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Define rich!!!!!!!!

(I’m broadening the discussion now.)
by Divorced one like Bush

Define rich. Define rich! Define rich?

That’s the come back every time the issue of raising the income tax on the rich come up. What is unsaid is: Go ahead. Define rich. I dare ya! (Triple dog dare at that.)

Fine. I’ll accept the challenge. But, first understand that I accept the challenge because having a definition of “rich” is needed if we are going to fix the money from money economy. We have to ask: When is enough, enough? We have to take the responsibility of having determined what enough is, if we are going to return to the ideal of our democracy. The ideal of equality of power. This ideal was discussed in my postings (3 of them) on taxation.

I think this nation used to know when enough was enough. We used to know what rich was. It was a life; as in “pick a life, not a job”. It was an ability made capable by the amount of money managed (not flowing) through one’s hands. That it was a life meant we did not fall for the rhetorical trick of: Define rich! I dare ya. The trick is that the question is asked in reference to defining levels of income at which a specified percentage of taxation will take place. It is the infamous black and white trap when we all know we live in a life that is the spectrum of color. Cross this line you pay, don’t cross it, then you don’t pay. As with all dares, there is a threat. The threat for the rhetorical “define rich” dare is that the moment a number is chosen, the one doing the daring will retort with a life example of the chosen number that under the life circumstances retort might not be considered rich.

Back when we knew what rich was, we had an income tax based on a spectrum of rich. In fact, something I quoted in my tax series confirms that we knew what “rich” was:

There was another agenda at play as well in the early years of the federal income tax: the desire to use progressive taxation as a way to “ stave off more radical calls for industrial democracy.” This explains why even some high-income Republican groups supported the Sixteenth Amendment. Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury in the 1920s and one of the wealthiest Americans, “ believed that keeping tax schedules graduated (albeit flatter) would mitigate radical demands for restructuring the capitalist system.”

Even the rich knew what rich was.

Let me say, for me wealth is not the rich I’m talking about. Wealth is another issue that should not be brought into the discussion of “rich” related to an income tax. It get’s thrown in as another rhetorical trick, the trick being that one will think about a dollar amount of wealth and then think how much money it took to get that wealth ala income. But, wealth is accounted under the asset category, not income.

Professor Mankiw posted in 2006 about a study that defined a level of rich world wide based on wealth which I think has a presentation ripe for rhetorical trap making. He quotes:

The research finds that assets of $2,200 per adult placed a household in the top half of the world wealth distribution in the year 2000. To be among the richest 10% of adults in the world required $61,000 in assets, and more than $500,000 was needed to belong to the richest 1%, a group which — with 37 million members worldwide — is far from an exclusive club.

So, from a global perspective, if you have net worth of more than $61,000, you are rich.

Really? Thirty 37 million members world wide on a planet of 6 billion is not exclusive? $61,000 of assets should make us all feel rich? The message (and I am not interpreting that Profressor Mankiw’s posting suggests any qualification) is that we should all feel equally wealthy and thus rich. Can you see how such a presentation could be used as a rhetorical trap in determining “rich”. So, let’s not go there. “There” is for the discussion of the estate tax. Besides, once the income has been turned into an asset, it’s kind of too late to worry about taxing the income. No?

Also, we are talking the United States of America. Not Zimbabwe. (See the above issue.) I know there are children starving in Africa. We have the same here, it’s just that the income needed here to not have a child starving is higher. Purchasing power parity and all that. Though, if we would be adult about the issue of “rich” and define when enough is enough, we would be able to do more for such people as there would be more left for them.

We have lost our definition of rich and I believe it was done intentionally. If you are rich, then what better camouflage is there than to undefine “rich”? And, what better way to undefine “rich” than to have an argument accepted that “rich” can not really be defined? AND, once you can’t define rich, well then hey, how can you single out anyone number as a line for having to pay a higher percentage of tax on their income? Thus, we should all pay the same percentage and thus obtain our constitutional nirvana of all man is created equal. Throw in a little pity play as in the “rich are paying most of the taxes”, (funny how those complaining about how much the rich pay in taxes seem to know what “rich” is) present your candidates as the every-man or every-woman, salt of the earth, blab, blab, blab to reinforce the perception that this is all about constitutional equality and BINGO, you get to convert life from an economy that worked for society to a society that works for an economy. And as presented, once you get beyond “enough”, all you have is to have more:

Wealth confers power beyond its consumption value. This power is economic, social, and political. The economic power of the rich derives primarily from their ability to use their wealth to invest in enterprises that employ thousands of people and can dominate large sectors of the economy.

Yes, they are talking wealth. However, as I noted, this is after the rich bought their stuff to make them happy. Now they are just accumulating power.

We need to define “rich”. We need to be adult about this and take the responsibility for understanding the interplay of society and an economy within our form of democratic governance. Personally, I think we will find that defining rich for our purposes is rather easy once we stop answering the rhetorical dare of: Define rich?

