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NEWS

Tax myths and tall tales

What supply-side economists don’t want you to know about taxes

Photo: Justin Rose, License: N/A

Justin Rose


What the news media missed is that hedge fund managers don’t even pay 15 percent. At least, not currently. So long as they leave their money, known as “carried interest,” in the hedge fund, their taxes are deferred. They only pay taxes when they cash out, which could be decades from now for younger managers. How do these hedge fund managers get money in the meantime? By borrowing against the carried interest, often at absurdly low rates – currently about 2 percent.

Lots of other people live tax-free, too. I have Donald Trump’s tax records for four years early in his career. He paid no taxes for two of those years. Big real-estate investors enjoy tax-free living under a 1993 law President Bill Clinton signed. It lets “professional” real-estate investors use paper losses like depreciation on their buildings against any cash income, even if they end up with negative incomes like Trump.

Frank and Jamie McCourt, who own the Los Angeles Dodgers, have not paid any income taxes since at least 2004, their divorce case revealed. Yet they spent $45 million one year alone. How? They just borrowed against Dodger ticket revenue and other assets. To the IRS, they look like paupers.

In Wisconsin, Terrence Wall, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2010, paid no income taxes on as much as $14 million of recent income, his disclosure forms showed. Asked about his living tax-free while working people pay taxes, he had a simple response: everyone should pay less.

5. And (surprise!) since Reagan, only the wealthy have gained significant income

The Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and similar conservative marketing organizations tell us relentlessly that lower tax rates will make us all better off.

“When tax rates are reduced, the economy’s growth rate improves and living standards increase,” according to Daniel J. Mitchell, an economist at Heritage until he joined Cato. He says that supply-side economics is “the simple notion that lower tax rates will boost work, saving, investment and entrepreneurship.”

When Reagan was elected president, the marginal tax rate for income (taxes on earnings above a certain threshold) was 70 percent. He cut it to 50 percent and then 28 percent starting in 1987. It was raised by George H.W. Bush and Clinton and then cut by George W. Bush. The top rate is now 35 percent.

Since 1980, when President Reagan won his election by promising prosperity through tax cuts, the average income of the vast majority – the bottom 90 percent of Americans – has increased a meager $303, or 1 percent. Put another way, for each dollar people in the vast majority made in 1980, in 2008 their income was up to $1.01.

Those at the top did better. The top 1 percent’s average income more than doubled to $1.1 million, according to an analysis of tax data by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. The really rich, the top 10th of 1 percent, each enjoyed almost $4 in 2008 for each dollar in 1980.

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