Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Fair & Flat vs Progressive Income Taxes

Subtitle: How Progressive Income Taxes Undermines American Freedom and How to Make it Right.
(original draft from December 2008)

What is wrong with the federal income tax system?

Well, first of all, it misuses the taxation power granted to the federal government through political wheeling and dealing that tends to benefit wealthy political insiders while leaving the middle class and others to be pandered to and over taxed.

This country was founded on the proposition that all men were created equal and it was set in law with the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. It requires the government to treat people equally.  That equality means that politicians will not be classifying people by race, gender, religion or any other arbitrary classification they can fabricate to bend the law to the liking of their benefactors.

But they do.  They classify people by income level and tax us at different rates accordingly.  Somewhere along the line someone, then someone else, then a bunch and then a mob of people thought adding the word "progressive" to the tax system would give it a modern, 'keep up with the Jones' flair and stuck with it. It allowed several campaign issues.  Very few voters make a lot (the so called "One Percent"), are demonized for success, while the middle class (a large voting block) is pandered to and low income earners are given a pass.

Under the progressive tax system you are classified according to income and taxed at different rates.  The the more you make the higher your income tax base rate.  Unbelievably, when JFK was sworn in, the top marginal tax rate was 90%.  Can you believe that?  Well, don't be troubled too much because the taxes paid from that group was actually much lower as a percentage of income.  The progressive tax system includes a massive amount of deductions, credits, non-taxable income and many, many loopholes that the wealthy pay tax accounts to find and apply for them.  Nevertheless, the 90% rate sends chills to anyone considering moving into that tax bracket.  As a 12 year old I thought I'd like to be rich: to make a lot of money.  And then I learned what the tax rate was.  Of course, I knew nothing of all the deductions and hidee-holes where earnings could be stashed.  In my youthful lack of sophistication it occurred to me that I would be working for some snake oil salesman vs working for myself at a 90/10 ratio.  The result: I became an employee.  I am an employee to this day.  (Hey, don't knock it.  I've had a great life and it is not over yet).

So, what it boils down to is the progressive tax system is a massive labyrinth that requires the use of professionals to navigate and is designed to influence taxpayers to do the bidding of the political class.

To summarize, our progressive income tax system is unfair, it pigeonholes people into "classes" for special treatment, is easily corrupting, and is the tool of politicians who care less about upholding their oath of office than empowering and enriching themselves.  The only reasonable response is to change the the system.

Changing the tax system

The cure to all of this is a flat income tax system that is easy to understand, removes requirements to keep much in the way of receipts, proof of deductibles, and credits.

Flat and Fair income tax would enhance individual freedom, return everyone to equally, reduce income tax accounting expenses and remove a propaganda tool from the politicians' bag of tricks.

My Idea for a Flat and Fair income tax

No, not the Fair Tax and not the Flat Tax...

I am not recommending the Fair Tax advocated by radio host Neal Boortz nor the Flat Tax of former Representative Dick Army fame. I am recommending a fair income tax that does not pigeon hole Americans into arbitrary and unfair classes according to how much we earn and does not offer carrots (deductions and loopholes) to influence individual behavior.

Flat and Fair income tax would have only one rate for everyone and on every kind of income. A simple majority to lower the rate and a super majority to raise it.

The Flat and Fair income tax would tax incomes taxes for all earnings above $35,000.00 annually (a starting point). To pay income taxes people must earn enough to care for their families and to prosper. A deduction for dependents and for state and local taxes paid would be the extent of the "loopholes".

I would offer the same deal for businesses, except to allow for business expenses. But that is for later.

So why is this a good plan, the best plan for America?

As I said above it enhances individual freedom, allows all to prosper, removes the need for government to keep Americans under a microscope and reigns in government influence pedaling. An added bonus is removing the need for class warfare as a political tool  and the influence of politics on individuals.

Enhancing individual freedom.

This plan removes political influence and puts an end to the annual accounting tricks, such as jumping through hoops and bending over backwards to comply with this year's favored loopholes and deductions.  It would end the need to save receipts that prove you are entitled to deductions, hiding income overseas and all the rest. A W-2 from employers and 1099's for retirement/health savings accounts, Social Security cards for family members, and a 1040 short form would be your only paperwork.

The influence congress uses to control our lives is primarily through income tax deductions. You need your income for your family, so you take all the deductions that are offered. First up are marriage and dependents.