For this discussion “rich” is a life classification. The classification is consumption determined, the amount of which is a function of energy expended (ie: physical labor/intellectual labor), work performed (ie: blue collar/white collar) along with energy conserved (freedom), work diverted (power). This aspect of life is not about what the individual finds satisfying. That is another rhetorical trap. We all know of those who are fine with just hitch hiking through the galaxy and would consider them self rich for the memories. The life aspect needed for determining “rich” for the purpose of taxing is the aspect determined by the structure of the society one lives in. For us, that structure is idealized in the phrase: The American Dream. That phrase is the socially understood goal and that phrase is underscored by how much money your hands manage.

Classification as in “class warfare”. Consumption as in “autonomous consumption”. American Dream as in more than autonomous consumption. All three a function of the amount of money managed by one’s hands.

To be continued.

Still KISSING income inequality

by divorced one like Bush

Let’s talk jazz: Still cashing the income inequality
berries, clams, dough, heavy sugar, jack, kale, mazuma, rubes, simoelan, voot. It’s all money.

I started this series to develop a simple model of income inequality so that I wouldn’t sound like I was chewing gum and people wouldn’t get all balled up on the heavy sugar.

The first one presented the model. 100 people, $1000 of total income. 1976: 8.7% of the dough to the One, all the rest of the jack to the Many. 2005: 23% of the sugar to the One, the rest of the voot to the Many. Basically, it showed why income inequality ain’t allowing the Many to by orchids. Also, maybe it’ll help you know one’s onions.

The second post addressed the concerns that the model was to simple. The sugar was heavier, the times were percolating I’m told. Except that the only real issue for my model was that the population would have to increase against the 1000 clams for the model to reflect the coffee made. There was less mazuma for everyone. Oh, and the total dollars to be made up with a tax cut to duplicate the take of 1976 is $1.4 trillion dollars.

In the end, none of this bodes well for the concern about multiplier effects and money velocity. Yet here we are all these plans being put into action to get people spending ’cause that’s the problem and the issue still gets no respect. We want to get more kale into the hands of the many, but we aren’t taking about anything related to increasing the share of income to the many (which would include the trade issue as Stormy has been hammering it).

HELLO! The reason people have no money is not because their taxes are too high, their health care is too high, their interest rates are too high; THEY NEVER HAD IT TO BEGIN WITH!

So, let’s see how much the 99 people of the Many would need in 2005 to have stayed even with their position in 1976.

First here is what the $1000 should be in 2005:
$3,429.93 using the Consumer Price Index
$2,811.66 using the GDP deflator
$3,891.74 using the value of consumer bundle
$3,296.90 using the unskilled wage
$5,013.86 using the nominal GDP per capita
$6,805.40 using the relative share of GDP
My model using actual income data came up with $6940 total, but based on per capita, it was only $5130.

Each of the 99 people had $9.22. In 2005 they would need the following:
$31.62 using the Consumer Price Index
$25.92 using the GDP deflator
$35.88 using the value of consumer bundle
$30.40 using the unskilled wage
$46.23 using the nominal GDP per capita
$62.75 using the relative share of GDP
My model, using per capita income resulted in $39.90.

Interesting No? The total personal income in the model comes out to be pretty close to the GDP per capita and relative share. So, the percolating of the economy did result in the same economic coffee in 2005 as in 1976. Unfortunately for the Many, the semoelan handled is less than the per capita and relative share of GDP. Can you say SCREWED?

My model also resulted in the number of $47.31 for each of the 99. That is the number to make up for the share of income lost to the One. It is essentially the number calculated based on nominal GDP per capita. Or, the unscewed number.

But, these numbers just show that using the percentage split, the One stayed even with the percolating economy and the Many dropped down to something less. It does not show the loss of purchasing. For that, we need to reverse calculate.
For the Many, they have $39.90 each in 2005. In 1976 it looks like this:
$11.63 using the Consumer Price Index
$14.19 using the GDP deflator
$10.25 using the value of consumer bundle
$12.10 using the unskilled wage
$7.96 using the nominal GDP per capita
$5.86 using the relative share of GDP

I think what we are seeing here by looking forward and then backward, is that the Many are earning more for their labor (wage went up), but they are not earning wages comparable to the contribution made to the rising GDP by their laboring. Who knew, Slave Wages is a real wage!

Inflation and interest groups in the Carter Years

Robert Waldmann

Matthew Yglesias is very smart, but he is not omniscient. In particular he doesn’t remember things that happened before he was born and it appears that he has fallen for some Republican propaganda.

He writes

In the late 1970s, it just so happened to be the case that the structure of Great Society programs and of then-widespread union contracts meant that the objective interests of union members with automatic Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) provisions, African-Americans, and public assistance recipients were quite a bit different from the objective interests of other Americans. By contrast, it was relatively easy for Ronald Reagan to assemble a coalition built around lower taxes and inflation that started with the well-off but expanded deep into the middle class. It was actually Carter who began the effort to fight inflation and deregulate certain key sectors of the economy, but that wasn’t a politically sustainable agenda for a Democrat (as witnessed by Ted Kennedy’s very strong primary challenge).

