Monday, December 18, 2017

Tax Cuts for the Rich?

As I have stated repeatedly, I have mixed feelings about the tax bill going through Congress. There is a lot of it that I don't like. But I nonetheless disagree with much of the commentary of its critics. A common refrain is that the bill entails big tax cuts for the rich. I am not so sure.

True, the top tax rate is reduced by 2.6 percentage points. But for those in states with a personal income tax, this merely offsets the loss of the state and local tax deduction. And if you are in a high tax state like California, where the top tax rate is 13.3 percent, the offset is far from complete.

The heart of the tax bill is a cut in the corporate tax rate. To be sure, in the short run, this change benefits shareholders, who are generally wealthier than average. But in the long run, increased profitability should increase capital accumulation and productivity, raising wages. That is, workers will benefit from the corporate rate cut.

Economists differ in how large this effect is. The Tax Policy Center, whose numbers are widely quoted, estimates that 20 percent of the corporate tax cut goes to labor. That seems low to me. I have not seen a poll of economists asking what percentage of corporate taxes is paid by labor in the long run (calling the IGM panel), but I would guess that many economists would put the number at higher than 20 percent.

In any event, when you see distribution tables for this tax bill, remember that these numbers are not facts, they are judgments.