David R. Henderson  

David Cay Johnston Plays with the Facts

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In the latest issue of our local left-wing weekly, the Monterey County Weekly, David Cay Johnston has an article, "Tax Facts Hardly Anyone Knows." He lists and discusses 9 purported tax facts. Many of them are right. But I want to focus on one that, although correct, he presents in a misleading way, as if his goal was to mislead.

Johnston writes:

It's true that the top 1 percent of wage earners paid 38 percent of the federal income taxes in 2008 (the most recent year for which data is available). But people forget that the income tax is less than half of federal taxes and only one-fifth of taxes at all levels of government.

The top 1 percent of wage earners paid 38 percent of the federal income in 2008. But the income tax is less than half of federal taxes and one-fifth of taxes at all levels of government.

Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance taxes (known as payroll taxes) are paid mostly by the bottom 90 percent of wage earners. That's because, once you reach $106,800 of income, you pay no more for Social Security, though the much smaller Medicare tax applies to all wages. Warren Buffett pays the exact same amount of Social Security taxes as someone who earns $106,800.


All true statements. But if he wanted to inform the reader without misleading, he would have presented the data on the percent of all federal taxes paid by the top 1 percent. In their book, Public Finance, 9th edition, Harvey S. Rosen and Ted Gayer, give a table showing that in 2005 [and things haven't changed much since then] the top one percent paid 27.6 percent of all federal taxes.

Oh, and the same table in Rosen and Gayer shows that the average tax rate (all federal taxes) on the bottom quintile is 4.3% and on the top 1% is 31.2%. The top 1% pays a bigger percent of its income in federal taxes than any other part of the income distribution. But David Johnston doesn't tell you that.


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CATEGORIES: Taxation



COMMENTS (22 to date)
agw writes:

The CBO has the most recent data for 2007 (go to the two tables at the end of the report) http://www.cbo.gov/publications/collections/tax/2010/AverageFedTaxRates2007.pdf

and a brief set of graphs on the same subject
http://www.cbo.gov/publications/collections/tax/2010/graphics.cfm

Mr. Henderson,

since I have reported the data you complain about your allegation is really one of not using those specific numbers in that specific article -- an article of fixed length (3k words) covering a broad range of issues for people not nearly as familiar as you with tax policy and numbers.

And do look at the chart comparing the median wage worker and the top 400, which is it did not run in your local alternative weekly is available at Willamette Week and some of the other 35 or so papers that ran my piece.

But think about your data point -- in 2007, a peak year, the top 1 percent earned 23.5% of all RECOGNIZED and REPORTED income and paid about 27% of all federal taxes, hardly more than their share of income. (That income share is up from 10% in 1980; the top tenth of one percent had a larger share of the income pie in 2007 and the recession year 2008 than the top one percent had in 1980.)

There is a lot of unreported income down below, mostly from people who would pay little or no tax under policies pushed by Congressional Republicans whose 1997 and onward policies reduced taxes on families with children (unless they come under the anti-family AMT).

But at the top we have people with huge incomes that are not recognized by the tax system (see my tax.com columns on Living Tax Free, for one of many examples), are stashed in offshore tax haven, a bit of it Perfectly Legal but much if not most of it ranging from dark gray to solidly criminal black, as Congressional investigators and others have exhaustively documented.

Since 1961 for every real after-income tax dollar going to each taxpayer in the bottom 90 percent the top 398/400 taxpayers have seen theirs increase by $71, my analysis of IRS data shows.

The Top 398/400's effective income tax rate has fallen 60% over that span of 46 years, the bottom 90% has fallen 20 percent, all of that and more taken back by higher payroll taxes.

The whole point of a progressive income tax, the principle behind which was crucial to the invention of democracy in ancient Athens, is that the greater the economic gains you achieve because of the society that makes those gains legitimate and possible the greater your duty to support the society that helped you.

Your suggestion that I played with facts is offensive because I take great care to examine every aspect of an issue and for every chart you see I create maybe ten spreadsheets to analyze the data and make sure it is rounded. (See my tax.com columns, Breaking News and then the followup column with Awful in the headline, which responded to a critic who made a point like yours and how I showed my points were valid even when you looked at the data his way

In any one article any critic can point to some detail they wished were in the piece. To then attack my integrity -- which is what you did -- is outrageous, especially since a brief Google search by you would have turned up data ad nauseum showing I have analyzed the data every which way in other articles, best-selling books and presentations.

