Posts tagged with: tax

sintaxcan-300x189Philadelphia may like to think of itself as the “city of brotherly love,” but its latest tax increase is not so friendly to the poor.

Last week the city council passed a regressive soda tax proposal that will levy 1.5 cents per liquid ounce on distributors. According to Quartz, the tax will apply to regular and diet sodas, as well as other drinks with added sugar, such as Gatorade, lemonades, and iced teas.

This tax on sugary drinks is what is often called a “sin tax.” This is an excise tax that is specifically intended to target certain goods deemed harmful to society but that we don’t want (or can’t) ban completely, such as tobacco or alcohol. The idea is that by adding or increasing the tax, it increases the overall price of the good, thereby lowering consumer demand.

Sin taxes are a form of sumptuary law, a law that attempts to regulate permitted consumption of particular goods and services. Throughout history sumptuary laws have been used to reinforce social hierarchies or class-based discrimination. Normally this would be done by prohibiting certain social classes from being able to purchase a good, like the 16th-century French law that banned anyone but princes from wearing velvet. But modern sin taxes try to express the same types of social disapproval in more subtle ways.

How-to-Understand-Federal-Tax-FormsAfter almost three decades of filling out increasing complex tax forms, you’d think I’d be used to it (or at least resigned to the onerous task). But every tax season I complain even more than I did the year before. Why do I have to do this?

Perhaps the problem, notes Daniel J. Hurst, is that I’m forgetting that it’s part of my responsibility as a Christian. “While we may have grumbled when filing our taxes this year,” says Hurst, “did we pause to think that giving the government part of our income is a way we honor the Lord and express our trust in his grand design?”

Conservatives are known for arguing about the ill effects of over-regulation, reminding us how it stifles innovation, cramps entrepreneurship, and harms small businesses. Where we’re less effective is connecting this reality to the more fundamental abuses it wields on human dignity in general and the poor and vulnerable in particular.

In a 45-minute talk given at Heritage Action, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska offers a detailed critique of over-regulation in America.

Pointing first to the proper scope of regulatory policies, Sasse proceeds to note the increasing overreach of the federal government and the range of reasons to oppose it. Watch an excerpt here:

Although arguments about over-regulation and taxation are bound to involve in depth discussions about numbers and econometrics, Sasse reminds us that our focus must remain on the preservation of freedom and human dignity. (more…)

window-taxKing William III of England needed money, so in 1696 he decided to implement a new property tax. To make sure the tax was progressive (i.e., affected the rich more than the poor), the parliament devised a seemingly clever idea: they’d use the number of windows as an index for the value of a house.

The assumption was that larger homes, presumably owned by the wealthy, would have more windows than the houses of the poor. All a tax assessor needed to do to calculate the tax was walk around a building and count the windows. Ingenious, no?

In its initial form, the tax consisted of a flat rate of 2 shillings upon each house and an additional charge of 4 shillings on houses with between 10 and 20 windows, or 8 shillings on houses with more than 20 windows.

You can probably imagine what happened next.

As economist Tim Hartford explains, a “fundamental error is the idea that architecture doesn’t respond to tax incentives.”

Sales-taxImagine you’re at the checkout line at the supermarket and the clerk asks how much income your family earns each year. Offended, you ask why that is any of her business.

“We need to know to determine how much sales tax you need to pay,” the checker politely explains. “If you’re classified as the ‘working poor’ you need to pay more sales tax.”

“I think you have that backwards,” you helpfully add. “You mean the working poor need to pay less sales tax, right?”

“Oh, no sir,” she say, still blissfully cheerful. “It’s a new anti-poverty program initiated by the federal government that helps the poor by making them pay an addition sales tax on their groceries.”

Although it isn’t stated so clearly or applied so directly, the federal government has in fact implemented an “anti-poverty” initiative that does just that. As economist Thomas Macurdy says, “Most Americans wouldn’t cheer this program, nor would most political leaders champion it. Yet that is what happens when Congress raises the minimum wage.”

Earlier this year Macurdy published a study in the Journal of Political Economy that examined the effect of the minimum wage on the poor. As he explains in the Wall Street Journal, his findings show that the minimum wage serves as a tax on the poor:

Coal power plant Datteln 2 Crop1Today at The Federalist I explore “Why Big Oil Wants A Carbon Tax.” Perhaps such advocacy isn’t just made out of a sense of global citizenship and environmental stewardship.

On the surface such advocacy may seem counter-intuitive. Why on earth, other than out of selfless benevolence, would a firm (or group of firms) advocate for higher taxes on their products? But on reflection, it makes some sense, and the reasoning is similar to why an online retailer like Amazon might be in favor of the collection of sales tax at the state level.

As Adam Smith famously put it, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

Companies are often happy to raise prices if it hurts their competition or provides them with a competitive advantage. And in the case of carbon taxes, it’s important to recognize that not all fossil fuels are equally carbon-intensive, just as not all renewable sources are equally sustainable and resilient.

This is one of the economic realities that I wish Pope Francis had recognized more clearly in Laudato Si’, although I may have more to say about this later. For now, David Brooks expresses a similar desire in his column, “Fracking and the Franciscans.”

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, April 15, 2015

7figuresToday is tax day, the day when individual income tax returns are due to the federal government. Here are seven figures you should know about tax day:

1. The average federal tax rate for all households (tax liabilities divided by income, including government transfer payments) before taxes is 18.1 percent.

2. Households in the top quintile (including the top percentile) paid 68.8 percent of all federal taxes, households in the middle quintile paid 9.1 percent, and those in the bottom quintile paid 0.4 percent of federal taxes. (Quintiles — fifths — contain equal numbers of people.)

3. Social insurance taxes (e.g., Social Security, Medicare) account for the largest share of taxes paid by households in all but the top quintile.

4. The U.S. tax code is approximately 2,600 pages long (about 1.5 times longer than Tolstoy’s War and Peace and 2.5 times longer than Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged).

5. At midnight, the U.S. Treasury gets an extra $760 million. Taxpayers have three years to claim refunds, so the $760 million that is owed to 918,600 people will, by statute, go to the governments coffers tomorrow.

6. If you’re owed a refund, you won’t get in trouble if you miss the April 15 filing deadline. But if you’re wrong and you actually owe money, you’ll incur a maximum penalty of 5% for each month after the deadline. If you’re more than 60 days late, you’ll be fined $135, or 100% of the unpaid tax — whichever amount is smaller.

7. Examining 30 years of road crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, researchers found that fatal car crashes increase 6 percent on April 15.