Some would argue that marriage and dependent deductions are necessary because they encourage family values and procreation. While I believe that the nuclear family is the foundation of a free and moral society, I fail to understand how it is any of the federal government's business to promote marriage and offspring. I've looked through the US Constitution and the subject isn't even mentioned.   If you think about it, isn't procreation the mandate of the Christian Church? It looks as if government codified religion into the law in the face of that pesky First Amendment. I think it is best to let people be free to do what they would be doing anyway and remove the taxpayer sponsored cash prizes.

The next, and everyone who is able to buy a home's favorite, mortgage interest deduction. I believe this one would be the hardest to part with. The overt premise is people would not pursue the American dream of home ownership if not bribed into it by government, and, I have to admit that may be true these days as Americans have become used to their bonuses. But, I believe I would want to own my own home whether or not the government paid me to indulge and I am not that different from everyone else. Besides if you do the math (I did the math before buying my first home) you start out spending $10 thousand annually in mortgage interest and property tax (another deduction) to get $600.00 or $700.00 off your income taxes, and you must itemize to claim the deduction (don't forget to add in the fee of your tax preparer). Many times the "standard deduction" covers most or all of your "savings". Savings, now that's funny.  It today's market of sub-prime loans there is almost no interest on a mortgage initially, so it seems that deduction is hardly relevant.

Another deduction: Charitable giving. Does the government really need to promote charitable giving? Is it really charitable if you are receiving a refund (i.e., being paid in part) on your giving? Probably not. Besides, it looks like something a religious person would want the government to do for them (to support their church. Recall the "First Amendment" again) and something a secular person would claim violates the law.

The deduction for medical expenses is not much more than an insult. When you add up all of your medical expenses (ensure that they qualify) and you can deduct everything over 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. So, if your gross income was $40,000.00 and you spend $5000.00 in legitimate medical expenses, you get to deduct $2000.00... if you itemize. Again, it is very often easier and you will save more taking the standard deduction.

More deductions: Education expenses, Health savings account deduction, Moving expenses, One-half of self-employment tax, Self-employed SEP, SIMPLE, and qualified plans, Self-employed health insurance deduction, Alimony paid, IRA deduction, Student loan interest deduction, tuition and fees deductions, domestic production activities deduction.

Alimony: Really? Really?

Instead of pursuing happiness, you are bending to some bureaucrat's idea of how you should act and documenting it as well. Do as they say: keep your receipts and pay an accountant to figure all of this out. Oh, and if you don't pay your alimony through the court, you didn't pay it at all.

Let's just scrap it.

The Case Against Progressive Income Taxes

Most Americans believe that anyone who is willing to do the work that would improve their lives, such as getting an education, experience, working hard and being motivated to succeed, should be afforded the opportunity to do so and not be punished for their accomplishments. This is the opportunity of freedom that capitalism provides, and is what has built an America with the most successful, free, and prosperous civilization in the history of the planet. It allows the poorest among us to become the wealthiest. Capitalism allows anyone to be successful, which helps everyone as long as cheating and unfair advantages are prevented as much as possible.

Enter our government. They have power, on loan from the people, to protect us all from the cheaters and those who would take away our freedom. This has worked fairly well for over two centuries with only a few real problems (mostly based in racism, class and political machinations).

Now enter the career politician. He or she needs a platform to run on help in some way.  Or else why even have them?  (well someone has to manage it)

Now look at the sickeningly large number of Americans who want the most successful to be punished for their success (64%). Is that who we are? Is that who we want to be? Not me.

Progressive taxes punish success with fines in the form of higher taxes while encouraging the working poor to stay that way. Not counting payroll taxes (FICA and Medicare), people who do not earn very much, nearly 50% of all wage earning Americans, are rewarded with no fines, er, taxes. In fact many families in this class are honored with cash rewards from the federal government for remaining that way. That certainly lessens the urgency to find a better paying job.

A couple of other things to consider about our current tax system

1. The federal government's guiding contract does not include influencing us to do, buy, speak or act in some way they decide would be best. There is no contracted power to do this. The result is the loss of personal income in the form of higher taxes leads directly to a loss of individual freedom.

2. Pop Quiz: Politicians use tax policy to influence people to spend money and act in a way that they (politicians and their lobbyists) have determined is:
1. Best for the country.
2. Best for their supporters who send lobbyists and money to them.
3. Best for them (makes 'em look like they care and gives them a re-election talking point).

