Posts tagged with: taxation

Thomas-Piketty-014Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has created quite the stir, and with its overwhelming size (700 pages) and corresponding array of commentaries and critiques, it’s tough to know where to start.

Cutting through such noise, Russ Roberts provides his usual service on EconTalk, chatting one-on-one with Piketty about the key themes, strengths, and weaknesses of the book. The interview is just over an hour, and I encourage you to listen to the whole thing.

Piketty lays out his argument quite concisely in the beginning, followed by a fruitful back-and-forth led by Roberts. For those who aren’t aware, the book chronicles a recent rise in economic inequality, wherein, by Piketty’s account, wealthy elites sit on their stashes while those at the bottom increasingly struggle to keep pace. His solution: Tax, baby, tax.

In response to such an approach, there are many areas to poke and prod, but Roberts zeroes in on one of the more fundamental and overarching questions: What about those who accumulate their wealth by helping those at “the bottom”?  (more…)

uncle-samIt’s tax day, and though I’m sure you’ve already begun your revelry, I suggest we all take a moment of silence to close our eyes and relish that warm, fuzzy feeling we get when pressured by the IRS to pay up or head to the Big House.

Indeed, with all of the euphemistic Circle-of-Protection talk bouncing around evangelicalism — reminding us of our “moral obligation” to treat political planners as economic masters and the “least of these” as political pawns — we should be jumping for joy at the opportunity. Nuclear warhead funding aside, progressive Christianity has elevated Caesar’s role to a degree that surely warrants some streamers.

Yet, if you’re anything like me, you did the exact opposite, writing off purchases, deducting charitable giving, and — gasp! — trying to get some of your money back. (more…)

parsonage (1)On Friday a federal judge ruled that an IRS exemption that gives clergy tax-free housing allowances is unconstitutional. The exemption applies to an estimated 44,000 ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and others. If the ruling stands, some clergy members could experience an estimated 5 to 10 percent cut in take-home pay.

Aside from the question of constitutionality, the clergy exemption raises a question that many people — whether religious or not — are likely to be wondering: Why exactly do ministers receive a tax exemption for their housing allowance?

At the website of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, I explain the historical, legal, and ecclesiological reasons for allowing the exemption and why it’s an issue of religious freedom:
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As occurrences of preventable diseases increase and the debt deepens, some look to “sin taxes” as an easy to solution to both problems. Thirty-three states have even gone as far as to implement a soda tax in an attempt to curb obesity. At first glance sin taxes seem to be a good idea, but they can actually cause more harm than good.

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University has just published a working paper on sin taxes and their negative effects. The study was conducted by Adam J. Hoffer, William F. Shughart II, and Michael D. Thomas.  They have found that taxing specific goods or services based on perceived “negative externalities their consumption generates”  is an ineffective source of revenue.

The authors summarize their findings in a recent U.S. News and World Report op-ed:

  • Lobbying: Millions of dollars have been spent to thwart taxation of the soft drink industry’s products and to prevent existing taxes from being raised. In 2009 alone, the industry spent more than $57 million on lobbying. Such lobbying expenditures are socially wasteful. How much money is now being spent attempting to block Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on 32-ounce soft drink containers?
  • Regressive taxation: Far from being income-neutral, such taxes are regressive because their burden falls most heavily on people with the fewest options—the poor. Low-income households who continue to purchase goods that are sin-taxed will have even less money left over to spend on other items.
  • Revenue not used for its intended purpose: Sin taxes raise revenue by transferring money from those who continue to buy the taxed items straight to the coffers of the public treasury. Taxing sin might be reasonable if the revenue from these taxes was used to address the underlying negative consequences of consumption. In the real world, however, money generated by the tobacco settlement financed general spending and not smoking cessation programs or treating smoking-related diseases. The social security trust fund has been replaced with treasury IOUs, and the highway trust fund filled by taxing the sin of driving will fail to meet obligations as early as 2015.

You can read the entire working paper, “Sin Taxes: Size, Growth, and the Creation of the Sindustry” here. Acton president and co-founder, Rev. Robert Sirico has also written about the consequences of sin taxes. You can read his “Hate the Sin, Tax the Sinner?” here.

Guidelines for nonprofits are often misunderstood, says Dimitri Cavalli, and they are sometimes misrepresented by those seeking to quiet churches:

Every so often, there are calls for the federal government to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches. The most common arguments made for taxing churches are that exemptions deny the government important sources of revenue to pay its bills, and that many churches (usually the ones that continue to teach traditional sexuality morality such as the Catholic, Evangelical, and Mormon churches) often abuse their tax-exempt status by violating IRS guidelines that prohibit them from engaging in political activity. The chronic obsession with the activities of the churches in the public square has obscured the fact that they are only a part of the overall nonprofit sector. According to data collected by the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), there are over 1.5 million registered nonprofit organizations (with combined total assets of nearly $5.7 trillion as of August 2012) in the United States today—many of which are nonreligious institutions and organizations that, like churches, seek to influence public policy despite being tax-exempt.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
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What is the “fiscal cliff”?