And at many of the alternative paper websites I took the time to respond to readers who asked questions and, in some cases, posted nonsense about taxes and incomes.

I take honor very seriously and have survived 44 years of writing what was not the conventional wisdom (including a brief stint in Monterey County in 1968 for the Merc when I was 19) because I not only bolt my facts down solid, I learn the principles, philosophy and history of the subjects I write about (and now teach) to give context in what I wrote and how I write it.

BTW, I encourage you to read my column at tax.com (near the bottom of the list) on Tax Rates and bargain hunter's dreams.

Allbests,

David Cay Johnston

David R. Henderson writes:

Dear Mr. Johnston,
I asked my wife, who is an incredibly objective observer, given that she has been my wife for 27 years, to look at my post and your response. She agrees with you. I went too far. I should have simply said that that part of your article is misleading. I should not have gone after your motives.
Please accept my apology.
Best,
David

Robert Simmons writes:

Another point, he should have pointed out that additional Social Security taxes aren't paid above a certain income because benefits also don't go up for those people. He leaves the impression that it's just some random giveaway to high income earners.

Lord writes:

If you consider that misleading, it is misleading in the wrong direction. If they paid 38 percent of Federal income taxes and only 27 of all Federal taxes, it means they paid an even lower rate on all other Federal taxes. Unless your argument is they are paying too little. Is that what you mean?

Patrick writes:

David H:
It's far more interesting to talk about total tax burden -- not just federal tax -- because the results are much less progressive than when you look at federal tax alone.


Total tax burden as a % of income:
Bottom quintile: 18.7%
2nd quintile: 22.3%
3rd quintile: 27.0%
4th quintile: 30.0%
Next 10%: 31.5%
Next 5%: 32.2%
Next 4%: 32.1%
Next 1%: 30.9%

Source: http://www.ctj.org/pdf/taxday2009.pdf

This is just one source - the easiest I could find with google. No doubt all the smart folks on this site can point to methodology issues, etc. I'm VERY open to looking at other sources....just too lazy to spend time looking. ;)

Anyway, when I look at the above stats on total tax burden by income quintile, the skew from middle to top quartile seems inadequate to me.

Interestingly, the same source shows that federal tax is relatively progressive, while local/state taxes are regressive. Guess my take on this is "choose carefully before deciding where to live."

David R. Henderson writes:

@Lord,
I think you're missing Robert Simmons' point. What he means is that of course, given that everyone's Social Security taxes are maxed on income of $106,800, SS taxes will represent a much lower % of income on a high-income person than on a person whose income is $106,800 or lower. But the high-income person gets the same SS monthly benefit as the person who's at $106,800 if they retire at the same age.
And Robert Simmons could also have pointed out that the person who's high-income in retirement gets less after-tax from SS because SS benefits are taxed above a threshold.

Yancey Ward writes:

Net, on a life basis, how should one account for SS and Medicare taxes? Most wage earners will recoup what they paid in (or their surviving spouse or minor children), and then some.

Thank you. Mr. Henderson.

I deal so often with people who have no regard for fact or their own words it is a real pleasure to read your thoughtful approach to my acerbic criticism.

Your gracious note is a reminder of the benefits of civil debate so we can make our democracy endure and insure the liberties of the people.

As to the poster above on the $106.8k cap above, see the context of what I wrote.

Beyond that, the $2 trillion of surplus tax collected since 1983 (explaining about half of the drop in savings by the bottom 90%), is used to finance lower tax rates for those at the top, I have argued (I use that verb because money is fungible so you could say it went for farm subsidies or submarines) in my best-selling books and other writings.

At its peak a third of the FICA tax was above what was needed to pay current benefits, which is economically the same as paying a 50% higher school property tax now to educate kids born to current grammar schoolers. And of course a dollar paid in 1983 costs a lot more than one paid when it was needed more than 30 years later, the exact reverse of Tax Planning 101 for high-income individuals and the very largest businesses.

Also, we taxed 90% of wages in 1983 and that was what Greenspan recommended, but now we tax only 83% of wages because the cap has not kept up with the trendline.

Robert Simmons writes:

Mr. Johnston, I went back and reread what you wrote, and I fail to see how the context changes anything. Well-informed people know how Social Security works, the not-as-well-informed are unlikely to and thus to think from your description that the rich are getting some kind of break on their taxes. Are you arguing that SocSec is just another government entitlement, that the taxes that we say support it are really just like the income tax and so just support all government spending?

