A Thought on some Taxes

Romain Hatchuel, Square Advisors LLC Managing Partner, has an excellent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, but I want to comment on one small part of it:

In his November investment commentary for bond giant Pimco, [billionaire investor Bill] Gross asks the “Scrooge McDucks of the world” to accept higher personal income taxes and to stop expecting capital to be taxed at lower rates than labor.

Gross is right, partly.  The use of tax code to effect social engineering does not achieve the goals of the “engineering” effort, but it does effect coarse distortions in a free market.  These distortions range from slanting business decisions toward (or away from) debt according to the differential ways in which debt interest and capital gains are taxed; they impact individual investment decisions according to the way debt interest, capital gains, or dividends are taxed; they even distort the price (and so availability) of housing according to the way in which mortgage debt interest is taxed.

Capital should not be taxed at a lower rate than labor.  Businesses should not be assessed tax at all—the ones who actually pay those business taxes, after all, are the final customers—us—as that tax bill-as-cost-center gets figured into the prices charged.  Nor should there be deductions, credits, etc on individual income, with or without variation according to the source or amount of income.

Contra Gross, though, a single, low flat rate that every individual pays on the total of that individual’s income would achieve a market neutral tax that would impose the minimum of distortion on the market even from the tax’s existence (a 10% rate that everyone with an income pays even would represent a significant increase in total revenue to the Federal government).

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