He’s wrong. as I explain after the jump.

The point of his post is that it is hard for Republicans to win elections given widening income inequality that disconnects the experience of their base (the rich) and the majority. True. I’d add that it is hard given high inequality and especially high inequality in (easily taxable hard to hide) W-2 income, since there is so much to be gained for most people from a policy of soaking the rich and spreading it out thin.

But the facts about the 70s are the facts. I was there.

Yglesias seems to be under the impression that AFDC benefits were indexed to inflation. They weren’t. The real value of AFDC benefits declined sharply under Carter. The idea that “public assistance recipients” had less of an interest in fighting inflation than your average non-union worker is simply false. AFDC benefit levels were set by state legislatures and not indexed to inflation. National average real AFDC benefit levels declined sharply during the Carter and early Reagan years, then the decline ended (for a while) around 1984. AFDC plus food stamps declined less sharply (but declined a lot) plus there was a sharp drop 81 to 82 (food stamps are federal). Overall, the recipients of AFDC+food stamps appear to have suffered much more during the Carter years than your average non-union worker.
See here (PDF), page 12.

From 1977 to 1981 the union non union wage differential in the USA decreased from 19% to 16% (17% in 1980) (all very roughly) It is true that inflation crept up during the Carter years. It is not true that this helped Unionized workers relative to non-unionized workers. See here (PDF), page 40.

The Kennedy challenge to Carter had a lot to do with the fact that Carter was generally immensely unpopular (Iran and a recession). Carter’s deregulatory efforts were generally not controversial, mildly popular and barely noticed (I remember I was there). I don’t recall any criticism from Kennedy.

Can we please broaden our thinking in this crisis?

by Divorced one like Bush

February 26, 2008 I posted a question: How are we going to fix a money from money economy. Quoting that post: There is a nice chart. (A few actually). Especially this one.”

And this:

Total financial turnover went from $17,804 billion in 1980 to $508,456 billion in 2000. We’ve seen GDP go from 37.8% of turnover to 1.9% of turnover. That’s how big the money from money train is. Our GDP is only 1.9% of the money from money machine.”

The first response in comments was: “Fix what?”
I think that person has their answer now.

October 6, 2007 I posted: Money from money, not good.

It was about an interview by Bill Moyers of John Bogle. He noted:

JOHN BOGLE: Well, it’s gotten misshapen because the financial side of the economy is dominating the productive side of the economy…We’ve become a financial economy which has overwhelmed the productive economy to the detriment of investors and the detriment ultimately of our society.

I want to come back to the difference between the financial system and the productive system. The productive system adds to the value of our economy. And, by and large, the financial system subtracts. And, yet, it’s growing and growing and growing. And this short term thing where short term orientation in which trading pieces of paper is regarded as a social value. It is not a social value.

Go listen to it. Then listen to Mr. Moyers latest interview with Kevin Philips.

But what’s here that doesn’t get the attention is the United States in the last 20 years undertook an enormous transformation of itself with no attention paid. And what it means is and what makes all this so frightening is the country is at risk because of the size of the financial sector that has never been graded on its competence and behavior in any serious way. They are the economy at this point. And we are now seeing what happens when a 20 to 21 percent of GDP financial sector starts to come unglued.
You had essentially a financial sector that, let’s say, was sort of neck and neck with manufacturing back in the late 1980s. But they got control in a lot of ways in the agenda. Finance has been bailed out. I mean, everybody thinks this is horrible now what we’re seeing in terms of bailouts. Even a lot of the people who do it think it’s bad.

This has been going on since the beginning of the 1980s. Finance has been preferred as the sector that got government support. Manufacturing slides, nobody helps. Finance has a problem, Federal Reserve to the rescue. Treasury to the rescue. Subsidies this, that, and other.

I am certain we have to do something to help the money flow such that it does not take down the entire system. It would be cutting off our noses to spite our faces not to protect ourselves from what a few have done. We have to be adults, suck it up and clean up the alcohol aroma vomit all over our bathroom.

But, we do not have to let it happen again. There is only one solution to this and no one, not anyone is pointing it out: Put the financial sector of the economy back in alignment with the productive sector. What got us in this mess is our (well not all of us) belief that the financial sector can stand on it’s own as a primary wealth/money creator. It can not. Never could. But, believing it put the impetus to the creation of “vehicles” for creating trades. You know all those securitized whatevers, and alphabet monikers, and insurance for insurance for insurance based on alphabet monikers of securitized whatevers. What did people expect would happen when you turn the part of your system that is dependent on activity in an other part for it’s existence into a stand alone money creator. If you are going to keep generating money from money, then you are going to have to keep coming up with new “product”. New designs, new marketing to create an need and want, new packaging, BRANDING.
Again, Mr. Philip put’s it this way:

But we’ve seen the central component of the rise of the financial sector is the rise of the debt industry. Mortgage, credit cards, all these gimmicks that Wall Street sells– just all kinds of products. And, of course, the products are laying an egg all over the world right now.

Get it? We take an industry subservient to the needs of production and turn it into a competitor of production. I can polish and sell rocks without a bank to borrow from. I can accumulate wealth over time. My business may grow slowly and so may my wealth, but I can do it. But, remove all none financial activities and what does financial do to survive? What does it do to survive with no one needing a loan, backing, no desire to produce in a way that increases our productivity such that we have more time to purse happiness (that constitution purpose)? We treat finance as if it is the chicken/egg question. It is not. Finance came second and is dependent.

For those from the 80’s, we have now learned exactly what was being said when we were told our economy was moving toward a service economy. We were told it was just as good, solid and viable as the producer economy so get trained and be ready. Remember that? Remember those who said no way, it can’t work? Have you watched the movie Other People’s Money yet?

Well, all we do now is complain about the cost of the service economy sector known as health care. It cost too much. And, we have now proven that the service economy sector known as finance can’t create any real material wealth as a prime generator. So, why is no one talking about the need and means to realign our economy?

HOW MANY TIMES DO WE HAVE TO DO THIS? HOW MANY FREAKIN’ TIMES DO WE HAVE TO LEARN THE LESSON?

According to Mr. Philips:

It’s been a bipartisan phenomenon. You can go back to the 1980s and say Reagan and George Bush, Sr., got a bubble started. Clinton got in and got an even bigger bubble going. And then George W. Bush with the biggest bubble of all. But it’s not that the Clintonites didn’t play. They did. Bob Rubin as Secretary of the Treasury — I mean, if he was a Hindu and he was being reincarnated, he’d come back as a pail because this guy bailed out everything you can imagine. They had the Mexican loan bailout. They had the long-term capital management bailout, the Russian Southeast Asian currency bailouts.

Think about any of the concerns voiced here at AB regarding this current “crisis” and read Dean Baker’s list of Principles for Restructuring the Financial System and ask how much of this could be accomplished by simply realigning our economy such that finance is in service to our needs of producing primarily and I guess consume in part. Putting it another way, none of what Mr. Baker is suggesting can come to fruition such that we protect ourself from repeating this experience for a 3rd time (fourth if you count 1987) unless we get our minds back to how true wealth and money are created. Which I happen to post on October 8, 2007: Human Capital is where it’s at. It reports on a World Bank study from 2005 in which I us the quote:

The rest of the story is intangible capital. That encompasses raw labor; human capital, which includes the sum of a population’s knowledge and skills; and the level of trust in a society and the quality of its formal and informal institutions. Worldwide, the study finds, “natural capital accounts for 5 percent of total wealth, produced capital for 18 percent, and intangible capital 77 percent.

All of this relates to some graphs I put up December 12, 2007 in: It’s the big one honey, I know it, showing that personal income for the 99% had fallen below personal outlays since 1996. Something that had not existed since 1941 but was present from 1929 and before. What I found most interesting from that post was that there were only 9 comments. Just 9. Are we going to pretend income distribution is not part of this current crisis? Are we the 3 monkeys of see, hear, speak no income inequality?

So, we can talk about the hundreds of billions, we can total them up, we can debate ethics, we can talk morals and argue who is being partisan and what regulation is needed, what’s fair or….we can face the fact that who we think we are is not who we are; that we have been blowing smoke up our own butts regarding wealth, money, economy and the pursuit of happiness. It’s intervention time folks. Just putting up road blocks to the elixir’s and potions, or setting up games with ourself without changing our world view about what money is and how wealth is created and why we want to create it in the first place won’t cut it.

We use to know all this. It is represented in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. An example of the materialization of our realization was put in place in our tax code as we learned the lessons we are relearning now. For example, an instance of need of integration in our thinking, one issue with the current crisis is the mega pay of those that created the mess. Well, one of the reason’s for having a graduated income tax to the point of 90% at the top was to prevent exactly what we are now discussing as one of the issues that needs to be addressed in the bailouts. It was to prevent economic royalty, to preserve democracy, to assure one voice – one vote, to prevent some from being so powerful that they would be insulated from responsibility for the problems they could create. But we’re not hearing about taxing as a solution. One that worked very well because it addressed many of our goals. No, we now will create an entire new set of rules and paper filing…a new game to address one aspect of a crisis of one aspect of our economy because we have isolated taxation as an issue of personal freedom as oppose to an integrated tool of our economy based on our goals as laid out in our founding documents.

How small the discussion has been during this crisis so far.

The Race is on?

Will post-autistic economics review (who have, sadly imnvho, renamed themselves “real-world economic review) or The Economists’ [sic] Voice be the first to publish Robert Waldmann’s paper (a readable version of this blog post, which now also links to the paper)?

Only Brad DeLong may know for certain. But you should read it now.

