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# Paying your "fair share" of taxes

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22 Feb 2009, 09:36
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I was originally going to post this as a response in another thread, but since it would bring the discussion pretty far off topic, I decided to start a new post.

skitalets wrote:
Amen, Toubab. Especially the fact that most wealthy people actually do not pay a very high effective tax rate -- this is something Warren Buffet has been on about:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/money/ ... 996735.ece

I believe he has a \$1m bet open that no Fortune 500 CEO pays a higher tax rate than their administrative assistant. So far no one has opened up their finances and taken him up on the offer.

A corollary argument that is irritating is that the US has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. Given all the exemptions and loopholes available, this is only true on paper. The actual effective corporate tax rate paid by most corporations is very, very low. My wife is writing her LLM thesis in tax on this very subject.

There has been a lot of noise during the past election about whether the wealthy and/or corporations pay their "fair share" of taxes. I thought I'd share some data on exactly who pays how much in taxes:

Individual Income Tax
(Data from 2006 tax year)

Adj. Gross Income...Effective Rate...Share of Total Income...Share of Total Tax Paid
>\$200,000................21.8%...................33.6%......................53.2%
\$100,000-\$200,000.....13.1%...................21.5%......................20.4%
\$75,000-\$100,000.......9.5%....................12.7%......................8.8%
\$50,000-\$75,000.........8.6%....................14.8%......................9.2%
\$40,000-\$50,000.........7.8%....................5.6%........................3.2%
\$30,000-\$40,000.........7.0%....................5.2%........................2.7%
\$25,000-\$30,000.........6.5%....................2.1%........................1.0%
\$20,000-\$25,000.........5.7%....................1.8%........................0.7%
\$15,000-\$20,000.........4.7%....................1.3%........................0.5%
\$10,000-\$15,000.........3.3%....................1.0%........................0.2%
\$5,000-\$10,000...........2.6%....................0.3%........................0.1%
<\$5,000....................(7.2%)..................(0.1%).......................0.0%

Looking at the effective rates, it does appear that the tax system is indeed progressive, with the effective rate increasing as income increases.

<snark>As for Mr. Buffett, if he believes his tax rate is too low, I would encourage him to visit the following site: http://www.fms.treas.gov/faq/moretopics_gifts.html </snark>

Source: http://www.irs.gov/taxstats/index.html

Corporate Taxes

Every publicly traded company in the U.S. needs to include a footnote in its annual financial statements reconciling their effective tax rate to the U.S. statutory rate of 35%. It's a great way to understand why the effective rate is higher/lower than the statutory rate. Indeed, many companies have a much lower effective rate. This is due, in large part, to their tax planning strategy which attempts to move as much production or value creation into lower tax jurisdictions in order to avoid paying the 35% to the U.S. Here's a small sampling:

Company...............Current year eff. rate...Impact of foreign operations...Adj. Effective Rate
Goldman Sachs.....................1%..........................(30%)...........................31%
GE...................................6%..........................(27%)...........................33%
ExxonMobil........................44%............................6%.............................38%
Wal-Mart...........................34%............................2%.............................36%
Johnson & Johnson...............24%...........................12%.............................36%

Once you adjust for the impact of these companies' foreign operations, their effective rate is in the 30s.

Source: SEC filings
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26 Feb 2009, 19:01
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Look, it's clear that elements of capitalism and free enterprise are the greatest driver for human economic progress in the world. Countries that have liberalized their markets and allowed enterprise to flourish - China, India, Viet Nam, etc. - have prospered. As a guy with an economics background going into international development, I know that's clear. So let's not make this an argument about capitalism vs. communism, because that debate's been done already.

It's worth pointing out that the U.S. is really rather socialist in many ways. Social security? Unemployment insurance? Folks back in the 30s thought stuff like that was the encroaching hand of the Third International. And we have a very robust regulatory atmosphere that keeps things stable. A much better example of more bare-knuckled capitalism would be India or China - where endemic corruption and weak/absent regulation makes the markets much less stable. So it's all a matter of degrees. A healthy free market needs prudent government guidance to be sustainable.

Also, it's debatable whether we have the "highest standard of living" in the U.S. Just pointing to Bill Gates doesn't prove much. We do have much higher crime rates than in, say, Europe (though very far from "the highest in the world" - that's ridiculous); we also have greater social mobility, but not nearly so much as we like to think. We have a deeply unequal society in terms of income and privileges, and it's not an endorsement of socialism to point out that that is very unhealthy for our society and our democracy.

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24 Feb 2009, 05:55
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spiridon wrote:
So, was the society fair to the majority of these people at the first place?

