Pethokoukis, Economics, U.S. Economy

What has Obama got against private savings and investment?

The fiscal cliff deal raised investment taxes by 60%. Now President Obama wants to take a couple more shots against savings and investment. From his new budget:

The Budget also puts forward a specific proposal to comply with the Buffett Rule, requiring that wealthy millionaires pay no less than 30 percent of income—after charitable contributions—in taxes. This proposal will prevent high-income households from using tax preferences, including low tax rates on capital gains and dividends, to reduce their total tax bills to less than what many middle class families pay. …

Individual Retirement Accounts and other tax-preferred savings vehicles are intended to help middle class families save for retirement. But under current rules, some wealthy individuals are able to accumulate many millions of dollars in these accounts, substantially more than is needed to fund reasonable levels of retirement saving. The Budget would limit an individual’s total balance across tax-preferred accounts to an amount sufficient to finance an annuity of not more than $205,000 per year in retirement, or about $3 million for someone retiring in 2013. This proposal would raise $9 billion over 10 years.

“Substantially more than is needed to fund reasonable levels of retirement saving.” The Nanny State: Enough fatty foods, enough soda, enough retirement.

Quick econ lesson: The key flaw of any income tax is that it penalizes saving. That’s bad. The reduction in capital accumulation reduces labor productivity and lowers real wages throughout the economy, depressing the standard of living of future generations. Some studies have found that a switch to consumption taxation would increase the size of the US economy by as much as 9%.

But the capital gain tax preference and various savings accounts such as IRAs and 401ks help offset the tax code’s anti-savings bias. That’s good for growth. But Obama keeps trying to dismantle these work-arounds in the name of fairness. In this case, more fairness equals less economic growth.

Side note: This reminds me that many Dems dislike 401k plans. They would agree with Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor at the New School of Social Research, who wants to eliminate the preferential tax treatment of the popular retirement plans. In their place, she would have workers transfer their dough into government-created “guaranteed retirement accounts” for every worker.

Back in 2009, Ghilarducci testified before Congress. At that hearing, Rep. Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Washington, said that since “the savings rate isn’t going up for the investment of $80 billion [in 401(k) tax breaks], we have to start to think about whether or not we want to continue to invest that $80 billion for a policy that’s not generating what we now say it should.”

11 thoughts on “What has Obama got against private savings and investment?

  1. I’m genuinely curious whether there’s any way to protect my 401(k) and IRAs from being raided/taxed going forward aside from taking the early withdrawal penalty and regular income tax rate and putting it into a Swiss account somewhere, which will be taxed at the Swiss rate and subject to taxation back in the US. Is the 50% hit I’d be taking immediately plus the taxes going forward worth it to protect these accounts? I am quite certain that the Democrats are going to be confiscating +50% of my retirement accounts at some point in the next 15-20 years.

  2. If there was ever a doubt that pandering trumps economics, this is it.

    401(k)s are one of the few parts of the tax code that make economic sense. The present value of the taxes collected when the 401(k)s are liquidated years from now is greater than the taxes that the government could collect today. From an economic standpoint, the government should want people to pile as much money as they can into those deferred savings plans (or deferred revenue plans form the government’s perspective).

  3. Mr. P is paid to repeat the benedictions, but readers one hopes are not married to dogma. The economy is literally awash in liquidity — trillions parked in money funds, corporate treasuries and banks. By any school’s precepts, Chicago Austrian South Dakota State, the economy should be booming. A realist would ask what else?

    That is what O is doing. He wants more taxes from people who can pay. He wants to put money in the hands of people who will spend it. The only thing unreal about our situation is those the folks who insist the world is flat despite much evidence to the contrary.

  4. “By any school’s precepts, Chicago Austrian South Dakota State, the economy should be booming. A realist would ask what else?”

    That’s. Just. Rubbish.

    No right-of-center economist is scratching his/her head wondering why Obamanomics has failed. Indeed, they are issuing out “I told you so’s” to the hopeandchangey folks like Todd Mason.

    • Fine, let’s go back to the facts. Money funds are holding $2.6 trillion. Corporations are holding $1.9 trillion in cash. The Fed is holding $4 trillion in bonds purchased with dollars hot off the printing press. So, Professor Paul. We’re all ears. Please explain to us why the economy is bumping along, contrary to the thoughts of Austrians and Chicagoans, and why the answer is more preferential tax treatment for private investment..

      • You’re missing a very salient fact there obamaboy, the Kenyan Kommie Klown is using other people’s money to buy votes via the ‘pander to parasites‘ socialist safety net crapola…

    • More pearls of wisdom from Juandos the Juander Dogma“…

      More witless babbling by the progress-0-todd, always appreciated for its entertainment value…

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