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Tax policies

Tobin tax is extremely important for creating healthy economy.

For good discussion on issues see Citizens For Tax Justice. Here is one of thier proposals:

Fact Sheet: Four Ways to End Wall Street's Free Ride

  1.  Make Profitable Corporations Pay Their Fair Share in Taxes Some profitable corporations enjoy so many tax loopholes that they pay no federal corporate income taxes. Over the last three years, General Electric made $7.7 billion in profits, but had an effective corporate income tax rate of negative 61.3 percent. That means that instead of paying taxes, GE received $4.7 billion from the IRS.1 It’s outrageous for Congress to discuss cutting public investments and services for working people while ignoring these corporate tax loopholes. Corporate leaders complain about the 35 percent federal corporate income tax rate but fail to mention that the percentage of profits their companies actually pay in taxes is much lower because of the loopholes they enjoy. In fact, the U.S. has the second lowest corporate taxes, measured as a percentage of the economy, in the industrialized world.3

    Unfortunately, lawmakers of both parties say that if these corporate tax loopholes are removed, the resulting revenue savings should be given back to corporations through a reduction in their tax rate. Hundreds of organizations have urged Congress to take a different approach by ending these loopholes and using the revenue saved for public investments that benefit working people.4

  2. Repeal the Tax Break for Corporations Sending Jobs and Profits Overseas

    Our tax system encourages U.S. corporations to shift jobs and profits overseas. U.S. corporations are allowed to “defer” paying U.S. taxes on their foreign profits until those profits are brought to the U.S. (until those profits are “repatriated”). As a result, U.S. corporations have an incentive to move operations and jobs offshore or just disguise their U.S. profits as “foreign” profits by shifting them to offshore tax havens. Congress should address this by repealing “deferral.”5

    Unfortunately, lawmakers of both parties are considering expanding this tax break into a full tax exemption for offshore corporate profits (often called a “territorial” tax system) or a temporary tax amnesty for repatriated offshore corporate profits. Either of these would simply encourage U.S. corporations to shift even more jobs and profits overseas.

  3. Implement the Buffett Rule

    The “Buffett Rule” is the principle that wealthy taxpayers should not pay a lower percentage of their incomes in federal taxes than middle-class workers pay.6 The problem is that, under the federal personal income tax, certain types of income that disproportionately go to the wealthy (capital gains and stock dividends) are taxed at lower rates than the wages most of us live on. Making matters worse, capital gains and stock dividends are not subject to the Social Security payroll taxes that apply to most wages. As a result, the super-successful investor Warren Buffett receives millions in capital gains and stock dividends and only pays around 17 percent of his income in federal taxes while his secretary earns $60,000 a year in wages and pays 30 percent of this income in federal taxes. Several proposals could implement the Buffett Rule and reduce this unfairness. Congress could eliminate the breaks allowing capital gains and stock dividends to be taxed at lower rates under the personal income tax. 7 Some of these breaks were enacted as part of the Bush tax cuts, so allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire would partially implement the Buffett Rule.8

    Other proposals could help by repealing the loopholes that allow wealthy investment managers and speculators to disguise their income as “capital gains” in order to enjoy the lower tax rate. (For example, Congress could repeal the “carried interest” and “60/40” loopholes.)

  4. Enact a Bank Tax

    The “too-big-to-fail” financial firms now enjoy an implicit guarantee that the federal government will bail them out when needed, a guarantee that is underwritten by all U.S. taxpayers. For these firms, this benefit is far greater than the cash they actually received during the recent bailouts. Congress should make the big financial firms themselves pay for this benefit by enacting the sort of “bank tax” initially proposed by the Obama administration.9

    The President’s initial proposal was a fee of 0.15 percent on the riskier assets held by the roughly 50 financial institutions that have more than $50 billion in holdings. The problem is that the fee is not big enough. The original version of the proposal would raise just $90 billion over a decade, which is insignificant for an industry that has hundreds of billions in revenue each year. 10 Sadly, the most recent version of the bank tax proposed by the Obama administration is even smaller.

Here is one interesting comment about persepectives for tax policy reform from NYT discussion of Herman Cain's '9-9-9' Plan Isn't a Flat Tax - Room for Debate -


999 Simply is the Pizza King US supermarket [trick] of retailing sale price labeling meaning $9.99 That is how consumer are conned in this country. There is nothing original in this hog wash concept. The Pizza King Yahoo is just extending the BS to con the masses with jet another accepted economic ploy , all part of the fundamentally flawed economic system that no body wants to address. Their minds everything is perfectly sound and this whole mess is just a down turn phase.

The bottom line is this so called down turn is eating away the nation from within and sooner then later the fiscal cancer will render the demise of this nation. I have often said that comparing to the fall of the British Empire like a ton of brick after WW2 and then the disintegration of the Soviet System, now it is our turn . The worst of it is that this nation economic besieged, ideologically divided, polarized and on a fast track of self destruction from within insist this path of no return.

This conservative republican menace with its malignant narcissism, chronic scapegoating, incorrigible grab bagging, their racism, bigotry. institutional discrimination, perversity of inequality, rights only of their kind, and all the rest of the hog wash has no qualms, compunction or scruples in sacrificing some 50 million poor and minority US citizens with coercion, reckless abandon and impunity. In fact that is precisely what they are hoping for that 50 million will just disappear.