Is it fair that some people own natural resources and thus re-produce their wealth over and over? (For example, shouldn't forests, oil, coal and land belong to every person born here equally or exclusively given to chosen few)

Common ownership of forests, oil, coal and land (ie the means of production) is the basis for socialism and communism. Karl Marx criticized private ownership of these resources and described a "proletarian revolution" that would take back these assets for the people. Capitalism on the other hand is based on the belief in private property rights and ownership. Unfortunately, wealth inequalities are a natural by-product of capitalism.

As for whether society is "fair", I think fairness should be measured in the opportunities provided by society, not by whether we all have equal amounts of money in our bank accounts. Rather than work to redistribute wealth, we should be focused on whether or not our education and labor systems allow each person the opportunity to realize their fullest potential. Is it unfair that Bill Gates has untold billions of dollars more than I will likely ever see in my lifetime? I don't think so, because it's also highly unlikely that I will ever create a Fortune 500 company from scratch.

IMHO, people need to stop worrying so much about how much their neighbor has and worry more about whether or not they're making the most out of their own life for themselves and their family.
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23 Feb 2009, 09:02
I'm in an airport waiting to board a plane, but I can promise you that I pay more than 7% in taxes. My after-tax income is probably something like 75% of my gross. And given the way progressive taxation works (and rightly so), I don't see that the "% of taxes paid" is really that important. The bottom line is that of course we should concern ourselves with how much everyone pays in taxes. Buffet can afford to pay a lot more, in absolute terms as well as in percentage of income, than I can. That said, everyone needs to pay taxes. This is a point I agree with Joe Biden on - it's a patriotic gesture that represents your buy-in to the society in which we all live. Even if you eventually are refunded some of that money - in the form of EITC, rebates, credits or whatever - paying it is what matters to most folks.

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23 Feb 2009, 09:58
To clarify, the % above is purely federal income taxes, and would not include any other taxes such as state income taxes, Medicare & Social Security taxes, disability and unemployment taxes, etc. So it's not surprising your withholding is more than 7%.
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23 Feb 2009, 13:58
To add to Jerz's point, thanks to various deductions and credits "effective tax rates" are generally a lot lower than the tax bracket your gross salary usually falls into. So even if you're within the 25% tax bracket when considering gross annual income, your "effective tax rate" (or, the % of your income you actually pay out to the federal/state authorities in taxes) will be considerably lower.

For someone in the 15% bracket, a 7% effective tax rate will not be extraordinary.

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23 Feb 2009, 14:35
I would like to do some tax planning for, let's say, the next 30 years.
What's the maximum rate one should be expected to pay?
50% ? 75%?
I'd happily sign up for a progressive rate if there was a guarenteed max rate that the government could never exceed.

That being said... I'd much prefer a flat tax, and would even moreso prefer the fair tax... but then, the politicians would be out of power. Boo friggin hoo.

www.fairtax.org

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23 Feb 2009, 14:36
The Top 5% richest own 60% of the wealth (so 95% of the population has 40%)

The top 20 percent own over 80 percent of all wealth. (Guess... 80% of the population own only 20%)

So, was the society fair to the majority of these people at the first place?

Is it fair that some people own natural resources and thus re-produce their wealth over and over? (For example, shouldn't forests, oil, coal and land belong to every person born here equally or exclusively given to chosen few)
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24 Feb 2009, 07:19
Jerz wrote:
spiridon wrote:
So, was the society fair to the majority of these people at the first place?

Is it fair that some people own natural resources and thus re-produce their wealth over and over? (For example, shouldn't forests, oil, coal and land belong to every person born here equally or exclusively given to chosen few)

Common ownership of forests, oil, coal and land (ie the means of production) is the basis for socialism and communism. Karl Marx criticized private ownership of these resources and described a "proletarian revolution" that would take back these assets for the people. Capitalism on the other hand is based on the belief in private property rights and ownership. Unfortunately, wealth inequalities are a natural by-product of capitalism.

As for whether society is "fair", I think fairness should be measured in the opportunities provided by society, not by whether we all have equal amounts of money in our bank accounts. Rather than work to redistribute wealth, we should be focused on whether or not our education and labor systems allow each person the opportunity to realize their fullest potential. Is it unfair that Bill Gates has untold billions of dollars more than I will likely ever see in my lifetime? I don't think so, because it's also highly unlikely that I will ever create a Fortune 500 company from scratch.

IMHO, people need to stop worrying so much about how much their neighbor has and worry more about whether or not they're making the most out of their own life for themselves and their family.

great post jerz, sound like a true chicago school economist !

