Distribution of Wealth — A Distortion of Focus

A ‘sociology’ paper by LA Repucci

Wealth vs Wages

Much hay is made of the distribution of wealth in the modern United States.  Recently, the Occupy movement has protested the accruing affluence of a shrinking number of individuals that constitute the top ‘1%’ of wealthy within the country.  Data suggests that the top 1% of income earners in the country represent a myriad of professions, investments, and financial instruments as revenue streams, with the largest portion (30.9%) represented as the executive/corporate professionals, as shown by graphic 1.1 below:

1.1: Top 1% of Wage Earners by Profession, US.  Source, Wikicommons

Analyzing the data from this table paints a picture of broad distribution of wage incomes across a myriad of industries, but fails to account for the disproportionately massive amounts of wealth that aren’t generated by salaries at all, nor are they representative of the fact that the wealthiest legal entities within the US aren’t people — they are tax-sheltered corporate entities:

1.2: Corporate Profits vs Tax Liability

The Corporate Model

Corporations are paper entities recognized by the state as legal persons.  They exist in order to generate and accrue revenue, and pay stakeholders.  Unlike natural persons, corporate entities are immortal.  Instead of competing on the open marketplace for revenue, the most successful and largest corporations have discovered a way to cut the market out of their revenue streams altogether.  It is simply easier and more cost effective to lobby the state to enact laws that protect their revenue stream and squash market forces than it is to operate within a competitive market.  Progressive, draconian tax structures enacted as a hedge against corporate domination of wealth may be adopted by government in an effort to increase tax revenue from the corporations, but in reality, simply provide further incentive for corporations to allocate resources in an effort to mitigate or outright eliminate their tax liability within the US.  For example, Google, the fastest growing and wealthiest of the new tech giants, pays a majority of it’s taxes in Ireland and Bermuda — nations with a far friendlier income tax policy than the US — and bypass their US tax liability almost entirely due to the so-called ‘loophole’ in the income tax law, resulting in the federal government’s lost tax revenue from one of the largest US corporations in history. This leads increasingly to a larger percentage of individuals, sole proprietors and small-to-mid cap businesses shouldering an increasing burden within the tax structure as shown in 1.3 below.

1.3

The State’s Culpability

The new corporate model of tax evasion coupled with astronomical growth in profits-to-cost relies heavily on the government’s complicit action with regard to tax policy and recognition of corporate person-hood.  It is in a company’s interest to make money — but to ‘saw the ladder off’ below them, they require government cooperation to enact laws that make tax sheltering and corporate personhood possible.  This culture of lobbying and outright appropriation of the legislative process has progressed to the point that there is little differentiation between the state and the corporation.  Insurance companies write health care laws, and banking institutions write tax laws and set monetary policy.  The roots of this collaboration run deep through US history, crystallized notably by the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913 on Jekyll Island by J.P. Morgan, Paul Warburg and other global-level financiers with the collusion of Senator Nelson Aldrich, who had close ties to both Morgan and Nelson Rockefeller. (Further reading: ‘The Creature from Jekyll Island’ by E.B. White)  The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was signed into law by then US President Woodrow Wilson, and effectively turned over control of the nation’s monetary policy, issuance of currency, and anti-market fixing of interest rates to a private bank set up as a for-profit corporation called the Federal Reserve Bank, effectively undoing the American Revolution and the work of his predecessor, President Andrew ‘Old Hickory’ Jackson.  The ‘Fed’ as it is known today, continues to be the sole issuer of paper money accepted for the payment of taxes in the US.  While the people remain ‘free’ to trade in whatever currency or barter they choose, all state and federal taxes in the US must be paid in Federal Reserve Notes, giving the Fed a monopoly on currency.