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[Oct 14, 2011] A Plan for the Uber-Rich

"The plans involves no sense of "shared sacrifice" and no sense that government should pay for the spending it does. This is not the path we want to take." Cain's Tax Plan Needs to Be Recalibrated - Room for Debate - Do the people out there advocating for the removal of the SSI (payroll) tax really realize what they are suggesting?
October 13, 2011 |

Linda Beale is an associate professor at Wayne State University Law School. She maintains a tax blog and is a contributor to Angry Bear, an economics and finance blog.

There's a lot wrong with flat taxes. The term is actually used in two ways - to designate a "flat rate" income tax (often with a zero rate for the poorest) as opposed to our current graduated rate structure that imposes slightly higher rates on those who have more capacity to pay (and have benefited much more from the various government systems that make stable markets, inheritance and the other foundations of great wealth and large incomes possible) or to describe a flat-rate national sales tax (often proposed as a substitute for an income tax).

Flat taxes are regressive, in that they place a high tax burden on the most vulnerable at the lower income scales. Either type of flat tax is regressive, in that it places a high tax burden on the most vulnerable at the lower income scales, for the simple reason that most lower income people use all of their income to pay for food, clothing, shelter and other consumption whereas members of the upper class have lots of cash to spare that they are unlikely ever to consume in their lifetimes. There are additional significant flaws in those tax schemes, like unrealistic economic assumptions, difficult transition paths, rosy revenue scenarios, misleading propaganda about rates and the probability that a national sales tax that cuts deeply into lower income finances will repress consumption that fuels small businesses.

Herman Cain's "9-9-9" tax has all those problems, but appears even more regressive.

Remember that the wealthiest receive most of the capital income, and that their compensation from work is mightily skewed compared to ordinary worker pay - chief executives of big corporations make $10 million to $30 million a year, earning in a day more than many of their workers earn in a full year. Cain's program retains a tax on income, but it exempts capital income from taxation (and eliminates the estate tax) while it imposes a flat rate on wage income apparently with almost no deductions. Since the upper crust has most of the capital gains income and will pay a very low rate of tax on its labor income, this provision represents a significant shift of the tax burden to the middle and lower classes' wage income. Further, the national sales tax will be an additional 9 percent tax on the full after-tax income of most everybody in the bottom half of the income distribution: they'll effectively pay about 18 percent on their economic income. Meanwhile, the richest multimillionaires will pay 9 percent only on their labor income plus the small portion of their income that is used for consumption, resulting in an overall tax rate for the very richest that is likely to be no more than 9 percent (if that) on their full economic income.

The exact nature of Cain's business tax of 9 percent is unclear. It appears to be a form of value-added tax, i.e., a consumption tax collected from end-point consumers that falls most heavily on lower-income wage earners. It will add to the regressivity of the system.

All in all, it seems clear that Cain's plan would favor the uber-rich, who would pay much less tax, proportionate to their economic income, than the rest of us.

Obviously just a gimmick, trying to create a dumbed down version of tax that "normal" people can understand. It is widely known that consumption taxes fall more on the poor than the rich, because the poor use close to 100% of their income to consume goods while the rich save & invest most of their income.

The majority of Americans would be doing themselves a great disservice supporting a candidate that wants to push this plan. Recommend Recommended Recommended by 60 Readers

Paul CA

I agree with Bruce (#1). Sadly Americans have been duped into believing taxes are on the rich are bad (largely because we tend to think one day we too will be rich).


ekeizer4 Oregon
10:33 pmFor all the reasons enumerated above, I just can't believe we're talking seriously about Cain's moronic 9-9-9 tax. The guy jumps in the polls and now intelligent people are required to pretend he's something other than a joke? Come on. The chances of 9-9-9 actually being implemented are, thankfully, very low. Let's forget about Herman Cain and his nonsense and move on. Recommend Recommended Recommended by 50 Readers
Michael New York, NY
11:57 pmThe 9-9-9 tax is an excellent idea and a step in the right direction. The rich will continue to pay the vast majority of the taxes because they make the vast majority of the money. Also, to say that the rich benefit more from the system than the poor is a complete fallacy. The poor are the ones who get welfare, medicaid, public schooling paid for by property taxes paid by the rich, etc, etc, etc.

I think the better plan would be as follows, however:


3% payroll tax on all income with no limit to pay for a cut-down version of SS 6% capital gains 9% sales 9% corporate income 9% income tax on income up to 300k 19% on income above 300k

that would bring in more revenue, be more progressive (but still fair, unlike the current tax code which cripples the economy by unfairly taxing job-creators) and still be extremely simple

Thorm Arizona

A flat (income) tax is supposed to be simple. In my opinion, calculating my income tax from the tax tables is about the simplest part of the procedure. I don't disagree that tax reform is needed to simplify the chore of filling out a tax return but the complaint that progressive rates overly complicates the process is a red herring. I believe that it is just an argument by the wealthy to reduce their taxes. There should be a debate over what the bottom line rate that various taxpayers should pay is given the advantages that earners have in this country. Recommend Recommended Recommended by 15 Readers
Doc NY
If basic necessities -- e.g. food (at markets), housing (principal residence only), medical care -- are exempt, then a consumption tax is progressive, since the relative proportion and amount spent on non-necessities rises with rising income. Taxing short-term financial transactions at 1/20th of one percent would not touch the poor. A great virtue of a consumption tax is that it transfers the burden from middle-class savers to buyers of non-necessities.