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24 Feb 2009, 13:10
don't be silly, there is no such thing as "fair share of taxes"

otherwise it wouldn't be called taxes.

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24 Feb 2009, 22:21
I don't really bother posting on these anymore, because it's pretty clear there are two opinions that can't be reconciled.

But I will say, though I don't mind paying my fair share of taxes, I will complain nonetheless when I write out my check to the government on April 14
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25 Feb 2009, 20:13
Jerz wrote:
Common ownership of forests, oil, coal and land (ie the means of production) is the basis for socialism and communism. Karl Marx criticized private ownership of these resources and described a "proletarian revolution" that would take back these assets for the people. Capitalism on the other hand is based on the belief in private property rights and ownership. Unfortunately, wealth inequalities are a natural by-product of capitalism.

Sounds like a rich man's opinion.

Seriously though, you would feel differently if you were, say, a Brazilian villager living in a rainforest, or a Nigerian living in poverty in the Niger Delta while Chevron pumped billions of dollars out of your tribe's ground. This attitude is as much an outgrowth of our cultural background as it is "economic theory" - and the people who disagree with it aren't always doing so simply out of envy/distrust for those with wealth.

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25 Feb 2009, 20:37
terp26 wrote:
Jerz wrote:
spiridon wrote:
So, was the society fair to the majority of these people at the first place?

Is it fair that some people own natural resources and thus re-produce their wealth over and over? (For example, shouldn't forests, oil, coal and land belong to every person born here equally or exclusively given to chosen few)

Common ownership of forests, oil, coal and land (ie the means of production) is the basis for socialism and communism. Karl Marx criticized private ownership of these resources and described a "proletarian revolution" that would take back these assets for the people. Capitalism on the other hand is based on the belief in private property rights and ownership. Unfortunately, wealth inequalities are a natural by-product of capitalism.

As for whether society is "fair", I think fairness should be measured in the opportunities provided by society, not by whether we all have equal amounts of money in our bank accounts. Rather than work to redistribute wealth, we should be focused on whether or not our education and labor systems allow each person the opportunity to realize their fullest potential. Is it unfair that Bill Gates has untold billions of dollars more than I will likely ever see in my lifetime? I don't think so, because it's also highly unlikely that I will ever create a Fortune 500 company from scratch.

IMHO, people need to stop worrying so much about how much their neighbor has and worry more about whether or not they're making the most out of their own life for themselves and their family.

great post jerz, sound like a true chicago school economist !

Yeah that is a very popular opinion championed by rich stakeholders. But it is not true. It is not fair. Not moral as well. The stability of the society depends upon majority not the minority. So, long term goal oriented governing structure will seek a solution to tax these very wealthy and fund science projects, education, healthcare, pensions and other means of quality life.

Having overprotected very few ultra rich who pass their wealth to their heirs does not bring any good. Society should create equal protection and opportunities for everyone. This prolly sounds very visionary but that stage in human society will ultimately arrive, when we figure out that greed and selfishness should go away.
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26 Feb 2009, 05:52
spiridon wrote:
This prolly sounds very visionary but that stage in human society will ultimately arrive, when we figure out that greed and selfishness should go away.

Have you considered the possibility that the stage in human society you describe has not arrived precisely because greed and selfishness are an inherent part of human nature?
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26 Feb 2009, 07:24
Jerz wrote:

Have you considered the possibility that the stage in human society you describe has not arrived precisely because greed and selfishness are an inherent part of human nature?

Yes, but have you considered a fact that a society where majority is well-suited is more stable and happier to live in for everybody then a society which protects only few ulra rich.

So, other (also inherited traits) such as to be happy, to feel safe, to feel confortable around people and neighbors can overcome individual selfishness and replace it with 'group' selfishness.
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26 Feb 2009, 10:46
spiridon wrote:
Yes, but have you considered a fact that a society where majority is well-suited is more stable and happier to live in for everybody then a society which protects only few ulra rich.

So, other (also inherited traits) such as to be happy, to feel safe, to feel confortable around people and neighbors can overcome individual selfishness and replace it with 'group' selfishness.

These utopian ideals are fantastic, but in reality are impractical. However, the United States in its current form is the closest thing in man's historical existence to your version of an ideal society. In human history, there have always been the 'rich' and 'poor', and there always will be. The best society can hope for is to give the poor the opportunity to become the rich and vice versa. This happens everyday in this country and people need to realize having poor people is not a bad thing. Having the same people be poor is bad, but there is nothing you can do to eliminate poverty. The best you can hope for is to elevate the standard of living so high that what was once considered middle class is now considered poor, which we have done in this country over the last 75 years.

I know it pains you to admit it, but capitalism is the direct cause for the elevation of the living standard in this country. There is a reason poor people in 3rd world countiries live on \$1 a day and in America, the poor can go to Harvard and afford to eat 3 meals a day. It's because that same poor kid can grow up to be Bill Gates, whereas no other country on earth gives every person that same opportunity. Now if you want to tax the 'rich' to try and make things fair or because you have some deep seeded jealousy towards those that are more successful than you, then that's your opinion. But just remember that no man ever got rich worrying about what other people were doing. That man worried about what he was doing.

Focus less on what your neighbor pays in taxes, and more on what you pay now and what you will pay in the future. You might like the results. Also, get off this fair kick because life is not fair, and the sooner you realize that you can't make it so, the better off you'll be.

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26 Feb 2009, 12:16
jb32 wrote:
These utopian ideals are fantastic, but in reality are impractical. However, the United States in its current form is the closest thing in man's historical existence to your version of an ideal society. In human history, there have always been the 'rich' and 'poor', and there always will be. The best society can hope for is to give the poor the opportunity to become the rich and vice versa. This happens everyday in this country and people need to realize having poor people is not a bad thing. Having the same people be poor is bad, but there is nothing you can do to eliminate poverty. The best you can hope for is to elevate the standard of living so high that what was once considered middle class is now considered poor, which we have done in this country over the last 75 years.

I know it pains you to admit it, but capitalism is the direct cause for the elevation of the living standard in this country. There is a reason poor people in 3rd world countiries live on \$1 a day and in America, the poor can go to Harvard and afford to eat 3 meals a day. It's because that same poor kid can grow up to be Bill Gates, whereas no other country on earth gives every person that same opportunity. Now if you want to tax the 'rich' to try and make things fair or because you have some deep seeded jealousy towards those that are more successful than you, then that's your opinion. But just remember that no man ever got rich worrying about what other people were doing. That man worried about what he was doing.

Focus less on what your neighbor pays in taxes, and more on what you pay now and what you will pay in the future. You might like the results. Also, get off this fair kick because life is not fair, and the sooner you realize that you can't make it so, the better off you'll be.

The US has the one of the highest crime rates in the world. Why? Because many of its citizens grow up in ghettos and slums, they drop out of schools and they end up on streets. They will later on try to sell drugs to yours and mine kids.

It is estimated that around 4 million people in the US are homeless.
Also, with one out of every 100 Americans behind bars, it is easy to see there is a lot of room for improvement.

Rich cannot enjoy being rich if they are constantly worried about their kids being kidnapped or their property stolen etc.

It is bad for all of us if society is favouring one group over another and not trying to balance everything out. When u speak of living standard, you are terribly wrong. Average US worker is far beyond in terms of his living standard compared to that in many EU countries, Canada, Australia etc. Average Joe in the US has only 2 weeks of vacation, expensive healthcare, and croocked social security system.

Average worker in EU receives one month of paid vacation, free healthcare, pension and education.
I guess ultra-rich live far better then the population compared in this example, they enjoy inside their mansions, with big pools and their houses are surrounded by big walls, surveilance cammeras and dozens of guards.

If you happened to live in several countries on several continents, you would be able to see the greater picture from many perspectives and avoid callin me to be "in pain", "jealous towards rich" etc.

I understand you have been told all ur life this is 'the best whats outta there' but dont u think u should question it or just take it for granted?
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26 Feb 2009, 12:21
jb32 wrote:
I know it pains you to admit it, but capitalism is the direct cause for the elevation of the living standard in this country.

I've been trying to stay out of this conversation, but this comment really bothered me.

Liberal or democrat != anti-capitalism.

Why is it that people fail to understand that there's a spectrum? It's not binary. You're not either a free market capitalist or a socialist. There is a huge middle ground.

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26 Feb 2009, 12:28
zoinnk wrote:
jb32 wrote:
I know it pains you to admit it, but capitalism is the direct cause for the elevation of the living standard in this country.

I've been trying to stay out of this conversation, but this comment really bothered me.

Liberal or democrat != anti-capitalism.

Why is it that people fail to understand that there's a spectrum? It's not binary. You're not either a free market capitalist or a socialist. There is a huge middle ground.

Yea that's true. However spiridon is clearly a socialist/anti-capitalist. This is exemplified by this comment "For example, shouldn't forests, oil, coal and land belong to every person born here equally or exclusively given to chosen few?"

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Re: Paying your "fair share" of taxes   [#permalink] 26 Feb 2009, 12:28

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