If you answered with number one, you've missed the point and need to widen your sources of information and start looking at government's actions with a healthy sense of skepticism.

The federal government should not be:

1. Influencing working Americans by pitting some Americans against others. This is actually is a self-serving political control tactic and, in my opinion, is completely un-American and is an abuse of and contrary to the American contract.

2. Using the tax code to influence individual actions: It's not in the federal government's charter. This includes special incentives for those who buy homes, credits for having children, IRA deductions, child care credit, etc., etc. Having all of those income tax loopholes allows an equal people to benefit un-equally under the law depending on how they act, what they do, and who they support. A clear violation of the US Constitution.

3. Using the tax code to entrench themselves in government: The opposite of the framers intent.

4. Using taxpayer dollars to institute programs that redistribute wealth by confiscating earnings from one individual and handing it over to other individuals: Removes incentives to be responsible for oneself and encourages bad behavior by lobbyists and politicians.

Only a  flat and fair tax rate would treat workers more equally and be in compliance with the US Constitution.

The progressive tax system is a very bad idea that treats individuals unequally and unfairly according to assigned "class", gives the federal government too much influence over individual behavior, and it is massively complicated.

Here is how the progressive Taxes and classifications break down.

US Congress has created eight distinct classes of Americans based solely on their earnings. The tax rates in 2010 are zero, less than zero, 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33% and 35%. (See what your basic income tax rate is here). Additionally, they created taxable sub-classifications, used to influence people to act in a way that they (politicians and their lobbyists) believe we really want to act, but cannot or would not without their generous monetary influence. These actions include the previously mentioned marital status, bonuses for having children, deductions and credits for mortgages, charitable giving, paying your state and property taxes, etc. Corporations are treated in much the same way with credits for business expenses.

If someone earns $34K and pays 15%, ($5,100) before deductions, but if that same person earns $375K they would pay 35%, or $87.5K, again before deductions.

How any of this classification and influencing individual behavior passes constitutional muster is bewildering to me. This system judges and classifies people according to their ability to earn a living. The more successful are paying the higher tax rate and this is justified by claiming the more successful people do not need all that money. Success is judged by the notion that the "rich" probably cheated to earn all that and are taking a 'piece of the pie' away from the poor is implied. The truth is under a growing economy, the pie grows as well.

But the progressive tax system is very unfair and in my estimation, un-American. Again, a flat and fair tax would necessarily remove political influence from individuals and still draw more money from higher earners.

I still believe the vast majority of Americans believe in fairness when dealing with each other. It only makes sense that if everyone treats others fairly, minimizing prejudices, preventing fraud and being treated as we would treat others, it makes life much more relaxed and enjoyable. This ideal was incorporated in the US Constitution and specified with the Fourteenth AmendmentEqual treatment under the law. Plain and simple.

There is a better way: a Flat and fair tax rate

What tax rate would be appropriate?

I am classified (by law) as a middle class American, so I pay my taxes, taking the appropriate deductions, loopholes and credits as allowed by the benevolent government, and I end up paying about 13% of my annual income to the federal government (not including FICA and Medicare). Listening to pundits and others I get the impression that nearly everyone who pays taxes averages around the same rate by contorting themselves to comply with as many of the loopholes that the US Congress provides. So it probably would be just as sensible to have a flat tax rate that is in that vicinity, 12-15 percent; while removing all political correctness.

It is as simple as that. A 12 to 15 percent flat income tax at the federal level.

The revenue would be about the same, but all of the political influence, the picking of winners and losers and special treatment would be removed from politicians and bureaucrats.

We bother with this because we do not need politicians making us twist ourselves into knots and spending time and money trying to comply with their idea of correct behavior in order save our earnings for our families. We do not need them in our homes, we don't need their self-serving class warfare, we certainly don't need to hand over our earnings so that politicians can filter it through their lobbyists and moneyed supporters before returning part of it to us in the form of programs to make life easier for someone else.

And finally, the federal government should be paying the bills for those items that are covered in the charter, i.e., the list of enumerated powers under Article 1, Section 8, of the US Constitution. I quick skimming of this section will reveal that their is no provision for the federal government to buy lunches for school children, provide unemployment insurance and housing, cable TV to federal prisoners, supplementing Medicaid, and constructing buildings to have their name put on them, among many other projects and programs they spend trillions of our dollars on.

Additionally, the new code must include a stipulation that taxes cannot be raised without a two-thirds majority in congress and that lowering taxes only requires a simple majority. This would call for a constitutional amendment: and a better one I cannot think of.

