"The most vicious assault on the middle class and the working poor, and the most lavish giveaway to the rich, that has ever been proposed by a presidential campaign frontrunner."
October 13, 2011
From Ezra Klein:
Herman Cain has not proposed three entirely separate taxes -- one a 9 percent corporate income tax, another a 9 percent consumption tax, and then a final 9 percent personal income tax. Rather, he has proposed an 18-9 plan: an 18 percent consumption tax and a 9 percent personal income tax. Or maybe he has proposed a 27 plan: a straight 27 percent payroll tax on wage income. Depends on which tax professor you ask and how deep into the details you want to go.
As Daniel Shaviro, a tax professor at New York University, notes, “a key part of 9-9-9’s intuitive appeal is the idea that, not only is 9 a low number, but the plan’s three 9’s appear to be spread out.” The only problem? The business tax and the sales tax are “effectively the same tax.”
The business tax is not a corporate income tax. It’s essentially a value-added tax. And a value-added tax is simply a form of a consumption tax. To tax wonks, this is comedy gold. Here they have spent years arguing whether a sales tax or a VAT tax is the better way to tax consumption, and Cain just went ahead and put both taxes in his plan. “So two of the 9’s in the Cain plan are simply redundant versions of almost the same thing,” writes Shaviro. That’s how you get to an 18 percent consumption tax.
From Glenn Kessler (whom I'm not quite as fond of, but always worth monitoring):
Bruce Bartlett, a former Reagan administration official who now calls himself an independent, also offered a critical examination this week on the New York Times Economix blog. He (as did Kleinbard) noted that the business tax allows for no deduction for wages, which he said “is likely to raise the cost of employing workers, even with abolition of the employers’ share of the payroll tax.”
Cain, in his television appearances, glosses over such details. “The fact that we are taking out embedded taxes that are built into all of the goods and services in this country, prices will not go up,” he asserted on MSNBC. “They will not go up.” He then gave an example of a family of four earning $50,000.
“Today, under the current system, they will pay over $10,000 in taxes assuming standard deductions and standard exemptions. I've gone through the math, $10,000. Now, with 9-9-9, they're going to pay that 9 percent personal — that 9 percent tax on their income. So that's only $4,500. They still have $5,500 left over to apply to this sales tax piece. …They are still going to have money left over.”
We’re not sure how Cain calculates that this family now pays $10,000 in taxes, but the reliable Tax Foundation calculator comes up with a much more reasonable figure: a total tax bill of $3,515 — $690 in federal income taxes and $2,825 in payroll taxes. (The family gets a big income-tax savings from the child tax credit, which Cain would eliminate.)
So, in other words, under Cain’s plan, this family would instantly pay $1,000 more in income taxes. They would also pay additional sales taxes, probably more than $3,000, on their purchases. It’s unclear how the business tax would affect the family’s tax bill but it appears this theoretical family would get no tax cut but instead a 100 percent tax increase.
(The picture changes somewhat if you assume that all the employer-paid payroll taxes automatically would revert to the employee. We’re not sure that’s a good bet given the design of Cain’s business tax, but pro-Cain advocates make that assumption with their own tax calculator. But even under this scenario, the family appears stuck with at least a $2,000 tax increase.)
We take no position on whether it is good or bad to make the tax code less progressive. Perhaps in response to questions, Cain appears to still be tinkering with the plan. In Concord, N.H., he said on Wednesday that, among other changes, he would preserve the deduction for charitable donations and would exempt any used goods, including previously owned homes and cars, from the new 9 percent sales tax.
The Pinocchio Test
We can excuse Cain inflating his adviser’s resume, but his campaign needs to do more to address the fuzzy math behind his tax plan. (We asked the campaign for a copy of Lowrie’s analysis but did not receive a response. UPDATE: The documents are posted below.)
Give Cain credit for thinking boldly, but he’s not talking clearly. As far as we can tell from the limited information Cain has provided, the plan he touts as a big tax cut would actually increase taxes on most Americans. Just like it would be wrong to claim pizza is a low-calorie meal, Cain’s description of the plan’s impact on working Americans is highly misleading.
Oh, and in case you missed it, Glenn's definition of what Three Pinocchios means?
Significant factual error[s] and/or obvious contradictions.
Bruce Bartlett took a moment to note its effect on business...well, certain businesses:
Little detail has been released by the Cain campaign, so it’s impossible to do a thorough analysis. But using what is available on Mr. Cain’s Web site, I’m taking a stab at estimating its effects.
First, the 9-9-9 plan is actually an intermediate step in Mr. Cain’s plan to overhaul the tax system and jump-start growth. Phase 1 would reduce individual and business taxes to a maximum of 25 percent, which I assume means reducing the top statutory tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent.
No mention is made on the site of a tax cut for those now in the 10 percent, 15 percent or 25 percent brackets. This means that the only people who would get a tax rate cut are those now in the 28 percent, 33 percent or 35 percent brackets. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, only 4 percent of taxpayers pay any taxes at those rates.
As for corporations, Mr. Cain’s proposal is primarily going to benefit those with revenues of more than $1 million a year, because they account for 98.7 percent of all receipts by C corporations. (A C corporation is a legal entity separate and distinct from its owners that is taxed as a corporation; its shareholders pay taxes individually on their gains.) Those companies with receipts over $50 million account for 88.8 percent of total receipts.
Other business entities — sole proprietorships, S corporations (which have between 1 and 100 shareholders and pass through net income or losses to shareholders) and partnerships — would not benefit because they are not taxed on the corporate schedule. But they represent 92 percent of all businesses.