Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Reagan’s Tax Shock

Wall Street has always claimed that income from investments is entitled to lower taxes than other income. As The Street sees it, investments in the market deserve tax breaks because they grow jobs, grow companies, and stimulate the economy.

A tax system tied to that belief is a major driver of rising income inequality. Congress could bend the curve by restoring Ronald Reagan’s 1986 shock: equal taxes on income from wealth and income from work. The idea is back and thriving, as we’ll learn. First, let’s take a hard look at the Wall Street claim.

Buying stocks doesn’t grow jobs or grow the economy, it grows portfolios. The money that’s invested doesn’t go to companies, it goes to the prior owners of the stock. In fact, through dividends and stock buybacks, shareholders take money out of companies rather than put it in; they’re a drain on company funds, not a source.

Billions of shares trade hands every business day. Except for the tiny number that raise money for the issuing companies, it’s all just white noise. There’s no real reason for preferential taxes on investment income.

President Reagan tacitly admitted as much with his signature Tax Reform Act of 1986, which levied equal taxes on capital gains, dividends and ordinary income such as wages.  At the signing ceremony, he called the bill “a sweeping victory for fairness” and “the best job-creation program” ever to come out of Congress. Equal taxes soon reverted to unequal, and became more so with the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 (true, new levies in 2013 did reduce the spread for the most affluent.) Today though, Reagan’s policy is on the rebound.

In 2010, when the federal deficit preoccupied all the Very Serious People in Washington, two bi-partisan groups looked at ways to put the nation’s fiscal house in order. The first was a Congressional body, President Obama’s debt commission, commonly known as Simpson-Bowles; the second was the Bipartisan Policy Center, a top D.C. think tank. The blueprints they drew up differed in many specifics, but in the large not so much. Both called for lower marginal rates and a broadened tax base, the pillars of the 1986 reform. Both broadened the base in large measure, as Reagan did, by taxing all income at the same rates.  

Three billionaires say aye, each from a distinct vantage point.

Warren Buffett long ago famously asked why he should pay taxes at a lower effective rate than the secretaries in his office. The hedge fund guru Stanley Druckenmiller has spoken out at college campuses about America’s fiscal stacking of the deck against the young, in favor of the elderly. Tax favors for dividends and capital gains help fuel the unfairness, Druckenmiller says.

Pimco co-founder Bill Gross is the latest equal-tax convert; he published his epiphany in the investment giant’s November newsletter. Gross wrote with feeling about “the plight of labor.” He talked about his wealth having piled up on the backs of workers, about guilt setting in. Finally, this coda: “The era of taxing ‘capital’ at lower rates than ‘labor’ should now end.” Gross also said he had company: Stanley Druckenmiller and Warren Buffett.

President Obama grasps the damage being done by America’s runaway income inequality. As he said in early December, “it challenges the very essence of who we are as a people.” It also challenges him. The president should urge the nation toward greater equality, and make the case for equal taxes on income from wealth and income from work.

It isn’t about redistribution, it’s about tax fairness. Americans understand fairness, as The Gipper well knew.     

Gerald E. Scorse helped pass the bill requiring basis reporting for capital gains. His articles on investment taxes have appeared in newspapers across the country. 

Notes.

“For stocks, mutual funds and bonds…Congress now requires brokerages to report the basis of these investments, a reform wrought partly after my reporting on this issue and the work of others, including Gerald Scorse, who pressed this issue with lawmakers.” – pp. 271-2 of the David Cay Johnston book, The Fine Print.

 
More articles by:
May 24, 2018
Jeff Warner – Victor Rothman
Why the Emerging Apartheid State in Israel-Palestine is Not Sustainable
Kenn Orphan
Life, the Sea and Big Oil
James Luchte
Europe Stares Into the Abys, Confronting the American Occupant in the Room
Richard Hardigan
Palestinians’ Great March of Return: What You Need to Know
Howard Lisnoff
So Far: Fascism Lite
Matthew Vernon Whalan
Norman Finkelstein on Bernie Sanders, Gaza, and the Mainstream Treatment
Daniel Warner
J’accuse All Baby Boomers
Alfred W. McCoy
Beyond Golden Shower Diplomacy
Jonah Raskin
Rachel Kushner, Foe of Prisons, and Her New Novel, “The Mars Room”
George Wuerthner
Myths About Wildfires, Logging and Forests
Binoy Kampmark
Tom Wolfe the Parajournalist
Dean Baker
The Marx Ratio: Not Clear Karl Would be Happy
May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail