Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that when the government taxes the rich, only the rich bear the burden

The New York Times gives some space to N Gregory Mankiw, a professor of economics at Harvard who makes the case against higher taxes for the rich…
I have to acknowledge that the Democrats are right about one thing: I can afford to pay more in taxes. My income is not in the same league as superstar actors and hedge fund managers, but I have been very lucky nonetheless. Unlike many other Americans, I don’t have trouble making ends meet. …

Nonetheless, as Republicans emphasize, taxes influence the decisions I make. I am regularly offered opportunities to earn extra money. It could be by talking to a business group, consulting on a legal case, giving a guest lecture, teaching summer school or writing an article. I turn down most but accept a few.

The author of some popular textbooks then supposes that some editor offers him $1,000 to write an article, showing what would happen should there be no taxes of any kind as compared to should the Bush tax cuts expire (Instapundit has more).

HERE’S the bottom line: Without any taxes, accepting that editor’s assignment would have yielded my children an extra $10,000. With taxes, it yields only $1,000. In effect, once the entire tax system is taken into account, my family’s marginal tax rate is about 90 percent. Is it any wonder that I turn down most of the money-making opportunities I am offered?

By contrast, without the tax increases advocated by the Obama administration, the numbers would look quite different. I would face a lower income tax rate, a lower Medicare tax rate, and no deduction phaseout or estate tax. Taking that writing assignment would yield my kids about $2,000. I would have twice the incentive to keep working.

Now you might not care if I supply less of my services to the marketplace — although, because you are reading this article, you are one of my customers. But I bet there are some high-income taxpayers whose services you enjoy.

…Like me, these individuals respond to incentives. (Indeed, some studies report that high-income taxpayers are particularly responsive to taxes.) As they face higher tax rates, their services will be in shorter supply.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether and how much the government should redistribute income. And, to be sure, the looming budget deficits require hard choices about spending and taxes. But don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that when the government taxes the rich, only the rich bear the burden.