"Tax cuts for the rich" are tax cuts for everyone

Thomas Sowell takes a look at the historical record regarding “tax cuts for the rich” and finds that such cuts benefit the entire economy.

More than 80 years ago, the “tax cuts for the rich” argument was refuted, both in theory and in practice, by Andrew Mellon, who was Secretary of the Treasury in the 1920s.

When Mellon took office, there was a large national debt, the economy was stagnating, and tax rates were high, though the tax revenues were still not enough to cover government expenditures. What was Mellon’s prescription for getting out of this mess? A series of major cuts in the tax rates!

. . .

Between 1921 and 1929, tax rates in the top brackets were cut from 73 percent to 24 percent. In other words, these were what the left likes to call “tax cuts for the rich.”

What happened to federal revenues from income taxes over this same span of time? Income tax revenues rose by more than 30 percent. What happened to the economy? Jobs increased, output rose, the unemployment rate fell and incomes rose. Because economic activity increased, the government received more income tax revenues. In short, these were tax cuts for the economy, even if the left likes to call them “tax cuts for the rich.”

This was not the only time that things like this happened, nor was Andrew Mellon the only one who advocated tax rate cuts in order to increase tax revenues. John Maynard Keynes pointed out in 1933 that lowering the tax rates can increase tax revenues, if the tax rates are so high as to discourage economic activity.

President John F. Kennedy made the same argument in the 1960s — and tax revenues increased after the tax rates were cut during his administration. The same thing happened under Ronald Reagan during the 1980s. And it happened again under George W. Bush, whose tax rate cuts are scheduled to expire next January.

The rich actually paid more total taxes, and a higher percentage of all taxes, after the Bush tax rate cuts, because their incomes were rising with the rising economy.

Politicians constantly stoke the “us versus them” fires to get and stay elected. They know that a voter who realizes that our economic fortunes are all tied together will vote differently than one who wants to “soak the rich” and make them pay their “fair share.”

I’m fond of pointing out that you can’t tax anyone without taxing everyone. Similarly, a “tax cut for the rich” is a tax cut for everyone. We need to stop thinking in terms of “spreading” wealth and start thinking about creating more of it.

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