Conflating “wealth” with “quality of life”—in criticism of wealth inequality—is a fatal error. It is important to recognize that wealth in the form of capital accumulation (savings that are re-invested into factors of production toward increasing capacity for supplying goods and services into the future) speaks to supply-side capacity. The abundance created by this productive capacity is what provides for quality of life. On the demand side, quality of life comes from consumers with incomes that have purchasing power to acquire those goods and services. The greater the abundance of supply, the greater the purchasing power that consumers can wield (as expenses on the income statement or outflows on the cash flow statement) WITHOUT wealth (assets and equity on the balance sheet) playing any role for consumers. The role of wealth is to associate ownership for management responsibility over factors of production to create and maintain supply. The role of income is to have purchasing power to enable quality of life for consumers. Savings (retained earnings that are re-invested) is how consumers cross over to participate in wealth toward the management of supply.
The most tragic failure of gun control advocates, and prohibitionists in general, is ignorance of economics. There are unintended consequences of gun control that are intuitively obvious, such as denying law-abiding citizens the means to self-defense. These are the most important reasons to reject gun control.
However, one of the most interesting unintended consequences of prohibition is entirely counter to intuition, and it is evidenced in our long history of experience in alcohol and drug prohibition. A ban on something will mean that only criminals may have it. Since ordinarily law-abiding citizens must now resort to criminal activity to have that thing, they are suddenly accepting great risk to obtain that thing. Given that they are putting themselves at great risk, they might as well get their money’s worth, so the cost-benefit analysis makes it a rational choice to obtain things of higher potency. If you want a booming market in heroin and meth, all you have to do is ban the more benign drug, marijuana. The science tells us this is true.
Gun control advocates are seeking to ban the relatively ordinary AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, which is as potent a weapon as any semi-automatic hunting rifle, except with cosmetic and ergonomic qualities that give it a military weapon appearance, but not the lethality. The stated intent is to remove from the market what these advocates believe is an extraordinarily lethal weapon, which they believe is a weapon for mass murder (a so-called “assault weapon”).
When we apply the economics of prohibition to gun control, we can see that the actual unintended consequence that logically follows from enacted a ban on the AR-15 would be criminals resorting to higher potency weapons. We need only look a few months back to Paris, where gun prohibition could hardly be more strict. The mass murderers utilized AK-47 automatic rifles (“machine guns”) and grenades, true weapons of war.
A quote from Eagles of Death Metal’s Jesse Hughes says it best.
“Did your French gun control stop a single person from dying at the Bataclan? If anyone can answer yes, I’d like to hear it, because I don’t think so. I think the only thing that stopped it was some of the bravest men that I’ve ever seen in my life charging head-first into the face of death with their firearms.”
“I know people will disagree with me, but it just seems like God made men and women, and that night guns made them equal,” he continued (cribbing an old adage-turned-bumper-sticker slogan about revolver manufacturer Sam Colt). “I think the only way that my mind has been changed is that maybe that until nobody has guns everybody has to have them, because I don’t want to see anything like this ever happen again, and I want everyone to have the best chance to live. I saw people die that maybe could have lived. I don’t know, but I wish I knew for sure that if they could have had a better chance, because there were some real angels, real wonderful people at that show.”
See also: The Economics of Prohibition
In this article, I am going to attempt a praxeological (science of human action) explanation of the economic effects of the tax increases on high earners. I am doing this as an exercise to apply what I have been learning in my self-directed studies of the Austrian school of economics. I hope, as a baby Austrian, I do not embarrass myself too badly in this amateur attempt.
Obama is demanding that Bush era tax cuts end for high earners. This will raise the top tax rate from 35% to 39.6%. Dividend tax rates will go from 15% to 39.6%; actually to 43.4% to include the Medicare contribution tax added by Obamacare. Capital gains taxes go from 15% to 20% (actually 23.8% including Medicare contribution tax) or from 15% to 18% (actually 21.8%) if held for 5 years or more.
The immediate effect will be massive stock sales during the remainder of 2012 to take advantage of the significantly lower capital gains rate. Expect investors to favor holding their stocks and avoid profit-taking over the next 4 years in anticipation of a future reversal in tax policy.