Taxing long-term capital gains is doubly unfair: (1) it does not discount the appreciation due to inflation; (2) it does not discount the amount that is reinvested.

Dave K Cleveland, OH
The thing is, although most decent people think raising the tax burden on the poorest Americans is approaching monstrous (they frequently can't afford meals as it is), it seems to me that for a lot of conservatives that's considered a good thing.

The present-day conservative philosophy seems to be summed up by the idea that personal virtue can be approximated by personal net worth.

In other words, a lot of conservatives truly believe that the poor are poor because they are bad people and thus should be treated badly until they either die or are able to become not poor anymore, while the rich are rich because they are good people and thus minor sins like stealing millions of dollars should go unnoticed.

This isn't morally correct, it isn't factually correct, but if you're somebody with wealth it makes you feel better about arguing for taking what little a poor person has so that you can keep your tax rates lower. Recommend Recommended Recommended by 41 Readers

Vernon Huffer Portland, OR
Soon some candidate will have a plan to exempt from taxes all people with a net worth of over a billion and give them all the governmental power. After all that it how it was in France under the Bourbon Kings and they did build some nice palaces and fought plenty of wars. Recommend Recommended Recommended by 20 Readers
Allen Brooklyn, NY
Cain's plan would destroy job-creators. Contrary to Cain's opinion, entrepreneurs do not create jobs, consumers create jobs. Entrepreneurs move the demand in their direction by having a better product or service.

Since the poor and middle class make more of the nation's purchases than the rich by their sheer numbers, despite lower incomes, an increased sales tax will lower demand and kill jobs.

Look, if we tax the VERY poor we will just take the tax dollars we collect and redistribute the wealth to them. However, to some, fairness dictates that everyone pays some federal tax. So long as we do not distinguish between the tax types under the 9-9-9 plan, with some slight modification, I think it is a great starting point and a catalyst for serious discussion. So as I read this series, I am still inclined to support the concept, to add a 9 for estate taxes and capital gains, but not interest, add tax free ot minimal (e.g. 0.9%) income for all up to the poverty level, adjusted annually, reduce or eliminate taxes on certain essential grocery items, and tie them all together. Convert the motor fuels tax to 9% as well. Keep the taxes tied to one another so that when changes are necessary, the burden continues to be shared. While not perfect, and perhaps not fair, it is transparent and should minimize the administration of taxes. And once implemented should provide a stable and forecastable future for individuals and business.
Todd Fox Earth
# 4 wrote: The poor are the ones who get welfare, medicaid, public schooling paid for by property taxes paid by the rich, etc, etc, etc.

Dear Michael; You need to do more research on property taxes and public schooling. First of all, property taxes are paid for by homeowners. Most homeowners are not rich. Even if you are unemployed, and have no income at all, you still "owe" your local government your property tax. It's not a tax on income-it's a tax on the assessed value of your home. This assessment does not change every year. It's done about once every ten years. So, if my home was "worth" $250,000 in 2007 and this was the year my town did the assessment, I will pay on that amount. Even if my home goes down in value to $125,000 I still owe taxes based on $250,000. Even if I lose my job and have no income, I still owe property taxes. Even if I am old, and no longer working, I still owe property taxes.

And most of those taxes go to paying for public schools. Now the thing is, the RATE for property taxes is NOT the same. It varies from town to town. The rate is called a mil rate. In Connecticut, the mil rate in Greenwich is SUBSTANTIALLY lower than it is in a town like Woodbury.

The wealthy of Connecticut live in Greenwich, among other places. The middle class lives in Woodbury. The mil rate in Greenwich is about 7 while the mil rate in Woodbury is about 21 or 22. This means that, proportionally, the people in the middle class town pay THREE TIMES the rate that the wealthy do in Greenwich.

This is a system of indentured servitude, which is heavilly weighted on the backs of the middle class.