The Corporate-State Combine

A century of the above-outlined activities of corporate entities have led to an overlap between the banking community and government that often goes understated.  JP Morgan/Chase market their banking services directly to government, as clearly outlined in their marketing materials: https://www.jpmorgan.com/pages/jpmorgan/cb/government. It is no surprise that most of the nominees for president, cabinet members, the Fed and legislators exist in a professional ‘revolving door’ environment that moves them from banking to high office and back over the course of their careers.  For example, both major party candidates for president in the last 20 years have had direct professional ties to JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs.  This ‘partnership’ has led to a century of collusion between government and banking, taking an ever-increasing cut of the total wealth out of the real market, and enriching our legislators to the point that many of the wealthiest counties in the nation now surround Washington DC as evidenced in the data provided.  This corporate-government combine acts as a siphon, sucking wealth out of the population through inflation, currency devaluation and increased tax burden, and enriches the corporate interest through outright gifting (TARP, Stimulus, Bailouts, etc) to the wealthiest of the wealthiest of the 1%.  Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest men in the world and owner of Berkshire Hathaway Ltd. championed bailouts while his firm received the largest portion of us taxpayer money from the TARP program. Buffett himself pounds the table for higher tax rates, while he and his company manage to ‘limit’ their tax liability and avoid paying taxes owed back to 2002.  Mr. Buffett is a major campaign contributor to our current President, Barack Obama.

Solutions

With the compound factors of massive increases in government spending (roughly $20,000 annually per citizen), and the steady evaporation of corporate tax liability (less than 40% of the total tax base of businesses in the US is covered by large-cap corporations) the problem of the distribution of wealth in the US is starkly apparent.  To identify what is going wrong in the economy is one thing — providing real solutions is another entirely.  Both major political parties offer their version of the fix — the right would suggest cutting government spending on services and lowering the tax base to broaden it and encourage large cap corporate interests to pay their income taxes in-country.  The left advises steeply progressive tax laws on private citizens (one would assume the left would suggest tax reform for large corporations, but the democrat party has been in charge of the tax law for decades with no such legislation to speak of), and consumption and indulgence taxes on goods and services, combined with further devaluation of the dollar through Quantitative Easing (QE) and raising (or outright elimination of) the debt ceiling.

While it would seem that these two paths are the only potential ‘fixes’ to our nation’s distribution of wealth problem, neither of these plans would provide real, permanent relief to the average citizen who is continually squeezed out of the middle of the economy, with an ever-increasing portion of their revenue taken by the state through tax, and devalued by the state through inflation.  Indeed, it would seem that our problem is not ‘distribution of wealth’, but rather, the redistribution of wealth through taxation and devaluation of the dollar.  Looking at the problem from this perspective, the solutions become simpler and multi-fold.

Monetary Policy/END THE FED

Should the Federal government enact law that checks the monopoly power of the Fed to issue currency by accepting in payment of taxes any and all used currencies in the market, the nation would be free to adopt currencies other than the dollar.

Bitcoin, a decentralized crypto-currency, is a notable example of a market solution to the problem of distribution of wealth.  Though Bitcoin has it’s detractors and a relatively small market cap, it’s value has continued to skyrocket on the open market, and is in the early stages of large-scale adoption and public use.  Bitcoin requires no bank or government to ‘mint’ it as a currency, and is freely traded electronically between users with no bank needed.

Similarly, gold and silver have been used for thousands of years the world over as viable hard currencies.  Hard currencies cannot be devalued through running of a printing press like paper currencies, nor through the click of a button like crypto-currencies.  As there is a finite amount of gold and silver in the market, it’s value has a ‘hard floor’ — it is always worth at least it’s value as a raw material.

The fact that the Federal government will only accept Federal Reserve Notes (which, in itself violates the constitutional directive for the US Treasury to mint coin, not a private bank) in payment of taxes effectively gives the FED a monopoly on currency.  The last US President to order the Treasury mint silver certificates was John F. Kennedy.

Commercial Policy/END CORPORATE PERSON-HOOD

Corporations are legal ‘persons’ with the ability to lobby the legislature directly, resulting in tax laws and policies that favor them over natural citizens of the US.  This has resulted in laws being written directly by corporations, including insurance companies’ authorship of the Affordable Healthcare Act.   The insurance companies’ stock has risen by a factor of 2-5 due to the implementation of the law, while the cost of health insurance for the average citizen has skyrocketed.  Ending corporate person-hood would go a long way to ending the power of lobbyists to purchase legislators, and result in elected officials representing the people who elect them.