Taxing the Upper-Middle Class: Is That A Small Violin I Hear Playing?

by Tom Bozzo

In BusinessWeek, Jane Sasseen’s “Taxing the ‘Not-So-Rich’ Rich” tries to make me feel, uh, well, here’s the lede:

By any measure, Dr. Howard Hammer and his wife, Hope, have a comfortable life. Hammer, 40, has built a thriving practice as an ear, nose, and throat specialist, while Hope, 39, has switched to part-time work as a real estate lawyer after years at a big firm in order to spend more time with [the kids]. Home is a four-bedroom house in the Philadelphia suburbs, and between them, they bring in over $300,000 a year. “We can’t complain,” he says. “We’re certainly not struggling.”

But are they wealthy? That’s far more debatable…

Granted, income is a flow and wealth is a stock. There’s nothing much beyond self-control that would prevent a family with a 97th-percentile income a la the Hammers from spending drunken sailors under the table (if perhaps in ways the drunken sailors would find dull), seeing as the modern economy’s undeniable talent is providing an array of goods and services capable of relieving anyone of their money for arbitrary values of “their money.”

Still, a regularity of the income-and-wealth data is that households with $300,000/year incomes also tend to be in high percentiles of the wealth distribution. In the Fed’s 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances, for example, households in the 75th-90th percentile range for the wealth distribution had a median income of $77,000 (in 2004 dollars) and a mean income of $87,800. So there’s some skew to the income distribution for people in that wealth fractile, but you can conclude that there aren’t too many people making $300,000/year who aren’t also in the top 10% of the wealth distribution. At least, they’re for the most part rapidly on the way there.

And, sure enough, most people would probably be glad to have the financial stresses of the $300,000/year set:

Ever-rising prices for gas, health insurance, and other expenses are hitting hard, as are the $3,000-a-month mortgage and the $2,000 he still pays monthly to whittle down his $160,000 medical school debt. A six-year residency gave Hammer a delayed start saving for retirement, so he worries if he’s stashing enough in his 401(k). By the time the couple contributes to the children’s college fund, there’s little extra at the end of the month.

Yes, that’s the horror of only having a little bit to save after socking away money for two of the main savings motives. If they actually had to get to the point of curtailing their other savings, I’m quite sure that they could sharpen their pencils before their credit cards got maxed out.

Now you might recall that the upper-middle and upper classes did relatively well in that long national nightmare of peace and prosperity known as the Clinton (I) years. However, Dr. Hammer would have us know that he’s not really a Republican but, he tells BW:

“I don’t mind paying my fair share, but people act like they’re just talking about Bill Gates,” he says. “We would definitely feel a hit if our taxes went up.” Although a year ago he would not have considered voting Republican in November, now he’s not so sure: “Do you vote your heart, or do you vote your wallet?”

This looks like rather narrow pocketbook-voting insofar as Republican policies haven’t exactly helped with stuff like education, transportation, and health insurance prices and costs. In a longer view the kids might be less than thankful for the taxes deferred to the next generation. Perhaps Dr. Hammer is persuadable.

The BW piece seems to predict a major line of attack against Obama in the fall, namely that he’s planning the biggest middle-class tax increase EVER. After all, a little rebranding (“death tax”) plus relentless marketing made a popular cause of relieving the super-rich of a tax burden nearly nobody is fortunate enough to bear, and if you’re a one-trick pony…

But many also live in high-cost areas with expenses to match — and feel burned by talk of “taxing the rich” that doesn’t recognize that $250,000 stretches a lot further in the South or the Midwest than in Manhattan or Silicon Valley. “There is a huge difference between what politicians define as rich and what many Americans would call middle class,” says Patrick Anderson, CEO of the Anderson Economic Group and co-editor of The State Economic Handbook.

The soaring deficit, along with the fact that the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2010, provide much of the impetus for the coming fight over high-end taxes. If Washington doesn’t act, tax rates on income, capital gains, dividends, and other areas will return to the higher rates in effect before the cuts were enacted in 2001 and 2003. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.)… has said he would extend the cuts for everyone, while Obama says he’ll maintain them for all but the wealthiest. If Obama wins, some taxes could go up as soon as 2009.

It falls to Austan Goolsbee to remind everyone that you can get “many” by multiplying small fractions and the population of the United States, and besides the far upper tail of the income distribution is the only group that’s systematically done well under Bushonomics:

Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s top economic advisor, points out that only a relatively small number of high-end earners would be tapped, while the majority of Americans would see their taxes fall or remain the same. “Income growth in that group has been extremely rapid, while it’s been stagnant for everyone else,” says Goolsbee. “It’s hard to argue they face the same struggle to get by.”

No kidding. And the sob stories may even get a little much for Ms. Sasseen, who closes thusly:

“People think the President can just extend the cuts, but he can’t,” says Stanford Group’s [Anne] Mathias. All of which explains why Mathias has been warning her clients that the next couple of years “will be a very bad time to be rich.” Whatever, precisely, that means.

I’m converting dollars. (In order to save the rustbelt)

With all the discussion about our plight money wise I thought it would be interesting to see just how distorted our view can become depending on what factor we choose as a comparison. Also, I find this site fun.