The term “fiscal cliff”, which is believed to have originated in Congressional testimony by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, refers to the substantial changes to tax and spending policies that are scheduled to automatically take effect in January 2013. The changes are intended to significantly reduce the federal budget deficit.

What are the tax and spending policies that will change?

Several major tax provisions are set to expire at year’s end:
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Below is an excerpt from a 1925 Washington Post editorial on President Calvin Coolidge’s Inaugural Address. The comments speak directly to the moral arguments Coolidge was making for a free economy. It is the kind of moral thinking about markets and taxes we desperately need today from our national leaders.

The excerpt comes from an excellent book, The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election by Garland S. Tucker, III.

Few persons, probably, have considered economy and taxation moral issues. But Mr. Coolidge so considers them, and his observations give a fresh impression of the intensity of his feeling on this subject. He holds that economy, in connection with tax reduction and tax reform, involves the principle of conservation of national resources. A nation that dissipates its resources falls into moral decay. Extravagance lengthens the hours and diminishes the rewards of labor. “I favor the policy of economy,” says Mr. Coolidge, “not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people” [emphasis added]. He would protect those who toil by preventing the waste of the fruits of their labor. The burden of taxation is excessive. It makes life more meager, and falls hardest upon the poor. The United States is fortunate above other nations in the opportunity to economize. It is at peace and business activity has been restored. “The collection of any taxes which are not absolutely required, which do not beyond reasonable doubt contribute to the public welfare is only a species of legalized larceny,” is Mr. Coolidge’s vigorously expressed conclusion on the subject of economy.

It’s a logical, simple, and a deeply moral message. Some might call it common sense. Our times and the economic peril we face clearly calls for a commitment to reducing government spending and our tax burden. It has fallen on deaf ears in Washington and much of America. Coolidge’s words resonate today because it is the cure for our fiscal cliff and the ailing economy. And as Coolidge understood so well, it is the moral thing to do.

The Goldwater Institute has released a new study showing that states with a larger share of entrepreneurs do a better job at reducing poverty than states with fewer entrepreneurs.

There is a strong connection between a state’s rate of entrepreneurship and declines in poverty. Statistical analysis of all 50 states indicates that states with a larger share of entrepreneurs had bigger declines in poverty. In fact, comparing states during the last economic boom—from 2001 to 2007—data show that for every 1 percentage point increase in the rate of entrepreneurship in a state, there is a 2 percent decline in the poverty rate.

To help reduce poverty, policymakers should focus on increasing the number of entrepreneurs in their state. Research shows that one of the most effective ways to increase entrepreneurship is by lowering tax burdens. In particular, this study shows that high tax burdens, measured as a percentage of personal income, drags down the growth rate of entrepreneurship in a state: for every 1 percentage point increase in the tax burden, there’s a corresponding 1 percentage point drop in the entrepreneurship rate. States without income taxes also have higher average rates of entrepreneurship than those with income taxes. The average number of sole proprietors as a percentage of employment in states without an income tax is 21.7. The rate for states with an income tax is 19.6.

You can access a PDF of the report here.

After every electoral defeat—whether suffered by Republicans or Democrats—a period of hand-wringing and soul-searching inevitably develops in the days and weeks after the election. Journalists and politicians take to print to explain “What went wrong” and “Here’s what should be done differently.” Although the solutions are almost always what the pundits were saying before the election, the exercise in self-reflection is, on the whole, a much needed corrective. But too often the advice tends to be of the always terrible, “We should be more like the party that won.”

A prime example is an article today by Wick Allison, publisher of The American Conservative. Allison voted for Obama in 2008 and hinted that he would do so this year too. So it probably shouldn’t be surprising that that his economic solution looks similar to what President Obama would endorse.

Allison says that the “Republican Party can appeal to ‘Judeo-Christian values’ as long as the sun shines and their voices hold out. But they’ve abandoned the most basic moral value of all: fairness.” While he may have a valid point, Allison muddies the argument by his misunderstanding of both taxation and fairness:

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This week I wrote about the dignity of paying taxes (among other ways of contributing to social flourishing). But as we know, not all taxes are created equal. Indeed, as Antony Davies and James Harrigan write this week at US News, “Politicians are in the business of buying votes with tax breaks and sweetheart deals for their preferred constituencies, and they have to offset these deals by taxing disfavored constituencies at increased rates. The longer this game is played, the more convoluted the tax code becomes.”

As I argued previously at Capital Commentary, this amounts to a kind of back door social engineering (as well as playing favorites, picking winners, and so on). The fundamental purpose of taxation is not to buy votes and give preference to lobbies and special constituencies. Instead, as I write, “The point of taxation is to raise funds to enable the government to fulfill its moral, political, and social responsibilities.” Such a view is ultimately at odds with a Utilitarian theory, which considers taxation to be a tool rather used “to maximize overall well-being in society.” Matthew Weinzierl argues for greater attention to a theory of Equal Sacrifice, which on Weinzierl’s account “assumes individuals have the first claim to their output, and that they voluntarily agree to form societies that collect taxes in order to purchase public goods.”
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