December 10, 2019

Economix Blog: Capital Gains: Romney and the 1%

Few aspects of the division between the 1 percent and the 99 percent have proven so divisive as the fact that the rich often pay a lower tax rate than everybody else. That is because the top federal tax rate on capital gains income is 15 percent, compared with a top marginal tax rate of 35 percent on other taxable income, like wages and salaries, that exceeds $380,000 a year.

The 1 Percent

Looking at the top of the economic strata.

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, who has declined to release his tax returns, acknowledged on Tuesday that his own tax rate was “probably closer to the 15 percent rate,” because much of what he earns is from investments. The rich earn far more from capital gains than everyone else. The percentages fluctuate from year to year, but in 2007, the top 1 percent of earners received 20 percent of their income from capital gains, while everyone else received, on average, 2 percent of their income from capital gains. In 2011, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the top 1 percent paid 70 percent of the total federal tax on capital gains.

The center also estimates that the top 1 percent, of which Mr. Romney is a member, pays an effective income tax rate of 18.5 percent, compared to 9.5 percent for the population as a whole. But when it comes to payroll taxes, the rich pay a far lower effective rate than everyone else – 1.7 percent compared to 7 percent – because the income subject to payroll taxes is capped at $107,000.

Mr. Romney might manage to largely avoid payroll taxes, except for those on the $374,000 he makes in speaking fees, said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, and he might deduct large amounts for charitable contributions. “Trying to figure out what taxes he actually pays without seeing his tax return is very difficult,” he said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=784668da2e897ce789dba310547ca7cf

In Letter to Congressman, Buffett Claims 17.4% Tax Rate

The figure represent 17.4 percent of his $39.8 million in taxable income, a percentage he has repeatedly said is too low compared to what his own staff members pay.

Mr. Buffett caused an uproar in August when he said the wealthy should be subject to a higher rate of tax. The White House has taken on his challenge and proposed a “Buffett Rule” that would raise levies on the richest people.

After Mr. Buffett’s suggestion, a Republican congressman, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, sent Mr. Buffett a letter in late September calling on him to release his tax returns.

Mr. Huelskamp sent a second letter reiterating the request this month, and promising to release his own returns if Mr. Buffett did.

Mr. Buffett, the chief executive of the conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, responded in kind on Tuesday, according to a copy of the letter. Mr. Buffett did not release his full return, though, as many have called for him to do.

In the letter, Mr. Buffett reiterated what he saw as the inequality of his paying a rate in the teens when most people who work for him pay a rate in the 30 percent range.

Mr. Buffett also called on other very wealthy Americans to release their own returns.

“If you could get other ultra-rich Americans to publish their returns along with mine, that would be very useful to the tax dialogue and intelligent reform,” Mr. Buffett said. “I stand ready and willing — indeed eager — to participate in this exercise.”

Mr. Huelskamp, in a statement Wednesday, slammed Mr. Buffett’s letter as inadequate and again called on him to either release his full returns or voluntarily give more tax money to the federal government.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=0db897f8851e36ab67ad68a359d51ccc

Op-Ed Contributor: Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)

I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.

Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Warren E. Buffett is the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=ef04241954d0ed484240bc1d76a5b93c