So, just how do we compare today to the fondly remembered yesterday? I am very grateful to you for asking. Let’s see, we need a base. Let us use Social Security (OASDI to be complete) as a base dollar source. There have been suggestions that we need to raise the wage cap. OK, maybe, but what should it be? Using this OK, but what should it be? Using this pdf chart I picked 3 different years as starting points. 1937, because “In the Beginning” there was poverty. 1966, because the beginning went so well, we added more. And 1983 because we became enlightened .

Using the Measuring Worth site I produced this chart:

The 6 factors are explained at the Measuring Worth site. My short hand is: C Bundled = Consumer Bundle, Unskilled = Unskilled Wage. The N in NGDP stands for nominal.

So, what number do we pick? The one that shows the current cap is set way to high, so we obviously are covering too much in OASDI as compared to the past. Or the one that shows the current cap is too low, so we obviously are not covering as much in OASDI as in the past.

I vote for the one which shows that the $94,200 cap is about the proper income to be earned by the Unskilled Labor force allowing such a person to have maintained their standard of living based on the Consumer Bundle. Yet even at that, their share of GDP would be historically rather low.

Anyone recall me presenting an argument that we have pushed the cost of the American Dream up to the point that one has to be in the top 10% of income earners to have it? It also takes 2 people working to do it.

In fact how uncanny that the median household income in which the wife is not working, for 1967 (couldn’t find a number for 1937) converts to an Unskilled Labor income of $48,353 and the Consumer Bundle is $51,019.

Maybe we shouldn’t feel to bad. Based on Measuring Worth’s President George Washington example, the current President George is getting screwed by about $100K. But, this does not include the benefits received by the present George. Guess we are getting the short end compared to being president.

Saving the rustbelt goes beyond a geographic area. Saving the rustbelt is referring to a demographic group.

Update: Link American Dream

Update: fixed the chart link paragraph missing before the chart.

Ain’t been no progressiveness since 1980

In this post, Bruno commented and posted this link to reference this statement:

In 2005, the top 1 percent of tax returns paid 39.4 percent of all federal individual income taxes and earned 21.2 percent of adjusted gross income, both of which are significantly higher than 2004 when the top 1 percent earned 19 percent of AGI and paid 36.9 percent of federal individual income taxes.

I assume that the purpose of reporting the data in this way is to invoke a natural sense of fairness to people. That being that one’s share of B should reflect their share of A. That B became “significantly higher” suggests some unfairness. Oh for the humanity of it.

The report could have reported that the top 1%’s tax burden in dollars was 20% higher, however their share of income was 21.8% higher. Now is this fair? Is this fair of the report to have noted the rise of both income and taxes paid in a manor that makes the top1% look as if they are getting unfair treatment and not show that the bottom 99% ‘s income only went up 6.2% but their dollars paid in income taxes went up 7.9%?

How fair is this? All of it? 1980 to 2005 all? Adjusted incomes all?

Well, it turns out this report had a link to an exel file of their data. Perfect! As a dutiful AB’er I took it as my charge to see what that data was really showing. Turns out since 1980, the messing with the tax rates has had some strange effects. Fairness is missing in all of it, even the vaunted Clinton era.

Look at this chart. Notice how the income for the bottom 99% is continuously falling away from the total income. Of course, you can’t miss the top 1% line. Up, up and away (in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon…)

The next chart is of total taxes paid. Notice the similarity. The rising share of total income that becomes income taxes is certainly a function of one’s rising share of total income.

But, the income going up faster than the rise in taxes paid or the taxes paid rising faster than the income is a function of the rates.

This chart may not be to impressive unless you look real close. Look between 1991 and 2000 at the bottom 99%. Do you see that it is rising? This is a period that we are suppose to be considering a symbol of progressive taxation and yet income taxes paid as a percentage of income is rising for the bottom 99% while it is descending for the top 1%. The actual percentages for the 99%’ers start in 1992 at 10.9 and peaks in 2000 at 12.1%. Where as the top 1% go from 25.05% 1992 to 28.87% 1996 to 27.45 2000.
Update, forgot these 2 paragraphs:
Is this what we are to consider progressive taxation? No it is not. The covers blown. We have not had a progressive tax adjustment since we started playing with the code with Reagan. And it hurt more knowing that it was decidedly unprogressive during a term when the president ran as a progressive. It hurts even more because Clinton’s term is being pointed to as a time to emulate. A rise of share of income to the top 1% of 6 points in 8 years and now we see that the bottom got buffaloed in the income tax department too.