Fla Joe South Florida
Poor Michael is drinking at the GOP propaganda well. What makes high earners job creaters? With more income and wealth concentrated in the very top 1-2% of households now then ever since records were kept, we have had an incredibly low level of job creation since the Bush tax cuts. By contrast, Clinton created a surplus in the Federal budget and record number of jobs (there is a link there). What baseless propaganda spewed by the GOP myth spinners and the ultr-rich that the rich create job. Union pension funds invested their monies - but the GOP wants to destroy those too.
.13. Tetra AZ
No We Cain't. Recommend Recommended Recommended by 18 Readers
sharon worcester county, ma
I am wondering what product should the poor and elderly go without? food, clothing, heating, medical care? to compensate for an increase of 9% in their living expenses. Proponents of this proposal argue that the wealthy spend more on consumption so this is not a regressive tax structure. This proposal would be on total consumption including goods and labor!! Our wages are stagnant or regressing. So we should just continually do with less? The wealthy do not spend more on things like food or energy products like home heating oil. They are not charged more for a doctor, hospital or dental visit because they are wealthy. They are not charged more for their groceries in the local supermarket because they are wealthy. The wealthy pay the same price for bread as I do. They pay the same price for eggs as I do. They pay the same price for milk as I do, even though their income is probably 10 times or greater than mine. Do they buy 100 dozen eggs a week or 50 gallons of milk or 100 loaves of bread because they are wealthy? If they go to McDonald's because they are having a "Big Mac attack" they are not charged more for their hamburgers because they are wealthy. Or do they consume 100 hamburgers because they are wealthy!!? My husband ran a service department for an oil company. The wealthy clientele was not charged a higher labor rate for repair service than their poorest clientele. They were not charged more per gallon for oil or charged 10 times more for the repair parts because they were ten times wealthier than the poor. Do phone companies and utility companies charge a higher rate to their wealthy clientele? Do those in their gated communities pay more for electricity and other utilities than those outside the gate? Your ridiculous argument has no substance. This proposal would be devastating to the poor, infirm and elderly and a gift to the wealthy and business industry. This is designed to push the working class and poor into indentured servant status where the wealthy will be able to "Lord over" the rest of us. This is just a proposal to put another nail in the coffin of the middle class and poor and further enrich the obscene coffers of the wealthy. THAT is what this proposal is all about. More cream for the top and less crumbs for the rest. The greed is breath taking. Recommend Recommended Recommended by 13 Readers
While Sharon has a point, I am certain she has missed the point in that 9% of more is still more so that the top 50% earners will pay more than the bottom 50%, the rich just might pay more in consumption taxes for their planes, cars, jewelry and other non necessities and yes the food they eat at high end restaurants will generate more tax revenue than the meal at McDonalds. Furthermore, heating oil is not and may not be taxed under the 9-9-9 plan. Medical Care is generally not subject to a sales tax either. If his national sales tax is modeled on the sales tax system of most states, the tax is much less regressive. Honestly these attacks on a person who feels we should take a hard look at a tax code most people complain about is what is insane, the fear is paralyzing. His pamphlet is about unity and growth. He doesn't claim to have all the answers, but unlike most politicians, he has put forth something for consideration that promotes a fair, neutral, transparent, and efficient tax system and ends nearly all deductions and special interest favors. Fair means different things to different people, but with some room for compromise, this could be more than a Republican Party Primary differentiator, it could be a way forward. Recommend Recommended Recommended by 1 Reader
Howard Larkin Oak Park, IL
Mr. Cain is not really running for president. He's running for a seat on Fox News. And 9-9-9 is just the slogan to get him there. Recommend Recommended Recommended by 7 Readers
RWNorman Silver Spring, MD
All of this reminds me that even when the Republicans are "talking" about tax reform, they aren't. First, if the idea from the Republicans is to "not" raise taxes, then 9-9-9 cannot work and maintain their pledge to Grover Norquist.

Secondly, you cannot tax the poor and working people into oblivion or you erode your tax base.

Third, if you create a 9% National Sales Tax then you have to force states to eliminate their tax programs and then distribute the 9% revenues across the 50 states and territories. Otherwise you place everyone who cannot move to Delaware or the few other States without taxes into a double taxed situation.

Herman is thinking about wavering excise taxes collected by the Federal Government, so 9% is no longer a true figure. You pay 5% per gallon for a highway bank, money on tires for the same, and you probably don't use the roads in another state if you don't live there. So it still redistributes money from one person to another one's advantage.

Who makes money off the roads? Corporations, so they would pay less and receive more in their ability to continue commerce. They already do so with "tax hopping" where they move to a location that won't charge them sewer fees for their massive headquarter buildings and hundreds of toilets. Our flushes pay for theirs. Our road taxes pay for their access to their buildings. Our fees on utility usage pays for their utility usage in toto.

I don't know if Corporations and the rich can actually get a better deal, but the fact is that Cain's 9-9-9 tax reform certainly targets moving all of the poor and working people's money into supporting the rich and Corporations.

The problem is that it isn't economically feasible if you tax the people into oblivion without raising them up from being poor.

Better wages, yeah, maybe that would work.

Roger W. Norman

smg us
999 will automatically increase unemployment... on large scale... of the educated upper middle class. Think of all the tax accountants, tax lawyers, and IRS agents that will be out of work. Then there are the tax preparers and the IRS clerks who will also be out of jobs. All those folks out of jobs will mean a lot less consumption by their families in their communities, contributing to additional job losses. The 999 taxes themselves are so grossly regressive as to be a joke that no respectable newspaper would ever report on with any degree of seriousness. Recommend Recommended Recommended by 1 Reader
Tim M. Anchorage, AK
H. Cain's 9-9-9 is a proposal with unintended consequences. Besides trampling on state's rights, for those state's and localities without a sales tax; his proposal may open the door for a financial transaction tax. Since all financial trades are by definitions "sales" nine percent on all financial transactions would reap a windfall for the federal government, thus solving our deficit issues, and increasing funding to our currently established social programs. Democrats should quickly introduce a national sales tax bill into the senate, and ask republicans to vote against it. Then we can see who is really for tax reform.

Chicago Press, 176 pages, $22.00.

Economists Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot lay out a devastating critique of those who say Social Security is going broke and that something drastic needs to be done. Their useful book deconstructs the gimmicks, accounting tricks, and rhetorical devices used by those who advocate overhauling the system.

Stock Market

The book is also an indictment of an economics that manipulates figure to further the goals of those interests are in stocks.

