37 Responses

  1. My mom and I were just talking about that. She was remembering that for the longest time the total employee/employer contribution was like 6% on a maximum of like $8,000. All that changed in the 80s when we had to balance budget. So now we have 16% on total of $200,000?

    Our discussion was really about growth in income disparity. It seems like the tax on the poor doubled while the tax on the rich actually went down. It became a lot more expensive for employers to hire people. Employers started substituting non-taxable benefits, like healthcare to avoid the payroll tax. Health insurance costs naturally began to skyrocket as demand for health insurance increased.

    My real question though is what should the return be on 16% of income taken out every year for fourty years? Seems like that should make for a pretty good retirement, no?

    1. @Greg Marquez,
      I think HC benefits go back to the time of Roosevelt as a workaround wage controls.
      The cost of healthcare has more to do with the high cost of new technology and medications, as well as MDs difficulty to cost contain in the current tort environment.

  2. FICA is really a premium for retirement/ disability insurance. They just made it a tax to make it constitutional.

    1. so if they adjusted retirement benefits based on your ‘regular’ income taxes paid they wouldn’t be taxes either?

      like the Obamacare charges the supreme court just ruled on.
      Romney now says it is a tax but he agrees with the minority of judges who said it wasn’t constitutional because it wasn’t a tax…

      in any case, the function of taxes is to reduce aggregate demand which FICA deductions do just as much as any other deductions.

      1. @WARREN MOSLER,
        Warren, the President’s law calls it a penalty. the minority on the court said they on the court couldn’t re-invent the law, not that it weren’t essentially a tax.

      2. @vincent,

        Actually, only one justice thought it was a tax. The other four in the majority dishonestly agreed it was a tax in order to get the result they wanted.

      3. @vincent,

        the minority said a penalty, as is was termed in the law itself, was unconstitutional. the administration argued, at the time the law was passed, that it was not a tax, and that’s how the law reads.

  3. The graph illustrates relative share, not actual numbers. Corporate taxes could have gone up in real terms, but decreased relative to income tax and payroll tax. But none of it matters because the money is created for tax payment purposes.

  4. FDR deliberately sold SS as a prepaid insurance program, even though the insurance program framing has always been a bit of a white lie.

    In those days people were very reluctant to participate in government “welfare” programs. Calling it “insurance” helped remove the stigma.

    The other issue was that by making people feel like they had earned SS by paying into it, voters would then resist any attempt to end the program.

    FDR said, “I guess you’re right on the economics. They are politics all the way through. We put those pay roll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program. Those taxes aren’t a matter of economics, they’re straight politics.”


    But I agree with Warren that FICA is bad economics. And I have a selfish reason for dropping the “insurance” facade and instead funding SS with keystrokes — I’d like very much to lower the retirement age to, say 55 — so that I can retire — and raise the benefit so that we can actually live on SS.

      1. @Walid M,

        No it wasn’t. Normal retirement age in Greece is 65.

        Eurostat shows the average age of Greek retirement is 61.7 years and that they work on average over 2000 hours a year – compared to the German average of 1400 hours.

        ‘Lazy Greeks’ is propaganda. Most Greeks work long hours for poor pay.

      2. @Neil Wilson,

        The success of the lazy ‘anyone’ propaganda tells you a little about the support there is out there for Dan’s wish..a 1% own it all and a 99% welfare dependent society/economy just does not cut it for me …

      3. “a 1% own it all and a 99% welfare dependent society/economy just does not cut it for me”

        That rather depends how efficient your robotic production system is doesn’t it?

        Hopefully its somewhat better than your logical reasoning. Excluded middle arguments are so uninspiring.

      4. @Neil Wilson,

        thank for your corrections Neil ..Dan was expressing a personal bias ..My bias is for more jobs, more work for longer with more income for more people …not much logic in that i guess …so
        best have robots instead

    1. @Dan Lynch,

      PAUL RYAN: “Do you believe that personal retirement accounts can help us achieve solvency for the system and make those future retiree benefits more secure?”

