Thursday, August 3, 2017

Is There Any Point To Middle Class Entitlements?

I was reading a Bloomberg article last week titled “Those Pointless Upper-Middle-Class Entitlements.” It is - to be fair - an opinion piece, so let’s take it with a grain of salt.

The article begins:

Let’s talk about upper-middle-class entitlements, the subsidies that flow almost entirely to those in the upper fifth or even tenth of the income distribution. You know, the home mortgage interest deduction and the tax subsidies for 401(k)s, IRAs and other retirement plans.

Then we have a spiffy graph: 


I am confused with what is considered a “tax break.”

The true “tax break” here is the earned income credit. We know that this began as encouragement to transition one from nonworking to working status, and we also know that it is the font of massive tax fraud every year. The government just sends you a check, kind of like the tooth fairy. An entire tax-storefront industry has existed for decades just to churn-out EIC returns. Too often, their owners and practitioners are not as … uhh, scrupulous … as we would want.

And this is a surprise how? Give away free money to every red-headed Zoroastrian Pacific Islander and wait to be surprised by how many red-headed Zoroastrian Pacific Islanders line up at your door. Even those who are not red-headed, Zoroastrian or Pacific Islander in any way. 

Here is more:

Of course, we wouldn’t want to take away all of those tax expenditures, would we? The earned income tax credit and the Social Security exclusion, for example, are targeted at people with pretty low incomes.

Doesn’t one need to have income before receiving an INCOME TAX expenditure?

Then we have these bright shiny categories:

·       Defined contribution retirement plans
·       Defined benefit retirement plans
·       Traditional IRAs
·       Roth IRAs

Interesting. One would think that saving for retirement would be a social good, if only to lessen the stress on social security.

We read:

Wealthy people who would save for retirement in any case respond to subsidies by shifting assets into tax-sheltered accounts; the less wealthy don’t respond much at all.

It makes some sense, but don’t you feel like you are being conned? Step right up, folks; make enough money to save for retirement and you do not need a tax break to save for retirement.

When did we all become wealthy? Did someone send out letters to inform us?

Did you know that the majority of income tax breaks are claimed by people with the majority of the income?  

Think about that one for a second, folks.

This following is a pet peeve of mine:

·       Deferral of active income of controlled foreign corporations

We have discussed this issue before. Years ago, when the U.S. was predominant, it decided that U.S. corporations would pay tax on all their earnings, whether earned in the U.S. or not.

There is a problem with that: the U.S. is almost a solo act in taxing companies on their worldwide income. Almost everyone else taxes only the profit earned in their country (the nerd term is “territoriality”).

Let’s be frank: if you were the CEO of an international company, what would you do in response to this tax policy?

You would move the company – at least the headquarters - out of the U.S., that’s what you would do. And companies have been moving: that is what "inversions" are.

So, the U.S. had no choice but to carve-out exceptions, which is how we get to “deferral of active income of controlled foreign corporations.” This is not a tax break. It is a fundamental flaw in U.S. international taxation and the reason Congress is currently considering a territorial system.

By the way, how did these tax breaks come to be, Dudley?

Why do these subsidies continue nonetheless? Mainly, it seems, because they’ve been granted to a sizable, influential population who, it is feared, will fight any effort to take them away. 

Politicians giving away money. Gasp.

But mainly it’s the millions of upper-middle-class Americans who, like me and my family, are beneficiaries of tax subsidies for home mortgages, retirement accounts and/or college savings.

To state another way: It is unfair that people with more money can do more things with money than people with less money.

Profound.

What offends about this bella siracha is:
You train for a career.
You set an alarm clock daily, dress, fight traffic and do your job.
You get paid money.
You take some of this money and save for nefarious causes such as your kids’ college and your eventual retirement.
Yet you keeping your own money is the equivalent of receiving a welfare check euphemistically described as an “earned income credit.”

No, no it is not.

And the false equivalence is offensive.

I get the issue. I really do. The theory begins with all income being taxable. When it is not, or when a deduction is allowed against income, there is – arguably - a “tax break.” The criticism I have is equating one-keeping-one’s-money (for example, a 401(k)) with flat-out welfare (the earned income credit). Another example would be equating a deeply-flawed statutory tax scheme (multinational corporations) with the state income tax deduction (where approximately 30% of this tax break goes to two states: California and New York). 

And somebody please tell me what “wealthy” means anymore. It has become one of the most abused words in the English language.

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