Tax talkers way out of touch with the real world

Published 1:00 am Sunday, September 25, 2011

OXFORD — Picture this: Fat cat directors of Buzz Beverages sit at a board table in their three-piece suits. Their company has announced record profits, so they’re puffing on cigars as their accountant prepares to deliver the year-end report and distribute hefty dividend checks.

As he takes his seat and cracks open his portfolio, the accountant has a sudden realization.

“Dang,” he says, “I just remembered. I was supposed to pay corporate income taxes.”

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He continues, “Not only that, I failed to include the property taxes on our manufacturing plants and our headquarters, our equipment and inventory taxes, the taxes due for our fuel, on our trucks and warehouses. Oh, and I forgot the payroll taxes and Social Security matching money on our employees. And I forgot the excise, sales and use taxes we owe, too, as well as the regulatory and inspection fees.”

The accountant stands up to leave. “Sorry,” he says. “Be right back.”

Cigars drop to the floor.

The scene is ridiculous, but it comes to mind every time someone suggests that “taxing business” is a surefire way out of an economic black hole.

It embodies the idiotic view that commercial enterprises don’t calculate their overhead — including taxes — in setting prices and operational plans, including whether and where to build plants or expand operations.

Simplified, let’s say it this way: Raise taxes 10 percent on Buzz Beverages and the price of Buzz products rises proportionally. The business doesn’t pay taxes, the customers do.

Some people — and some politicians — refuse to realize that no enterprise, from a lemonade stand to a multinational corporation, can stay in business unless it makes money.

Do some sellers of goods and services set prices unreasonably high? Is there profiteering from time to time? Yes. But a parallel business precept is that the marketplace will eliminate the overchargers, too.

Equally irritating is the insistence that “the rich don’t pay their fair share.”

In the first place, both Mississippi and federal income tax laws have from their inception been “progressive.” It’s not the more you make the more you pay. It’s the more you make the larger the percentage due each April 15.

Think of household income as a pie. A low-income household has a small pie and the taxman takes a small slice, if any. A high-income household has a much larger pie and the taxes take a larger slice of the larger pie.

President Barack Obama says closing personal and corporate loopholes could result in billions of new revenue. No doubt he’s right. Any licensed CPA will tell you the behemoth IRS code as well as the much smaller binders filled with Mississippi tax laws are slap full of carve-outs for special industries or employers who have hired the right lobbyists and made the appropriate campaign donations.

It is well-documented that even the IRS can’t interpret or apply with certainty some of its regulations that are conflicting at best, overlapping at worst.

What’s most offensive, however, is when the president and some of like-minded supporters explain taxing the rich even more because “they don’t need the money.”

For a long time now, Congress has felt moved to establish minimum wages and other workplace rules, but never before in American history has a paublic official felt there was any authority to establish a “maximum income.”

The nation has always had the rich and the super-rich, Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Fords and, more recently, Bill and Melinda Gates. They’ve been friends to humanity, not enemies. They should be (and have been) our philanthropic heroes for their energies and innovations, not vilified because wiping them out would be a convenient fix for an irresponsible government.

Flat tax.

Never argued for one before, but will now.

We need government and the services and security it provides.

Government needs money — lots of it.

Everybody benefits from government. Everybody should pay. Everybody, even people on welfare and unemployment.

Pull the plug on all the speechifying and deduct, or otherwise collect, 10 percent of each dollar of income.

Force Congress to budget the way the Mississippi Legislature does, meaning last year’s income is the general basis for this year’s budget — including scheduled payments on the debt.

It would put a lot of lobbyists and perhaps entire accounting firms out of business. It would leave a lot of news-talk shows with nothing to yap about. And it would restore fiscal sanity.

Do it. Then let’s go out for a Buzz.

Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or e-mail