An alternative to popular faith

The March 15, 2010 New Yorker Magazine contained a piece by Mr. James Suroweicki titled “Special Interest.” The article described a quirk of federal tax law in which private-equity fund managers pay taxes on their share of profits (also known as “carried interest”) at the capital gains rate. Mr. Surowiecki says, “If you manage money for a mutual fund or a public company, you pay regular income taxes; do it for a private fund and you pay capital gains.”

Because capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than regular income, Mr. Suroweicki feels this “loophole” is unfair and should be closed. He probably is right, though his solution is maddeningly typical and wholly wrong. He would close this “loophole” by doing away with the tax break, i.e. increasing the tax on carried interest.

Nowhere does Mr. Suroweicki suggest decreasing the regular income tax, though that step equally would close his hated “loophole,” while additionally providing a tax-relief benefit to the public. Instead he follows the popular faith that all our money really belongs to the government, and should any group find a way to send less than others to the government, the solution is to make them pay more, rather than allowing us to pay less.

The very word “loophole” has pejorative connotations: something that begs to be sealed up. Why can’t the carried interest tax rate be considered the “normal” tax, while the regular tax rates are considered the anomaly. Why must every perceived unfairness in taxes be cured by raising a tax rather than by lowering one?

The federal government does not use tax money to pay its bills. It, in fact, destroys all the tax money sent to it, and it creates new money when it credits the bank accounts of creditors. Federal spending is not limited by federal taxes. When your neighbor finds a way to pay less, this does not increase your own tax burden (though the same cannot be said for state and local taxes, as these entities do not have the unlimited ability to create money).

Yes, there is the pathological, human jealousy the have-nots hold for the haves. But, something more harmful exists: The false beliefs that we are the government, anything taken from the government comes from us, and anything given to the government benefits us.

We are not the government. We pay taxes; the government receives taxes. We are limited in our ability to spend; the government is not. We live, lust, feel, fight, work, worry, conceive and care for children. We dream of the future, but eventually we die. The government does none of these things.

It is a giant machine, a remorseless, monster grinder, only more powerful, because it has the unlimited ability to create its own fuel. Some of us fall into the grinder and lose an arm or a leg. Others escape. Mr. Surowiecki would call that escape a “loophole.” His solution: Close that “loophole” by making sure everyone loses and arm and a leg.

How about making sure no one loses and arm and a leg. How about cutting taxes to address unfairness. Has anyone ever thought of that?

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell