It’s the Laffer Curve explained by example.
Dissecting The Demagoguery About ‘Tax Cuts For The Rich’
By THOMAS SOWELL
While arguments for cuts in high tax rates have often been made by free-market economists or conservatives in the American sense, such arguments have also sometimes been made by people who were neither, including John Maynard Keynes and President John F. Kennedy, who in fact got tax rates cut during his administration.
High rates drive taxpayers into shelters.
Mellon pointed out that, under the high income-tax rates at the end of the Woodrow Wilson administration in 1921, vast sums of money had been put into tax shelters such as tax-exempt municipal bonds instead of being invested in the private economy, where this money would create more output, incomes and jobs — thereby producing higher tax revenues for the federal government.
The actual results of the cuts in tax rates in the 1920s were very similar to the results of later tax-rate cuts during the Kennedy, Reagan and George. W. Bush administrations — namely, rising output, rising employment to produce that output, rising incomes as a result and rising tax revenues for the government because of the rising incomes, though the tax rates had been lowered.
The facts are unmistakably plain, for those who bother to check the facts. In 1921, when the tax rate on people making over $100,000 a year was 73%, the federal government collected a little over $700 million in income taxes, of which 30% was paid by those making over $100,000.
By 1929, after a series of tax-rate reductions had cut the tax rate to 24% on those making over $100,000, the federal government collected more than a billion dollars in income taxes, of which 65% was collected from those making over $100,000.
There is nothing mysterious about this. Under the sharply rising tax rates during the Wilson administration, fewer and fewer people reported high taxable incomes, whether by putting their money into tax-exempt securities or by any of the other ways of rearranging their financial affairs to minimize their tax liability.
Under Wilson’s escalating income-tax rates to pay for the high costs of the First World War, the number of people reporting taxable incomes of more than $300,000 — a huge sum in the money of that era — declined from well over a thousand in 1916 to fewer than three hundred in 1921. The total amount of taxable income earned by people making over $300,000 declined by more than four-fifths in those years.
Secretary Mellon estimated in 1923 that the money invested in tax-exempt securities had tripled in a decade, and was now almost three times the size of the federal government’s annual budget and nearly half as large as the national debt. “The man of large income has tended more and more to invest his capital in such a way that the tax collector cannot touch it,” he pointed out.
The facts are plain: There were 206 people who reported annual taxable incomes of one million dollars or more in 1916. But as tax rates rose, that number fell to 21 by 1921. After a series of tax-rate cuts in the 1920s, the number of individuals reporting taxable incomes of a million dollars or more rose again, to 207 by 1925.
As output surged, joblessness plunged.
It should not be surprising that the government collected more tax revenue under these conditions. Nor is it surprising that, with increased economic activity resulting from more investment in the private economy, the annual unemployment rate from 1925 through 1928 ranged from a high of 4.2% to a low of 1.8%.
And update, like he says:
The “global minimum tax” would be levied by the IRS on American companies with foreign components abroad. So if Mexico, say (I’m making up numbers) taxes business at 25%, thus encouraging US companies to move a plant over there, Biden’s regime would impose some higher tax, who knows, 35%, with the 10% excess imposed by the IRS and going to the US treasury.
In practice, it could lead to more American corporations being sold to foreign investors: Because the U.S. only taxes the profits of U.S. companies, one way to dodge the new “global minimum tax” would be to invite a takeover by a foreign company. Which, depending upon how high the new minimum tax is and how many companies flee, could mean less overall tax revenue than before.
The simple fact is that our rates or too high to be competitive. Rather than lowering our rates, Team Obama’s answer is what it always is: Let’s raise rates even higher, even on plants in foreign companies.
Secretary Mellon pointed out that previously the government “received substantially the same revenue from high incomes with a 13 percent surtax as it received with a 65 percent surtax.” Higher tax rates do not mean higher tax revenues.
High tax rates on high incomes, Mellon said, lead many of those who earn such incomes to withdraw their money “from productive business and invest it in tax-exempt securities” or otherwise find ways to avoid receiving income in taxable forms.
After Mellon finally succeeded in getting Congress to lower the top tax rate from 73 percent to 24 percent, the government actually received more tax revenues at the lower rate than it had at the higher rate. Moreover, it received a higher proportion of all income taxes from the top income earners than before.
Something similar happened in later years, after tax rates were cut under Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and G.W. Bush. The record is clear.
There is, of course, the perennial fallacy that the government can simply raise taxes on “the rich” and use that additional revenue to pay for things that most people cannot afford. What is amazing is the implicit assumption that “the rich” are all such complete fools that they will do nothing to prevent their money from being taxed away. History shows otherwise.
After the Constitution of the United States was amended to permit a federal income tax, in 1916, the number of people reporting taxable incomes of $300,000 a year or more fell from well over a thousand to fewer than three hundred by 1921.
Were the rich all getting poorer? Not at all. They were investing huge sums of money in tax-exempt securities. The amount of money invested in tax-exempt securities was larger than the federal budget, and nearly half as large as the national debt.
This was not unique to the United States or to that era. After the British government raised their income tax on the top income earners in 2010, they discovered that they collected less tax revenue than before. Other countries have had similar experiences. Apparently the rich are not all fools, after all.
In today’s globalized world economy, the rich can simply invest their money in countries where tax rates are lower.
Democratic presidents Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy spoke plainly about the fact that higher tax rates on individuals and businesses did not automatically translate into higher tax revenues for the government. Beyond some point, high tax rates on those with high incomes simply led to those incomes being invested in tax-free bonds, with the revenue from those bonds being completely lost to the government — and the investments lost to the economy.
As President John F. Kennedy put it, “it is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now.” This was because investors’ “efforts to avoid tax liabilities” make “certain types of less productive activity more profitable than more valuable undertakings,” and this in turn “inhibits our growth and efficiency.”
This disconnect between higher tax rates and higher tax revenues is not peculiar to the United States. Iceland and India both collected more tax revenue after tax rates were cut. In Iceland the corporate tax rate was cut from 45 percent to 18 percent between 1991 and 2001 — and the revenue from corporate taxes tripled at the lower rate.
John Maynard Keynes said in 1933 that “given sufficient time to gather the fruits, a reduction of taxation will run a better chance, than an increase, of balancing the budget.”
It is not complicated. You can only confiscate the wealth that exists at a given moment. You cannot confiscate future wealth — and that future wealth is less likely to be produced when people see that it is going to be confiscated. Farmers in the Soviet Union cut back on how much time and effort they invested in growing their crops, when they realized that the government was going to take a big part of the harvest. They slaughtered and ate young farm animals that they would normally keep tending and feeding while raising them to maturity.
People in industry are not inert objects either. Moreover, unlike farmers, industrialists are not tied to the land in a particular country.
Russian aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky could take his expertise to America and produce his planes and helicopters thousands of miles away from his native land. Financiers are even less tied down, especially today, when vast sums of money can be dispatched electronically to any part of the world.
If confiscatory policies can produce counterproductive repercussions in a dictatorship, they are even harder to carry out in a democracy. A dictatorship can suddenly swoop down and grab whatever it wants. But a democracy must first have public discussions and debates. Those who are targeted for confiscation can see the handwriting on the wall, and act accordingly.