Joe Barnett writes:

In support of progressive taxation, Johnston states that "...the greater the economic gains you achieve because of the society that makes those gains legitimate and possible the greater your duty to support the society that helped you." But that condition is satisfied by a tax that takes the same amount from each dollar earned, at the same rate. It requires an appeal to some other principle to justify taxing the 1 millionth dollar more than the first, unless in some sense that millionth dollar "cost" society more. (Indeed, since squeezing out the last dollar of product is more difficult than the first dollar, a case could be made for a declining -- slightly regressive -- tax rate.)

Don Levit writes:

Does anyone have any current statistics on households owning financial assets?
I have a paper published by EBRI in May, 2010, which provides statistics from the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances.
Is that a reputable survey and organization?
It states in their paper entitled "Notes," on page 3, the top 10% own 72.3% of Financial Assets.
Anyone have any statistics from reputable organizations that are more current?
I have read many times that the wealth disparity now is greater than before and during the Great Depression.
Link for paper:
http://www.ebri.org/pdf/notespdf/EBRI_Notes_05-May10.IAs.pdf.
Don Levit

Engelmann writes:

One problem with this discussion is that there is not such thing as the "Social Security tax".

Payments into Social Security represent manditory contributions to a pension fund, at root a payment no different than paying into an IRA account except that you have no choice but to pay.

Like an IRA, people eventually receive benefits from Social Security largely in proportion to the payments they put in, with some minor adjustment in the sense that lower-income workers have a somewhat higher payout per dollar paid in than higher-income workers.

There is of course the fact that Social Security an unfunded ponzi scheme run by the Feds as a source for budget support. But in principle it could be completely funded and linked to real capital formation and identifiable assets. If it were no one would call Social Security contributions "taxes".

In contrast, taxes in general do not have any fixed relationship between what is put in and what one eventually receives in the public services those payments support.

Similarly, let me note there is no such thing as the "corporate income tax". Dogs don't pay dog licences, houses don't pay property taxes, and corporations don't pay business taxes. Only human beings pay taxes. In the case of the "corporate income tax" it is shifted forward to consumers and backward to the workers and shareholders of the corporation. The "corporate tax" is a lousy tax precisely because we have no idea who ultimately pays the tax. Were one to guess, most of it is probably absorbed by middle and lower income consumers and workers.

But because the corporate income tax is a hidden tax few people think about its incidence. The average person probably thinks it's paid by the "rich" (after all, that's what they're told by politicians), not realizing it is the average person that is really footing the bill.

In the case of Medicare the amount you eventually get out in benefits has no necessary relationship to the amount you put in payments. This is more clearly a tax-financed scheme.

mark writes:

I wish to compliment both Messrs Johnston and Henderson on the civility of their exchange.

I read Mr Johnston's first comment and am struck that the assertions about, colloquially. rich people hiding income, are highly generalized and not quantitatively backed up. Like, how many people, how many dollars, etc.?

I note that CNN today has an instructive table:

http://money.cnn.com/2011/04/14/pf/taxes/who_pays_income_taxes/?section=money_latest

which shows that of the > 100 million tax returns, 18,000 involve people with incomes > $500,000 and no tax liability, while 67,000,000 involve people with incomes below $100,000 and no tax liability. A ratio of about 3750 to 1. Just to put that in perspective further, if each of the 18,000 were avoiding $500,000 of taxes, it would be $9 billion - a drop in the bucket, not even 1% of the deficit. And since the income disparity between the top 1% and the bottom quintile is nowhere near 3750 to 1, I suggest a rational, unbiased person would view the 18,000 as relatively unimportant.

I also thought headlines 1 and 2 of Mr Johnston's article were very misleading. I don't believe any of the persons whom he quoted were talking about all taxes of any kind. They were likely talking about federal income taxes and the post simply over-generalize. In addition, the quotes all appear to be oral statements, perhaps made off the cuff and certainly removed from context. I don't know any serious student of the subject who makes the overbroad arguments selected by Mr Johnston to reply to; the article is really replying to a straw man.

And, while it is true that many pay other taxes, (a) the payroll taxes are earning them a future post-retirement payment which in many cases will exceed the amounts they pay in, and the post did not PV that offset, (b) millions of the taxpayers in the bottom half the article refers to are paying taxes on government benefits to begin with, and (c) it is income taxes that pay for virtually all aspects of the federal government that are not entitlements.

