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Real Clear Politics: The Great Tax Divide

Author: Thomas Sowell
September 18, 2012

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The disconnect that exists in the United States between higher tax rates and higher tax revenues is not unique, and was not always simply a partisan or ideological point of debate.

There was a time when Democrats and Republicans alike could talk sense about tax rates, in terms of what is best for the economy, without demagoguery about "tax cuts for the rich."

Democratic presidents Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy spoke plainly about the fact that higher tax rates on individuals and businesses did not automatically translate into higher tax revenues for the government. Beyond some point, high tax rates on those with high incomes simply led to those incomes being invested in tax-free bonds, with the revenue from those bonds being completely lost to the government -- and the investments lost to the economy.

As President John F. Kennedy put it, "it is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now." This was because investors' "efforts to avoid tax liabilities" make "certain types of less productive activity more profitable than more valuable undertakings," and this in turn "inhibits our growth and efficiency."

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