The book makes an argument about stock market returns that can be considered a genuine breakthrough. "Log run" is advocated returns based on a historical average. "It is easy to present a story in which everyone gets rich if the annual rate of return is high enough," the authors say. The problem is that the future can be more like Japanese model. In their case the theory looks less rosy. The implicit assumption is that the economy will grow over the next 20 years at a at least the 3 percent historical rate. The contradiction is that you cannot have a sluggish economy and a booming stock market over the long run. Once Baker and Weisbrot account for this, the long-term return for stocks falls sharply.

Baker and Weisbrot are sometimes the only voices in Washington making these important technical economic points. And despite their validation by other experts, they have largely been ignored by the pundits

Robert Frank: Tax Harmful Activities to Raise Revenue and Enhance Growth

Robert Frank says taxing harmful behavior can help to solve the debt problem and increase growth at the same time:
Find the Taxes That Do Double Duty, by Robert Frank, Commentary, NY Times: ... Clearly, reduced spending alone can't solve our deficit problem..., we must also raise additional revenue.
The good news is that doing so will not require difficult sacrifices from anyone. But it will require a Congress that is willing to redesign tax policy from the ground up. ...
A tax on any activity not only generates revenue, but also discourages the activity. The second effect, of course, underlies the claim that taxes inhibit economic growth. That's often true of taxes on useful activities...
But the reverse is true when we tax activities that cause harm to others. ... Taxes levied on harmful activities ... generate desperately needed revenue while discouraging behaviors whose costs greatly outweigh their benefits.
Antigovernment activists reliably denounce such taxes as "social engineering"- attempts to "control our behavior, steer our choices, and change the way we live our lives." Gasoline taxes aimed at discouraging dependence on foreign oil, for example, invariably elicit this accusation.
But it's a strange complaint, because virtually every law and regulation constitutes social engineering. Laws against homicide and theft ... aim to control our behavior..., they are social engineering. So are noise ordinances, speed limits, even stop signs and traffic lights. Social engineering is inescapable... Only a committed anarchist could favor a world without social engineering. ...
Taxes are, in fact, a far cheaper and less coercive way to curtail such behavior than laws or prescriptive regulations. That's because taxes concentrate harm reduction in the hands of those who can alter their behavior most easily.
When we tax pollution, for instance, polluters with the cheapest ways to reduce emissions rush to adopt them, thereby avoiding the tax. Similarly, when we tax vehicles by weight, those who can get by most easily with a lighter vehicle will buy one. Others find it cheaper to pay the tax.
The list of behaviors that cause undue harm to others is long. ... Taxing harmful activities is the best way to raise the revenue essential for reducing deficits. Only someone who thinks that people have a right to cause undue harm to others could object that such taxes violate anyone's rights. And because such taxes make the national economic pie bigger, it makes little sense to object that we can't afford them.
The new taxes should be phased in only after the economy is back at full employment. But even with federal taxes at their lowest level since the 1950s, we are unlikely to summon the political will to take that step until leaders stop insisting that all taxes are evil.

Libertarian types will often agree that a market failure exists, and that correcting it would enhance efficiency. But they will rarely agree that the government is the best solution to the problem even when the externalities impose large costs and the benefits of intervention appear to be relatively clear. The argument is that the government is almost always inefficient and incompetent relative to the private sector, exceptions are rare (or non-existent for the true believers), and by intervening the government will cause costs that exceed the potential benefits. This group believes that market failures are best corrected by the private sector in almost every case, and that this will happen automatically if the market failures are important enough. Thus, it's best to let the private sector fix this on its own.

So it's not as though the people who oppose taxes will, when told about this miraculous no cost strategy for raising revenues, suddenly see the light and favor a carbon tax. They won't be slapping themselves on the forehead and saying, "Doh! We could have had a carbon tax!"

And mention of a carbon tax brings up another point. Even when the externalities appear to be relatively clear, and hence the case for a tax hard to oppose, the objections will remain. If theory can't carry the day, and if the data work against you, then attack the data: There is no global warming, or if there is it's not caused by people. There is no growing inequality, it's a mirage due to bad data, or when forced to finally admit that the data say otherwise, it's not due to any type of market failure, it's a reward for talents and skills. You say firms are too large, e.g. financial firms, and have too much monopoly power? You want to tax size? That's because you are defining markets and products too narrowly. When the markets are broadened to a global scale, or products defined very loosely, the market power is not in evidence.

So while I have no disagreement with this, and wish that the government would move to tax obvious negative behaviors, those who oppose taxes will not admit that there is much benefit from the government intervening, but they will assert there are considerable costs. Again, when arguments are presented to them, they aren't going to suddenly realize that this is some magic way to solve our deficit problems. Don't get me wrong, this is a fight worth having, but it's not an argument that will be easily won no matter how obvious and compelling the arguments appear to be.

I didn't expect the recession to change the views of hard-core free-marketeers, but I did expect that people in general would be more receptive to arguments that free, unregulated markets are not always best. I thought more people would come to see that sometimes intervention is needed to ensure markets approximate the conditions needed to maximize social gains. But, disappointingly, with for example Republicans doing all they can to repeal new financial regulation and hardly any reaction from the public, it's not at all clear that has happened on a scale large enough to have a significant impact on public policy.

A Brief History of the Mortgage Interest Deduction By Barry Ritholtz - August 25th, 2010

I keep finding very poor or misleading reporting on Housing in the US. Some of this is sloppy or lazy reportage; others reflect reporters being suckered by Think Tank spin and political narratives.

