily. If well-off people feel it is unfair for them to pay taxes commensurate with their advantaged position, well buffy says life’s not fair, so too bad for those well-off whiners.
*Let’s not ignore the fact that “double taxation” is a highly suspect argument. We tax economic transactions, and as a result, the same money is taxed twice in all kinds of ways, because it runs through all kinds of transactions. Shills for the investor class have made an argument that intentionally misrepresents taxing corporate income and then payments to investors in the corporation as somehow a case apart from every other flow of money through the economy. It can only seem so for the weak of mind or those blinded by self-interest. Money is vulnerable to taxation when it changes hands – period.
“That’s a macroeconomic analysis,…” Actually, it isn’t. I understand that those not well schooled in economics can make that mistake pretty easily, but when writing a declarative statement like “That’s a macroeconomic analysis” one ought to check to make sure the statement is true.
So now you want tax away Smart Investors savings,…. No one is arguing for any such thing. If the savings generates income through capital gains,or any other means, it is new income added to already existing savings. (Savings can’t increase stuffed in a mattress.) If it generates income, it is subject to tax. The double taxation argument is sophistry.
The worker has $30K less to spend on a comparable life style. The worker must save for years and live more frugal than the investor who may never have worked one day in his life.
Why should $1,500 per month or so unemployment compensation discourage people to work and a dividend income of say $8K per month would not? You are right, I don’t understand that. Maybe you could explain it, unemployment compensation alone is poverty level in my understanding of things, a couple of million $$$ inheritance is not.
Weak. Payroll taxes have indeed increased as a portion of government revenue. But trust fund payouts have increased even more. Trust fund payouts now exceed payroll tax collections. In Social Security, they are bridging the gap from collections of interest on interfund loans. Soon they will have to begin selling the Treasuries themselves not just clipping coupons. And general tax revenue is now being called on to finance nearly half of Medicare.
Read the 2011 report from the trustees at http://www.ssa.gov.
Thank you Coberly. I hate it when people look to the payroll tax to say that buffet’s secretary pays taxes at a higher rate than he does, particularly when in the example given you do not need it to make the point.
i have read the Trustees Report very carefully and am pretty sure I understand it better than you do.
The Trust Fund was CREATED for the day payouts would exceed revenue. And yes, even though the Trustees hide the fact in one of their graphs, selling the Treasuries is part of the anticipated income to SS to bridge the Baby Boom retirement.
after that SS can return to pay as you go the way it was designed… forever. with either no increase in the tax, or a tiny increase if the future beneficiaries are going to want a benefit increase to keep up with their longer life expectancy and higher standard of living. i think they would want to do this if anyone explained the choice to them. but for some reason no one who has access to a newspaper, radio or tv camera wants to explain that choice.
as far as general taxes financing half of Medicare… you are right. and it’s a shame. with a medical system like they have in civilized countries we could cut the cost of medical care in half. and then i, at least, think Medicare should be purely pay as you go, paid for by the worker, with a cap just like SS proper. but the people who want you to be confused about all of this would not care for any system that was simple and transparent and fair and secure. and cheap for what you get.
“selling the Treasuries is part of the anticipated income to SS to bridge the Baby Boom retirement.”
You mean after the general fund covers the gap, and after the budget deficit spirals out of control and adds massive debt, for which it will need to be serviced, and the burden on the following generations will have been doubled that of the previous generations?
And what year exactly did you expect to come out of it, and have an economy and demographic situation that would represent “Pay Go?” It looks to me that it is thirty years away at best…..in other words you couldn’t have sugar coated that comment any more than you did…..I find it naive and unrealistic.
“cheap for what you get.”
More Rainbows and Unicorns I see! The definition of “Cheap for what You Get” is Less Care with Less Quality.
this is not the general fund: http://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/investheld.cgi
Darren: “You mean after the general fund covers the gap….”
Again you’re spewing crap. You know very well that the Trust Fund assets had been borrowed for general use over the years. The Treasuries are the accounting mechanism by which a record of that debt between the general budget and the Social Security program is kept. So go hide under the rock that you climbed out from. The general budget has to pay interest and principal on all Treasuries. Like those held by China, Japan, and Goldman Sachs, etc. Use of the Trust Fund assets by the general budget was convenient for hiding the full effect of the Bush tax cuts. Pay back is a bitch, especially when the primary beneficiaries of the original borrowing don’t want to participate in the payback plan.