@ Robert Simmons and @ Mark, as someone who speaks and writes about these issues and often gets more than 100 emails a day I assure you that many many people do not get the distinction between the federal income tax and taxes generally or individual federal taxes in particular.

This week I heard the 40%/1% of taxes stated repeatedly on MSNBC, for example, and on one of my local channels.

Comments at some of the 40 alternative papers that ran my story show the widespread misperception, which I think some politicians and others intentionally fuel. My basis for that conclusion? I have called some of them on it and they persist. This is not, in many cases, the kind of minor slip we all make in oral communication.


I also hear journalists repeat this error all the time, in part because so many of my peers are innumerate and very few of them have ever studied public administration, public finance, tax, accounting or related fields.

In short, if it were a straw man I would ignore it or describe it as such. It is not.

I am glad that both of you are well informed and hope that we can get many more people to understand and ponder the largest single part of our, and the world's economy.

@ Joe Barnett, perhaps reading upon marginal utility will help you understand why your analysis is not supported by standard economic theory. Every classic worldly philosopher since Plato (even John Locke, though in an extremely limited way) endorsed progressive taxation.

President Bush's staff bragged that he had increased progressivity, but on June 5, 2005, acknowledged that this was not true if you look at the very top of the income ladder. SInce the top tenth of one percent has nearly as much income as the bottom half that is a not insignificant acknowledgment. Today on national radio along with me candidate McCain's chief economic adviser agreed with this conservative principle that dates back more than two millennia.

@ Engelmann, the Supreme Court has held that your payment of FICA tax gives you no vested right. SS is just what the name implies, a social insurance system that says no matter how well or badly your life went when you are old you will get some income. Unlike an IRA, which can go poof, it is not at risk.

On the corporate income tax, its incidence is indeed a real issue but if the incidence is as you imagine then it would not be objected to so vehemently by corporate leaders and owners. And if it were just passed forward that would be proof of a noncompetitive market.

For more than 35 years I have asked CEOs and the like about eliminating the corporate incomer tax, in some cases in very specific ways, and not one has said he wants to do this. SOme have complained to editors of mine about my even asking the question!

Now why would executives and directors want to keep the CIT? The reason is that since the 1954 tax code the difference between tax and book accounting has been creating zero cost capital that for growing businesses increases over time. The reasons for this persist even though Robert Solow, the Nobel laureate, proved in 1959 that the economic argument made for accelerated depreciation was false, a good example of the triumph of political power -- and lack of public understanding of the issue -- over sound tax policy.

One industry has persuaded our government to let it collect a nonexistence tax, boosting net after tax returns by as much as 75% and costing all consumers about $3 billion per year (see my columns at tax,com on MLPS near the bottom and then above that on Californians Facing a Fake Tax."

Other firms legally pocket the sales tax you pay at the cash register and use the money to pay for the land, store and fixtures, a boon to national chains that is destroying local businesses (see my book Free Lunch).

After I revealed nine years ago that Enron did not pay taxes -- for which so many bloggers denounced me as a liar even I was struck by their vehemence -- the largest investigation ever undertaken by the Joint Committee on Taxation produced a 1,800 page report showing I was right and that Enron internally called its tax department a profit center. Many companies do and for good reason.

You might also want to read my tax.com column "Warren Buffet Wants Your Taxes" on how one industry earns what the law calls unjust and unreasonable rates of return by pocketing taxes.


@ Mark, the official statistics you cite, which I work with every day, do not reflect high-income nontaxpayers.

For example, someone who under the 1994 law Clinton signs has earned and capital income of $10 million and paper losses of $9.9 million would show up in the data as having $100,000 of AGI.

I haveheld in my hands many tax returns that were never audited that allowed the signers to enjoy huge incomes while paying little or not tax, some legally, some gray area, some crimes never investigated because we have handcuffed the tax police, cut their numbers and Congress since 1995 or so has given well north of a billion dollars to go after the financial equivalent of bicycle thieves instead of major tax criminals.

Many other tax-free high-income Americans do not show up in the data at all for reasons that I have explained at length in my writings going back many years.

Graduate accounting schools have given me awards for this work. Tax lawyers listen to my talks and read my books and columns -- and feed me tips, one of the reasons I have been able to bring to light so many hundreds of billions of dollars of abusive tax dodges.