Lately, the area seems to be misreported the most is the coverage of the Mortgage Interest Deduction. The misleading impression created by some reports is that this deduction is the result of a specific policy designed to encourage home ownership. That is a false narrative, belied by history of the Federal Income tax.

Let's take a quick look at facts so that people understand it better.

The first Federal Income tax in the US was passed in 1894, and subsequently struck down by the Supreme Court. This led to the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment (ratified in 1913), that empowered Congress "to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived."

With this new power, Congress imposed the first taxes. Rates started at 1%, and rose to a whopping 7% for taxpayers with income in excess of $500,000. This applied to relatively few people, with less than 1% of the US population paying any income tax.

As an offset for the taxes, any interest paid (for any reason) was deducted. These were considered business expenses. Indeed, taxes on rents from real estate was a large revenue source. The financing costs of purchasing such rent producing property - a/k/a interest payments - was a ordinary cost of doing business, and hence, deductible.

Keep in mind that during the pre-WW1 period, there was very little interest expenses paid by individuals. Home owners typically owned their houses outright (except for farmers, who either financed or leased the land). There were no credit cards, HELOCs, revolving credit, or student loans.

The deduction on interest was never intended to be a salve to the middle class. It was not designed to encourage home ownership. Indeed, when the interest rate deduction was first considered, home financing was non-existent, and home ownership was not thought of as a public policy. It is not part of any grand scheme of social engineering, as some have called it. It simply has existed since the Federal Income tax came about a century ago.

Indeed, the entire home mortgage deduction is little more than a historical anachronism, a carry over from when all interest payments were deductible.

Now you know . . .


Previously: Housing: Still Widely Misunderstood (August 24, 2010)

Source: History of the U.S. Tax System

See Also: Who Needs the Mortgage-Interest Deduction? ROGER LOWENSTEIN NYT, March 5, 2006

Defending the Mortgage Interest Deduction

PERMALINK Category: Credit, Taxes and Policy. Facebook 35 Responses to "A Brief History of the Mortgage Interest Deduction" mark Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 8:42 am Good stuff.

P.S. I also think you would be well served to apply the same kind of long term historical perspective to your economic and stock market analysis.

Barry Ritholtz Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 8:44 am Mark, you must be new around here.

Over the past 7 years, there have been 100s of posts looking at exactly that.






philipat Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 8:46 am Take this and the other 14,999 pages of the tax code away and introduce a flat tax. The only problem would be that everyone would be able to complete and submit their own tax returns, which would put millions more out of work in both the Government AND private sectors. Efficiency?

xatta Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 8:47 am Well this was certainly interesting info. But it doesn't explain how it came to pass that interest expenses lost their deductability (for individuals) – except for interest on mortgages.

Barry Ritholtz Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 8:49 am They slowly were chipped away over time. Credit cards years ago; Reagan tossed the deductability of student loans, others similarly fell.

Removing the mortgage interest tax deduction would be the biggest tax increase on the middle class in history. Its political suicide for any pol who tries to take it away, and thats why we hear it from think tanks and panels - never from those running for office.

Mannwich Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 8:56 am @philip: Great point. Take away that complexity in most of our industries today, and half the population would be out of work. There wouldn't be enough "work", at least in the short and mid term.

dead hobo Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 9:13 am Philipat,

Agreed that taxes are a fucking mess wrapped in a fucking mess, but let's raise the level of intelligence a bit.

Taxes have three basic parts: 1) Calculate income for the purpose of taxation 2) Convoluted rules for the purpose of social engineering, 3) Prevent scammers from using 1 and 2 in such a way that income disappears and is nontaxable.

People such as yourself look at 1 and 2 and beg for more simplicity. Trickle down economics enthusiasts salivate over the new scams that will flourish to make income disappear if a flat tax is created. Point 3 exists to make things more difficult for thieves and we all pay for it. That won't change under a flat tax. Out of necessity, a lot of unintelligible complex rules will arise to prevent new and creative tax scams.

For example, will depreciation go away? If so, then the concept of basis goes away and so do capital gains and losses. Will income be made to disappear by making like-kind sales so you can continually write off newly acquired business assets? Will passive loss schemes arise again so massive passive losses can be ginned up, soak up real income, and them mysteriously be turned into capital gains? I think so.

As long as we have politicians, the tax code will be a fucking mess or a give-away to the rich or both.

Mannwich Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 9:17 am @dh: I think it's always both.

WFTA Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 9:37 am Simplification has never, ever, been the goal or motivation for anyone advocating change in tax policy. The serious Money wants it complicated and complicate it shall remain. As for a flat tax, I'll agree as long as it is a tax on wealth; not on income or consumption. Any takers?

Though it was not intended to encourage home ownership, I favor retaining the exemption on mortgage interest because I think home ownership should be encouraged. Home owners have a greater stake in their community and that is desirable.

USSofA Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 9:37 am The entire home mortgage deduction is little more than a historical anachronism, a carry over from when all interest payments were deductible….. the mortgage deduction is a holdover from the 1986 tax changes when all other interest deductions went away

dead hobo Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 9:42 am Philipat,

For your reading pleasure, here are just a few areas of tax law that are simple in concept if you look at them from 100,000 feet. But all exist in detail to prevent people from hiding income and, thus, are complex only to prevent scammers from pushing the tax burden onto those who can't hide income as well. Scammers make the following an unintelligible mess:

How about: The always popular related party transaction, passive losses, at risk amounts (you can't write off more than you invest), installment sales, depreciation recapture, trusts, like-kind exchanges, gifting strategies, just to start. Was that thing you gave to charity a valuable piece of art or only a red brick with a happy face painted on it? Most of the rules in these areas are to prevent income from vanishing. Blame the thieves for this shit.

Agreed that politicians make simple things like IRAs nearly unintelligible. If you combine social engineering with tax law, you have a multitude of definitions for 'adjusted gross income'. It's all contextual.

Taxes suck royally, but a lot of why they suck so bad has to do with craven politicians and crooks. A flat tax will only create new problems. What we need is a wall for a few to step in front of, metaphorically speaking.

philipat Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 10:02 am Personal Income is a no-brainer. Everything you make, except in the "Cash/Shadow" economy is at least double reported.

For Corporations, if the US were to introduce a Value-added tax instead of Sales Tax, the IRS would be able to focus its super-computers on calculating revenues and, therefore, by industry norms/comparisons, expected tax receipts for each Corporation. Corporations would be totally honest about VAT collected because it would be offset against VAT paid to suppliers, therefore paying tax only on the net value added.

Most US Corporations have a net tax rate of below what Mr and Mrs High Syreet pay because most of the profit is transfer priced through tax havens.

SO, yes, let's raise the intelligence level a bit. Flat tax anyone?

dead hobo Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 10:11 am philipat Says: August 25th, 2010 at 10:02 am

Personal Income is a no-brainer. Everything you make, except in the "Cash/Shadow" economy is at least double reported.

SO, yes, let's raise the intelligence level a bit. Flat tax anyone?

reply: ----- A lot of what I described above applies to personal tax returns. None is W2 income.

However, you just made an excellent case for the VAT. Apply a rate to revenues. Ignore expenses. Ignore net income. All law concentrates on not hiding revenue and not reaming the underclass.

philipat Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 10:23 am On balance, I prefer the system in Hong Kong, where I lived for many years.

Truly "Laissez-Faire" Government and probably the most free economy anywhere in the world. Personal income tax rates @ 17% AND no tax on every night spent out of Hong Kong because it is, reasonably, deemed that nights away from Hong Kong are not "working" in Hong Kong and should, therefore, not be subject to local taxes. I travelled 85% of the time.

Then, a Company I was working with, had me in the US on a one year assignment and offered me, as one of the "Benefits" of this assignment, a Green card, and absolutely could not believe it when I politely declined.

There's a big world out there.

TheDraconian Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 10:27 am Thanks, Barry. That was a really informative bit of history.

Inadvertently it has today become something of an incentive to buy a house. Or to put a finer point on it, I think there's a lot of fear that removing such an item from tax code would create a disincentive to buy a home.

David Merkel Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 10:32 am Philipat,

Dead hobo is dead on. Leaving aside social engineering, defining what is income is tough. I have my own tax proposal that the rich would fight, but it would be fair, because it would eliminate tax deferral, which is the main way that the rich evade taxes.

philipat Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 10:46 am @David Merkel

Thanks, late night here in Bali now but for sure will read tomorrow.

So it's now, the "Dead-on Hobo"?

Brendan Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 10:52 am Correction: I'm pretty sure student loan interest is still deductible (at least it was when I did my taxes last year). Its subtracted above the adjusted gross income line (not as an itemized deduction), which actually makes it a better deduction for recent grads than it would be if it were part of the itemized deduction. It does start to phase out at $60K or so of income, if I remember correctly.

Regarding the flat tax, I don't get why there are so many advocates of taxing themselves more, but I guess if that's what you're into…


BR: hey, I just looked that up - but its not student loan interest that is deductible, but you can get a tax credit for "qualified education expenses."

The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 added up to $2500 per year in deductions - in 2009, for people making less than $70,000. (IRS TC456)

It is 100% of the first $2,000 and 25% of the next $2,000 of qualified education expenses). (IRS P970)

lovejoy Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 11:29 am Personal interest expense is no longer deductable except for housing. One can't deduct interest paid on their credit cards. So the deuction for interest on mortage debt is a government subsidy.

bergsten Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 11:50 am A more interesting (and probably important) bit of tax history - who thought up withholding? Absolute genius. People never see the money in the first place, so they don't get too upset over (or even realize) how much is being taken away. Much less chance of people just not paying.

Barry? Do you know anything about this part of tax history? I could of course look it up myself, but if "I" posted it, nobody would read it.

VennData Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 11:58 am Pimco's Bill Gross demands the gov't backstop all his mortgage bond investments…

I guess the Tea Partiers will all be dumping their gov't-backed mortgages as soon as they find out how the evil gov't interfered with their home loans.

Business idea: re-fi Tea Partier's 4.8% 30 year fixed loans into 9.3% with five-year balloons( which you can sell into the "free market" for mortgage loans.) Give a free musket ball with every loan.

yudodat Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 12:04 pm So if we are going on intent, then shouldn't only the top 1% still be paying federal income taxes?

philipat Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 12:18 pm Then you will have achieved Socialist Nirvana?

Welcome to Europe.

Thor Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 12:55 pm Great post BR – I do remember writing off my student loans through most of the 90's and early last decade though.