Explaining the influence: Do we, as a country, collect 35% of the earnings from workers?  Of course not. Well, the wealthy have options. In addition to having children or adopting, they can perform little tricks, keeping records, putting money here (401k's, IRA's), putting money over there (off shore), performing the way the government likes to see them performing, and then hiring expensive accountants to make it all look that good, to reduce the tax burden. A flat and fair income tax that eliminates congress's tax games would solve the problem of hiding income as well.

Now (December 2010), there is a debate of consequence going on in Washington D.C. The politicians on one side want to keep the progressive federal tax laws at the same rates as they have been since 2003. The other party wants to ratchet up the rate on the so-called "rich". And when this debate is over, it ain't over. Notably, none of them are debating the constitutionality of these taxes so I will. Nearly all members of the US Congress were arguing for keeping the progressive tax code and some politicians (on the left) are vilifying Americans for being successful.

President Obama and other politicians, have decided there is an amount of money that is enough for anyone (the president says "I do think at a certain point you've made enough money"). Implying that anything over that amount should belong to all the people, as filtered through government. If you make over $250,000.00 ($373,650 filing jointly) you are "rich" and should pay the maximum percentage of your earnings that is deemed appropriate by politicians and their lobbyists (currently 35%). Because, of course, you do not need that much money and they do need it.

Speaking in favor of raising taxes on the rich, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders mocks wealthier Americans with,
"How can I get by on one house? I need five houses, ten houses! I need three jet planes to take me all over the world! Sorry, American people. We've got the money, we've got the power, we've got the lobbyists here and on Wall Street. Tough luck. That's the world, get used to it. Rich get richer. Middle class shrinks."
Mr. Sanders demonstrates his absurd demonization of successful Americans. He is trying to convince others that the wealthy are gluttonous leeches who became wealthy by cheating and stealing the livelihood of all other less successful Americans and that their wealth indicates excess, waste and greed. He does this, along with other Progressives, for political purposes: using class envy to further their own careers. He never mentions how many jobs, innovations, medicines, products and services the successful among us provide, not to mention all of the giving that goes on (Mr. Sanders managed to part with $825 of his $174,000 salary in charitable giving in 2008 - OpenSecrets), while the filthy rich, Mayor of New York City was only able to donate $200 million to the "arts" last year (The Mayor must be a rotten person and is trying to buy friends).

Can our government treat Americans any differently? Constitutionally, the short answer is no. But in reality, the answer is "as long as we allow it, government can do as it pleases". It seems the people have forgotten that the government's power is on loan from the people. It's the people need to exercise their power.

Income taxes have been gathered as a percentage of income since before income taxes became constitutional with the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment. Congress has modified the code many times, explaining the need for more money and using the excuse that those who earn more should pay more. Surprisingly, I agree. If you make $100,000.00 you should pay more than someone who earned $30,000.00. A flat rate would necessarily require more from someone who earns more, since it is a percentage. A 15% flat tax would take $15000.00 from the $100K worker and only $4500.00 from $30K worker. $15K vs $4.5K. It is still more, but ultimately it is inherently fair to both.

The US Constitution

The US Constitution, a contract among the people, was designed to limit the power of the federal government in favor of individual liberty. Government is restricted to a list of powers referred to as "enumerated powers" (Article I, section 8) and starting with the Bill of Rights, there have been changes to the contract designed to improve individual freedom and ensuring the continuation of American liberty.

Article I, section 8 states in part: "but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;" This is our first clue that government was not supposed to discriminate among states and people: treating some with favors and punishing others. The ability to to discriminate would give those in government power; Too much power.

The Fourteenth Amendment instructs government at all levels to treat individuals equally. It should be brought up whenever our representatives debate any issue and especially when the topic is income taxes. Unfortunately that isn't happening, and instead of a mostly neutral unintrusive central government that upholds laws and defends the citizenry, it has become an additional or replacement parent who is spending money we do not have to give the appearance of caring for our every need. They are influencing us to act in a way they believe is correct, setting limits on individual autonomy, defining and redefining property laws and generally removing freedom from individuals in favor of themselves. We have almost come full circle back to the kind of unhealthy government situation that our forefathers fought and died to rid us of. In government officials continued quest for self-empowerment, they have created a class system for punishing achievement and rewarding failure.