Superficial reporting of the kind you link to at CNN misses all of this.

@ Yancy Ward, may I suggest you read my column at tax,com on measuring the public benefits of taxes. It shows -- and this was a pioneering study so not perfect but not one serious student of tax has attacked it --- that what we call redistribution is a lot less than you might think -- in Canada.

My column suggests that we make a serious conceptual error when we talk of redistribution as we do and proposes a new theoretical framework involving time transfers as we pass through the stages of life. You may not agree, but I think you will find the column stimulative to deep thinking about how we measure the burdens, and benefits, of government.

Don Levit writes:

You guys are right on about SS being a tax in which money goes in just like all other taxes.
It is my understanding, though I cannot prove it, that the FICA dollars currently being paid in are, indeed, used to pay the beneficiaries.
The surplus FICA taxes go into the trust fund, but are loaned to the Treasury, to pay for current expenses.
Even the trust fund interest is debt, so the entire trust fund is unfunded.
When the trust fund is tapped, just like all other expenses, it must come from new revenues, lower expenses, or borrowing from the public. Choice number three is the most likely as long as we continue to run deficits.
So, the trust fund makes it no easier to pay benefits than it does to pay benefits without a trust fund.
I don't think Roosevelt had that in mind, when he envisioned the fund to be self-supporting, with no use of general revenues.
The FASAB is the accounting advisor for the federal government. It considers FICA taxes as nonexchange transactions.
That means you are compelled to pay in, but the government pays you back out of the goodness of its heart.
I can provode reputable governmental links and excerpts to support my statements, for those who are interested.
Don Levit

mark writes:

Thanks to Mr Johnston for assiduously replying to our comments.

Mr Johnston still uses phrases like "someone" and "many" and I am looking for real numbers.

The top 1% is what - 1 million households? Piketty and Saez, who are certainly not pro-wealthy, show that 2/3 of those are being paid for services not for capital. They can't evade taxes on the wages.

It's implausible that the rest are all engaged in not paying taxes. So I don't have any cause to believe that the CNN numbers, if not perfect, are not representative of the relevant orders of magnitude.

Robert Simmons writes:

I am going to attempt to emulate Henderson and write this assuming the best of you and not be sarcastic.
My point was that most people don't understand how SocSec works, and that the way you wrote about the cap on the tax would leave the impression that the cap is a giveaway. Your response is to agree that many people are misinformed, and that that's why your piece is an important one. Are you saying that because most people don't understand and don't differentiate between the different taxes that come out of their paychecks, that that's the correct way to look at the issue?

Joe Barnett writes:

@ David Cay Johnston @ Joe Barnett, "perhaps reading upon marginal utility will help you understand why your analysis is not supported by standard economic theory. Every classic worldly philosopher since Plato (even John Locke, though in an extremely limited way) endorsed progressive taxation."

That is certainly one of the other principles one could use to justify progressive taxation: that the marginal value of each additional unit is less.
But falling marginal utility also means the behaviorial response to a higher marginal tax rate on the next, less valued dollar is more likely to be pronounced: why bother working a little bit more, for less? One effect could be, e.g., earlier retirement.

David Cay Johnston writes:

@ Mark, I never wrote that all of the wealthy do not pay taxes, as you seem to think, Indeed, I have written two best-selling books detailing incomes and many articles and a column. SS money pays for benefits, but a surplus tax of more than $2 trillion has been collected since 1983.

And you are wrong on wages and taxes. I have shown numerous ways that those at the top can get compensation for services now and pay taxes decades from now, including people who built billion dollar untaxed fortunes. Indeed, some directors of Coca-Cola did not know their then CEO had done just this until I put together all the numbers, for which Coke's chief compensation officer expressed amazement at my skill in revealing what Coke had obviously worked so hard to obfuscate.

The devices in some cases are financed by cutting health care and pension benefits for the rank-and-file, as my last two books explain.

@ Robert Simmons, you seem not to grasp the context of my point on Social Security, which was simply that the burden of that tax is born overwhelmingly by people down the income ladder, in contrast to the federal individual income tax.

The second point was to buttress the widespread myth in the first item that the best off among us bear a vastly disproportionate tax burden. They don't when you look at the whole system.

FICA tax in some recent years has almost equaled PIT. You can see detailed charts at tax.com in my "revenue problem" and (subsequent) "awful numbers" columns.