AHodge Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 1:02 pm nice Fed intent on boosting economy through QE2 and long rates that means mostly via mortgages, therefore new building, turnover and refi. stuffing that overbuilt market further is about all fed policy has left, so chance of reform here absolute zero next two years? Venndata Gross was "crying like a p…." as early as AUGUST 2007. An excellent early tell on that whole market going over the falls. From an email i sent Aug 24.

"I reread Bill Gross' latest. I usually admire his advice. This is a desperate man, PIMCO likely holding a ton of this stuff like "everyone" else. Calling for a "reconstruction mortgage corporation" to "..admittedly bail out speculators" while helping homeowners"

He is still at it. Would be toast without the govt trillions. if you think that fannie freddie summit he was speaking at was anything but political theater to give the Ds preelection cover, think again

Jojo Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 1:34 pm How much do you think housing would decline if they eliminated the mortgage interest deduction?

For added explosive power, how about eliminating the capital gains deduction/exclusion for a sold house? I mean, everyone seems to be talking these days about how a house should not be considered an investment, right? So why should there be a deduction for any capital gains?

billdozer Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 1:35 pm If mortgage interest were not deductible for individuals, there would be a massive economic incentive for every homeowner to become a renter. Landlords would still be able to deduct interest (as well as other business expenses), so the deduction for individuals is necessary to maintain parity between owning and renting. I'm not saying there is parity at current price vs. rent levels, but it's at least theoretically possible.

Brendan Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 3:29 pm BR,

No, really, you can deduct interest! And there's what you mention as well. Line 33 of the 2009 form 1040 says "Student loan interest deduction." I even get a form from my lender at the end of the year telling me how much interest I paid so I can put it on my taxes, just like I get from the mortgage company. If I've been doing it wrong, the IRS hasn't caught me yet! I deducted it from 2003-2007. The last two years I've been over the top of the phase-out threshold, so no more deduction. So I know it's been in place for at least the years 2003-2009, and likely many more. Clinton was a big supporter of student loans and grants, so I wouldn't be surprised if it was something that went away and then came back sometime between 1993 and 2000. Or maybe it's always been there. I don't know for sure.

PhilB Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 4:56 pm Lets just start with one simple adjustment in the Tax Code:

Make all profit (Capital or Income) taxed at the same rate. I cant think of any reason except for the obvious self-serving reasons (ownership of assets is concentrated in the wealthy or fueling the insanity of adding to asset bubbles).

Money is money, so there is no reason to pervert the allocation of it or its net rewards by introducing the difference. The risk/reward of the investment should stand on its own merits.

So many things would be simplified! Interest income, dividends, longterm vs shortterm stock gains, real estate gains, even Hedge Funds!. Its just nonsense except for the reasons i mentioned above to subsidize real asset gains. All net income (via labor or investment) should be taxed at the same rate.

I can just see the impact on equities and bond prices! But folks, thats the reality. Equities are made to have the risk premium based on the soundness of the company, not on the fact you get taxed less than clipping coupons!

algernon Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 4:59 pm I believe I read that mortgage interest is not deductible in Canada. Can anyone verify that?

Mark E Hoffer Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 5:26 pm on a tangent..

"We couldn't end the wars and bring all of the personnel home to a nation whose unemployment rate is already busting at the seems. Therefore, the wars are a very costly part of the welfare state. We can't end the War on Drugs, because the DEA agents, prison guards, the court system, parole officers, and the rest of their support staff are part of the welfare nation. We can't simplify the tax code to a flat rate with little or no exemptions, because the bookkeepers, CPAs, accounting professors, and tax attorneys are part of the welfare nation. We cannot streamline healthcare or the department of education, because they are part of the welfare nation. We can't stop the massive "Top Secret" Surveillance-Industrial Complex, because they employ millions in the welfare nation. Finally, we can't end the Wall Street casino, or no one will be left with a job. And this says nothing of the record 40 million people on food stamps which is considered the bad welfare by the establishment.

It seems like the entire U.S. economy is a giant Ponzi scheme where very little tangible production happens. We live in a giant welfare economy which makes real solutions to problems nearly impossible. In fact the problems seem to be the solutions. It's almost as if the corporate-government must keep breaking things to create false jobs and phony GDP numbers (see 9-11, WMD, BP oil spill, and Pakistan). Furthermore, the solutions offered to us tend restrict our freedom. It may be time to re-evaluate how we think of jobs and production in general as the welfare nation will soon run out of monopoly money."

willid3 Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 5:28 pm while limit to net income at all? after all, the reason the tax code is so complex is because as some one pointed out is that if its only net income, some have learned how to game that system, and make it so that it appears they have no income at all, when in fact they have millions of dollars in real income that has been masked from view.

mivey00 Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 6:49 pm "Removing the mortgage interest tax deduction would be the biggest tax increase on the middle class in history. Its political suicide…"

Sad but true. Though I wouldn't be surprised (or saddened) to see the limits on the deduct-ability of mortgage interest decreased over time.

Frwip Says:

August 25th, 2010 at 11:25 pm Thank you, Barry. I did learned something today.

rmasand Says:

August 26th, 2010 at 2:11 am The home mortgage intersst deduction distorts the body economic to almost the same extent that private campaign financing distorts the body politic and our gun laws distort the body human.

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