The America I know has as it's foundation a sense of fairness in our interactions and dealings with each other. We are taught from an early age that cheating, stealing, discriminating, and lying are very bad behavior. I was also taught that envy served no honest purpose, but only caused problems. That is is holding true with the use of envy in political discourse. And I still believe in the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Our politicians seem to have forgotten those basic principles of a free society in the face of those protections from these classifications built into the US Constitution. Both political parties are ignoring it.

The Founding Fathers never envisioned that the federal government would be so closely engaged in the lives of individuals. The underlying purpose of the US Constitution is to limit the central government's power and to promote individual freedom. That freedom includes the ability to succeed, get by, or to fail according to your own pursuit of happiness; not some politician's idea of happiness.

The US Constitution makes no distinctions on account of race, religion, sex, occupation, earnings, possessions, class or lack thereof. All elected federal, state and local government officials take an oath to support this constitution. The creation of classes of people seems to be contrary to the law. Equal protection; it's fairly simple to me, but apparently, not to others.

My cynical self has come to the conclusion that politicians use the tax code's influence primarily to promote themselves. The evidence is their own speeches where they extol all they've accomplished for the voters while marginalizing the other party with derogatory labels, such as "mean spirited", "uncaring", "unengaged" and the ultimate in Orwellian double-speak: accusing others of political calculations while using poor and middle class Americans as their pawns.

I propose that the US Congress dump the entire US federal tax code and adopt a flat tax that is between 12 and 15 percent for all Americans with income over $35,000.00 annual; And make it very hard to raise the tax rate.

Actually Having a Flat and Fair Tax

I'm very sure that even our best intentioned politicians would be unable to change this complicated and unfair system. That leaves the American people to change the law. The way to go about this is for voters to influence politicians to change it, either by legislation or referendum. Throw the current tax code out and start over with a flat and fair tax. To come into compliance with Constitutional law, all taxpayers should be paying at the same rate.

It would appear that we have become a nation of selfish self-centered opportunists who do not mind bending or breaking a few rules, demonizing people who succeed and pandering to people who do not: and it's all to make our own lives better (supposedly anyway). The evidence of this is that we continue to elect and re-elect "representatives" who do not mind bending the rules to ensure their own well being. The rules I am referring to are those found in the US Constitution that give certain limited powers to the central government, some to the states and all of that power is loaned to the government by the consent of the people. That document, a contract between the people, limits what government can do and while there are many elements to the contract, the one that is in our lives every day is the ability to tax the people's income to pay for the government's limited, but necessary, operating costs. The contract stipulates that everyone under the US Constitution's jurisdiction is to be treated equally under the law. No picking winners and losers as that would be too much power in the hands of a few. The income tax codes are laws, so it only seems reasonable that everyone would be treated equally under the those laws.

Every American and others working within this country's jurisdiction are required to be treated equally under the law by government and not be pigeonholed into some arbitrary class, used to pit Americans against one another, while they read speeches telling us how well they are taking care of us. Constitutionally, the federal government has few lawful concerns where individuals are concerned; Especially using an unjust caste system to influence individual behavior. US Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan would no doubt agree with me.
"Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens." Justice Harlan, Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 559 (1896)* (emphasis mine)
We have many problems in this country, most of them are caused by those who claim they are trying to help. I say 'claim' because it seems the primary beneficiaries of the many government programs and policies seem to be the politicians themselves, who come into office idealistic and of varying financial circumstances, but all leave wealthy with guarantees of high paying jobs.

Americans have a contract with our government to ensure large scale safety and fair treatment. In the contract we loan our power to our public servants in government. Some people feel that they have a better idea and want to help others. The perfect place for them to implement those ideas and pursue their happiness is to become public servants, i.e., politicians. In order to continue helping others, politicians know that above all else, they must keep their jobs; keep winning re-election and remaining public servants.

But, as always happens, the power becomes heady and morphs into a purpose unto itself. To gratify the craving for power, elected officials have been treating people and groups differently, playing favorites and doing much more than simply bringing home the bacon.

A flat tax, one rate income tax: it's only fair. Talk to your representatives in congress.

* The poor or middle class

**This quote is taken from the minority opinion in a Supreme Court case where the majority upheld the enforcement of segregation on passenger trains in Louisiana. It was a Fourteenth Amendment case in which upheld segregation.

With businesses, they classify by size (the number of employees) and increase or reduce the requirements to do business. Build your company here: Discount. Contribute to my PAC's organizations: Discount.

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