And Buff how did you come up with the asinine idea that dividend income is some how formerly taxed when first earned. By that argument any income generated by any investment should not be taxed. Are you looking for a job as a spokes person for the investor class?
Practiced at the art of ‘your premises leading to the conclusion’.
You can look up the name of that logical fallacy.
So reassuring that logic was not a part of the psyche screening to assure the DoD brass that you would fire your nukes if ordered.
Or got in the way of your getting training, promotions and grad degrees paid by the taxpayer.
wall st will change
There is far more ‘social utility’ in leaving the rich 1% with lots of money after taxes than anyone in the rest of the 99%.
The social utility of taxing the income of the 47% that don’t pay income taxes is very strong.
Why the freshwater school is so well funded.
And listen to the GOP’ers!
Just like Coberly you argue the incorrect debate. This exposes are real incapability of seperating emotion from the reality. The debate isn’t about whether or not the accounting of S.S. is correct…..I know of no one who claims it isn’t. Nor is it a debate about whether or not S.S. is a wise or noble endeavour. The debate is about managing the budget without allowing the debt to spiral while providing a revenue stream for S.S., which had already been paid for, there is moral hazard here.
The American people have been forced to accept S.S. as a retirement plan when in fact S.S. has become the cause for them to not be able to retire. Pretty high cost for a social saftey net that the American people could have provided for anyway, and been able to retire comfortably.
“Use of the Trust Fund assets by the general budget was convenient for hiding the full effect of the Bush tax cuts. Pay back is a bitch, especially when the primary beneficiaries of the original borrowing don’t want to participate in the payback plan.”
This is complete B.S. The S.S. surplus was supplementing over spending for many, many years before Bush came on the scene.
And where exactly does the money come from to pay back the Trust Fund? You guys need to get beyond argueing about the accounting of Social Security, that not the real debate.
How about he got it from sweet heart deals from the government?
From special privileges. How about we assume that?
Oh wait, that doesn’t fit in with your idiot narrative.
And the same money isn’t being taxed twice, OBVIOUSLY.
The income generated from the wealth is taxed. No income, no tax. High income, higher tax.
Interest on savings account!=Money in savings accout
I just like to say I admire the suaveness with which Coberly points out that the rich won’t be needing to pay for all the money they stole.
The young workers should.
So brave of him. He is courage incarnate.
i keep promising myself i won’t say this, but
you are an idiot.
I haven’t the slightest idea what you are talking about. Do you?
i don’t know what money the rich stole, but they are currently repaying their debt to Social Security… or at least buying new Treasuries so the government can repay debt with debt.
the young workers are paying for their own future social security benefits. because of pay as you go they will receive an effective interest equal to inflation plus the real growth in the economy.
i have tried and tried to explain this so you can understand it. but there is nothing i can do if you don’t want to understand it.
and yes, i used to work very hard trying to get undergraduates to understand simple math. so i have to conclude that there are real differences in what people can understand.
then i did a stint working with mental patients, and i have to say i don’t see a lot of difference here.
If you believe the crap that you spout then you are a helpless fool, but I think not. In that case you are simply another of those trolls who intend to dissemble the facts by doing no more than repeating endlessly that the day is night and the moon is cheese and the budget is hampered by what it owes to its creditors. Oh that last point is actually close to the facts. Is the debt to all other holders of Treasury notes equally responsible for the burden that young workers will endure, according to you? When did the creditor become responsible for the incompetence of the borrower, or in the case of the general deficit, the agent of the borrower.
Overspending (with respect to revenues) started with Reagan, at which time there was no SS surplus. The SS surplus did not become large enough to become a factor until Clinton, and Clinton reduced debt (as a percent of GDP). In hindsight, Clinton should have been running more of a suplus and sooner (since the boom was a bubble), but the biggest problems clearly came along with Bush.
You keep assuming Investor has $4 million and Worker has $0 to start. Where did that $4 million come from? Just drop out of the sky? And yes people should be living much more frugally. And yes you should live more frugally if you have $0 in savings vs. the guy with $4 million.
Life is not fair.
As for unemployment? The unemployed are on the dole. Someone else is paying for them. The guy with the $4 million worked to get that money in the bank – its his. That’s the difference. So if the guy with $4 million wants to sit on his a$$ that’s fine with me. I’m not paying for it.