      ALAN GREENSPAN: “Well, I wouldn’t say that the pay-as-you-go benefits are insecure, in the sense that there’s nothing to prevent the federal government from creating as much money as it wants and paying it to somebody. The question is, how do you set up a system which assures that the real assets are created which those benefits are employed to purchase.”

      Personally I’d like to see a tax rate of 10% apply to all forms of income including earned income, interest income, dividends, capital gains, corporate tax and the social security tax, with 5% paid by the employee and 5% paid by the employer. Moreover, the income ceiling applicable to the SS tax should be eliminated and the system should be recognized as a welfare program and also be means tested. Like with the flat tax, most itemized deductions would be eliminated although the mortgage interest deduction would not be completely eliminated. Income earners would be granted a generous standard deduction such that a family of four earning $50K would not have to pay any income tax. If you do the math, you will see that the highest effective tax rate anyone would have to pay…. regardless of how they earned their money, would never be more than 15%.

      1. @Ed Rombach,

        Focusing on tax rate ignores the primary function of taxation as an inflation control device, and secondarily as a negative behavioral incentive. Taxes are not needed to fund the federal government under the present monetary system, so why not have a sliding federal tax rate that functions cyclically like automatic stabilization, as beowulf has proposed?

        There are a lot of ways that taxation can be applied with different results. Better to integrate the inflation control function with the negative incentive function to achieve a more optimal social solution than taxing productive contribution.

      2. @Tom Hickey,

        Yes, I know that the function of taxes in the MMT paradigm is to regulate aggregate demand. Problem is that it may take 100 years or more to make the public aware of that. Consequently I prefer to follow the KISS formula (KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID). As a small government MMT/Libertarian hybrid kind of guy, if the economy was becoming overheated, and inflationary I would rather see some type of across the board cut in government spending rather that an increase in taxes.

      3. @Tom Hickey,

        “so why not have a sliding federal tax rate that functions cyclically like automatic stabilization, as beowulf has proposed?”

        The real political challenge will be to convince an electorate to pay a tax that doesn’t fund anything. I’m not sure how one goes about that.

      4. @Tom Hickey,

        In addition varying the tax rate monthly or quarterly to achieve inflation control would be a can of worms for those taxed. Talk about ‘uncertainty’!

        And there would be lags getting tax bills through Congress on that kind of schedule which would give probable positive feedback to the economy making the Fed’s job even more difficult.

  5. To me this chart explains a lot.

    In the 50’s, only about 10% of the federal govt.’s “take” was through regressive SS taxes. Now that number is up to 40%. Why labor feels poorer. And I don’t think SS was anywhere near as regressive as it is now, and personal taxes were far more progressive than they are now.

    Corporate income is probably the same contributor to GDP then as it is now, but it sure is taxed a lot less now. Thus those whose livelihoods are attached to corporate income – executives, corporate lawyers and accountants, and most of all, private equity, who have managed to make their incomes taxed as if they are capital gains.

    Also the numbers don’t add to 100%. For completeness it would be good to see where the remaining 10% or so comes from, which I believe is excise taxes, fees, etc.

  6. OK I’m not an economist and pretty new to MMT, but I don’t understand lumping the payroll tax in with income and corporate and comparing their % contribution to all federal taxes collected. At least in theory, aren’t payroll taxes going into the SS fund for current and future benefits whereas personal income and corporate taxes fund other government expenditures?

  7. What year is the last year on this chart?
    Looks like it’s 2010, or perhaps 2009.

    I was surprised to find out that 2011 was so different, but apparently it was:
    They list Individual tax as 47.4% and payroll taxes as 35.6%. And, of course, the Payroll part should rightly be reduced by EITC – but I’ll grant that the correction isn’t huge (about $50B out of the $820B), but it also isn’t completely insignificant. After all, EITC was started as a way to reduce the payroll tax burden for lower income earners.

    I notice there’s no commentary on the graph. So what would have the commentary been, and how would it have changed if the numbers had been the 2011 data instead of the 2010 or 2009 data?

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