WSJ Obama Tax 3.0: When even 3 times is NOT a charm

The Wall Street Journal offered a publication-wide editorial that pointed out the fact that Barack Obama’s economic plan is now undergoing its third incarnation.

The Obama campaign has been attacking the Bush economic plan, and trying to label McCain’s economic plan for being a “third Bush term.”  But at least they have a plan; Obama now has three.

A pandering-based economic plan that shifts as the winds blow is not one that is worthy of trust.

Read The Wall Street Journal editorial:

Obama Tax 3.0
September 9, 2008; Page A24

The good news is that Barack Obama said on ABC Sunday that he might not go through with his plans to increase taxes.

The bad news is that the economy has to be mired in recession to avoid the largest tax increase in the nation’s history.

Our check of the Dow Jones Factiva database suggests that other than viewers of ABC’s “This Week,” only three or four newspapers carried an account of Senator Obama’s amended tax plan. While it’s possible that the story of a deferred tax increase could shock the media into paralysis, we take it as an encouraging sign. The education of Barack Obama continues apace.

For the record, here is what he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

Mr. Stephanopoulos: “So even if we’re in a recession next January, you come into office, you’ll still go through with your tax increases?”

Senator Obama: “No, no, no, no, no. What I’ve said, George, is that even if we’re still in a recession, I’m going to go through with my tax cuts. That’s my priority.”

Mr. Stephanopoulos: “But not the increases?”

Senator Obama: “I think we’ve got to take a look and see where the economy is. The economy is weak right now. The news with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, I think, along with the unemployment numbers indicates that we’re fragile. I want to accelerate those tax cuts through a second stimulus package, get more money into the pockets of ordinary Americans, see if we can stabilize the housing market, and then we’re going to have to reevaluate at the beginning of the year to see what kind of hole we’re in.”
* * *

Even individuals staring down the barrel of Mr. Obama’s tax increases should not wish for an economic recession to give them a reprieve. The relevant point is that it was early last year, when the “Bush economy” was still humming, that Senator Obama first proposed pushing taxes sharply upward on “the wealthy,” while giving what he calls “tax cuts” (actually they are credits, not rate reductions) to “the middle class.”

At the time, Mr. Obama was the long shot in the Democratic Presidential sweepstakes, and it made some political sense to reassure the party’s intensely liberal primary voters with class-war boilerplate on taxes.

Under ObamaTax 1.0, he would have repealed all the Bush tax cuts, lifted the cap on wages subject to the payroll tax, put the top marginal rate up to 39.8% and raised the rate on capital gains and dividends to at least 25% from 15% now. The official campaign line was that tax rates really don’t matter to economic growth.

Summer arrived, the Clinton challenge was history and with the general election ahead came ObamaTax 2.0. It posited that the top rate on capital gains now would be 20%, described on this page August 14 by economic advisers Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee as “almost a third lower than the rate President Reagan set in 1986.” This was progress.

Now with the big vote less than 60 days off and John McCain pounding him as a tax-raiser and pulling ahead in some polls, the Democratic nominee has decided to release ObamaTax 3.0, the most interesting upgrade so far. If the economy is still weak in January, a President Obama might defer all of the planned increases.

Several interpretations of this shift are possible, none of which reflect badly on Senator Obama’s political learning curve.

At the bloodless level of simply wishing to win, the Obama camp may have concluded that in the sprint to November it is a losing strategy to be the election’s only doctrinaire tax raiser. A tight race tends to focus political minds, and none forget Walter Mondale’s catastrophic promise in his 1984 acceptance speech: “Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.”

Beyond this lies the economic reality of jacking up income, investment and payroll taxes on “the wealthy” amid a flat or falling economy. In the standard narrative, these taxpayers exist as fat cats atop hedge funds, banks and megacorporations. Let’s toss into the vat the top-tier managers of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Beltway’s own fat-cat sinecure.