The highest total of income collected as income taxes in this series of data was 1981 at 15.76%. Being that Reagan hadn’t started blowing the budget, this could reasonably be considered the amount of money we have to pay to keep the budget in good shape. (That is assuming all other taxes stay the same as 1981. They didn’t.) But NOOOOOOOOOOO. We see us paying less each year until 1990. Only 23.25% was paid to take care of our house that year. The top 1% paid 25.1% of the house needs out of 14% of the income. The rest of us paid 74.9% of the house needs out of 86% of the income.
By 2000 we are paying 15.26% of our total income for the needs of the house. The top 1% is paying 37.4% of the need out of 20.8% of the income. The rest of us are paying 62.6 % of the needs out of 79.2% of the income. Ok, I guess there was some progressiveness here.
But! In 1992 the income per capita for the top 1% was $152,743 and $11,055 for the rest. By 2000 it’s $343,357 and $15,999 respectively. Now I ask you, is this progressive? A 124.8% increase for the 1%’ers and only a 44.7% increase for the rest of us. Remember, this is during the Clinton years!
Since that time, the house has really been starving for attention. In 2005, the year the top is or is not getting screwed (I think the numbers show they are not) we collectively only paid 12.45% of our income to the house needs. We have never paid so little. Well, except for 2003 when we paid 11.9%. Which just happens to be somewhere between the 1999 and 2000 percentage for the share of income paid by the bottom 99%. Yes folks, currently we are trying to fund the house on the same percentage of income that only the bottom 99% use to pay. Or, put another way, we are funding a 304.2% (BEA table 3.1 1981 to 2005) increase in house needs on only a 234.3% increase in payments to the house while the total source has increased 319.2%. That’s 260.2% (awfully close to the house needs rise) for the bottom 99 and 970.3% for the poor souls burdened with 39% of the house needs.
Let me be blunt: This all sucks. Just plain sick and tired of having my head played sucks.

Opus : Finale’ A Discussion On Taxation

“Taxation is in fact the most difficult function of government – and that against which their citizens are most apt to be refractory” Thomas Jefferson

First, I apologize for taking so long to get back to this. But….I needed to work on some leads/songs (it’s not really work), get a new singer up to speed (hope this one stays around, it would be a first), deal with temporarily replacing my office manager (medical leave) and of course Valentines (the other business). Oh yeah, get some tax stuff done: W2’s, fed and state reports, blah, blah, blah.

Well Jeff Beck is playing Going Down, next is Situation on a compilation CD I made so…
I left off with Mr. Avi-Yonah stating:

A society is a community with a shared culture and shared interests that transcend the interests of its individual members and extend back to its historical roots and forward into its future. Thus, it is necessary to look for affirmative reasons for taxing the rich that are rooted in a broader social and historical understanding of the vital function of taxation in maintaining such a community over time.

He list 3 common “excuses” shall we say, for answering the “why”.

A: That is where the money is. A presentation is made of the inequality numbers which I have taken every opportunity to put in front of the AB reader and then states:

While these facts demonstrate the potential for large redistributive gains by increasing taxes at the very top of the income distribution, they also illustrate the importance of the rich to the economy and thus the potential cost of taxing them. Thus, any argument for taxing the rich must depend on more than mere income or wealth distribution numbers.

I could take issue with the first sentence, but I agree, we have to depend on something more than “that’s where the money is”. Although, considering our nations debt and who has benefited from such, it makes a very strong number 2 at least if not a co-number one for the present.

B. “I Took All of It from Them”

Another argument for taxing the rich can be summarized in department store mogul Edward Filene’s explanation of why he approved of the income tax: “Why shouldn’t the American people take half my money from me? I took all of it from them.”

Getting beyond the simplicity of Edward Filene’s argument, Mr. Avi-Yonah presents this as a case of partnership between the individual’s contribution and the government’s contribution thus, taxation is the government receiving it’s share. Government also can do with it’s share as it want including giving it to others. The problems he sees with this are:

First, since it is as focused on individual taxpayers as optimal tax theory, individual taxpayers can object that the partnership does not apply to them. Second, even if one accepts the partnership model, it is still unclear that it justifies progressive taxation of the rich rather than mere proportionate taxation.

I don’t think he captures the error of the argument correctly here. Being that we are the government, we are all in a partnership. That one would argue the partnership does not apply is purely selfish want verses civic understanding and rightly should not be a serious consideration of argument. But as he notes, that still does not get us past the issue of progression over proportion.

C: “Money is the measuring rod of power.”
Mr. Avi-Yonah note it is a quote of Howard Hughes. He develops the argument that the rich go beyond acquiring money for consumption needs and wants and thus pursue wealth for it’s own sake.

Wealth confers power beyond its consumption value.74 This power is economic, social, and political. The economic power of the rich derives primarily from their ability to use their wealth to invest in enterprises that employ thousands of people and can dominate large sectors of the economy. The social element derives from the knowledge other people have of the potential ability of the rich to use their wealth to acquire goods and to contribute to charities, which leads them to court such acquisitions and contributions even without such consumption taking place. Finally, the political power of the rich stems not just from their actual donations or their ability to finance runs for political office, but, more importantly, from politicians knowing that they have the excess funds to donate.

The problem as he views it is:

As the eminent public finance economist Richard Musgrave has stated, a consumption tax is deficient because it “ assumes that consumption, current or future, is the only benefit that income provides. This overlooks the benefits derived from the accumulation and holding of wealth, whether in terms of security, power, or social standing.”

