January 11, 2012
Laffer: Class Warfare and the Buffett Rule
Implementing a surtax on 'millionaires' would hurt just about everyone but the super rich like Warren Buffett.
Waving Mr. Buffett's op-ed for all to see, Mr. Obama wasted no time in proposing a surtax on millionaires called the "Buffett Rule." Putting aside all the oohing and ahhing over Mr. Buffett's selflessness, his effective tax rate on his true income would hardly budge if this "Buffett Rule" were applied. What's worse, raising the highest tax rates would most likely worsen the budget deficit and lead to a further weakening of the economy. Everyone would suffer.
Mr. Buffett stated in his op-ed that he paid $6,938,744 in total income and payroll taxes in 2010, representing 17.4% of his taxable income, which puts his taxable income just under $40 million. Although certainly a fantastic sum, $40 million actually understates Mr. Buffett's income in 2010 by more than 250-fold.
Mr. Buffett's net worth rose by $10 billion in 2010 to $47 billion, according to Forbes Magazine. That increase, an unrealized capital gain, is part of his total income by any standard definition, including the one used by the CBO. After also including a $1.6 billion gift to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Buffett's true income in 2010 was much closer to $11.6 billion than the $40 million figure cited in his op-ed. Hence his true effective tax rate was only 6/100ths of 1% as opposed to 17.4%. And these are just the additions to his income that we know about.
The "Buffett Rule" would not tax the vast majority of his shielded income, including either his unrealized capital gains, which are currently taxed at zero percent, or charitable contributions, which are tax deductible. If the "Buffett Rule" were applied as President Obama proposes, then Mr. Buffett's federal tax bill would have been $14.4 million, rather than the $6.9 million he actually paid. As a fraction of his true income, his effective tax rate would only have risen from 6/100ths of 1% to 12/100ths of 1%. ...
When it comes to raising tax revenues by raising tax rates on the rich, Mr. Buffett would again appear to be on the wrong side of the argument. Between 1921 and 1928, the top marginal income tax rate fell to 25% from 73%. During this period, tax receipts from the top 1% of income earners rose to 1.1% of GDP from 0.6% of GDP. The top income tax rate dropped to 70% from 91% after the Kennedy tax cuts began in 1964, while tax receipts from the top 1% of earners rose to 1.9% of GDP from 1.3% of GDP in the period 1960 to 1968. By the way, these periods were two of the biggest booms in U.S. history.
Guess what was the third period of boom? Since 1978, the top earned income tax rate fell to 35% from 50%, the top capital gains tax rate fell to 15% from 39.9%, and the highest dividend tax rate fell to 15% from 70%. After taking office in 1993, President Clinton virtually eliminated the capital gains tax from the sale of owner-occupied homes and cut government spending as a share of GDP by the largest amount ever.
Meanwhile, the top 1% of earners saw their tax payments climb to 3.3% of GDP in 2007 from 1.5% of GDP in 1978, while the bottom 95% saw their tax payments drop to 3.2% of GDP in 2007 from 5.4% of GDP in 1978. Why would Mr. Buffett want to reverse these numbers?
Of course, cynics and die-hard progressives might object to the above evidence on the grounds that it was driven by an explosion of income gains. But that's largely the point.
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As the author of one of the most bogus theories ever foisted on the public Mr Laffer is in a good position to speak about bad ideas. But unfortunately he seems to be just as muddled now was then. Asking the wealthy to pay back some of the tax breaks they have been getting for the last 30 years, breaks based on his false theory that cutting taxes raises revenue, is not "class warfare". Many would argue that Mr Laffer and his fellow travelers have been engaging in "class warfare" for three decades: shifting the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle and working classes.
Posted by: George W | Jan 11, 2012 5:02:17 PM