The surplus FICA tax -- and this is an arguable point because money is fungible -- was used to help finance tax cuts for those at the top, I contend. That's redistribution upward, of which we have a great deal as I have documented with numerous other examples from the public record and the official data.

@ Joe Barnett, numerous studies show that tax rates have to be much higher than now to significsntly reduce work. First off most people have to make enough to have a life. Second people who are seriously money motivated work harder when taxes go up, so raising taxes on them can actually be efficient.

Also, the marginal utility issue, though the term was unknown at the time, was central to the birth of democracy in Athens. Democracy is the child, or one might say the twin of,the development of the moral basis of progressive taxation, which every classic worldly philosopher (even Locke in extremely mild form) has embraced.

On the other end, an economist arguing (against my work) wrote that if the rich enjoy the misery of the poor then why should we deny them the utility of their extra dollars? Utility, he said, is immeasurable and in the eye of the beholder. I asked if he was being sarcastic or serious and the obtuse reply seemed to learn toward seriousness....


Robert Simmons writes:

Mr. Johnston, the only way I can make sense of your comments is to go back to what I proposed before, that you consider Social Security to be just another entitlement program, and that the tax that supports it doesn't really support it, it's just another tax.
Is this what you're saying? Otherwise, using the surplus to fund tax cuts for high income earners is either nonsensical (since those surpluses will be repaid when people become SS eligible), or fraudulent. Either I'm dense, or you're trying to avoid being pinned down, and I'm pretty sure I'm not dense.

David Cay Johnston writes:

Not avoiding anything. I have written two bestselling books that go into this and tens of thousands of other published words -- all readily available.
What follows deals in good part with the often forgotten time value of tax money.
FICA goes to Treasury and is spent, as is all revenue. Because we have collected far more FICA tax than necessary since 1983 under the Greenspan/Reagan plan we severely reduced the savings capacity of the bottom 90 percent of wage earners. At the peak that capacity was halved.
Money is fungible so one can argue various theories of what the effect of spending the surplus FICA tax revenue was. One speaker, a lefty, I was on a dais with argued it was spent on war.
My view is that it masked the reduced revenue caused by lower tax rates on top rate earners (like me) and was a subsidy. I look at this subsidy as an interest-free loan.
The issue would not exist if we had kept SS as a separate item, not part of the federal budget. (A similar issue exists with how pension plans were treated as corporate assets instead of being treated separately like defined contribution plans. Only pension funding shortfalls would be reported -- as corporate liabilities.)
Tax Planning 101 teaches this: a tax deferred for 30 years is the functional equivalent of not paying it. An extra dollar of FICA tax you paid in, say, 1986 cost you a lot more than paying that dollar today. On a FILO accounting basis the time value for the last dollar will cover 54 years, on FIFO basis about half that.
The FICA bonds will surely be redeemed, but the time value of the premature payment is a net gain to one group (top earners) and a net cost to the vast majority of taxpayers, whose average market incomes have grown a mere 0.9% in real terms since 1980.
"Entitlement" is a loaded and widely misused political term.
We have a little-known program that lets executives, movie stars, top athletes and sales people earn now and pay their taxes decades from now. (I have established billion-dollar tax deferrals from the public record and shown how these deferrals hurt rank-and-file workers, who are clueless.) Is that an entitlement?
I can make a stronger case for that as entitlement than SS, which the Supreme Court has ruled you have no right to even though you were taxed.
To get an idea of the vast scope of hidden entitlements that you actually have a right to collect on please read the opening chapter of Free Lunch, "Without Even Asking," about Adam Smith and an 18th Century style golf course that gets a stealth subsidy of relatively gigantic proportion, and then Chapter 11, "Beauty and the Bounty," as well as "Plane Perks," Chapter 5 of Perfectly Legal, which explains the sleight-of-argument trick used to create this "entitlement," oops, subsidy.
If entitlement means you are entitled to a benefit than SS is a weak legal (though strong political) example. But our laws are rife with actual, ironclad entitlements galore that hardly anyone knew about until I started focusing on making them known.
So if you factor in the time value of that surplus FICA revenue it is incredibly value. I'd love to have just the interest on the interest on the FICA surplus for one year. Heck, one hour. At the federal government's current blended borrowing rate that hour would put more than $7 million in my pocket.
The time value of that money is huge, but seldom discussed.

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