If this analysis is true, what does it imply for taxing the rich? From an optimal tax perspective, arguing that the rich derive added utility from their wealth that is not available to people for whom (because of their lesser means) money only has consumption value is an argument against taxing the rich. That is because any redistribution in the optimal tax model derives from its assumption of the declining marginal utility of money, and the “ riches mean power” model militates against this assumption.

A fine Catch 22.

I have stated that we have to ask: When is enough, enough? I ask this from a reference of consumption. Beyond that, the utility of further acquisition is no longer a need of material wants. It is a need of intangible wants. Considering my post on the World Bank’s finding that true wealth is from intangibles, a reason for progressive taxation has to address the intangible such as power.

Thus the reason for progressive taxation via some history as presented by Mr. Avi-Yonah:

The American Revolution likewise was founded on the conception that while people have natural, Lockean liberal rights to their property, undue concentrations of private power and wealth should be discouraged.81 This view found its expression in the republican creed of civic humanism, which emphasized public virtue as a balance to private rights. A virtuous republic, the Framers believed, was to be free from concentrations of economic power that characterized England in the eighteenth century.82 Therefore, from the beginning of the Republic, federal and state legislators used taxation to restrict privilege and to “ affirm communal responsibilities, deepen citizenship, and demonstrate the fiscal virtues of a republican citizenry.”

The idea of progressive taxation is part and parcel to achieving the ideals set out in our constitution in that our constitution is a formulation for assuring a disbursement of power. Though I wonder if in this “virtuous republic” we are finding the mantra of the Republican’s intrusion into one’s personal life, be it as usual a bastardized use by them.

There is a political lesson presented in the history of how we got our income tax that I was not aware of:

There was another agenda at play as well in the early years of the federal income tax: the desire to use progressive taxation as a way to “ stave off more radical calls for industrial democracy.” 97 This explains why even some high-income Republican groups supported the Sixteenth Amendment.98 Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury in the 1920s and one of the wealthiest Americans, “ believed that keeping tax schedules graduated (albeit flatter) would mitigate radical demands for restructuring the capitalist system.” 9

Interesting. It was a time when those with the economic power were actually feeling threatened of a greater loss. This is a very important aspect of the debate that I don’t believe the citizenry appreciates. Perhaps if the citizenry knew that in the past they were able to instill the fear of greater loss, today the message of change would take on a more definitive tone than just “hope”.

Mr. Avi-Yonah summarized the need to be concerned with the inequality of income/wealth:

There are three arguments why extreme concentrations of wealth are undemocratic.
The first two are obvious: In the American system of government, great wealth can buy political favors (often at minuscule expenditures) and finance runs for office (at somewhat greater but still quite limited costs).114 The third is more subtle—that vast inequality of wealth is socially destructive because it degrades relationships among people (cultural, social, and political) and eventually undermines the sense of community on which a democratic polity must rest.115 This argument is particularly true in a country like the United States, which is not bound together by ties of ethnicity, culture, or language.116

…that extreme concentrations of power resulting from extreme concentrations of wealth in the hands of private individuals who are unaccountable to the majority is an unhealthy phenomenon in a democracy. Such private individuals exercise degrees of power and influence that run counter to the ability of the government of the people to govern the country in accordance with the people’s wishes, as expressed in democratic elections.

As to where the responsibility belongs for presenting this argument:

As Slemrod writes,

The approach of mainstream modern public finance economics to these issues has been to accept, for the sake of argument, the right of government to redistribute income through the tax system (and other means); to sidestep the ethical arguments about assessing the value of a more equal distribution of economic outcomes; and toinstead investigate the implications of various value judgments for the design of the tax system.126

Such an attitude to distributive issues may be fine for public finance economists, although it did not characterize the economics profession before the 1950s and still does not characterize some of it today.127 But it does not excuse the abdication of equity in favor of efficiency by most legal tax academics, especially in some of the elite law schools…It is time for legal tax academics to redress the balance.

As a professional, I can understand the argument to separate the two issues via 2 professions. The concept of a profession is that it is specialized. As a thinking person and a citizen, the public discussion should not allow the issue of efficiency to dominate one profession’s focus while the issue of equity dominates another profession. We have to assure both equity and efficiency are discussed and decided upon in order to stay true to the preamble of the Constitution and minimize Thomas Jefferson’s observation of the citizens response.

Part 1 is here.

Update:
In response to Dmerek question regarding what Thomas Jefferson thought:

“I approved from the first moment of… the power of taxation [in the new Constitution]. I thought at first that [it] might have been limited. A little reflection soon convinced me it ought not to be.” –Thomas Jefferson to Francis Hopkinson, 1789. ME 7:300

Being that President Jefferson believed in the will of the people and the people passed the 16th amendment, the issue becomes a question of how much for what expenditures and not whether we can tax.
There is much more on what President Jefferson had to say.