|Taxpayers are not sheep docilely waiting to be shorn.|
Hauser’s Law: Why You Can’t Soak the Rich
By: George Noga – March 3, 2019
There are 7 reasons it is impossible to soak the rich by raising income tax rates; there is only one way it can be done – revealed herein. Full disclosure: I have firsthand knowledge of this by virtue of being a CPA tax professional and, during the 1970s and 1980s, the founder and CEO of one of the largest tax shelter firms in America.
Why You Can’t Soak the Rich With Higher Tax Rates
1. Hauser’s Law: Tax revenue remains constant at 18% of GDP (20% in good times, 16% in bad times) regardless if the top rate is 28% or 92%. This has been true for the 75 years since WWII. Later in this post we explain why Hauser’s Law works.
2. Elasticity of Taxable Income: ETI is a variant of Hauser’s Law and is measured by comparing tax returns before and after tax increases. For incomes above $500,000 the ETI is -1.2, which means the higher rate collected less money than before. For capital gains and dividends, the ETI shows that virtually no added tax is collected.
3. The rich are not the same people: The highest bracket taxpayers are not the same people each year. Someone who runs a family business with modest income suddenly becomes rich for one year when the business is sold. It is precisely such ordinary people (rich for one year only) who get caught in the crosshairs of high tax rates.
4. There is no way to identify the rich: Government (thankfully) has no data on wealth, only on certain types of income – which is a poor surrogate for wealth. It is impossible to soak the rich if there is no way to know who they are. Also see #3 supra.
5. Corporate taxes are not paid by owners: Businesses and corporations collect taxes but the money they pass along to government is not their money. Nearly all business taxes are passed along to consumers as higher prices – extremely regressive.
6. There aren’t enough rich: Not only are they different people from year to year, there just are too few of them to make soaking them worthwhile. The only way to raise significantly more revenue within the current tax code is to tax the middle class.
7. The income of the truly rich is not taxed as ordinary income; it is capital gains.
Why Hauser’s Law Works and ETI is Negative
Hauser’s Law appears counterintuitive; why would government collect the same percentage of taxes when the top rate is 92% as it collects when it is 28%? The answer lies in human behavior; people are not sheep docilely waiting to be shorn. Higher rates incentivize people to go to great lengths to reduce taxes. They will work, save and invest less; barter, retire earlier; hide, defer and underreport income, convert ordinary income to capital gains and not realize capital gains without offsetting losses.
They employ tax shelters; shift income to lower bracket family members; seek out tax-free income; change the amount, location and composition of taxable income; exploit ambiguities and loopholes; shift income to corporations; lobby aggressively for tax breaks, move from one place to another – even outside the US; move into the occult economy; employ top tax lawyers and accountants and much more – mostly legal.
How to Soak the Rich – Using the Tax Code
There is only one way to soak the rich and that is with lower tax rates. It works for the same reasons that Hauser’s Law works; the rich become disincentivized to take measures to reduce their tax bill. Whenever rates drop, the rich pay a much higher share of taxes than before. The 2003 Bush tax cuts resulted in the largest tax increase on the rich in American history; they paid over double what they paid when Carter was president. It works every time, but you won’t hear it from AOC and her compadres.
Our next post debunks another liberal shibboleth, the $15 minimum wage.