Tax Policy/END THE TAX

‘Taxes’, ‘tariffs’, or any other name the state wishes to apply, are simply pseudonyms for extortion — that is, the violation of individual property rights through threats of aggressive reprisal.  When private entities such as a thief or mob perform the same action, we rightly call it theft.  It is completely inconsequent what a thief does with your money once he has violated your rights to acquire it, even if he assures you that it is to your personal, direct benefit that he take your property from you by force.  To fix the distribution of wealth, and as well to return to a moral society where one does not live on the property of his neighbor through state-sponsored theft, all taxes should be eliminated.  If a portion of the population would like to provide a service or product to their neighbors, let them do so legitimately through voluntary free association and exchange.  The state spends more than it takes in in taxes, and floats the rest on credit.  This activity has crippled the purchasing power of the dollar, which has lost 99% of its total purchasing power on the market in the 100 years the Fed has controlled the nation’s currency.

Bibliography:

Wikimedia Commons. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2013.

JP Morgan.com “State and Local Government.” N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2013.

Cogan, John F. Federal Budget Deficits: What’s Wrong with the Congressional Budget Process. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution, Stanford University, 1992. Print.

Reflections on the Income Tax

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with TurboTax lately, looking for last-minute opportunities to manipulate my income – legally, of course – to minimize my income tax.  Why not just hire a professional to do it, you might ask?  I’ll tell you later.

First, let’s remind ourselves what a vile institution the income tax is.  Taxation in general is bad enough – legalized theft, really.  The income tax is particularly onerous because it requires us to drop our pants financially, because it’s hideously complicated and because it generates huge amounts of deadweight loss.

With all the concern about privacy these days we hear precious little about the intrusiveness of the income tax.  We must reveal intimate details of our economic activities.  Of course the IRS holds all that information in confidence – until they don’t.

The tax code, in case you didn’t know it, has become complex far beyond the comprehension of any single tax expert.  Consider, as a random example and a mild one at that, the instructions for line 31 of Form 6251, Alternative Minimum Tax for Individuals:

  • ImageIf you are filing Form 2555 or 2555-EZ, see instructions for amount to enter.
  • If you reported capital gain distributions directly on Form 1040, line 13; you reported qualified dividends on Form 1040, line 9b; or you had a gain on both lines 15 and 16 of Schedule D (Form 1040) (as refigured for the AMT, if necessary), Complete Part III on the back and enter the amount from line 54 here.
  • All others: If line 30 is $175,000 or less ($87,500 or less if married filing separately), multiply line 30 by 26% (.26).  Otherwise multiply line 30 by 28% (.28) and subtract $3,500 ($1,750 if married filing separately) from the result.

Can anyone set this to music?

The original form 1040, issued in 1913, ran to three pages in length with a single page of instructions.  The current federal income tax is set forth in Title 26 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.  You can get your own copy, all twenty volumes running over 13,000 pages, from the Government Printing Office for just $974, free shipping included!

The complexity of today’s income tax leads to hundreds of billions of dollars worth of deadweight losses each year.  A deadweight loss, you will recall, is a loss that is no one’s gain.  Deadweight loss associated with income taxes consists of two parts: (1) tax preparation costs plus costs of finding and implementing avoidance or evasion strategies and (2) lost gains from production and trade because of the disincentives of taxation.  If you’re tempted to say that money spent on accountants isn’t deadweight loss because it generates income for accountants, you haven’t internalized Bastiat’s “Fallacy of the Broken Window.”  If you’re going to count income to accountants you have to subtract the value of their efforts which could be spent doing other things.

TurboTax is good news and bad news.  The good news is that it reduces tax preparation costs while generating profits for Intuit.  The bad news is that lower costs mean taxpayers are less inclined to rebel against the tax code.

What disturbs me most about the income tax is not its complexity but how resigned most people are to this heinous institution.  We forget that taxes are extracted using threats of physical violence.  People are so brainwashed!  Every time I open up TurboTax I face the picture shown here of happy taxpayers.  Or maybe they’re happy accountants.  Or happy IRS agents.  Anyway, I’ve managed to avoid barfing on my keyboard thus far.

So why do my own taxes?  Stubbornness, I guess.  First of all, I’m an engineer and a numbers guy.  I can figure this stuff out (I think).  With TurboTax I can play what mathematicians call finite-difference games to see how hypothetical increments of various kinds of income alter my tax liability.  Second, I hate to shell out a four-figure fee to an accountant who may add little or no value to what I can do on my own.  But mainly I guess it’s just the perverse satisfaction in doing first-hand combat with The Man.