And you keep assuming that the Investor just had the money fall from the sky. Most people arn’t that lucky who have saved up that kind of money. They worked for it.
Islam will change
PT – Andd now you had your idiot assumption that he worked for Solyandra and got a corrupt sweatheart deal from Obama.
Most people who have accumulated that much wealth worked for it. This has been true for a long time.
Islam will change
Well then pass legislation to accomplish that. Run candidates on the platform of increaseing taxes.
Go for it…
Darren is correct. The money to repay the SSA Treasuries comes from the General Fund. That’s exactly how YOU explained it. Multiple times over years.
As you have pointed out many, many times on every unrelated to SS thread, SS is actuarily sound in isolation. It holds a bundle of IOUs (the Trust Fund) that it cashes in by getting money from the general fund.
I don’t think anything has changed. So why when people point that fact out you start calling people names?
Islam will change
The Investor at some point worked for and paid taxes on the money he has in investments. Then he took a risk of losing those funds when he invested them. Then he paid taxes on those funds if they made money. You just want to up the amount the investor pays.
I have no problem with that as long as you acknowledge the original investments came (in the bulk of the cases) from someone who worked for it and lived frugally – something we should be encouraging. The money did not spring out of thin air which you and Lys seem to feel. Sorry I have a bundle of investment- the first when I was 14!
I don’t have any problem with the safety net, but I don’t feel I have any morale or otherwise duty to bailout stupid people who lived way beyond there means. Look at the OWS – the bulk of the demands is for someone else to pay for these kids colledge education in some idiot studies major. They can pay it out working at the jobs they are now qualified for – Starbucks Barrista.
Life is hard, its harder if your stupid.
Islam will change
because darren is so wrong and because he persists in being wrong.
paying back SS the money you borrowed from it does not mean SS contributes to the deficit.
i disagree about where the money came from. there are a few real entrepreneurs and i am glad to see them make money. i am also glad to have them pay taxes on their income… progressive taxes but not punitive taxes.
but i think you are wrong about where most of the money we are talking about came from.. it comes from casino gambling, and from aggressive corporate games playing. these people do not create wealth. they may work very hard at being the one who gets the wealth that someone else has created. but they do not create it.
In your own words on this thread:
“…or at least buying new Treasuries so the government can repay debt with debt.”
So tell me again, other than not framing it in your PC words, why is repaying the SSTF from reveneus in the general fund not increasing the debt? Tell me again exactly what Darren said that was factually incorrect?
As you’ve explained, the money to cover SS shortfalls comes from the General Fund. Another line item outflow like buying more subs, sending money to Solyandra, or covering the Chinese governments redemption of US bonds.
So there is no need to be rude – pick on the Dems and Obama who are leading the charge against SS – something you always fail to mention when you post on the topic.
Islam will change
“Then he paid taxes on those funds if they made money.” Buffpilot
No Buff, he paid taxes on the earnings generated by those funds which he had saved up and invested. He didn’t pay taxes on the principal or the equity. He paid taxes on the earnings. Those earnings were paid out in a safe kept economic environment that is structured by the government. The taxes on earnings are part of the revenue stream that keeps that government solvent, or at least should. If no tax is to be paid on dividends of interest earnings then why would anyone invest in development of any kind?
“then i did a stint working with mental patients, and i have to say i don’t see a lot of difference here.” coberly
Did I ever mention that I spent about 24 years working as a clinical psychologist in mental health facilities in NY? The difference that you’re not seeing is only the difference of one group being ID’d and labeled (those on the inside) and the other group (on the outside and seemingly normal) have not had the misfortune to be ID’d and labeled. The former are certainly less destructive to society than are the latter.
as you and i both know, you can’t win elections in this country by promising to raise taxes… except on someone else. so maybe a tax the rich platform would win.
but actually raising taxes is something else. both Reagan and Bush the elder did it when it became insane not to do it. currently we appear to be governed by the truly insane, but we may reach a point where something has to change. if we keep on at this rate, get out your Arabic grammars, because new dynamic civilizations always replace old, corrupt ones.
and there is still that problem with the Mercedes you are trying to run on three quarts of oil to save money.
i went back and looked at Darrens comments. he is not saying anything that is even grammatical.
if you want to join him there, i can’t stop you.
but you try that argument about how repaying money you owe your brother in law is really increasing your debt.
its not a question of being rude. it is a question of not wanting my time wasted by people who don’t understand the concept of repaying money they have borrowed.