The reality is that the creators of new jobs in the economy are more likely to be rising entrepreneurs or filers under Subchapter S, who typically pay taxes at individual rates. Hanging three or four tax millstones around their productive necks in January if the economy is weak will likely produce unimpressive growth and job numbers in the first year of the new Obama Presidency, and likely beyond. That in turn could drag down the Democrats in Congress who will get credit for voting these higher taxes into law.

Thus Mr. Obama’s unambiguous answer Sunday to whether he’d insist on his tax increases if the economy is in an official recession: “No, no, no, no, no.” It seems Mr. McCain is right that taxes do matter.

Mr. Obama’s most ardent primary supporters may not like it, but we’ll take the five “Nos” as evidence that Senator Obama may be learning the difference between liberal doctrine and sensible governance.

John Edwards’ “two Americas” is little different philosophically from Karl Marx’s “two classes” (i.e., the bourgeousie and the proletariat).  And Barack Obama is merely beating on the same old economic drum that the far left have been beating for years.

It is the wealthy who create jobs by their leadership, their investment, and yes, their hard work (If you don’t believe me, find a homeless guy and ask him to give you a job).  The simple fact of the matter is that if the wealthy lose their incentive to work and invest, the economy will tank as they withdraw from the market and shelter their assets.

According to the Congressional Budget Office figures (Historical Effective Federal Tax Rates: 1979-2005, released December 2007) on “Individual Income Taxes”:

The top         1% Pays 38.8%
The top       20% Pays 86.3%
The top       40% Pays 99.5%
The bottom 60% Pays 0.6%

The actual facts are just the opposite from what we are routinely told, aren’t they?  Let me put it in capital letters so you can see it better: THE WEALTHIEST 40% OF AMERICANS PAY 99.5% OF THE INCOME TAXES!!! And they’re not paying their fair share?  The Democrats and the media have won the case in the culture by misrepresenting the truth.

And we see a continuation of a deliberate attempt to distort the truth: every time Barack Obama claims that he will cut taxes for 95% of Americans he is lying: the overwhelming majority of the Americans Obama is describing already pay no federal taxes! You can’t divide by zero anymore in economics than you can in mathematics.

When the Bush tax cuts took effect, it threw a lot of people (in that 60% group) off the tax roles entirely, and created a new lower tax rate (people who’d been paying 15% rate paid a 10% rate, etc).  It is a flat out lie to say that the rich benefited unfairly from the Bush tax cuts.

Further, the Bush tax cuts not only increased the total revenues collected by the government, and not only increased the total taxes collected from the rich, but it also increased the actual rate of taxes that the rich paid relative to lower income classes.  And it did so by giving them an incentive to invest more, and produce more.

If I may quote from one of my previous articles:

And not only do the rich pay a higher percentage of their wealth in taxes under the lower taxes of the Bush plan, but they pay a higher ratio of their wealth in taxes than they did when the rates were higher:

for the top 5 percent and 10 percent of earners, the ratio of taxes paid compared with income earned has risen. For example, in 1980, the top 10 percent earned 32 percent of the income and paid 44 percent of the taxes—a ratio of 1.4. In 2004, this group earned more of the income (44 percent) but paid a lot more of the taxes (68 percent)—a ratio of 1.6. In other words, progressivity—in terms of share of total taxes paid—has risen. On the other hand, for the top 1 percent of earners, progressivity has declined from a ratio of 2.2 in 1980 to 1.9 in 2004.

Finally, corporations currently pay a 35% federal tax rate.  Republican Presidential hopeful John McCain wants to reduce that to 25%. Why?  Because he’s trying to make the U.S. more competitive, that’s why! The world average corporate income tax rate for industrial democracies is 24%. The 35% rate – which is the 2nd highest corporate tax rate in the world – makes the U.S. less competitive.  You want to know why jobs are going overseas?  There’s one of the big reasons.  Some of the others are the demands of American labor unions, environmental regulations, the lack of protection from frivilous lawsuits, etc.  But those issues are for another day, and will certainly not be solved by punitive tax rates that only undermine our economy and our jobs.

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