If you’re like me and have some choices about income such as IRA withdrawals or realization of capital gains, better get cracking ‘cause you only have about three weeks left.

Let’s Celebrate Loopholes

I’ve just finished my income tax return. (Have you finished yours?) Silly me, I do it myself using TurboTax – all 59 pages of my federal return plus 80 for California. I’ve got investment income, including partnerships and foreign stock dividends, two small businesses, social security and a pittance of wage income from San Jose State University. And a bunch of deductions and credits.

The whole process puts me in a foul mood, and my wife and even the cats know to steer clear till it’s done. One reason is obvious: the mind-numbing complexity, even with TurboTax. Even more galling is the humiliation and gross indecency of dropping my pants financially. This is the land of the free?

The New York Times had an interesting article in last Sunday’s Magazine, “What’s the Easiest Way to Cheat on Your Taxes?.” The article led off with the assertion: “If economists ran the tax system, there would be virtually no exemptions or loopholes.” To which I say, just a cotton-pickin’ minute! If I ran the tax system, and assuming I couldn’t set the rate at zero, exemptions and loopholes would stay and maybe even multiply.

How can I say this after belly-aching about the complexity of my return? Simple – the complexities provide me enough tax-cutting opportunities to outweigh the damage to myself, my wife and the cats. I’ll leave the details out just in case the gentle folk at the IRS read this humble blog.

Why do I do it myself? Partly because I don’t want to spend hundreds or maybe thousands on a professional preparer, but also because his interests would not align exactly with mine. His primary goal would be to cover his rear, especially with the IRS cracking down on professional preparers. My goal is to achieve the right mix of boldness and caution in claiming deductions and credits.

A good bit of ink has been spilled (and electrons) about “fair taxes” lately. It’s unfair, says the Community Organizer in the White House, that Warren Buffett’s average tax rate (or was it his marginal rate?) is lower than his secretary’s. Conveniently overlooked is the fact that his dividend income has already been taxed at the corporate level. As Gene Epstein showed recently in Barron’s, when you add in that corporate tax you get a much different story. The rich pay a substantially higher percentage of their income than most of us on this basis.

So what is a fair tax anyway? The same percentage for everyone? No exemptions, no deductions? Why is that any fairer than a head tax – a levy of so much per person? How about a regressive head tax, since poor people tend to use more government services than rich people?

What of two people earning the exact same income? Surely fairness demands that they pay the same tax – equality before the law and all that. But suppose Mr. A is a struggling young man with lots of debt, trying to start a family while Mr. B has inherited millions. Both earn the same income but is it fair that they pay the same tax? I leave it to you.

When you get right down to it, there just isn’t any such thing as a fair tax, simply because taxes are coercive exactions – theft, if you will.

Still why wouldn’t a flat tax with no deductions be at least a small improvement, as Steve Forbes and other conservatives advocate? The late Murray Rothbard demolished that idea in The Case Against the Flat Tax. Here’s his comment:

“The closing of ‘loopholes’ under a flat tax will mean a merciless and continuing search-and-destroy mission by which the government will root out and obliterate every little hideyhole in which many of us have been able to squirrel away a bit of our own earnings and are own property, and keep them safe from the ever-expanding maw of the federal government.”

I concur. Let’s celebrate all the loopholes, not just those that protect some of our own income, but any break for anybody at all.

Releasing Income Taxes

Disgusting!  is my reaction to calls to candidates to release their income tax returns.

First of all, income tax records are supposed to be able to be kept private.

I can understand wanting to know candidates’ special-interest connections, but these usually do not show up in tax records.

Also, criticism of the low tax rates paid by some candidates is unwarranted. It is not a crime to seek to minimize one’s taxes. Moreover, given an income tax, there are good reasons why dividends and capital gains have lower tax rates. Dividends are already taxed by the corporate income tax. Long-term capital gains have already been taxed by inflation.

Ron Paul said regarding his taxes that his income was low compared to other candidates. What he should have said is, “my taxes are none of your business!” Moreover, the income tax should be abolished. Calls to reveal income tax forms imply approval of income taxation.

Disgusting!