The failed experiment - Page 4

How misplaced faith in tax cuts and other economic myths are destroying the country

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When it comes to state and local taxes, the poor bear a heavier burden than the rich in every state but Vermont
ILLUSTRATION BY JUSTIN ROSE

Pfizer, the drug company, was the biggest beneficiary. It brought home $37 billion, saving $11 billion in taxes. Almost immediately it started firing people. Since the law took effect, it has let 40,000 workers go. In all, it appears that at least 100,000 jobs were destroyed.

Now Congressional Republicans and some Democrats are gearing up again to pass another tax holiday, promoting a new Jobs Creation Act. It would affect 10 times as much money as the 2004 law.

8. Republicans like taxes too.

President Reagan signed into law 11 tax increases, targeted at people down the income ladder. His administration and the Washington press corps called the increases "revenue enhancers." Among other things, Reagan hiked Social Security taxes so high that by the end of 2008, the government had collected more than $2 trillion in surplus tax.

George W. Bush signed a tax increase, too, in 2006, despite his written ironclad pledge to never raise taxes on anyone. It raised taxes on teenagers by requiring kids up to age 17, who earned money, to pay taxes at their parents' tax rate, which would almost always be higher than the rate they would otherwise pay. It was a story that ran buried inside The New York Times one Sunday, but nowhere else.

In fact, thanks to Republicans, one in three Americans will pay higher taxes this year than they did last year.

First, some history. In 2009, President Obama pushed his own tax cut—for the working class. He persuaded Congress to enact the Making Work Pay Tax Credit. Over the two years 2009 and 2010, it saved single workers up to $800 and married heterosexual couples up to $1,600, even if only one spouse worked. The top 5 percent or so of taxpayers were denied this tax break.

The Obama administration called it "the biggest middle-class tax cut" ever. Yet last December the Republicans, poised to regain control of the House of Representatives, killed Obama's Making Work Pay Credit while extending the Bush tax cuts for two more years — a policy Obama agreed to.

By doing so, Congressional Republican leaders increased taxes on a third of Americans, virtually all of them the working poor, this year.

As a result, of the 155 million households in the tax system, 51 million will pay an average of $129 more this year. That is $6.6 billion in higher taxes for the working poor, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated.

In addition, the Republicans changed the rate of workers' FICA contributions, which finances half of Social Security. The result:

If you are single and make less than $20,000, or married and less than $40,000, you lose under this plan.

But the top 5 percent, people who make more than $106,800, will save $2,136 ($4,272 for two-career couples).

9. Other countries do it better.

We measure our economic progress, and our elected leaders debate tax policy, in terms of a crude measure known as gross domestic product. The way the official statistics are put together, each dollar spent buying solar energy equipment counts the same as each dollar spent investigating murders.

We do not give any measure of value to time spent rearing children or growing our own vegetables or to time off for leisure and community service.

And we do not measure the economic damage done by shocks, such as losing a job, which means not only loss of income and depletion of savings, but loss of health insurance, which a Harvard Medical School study found results in 45,000 unnecessary deaths each year

Compare this to Germany, one of many countries with a smarter tax system and smarter spending policies.

Germans work less, make more per hour and get much better parental leave than Americans, many of whom get no fringe benefits such as health care, pensions or even a retirement savings plan. By many measures the vast majority live better in Germany than in America.