The Senate decided that the dividends an individual receives should be 50 percent free of tax in 2003, 100 percent tax-free in 2004 through 2006 and then again fully taxable in 2007. The mental flexibility the Senate demonstrated in crafting these zigzags is breathtaking. What it has put in motion, though, is clear: If enacted, these changes would further tilt the tax scales toward the rich.
Let me, as a member of that non-endangered species, give you an example of how the scales are currently balanced. The taxes I pay to the federal government, including the payroll tax that is paid for me by my employer, Berkshire Hathaway, are roughly the same proportion of my income -- about 30 percent -- as that paid by the receptionist in our office. My case is not atypical -- my earnings, like those of many rich people, are a mix of capital gains and ordinary income -- nor is it affected by tax shelters (I've never used any). As it works out, I pay a somewhat higher rate for my combination of salary, investment and capital gain income than our receptionist does. But she pays a far higher portion of her income in payroll taxes than I do.
She's not complaining: Both of us know we were lucky to be born in America. But I was luckier in that I came wired at birth with a talent for capital allocation -- a valuable ability to have had in this country during the past half-century. Credit America for most of this value, not me. [italics mine] If the receptionist and I had both been born in, say, Bangladesh, the story would have been far different. There, the market value of our respective talents would not have varied greatly.
When you listen to tax-cut rhetoric, remember that giving one class of taxpayer a "break" requires -- now or down the line -- that an equivalent burden be imposed on other parties. In other words, if I get a break, someone else pays. Government can't deliver a free lunch to the country as a whole. It can, however, determine who pays for lunch. And last week the Senate handed the bill to the wrong party.
Supporters of making dividends tax-free like to paint critics as promoters of class warfare. The fact is, however, that their proposal promotes class welfare. For my class.
Sure, Warren Buffet works very, very hard, is very, very smart, and is very, very rich. But "credit America for most of the result." Sounds like "promote the general welfare" is OK with him.
Bill Gate's dad takes a similar line on eliminating the inheritance tax. But do the Dems leverage this, in their ads or their talking points? Oh, no....