I have watched people torture their own minds into real insanity because they couldn’t stand to face the truth. the truth is that “the government” borrowed real money from real people… the people who paid “excess” payroll tax in order to pre-fund their own retirement. it is time for the government to pay these people back.
saying that paying them back increases the debt is simply brain damaged. here is an exercise for you: do you owe someone some money? pay them back. have you increased your debt?
i almost always mention that Obama is a bad guy on SS and the Dems appear to be sold out to the bad guys. So I think your memory must be failing as well as your honesty about paying debts.
and if i don’t mention it EVERY time i write it is because i still have enough of a brain left that i have more than one thing to say. i have to repeat myself far more than i like just to try to get some basic ideas through to those who have been lied to for thirty years. Obama is not a basic idea. Neither are the Democrats…. though I was warning about them ten years ago when everyone thought it was the D’s versus the R’s that was the fundamental question of life.
whereas i can bet that in his next post Buff will remind us that it is all Obama’s fault, and the Democrats are responsible for everything we don’t like.
And take me to task for “failing to mention it.”
Peter is wrong about the taxes on dividends. Looking at the tax forms it becomes obvious to even the most casual observer that only the first $34,000 is taxed at the 0% rate the rest is taxed at 15%.
Now as to the double taxation question I submit the following example:
Suppose two people, Ivan and Will decide to open a business let’s say a store for example. Ivan has the $4m to invest in the land, building and inventory. Will does not have the money but has experience running a store. They enter into an agreement that Ivan “The Investor” will put up the capital and Will “The Worker” will work in the store. They agree to split the pre-tax profit evenly. The business is incorporated as a C Corporation with Ivan holding all the shares. Over the year the business makes a pre-tax profit of $200,000. Will is paid a salary of $100,000 and Ivan is set to receive the remainder in dividends.
Now for the taxes, ignoring Social security for the moment:
Will pays income taxes on his $100,00 at the ordinary rate and so pays $21,617 in taxes.
The corporation pays corporate taxes of $22,250 on $100,000 and the remaining $77,750 is payed as a dividend. Ivan now pays $6562 in personal income taxes on the dividends.
So the worker pays $21,617 in taxes and the investor pays $28112.
Social Security analysis to follow.
for what it’s worth
when i say Darren is not even grammatical i don’t mean school grammar. i mean the natural grammar that all native speakers know without knowing, except schizophrenics and people with organic brain damage.
i am not in a position to question your numbers, but i wonder if the tax code would actually work out that way. and if it did, i doubt the partners would structure their business that way.
and there is a huge difference between a two person “corporation” and a multi billion dollar corporation in which the “investors” are mere speculators.
oh by the way
it does not offend me morally that the “worker” gets to keep more of his earnings than the “investor.”
i mean, it’s nice to have 4M you can invest in a business. but that’s not the same as working 70 hours a week to make it run.
Something isn’t clear to me here. Are the pre tax profits after Will is paid a salary of 100K? Or, is the pre tax profit really 100K? if the agreement was to split the pre tax profit evenly, the corporation has a liability of the amount owed on the pre tax profit. I realize that corporations are people now, and it’s Ivan’s invested capital. Nevertheless, he agreed to be subject to corporate and divident taxation when he set up the company. I think he needs a better investment advisor.
and a better tax man.
and i still don’t really know anything about this, but it seems to me that if the corporation pays a 22,000 tax on it’s net income (after paying will a salaray), that is fine. the remaining 77,000 can remain in the corporation to “invest” and generate future revenues.
or Ivan can take it as dividends and pay 6500 in taxes. that seems fine to me, too. I thought all the crying from the right was about the need to not tax away money that would be used to create jobs. So it looks to me like they have this double taxation thing backwards. If the money is retained by the corp it can be used to create jobs. if it is paid out as dividends… then it is personal income to the stock holder, and neither a “jobs killing tax” or “double taxation.
something is wrong here where “the rich” can create a “legal person” for the benefits they get from combining their money with limited risk, and then turn around and complain because that legal person is really “them, themselves” and taxing it is the same as taxing them.