Low (15%) capital gains tax rates and bad memories from the bursting of the dot com bubble resulted in corporate mergers and acquisitions being conducted in cash instead of stock. With high capital gains tax rates, expect that trend to reverse, as a conversion of stock does not incur any tax immediately. All of these responses mean that tax revenues from capital gains will fall significantly, as investors apply these tax avoidance strategies.
Low (15%) dividend tax rates resulted in corporations distributing profits to shareholders increasingly through dividends. Many corporations that never distributed dividends before began doing so to satisfy investor preferences due to this favorable tax treatment. With a return to high dividend tax rates, expect a return to much lower or zero dividend yields, as corporations respond to investor preferences to favor keeping retained earnings (already taxed at the corporate tax rate of 35% which is among the highest in the world) in the corporations’ coffers to hold those earnings as capital gains, which do not incur any taxes until shares are sold. Those who rely on high yielding stocks for income will shift to bonds or other forms of fixed income. In addition to Fed Quantitative Easing, which lowers interest rates while raising inflation rates, higher dividend tax rates will further hammer those who rely on fixed incomes like retirees. These responses mean that tax revenues from dividends will significantly decrease, returning to the historical trend prior to the 15% era.
Finally, there is the increase in tax rates on ordinary income in the upper bracket(s). Those who earn at these levels include business owners, corporate executives, and professionals like doctors and lawyers. Many of these high earners have some degree of control to adjust their compensation packages. Expect a greater proportion of compensation to be in the form of incentive stock options, so that tax on that income is deferred until the stock is sold. The modest marginal tax rate increase will have little effect. Those who have less control over their compensation will pay more, while those with greater control will pay less. This may end up being a wash or even a net reduction in tax revenues, if small business owners and professions work less and forego expansion due to reduced incentive. Reduction in the growth of businesses will result in a long period of economic stagnation and lack of new employment opportunities for workers.
Taking all of these effects together, it is pretty obvious that tax revenues from higher tax rates will significantly decrease. Investors avoid taxes by deferring stock sales. Investors avoid dividend taxes by influencing corporations to reduce dividends. High earners adjust compensation to defer taxes until they choose to sell stocks. Business owners and professionals forego growing due to reduced incentives. The economy will surely experience a 4 year period of slow or stagnant growth and persistently high unemployment.
Furthermore, continuing Fed QE and trillion dollar annual federal deficits funded >60% by Fed bond buying will stoke higher inflation. This adds insult to injury as real rates of return will be reduced, but capital gains taxes will be paid on fake gains from inflation. Inflated gains are fake because of the loss in purchasing power due to generally higher prices throughout the economy.
Fun times ahead.
I just thought of a solution to the $114.5T unfunded liabilities problem in the US federal government balance sheet.
Given that entitlements due to retirement will bust the federal budget over time; given that people who perform purposeful work live longer and remain in better health than those who do not; given that people who continue to work will contribute to tax revenues instead of drawing on entitlements; my solution entails…
(1) Offer future retirees the option to defer retirement indefinitely.
(2) Remove regulatory barriers and provide legal protections for the elderly who want to work after the age of retirement.
(3) Most important to solving the budget problem, provide an incentive for the elderly to continue working by lowering personal income tax rates for employment income to zero.
By keeping the elderly employed, their health insurance continues to be employer subsidized, which eliminates their participation in Medicare. By continuing to work, they also forego receiving Social Security payments. As a bonus of participating in the work force, they continue to contribute to tax revenues through payroll taxes paid by their employers.
Certain industries will greatly benefit from the retention of employees with scarce skills, which are not being replenished in the work force. For example, COBOL programmers. As baby boomers retire, certain legacy technologies which will remain mission critical for decades are at risk of being under serviced. This proposal would provide some degree of relief for these industries as a side-benefit.
Success and failure in life and our relationships—personal and professional—relies in large part on goodwill. Goodwill is measurable. We maintain an account for every interpersonal relationship. We trade in goodwill. It has a currency.
People wonder what makes them liked or respected or appreciated. We hold others in esteem in proportion to the amount of goodwill they’ve accumulated in their account. If someone has been kind and thoughtful in the past, their account carries a higher balance. If someone has done many favors and has called in very few of them, they have earned a wealth of goodwill.