Tax Policy

Tax Policy

Research

Cecil Bohanon | Jul 01, 2014
How have federal personal income tax obligations evolved over the past 60 years? A common perception is that the federal income tax burden on the poor has increased while the tax burden on the rich has declined. This study focuses on three archetypical households.
Jason J. Fichtner, Jacob Feldman | Jun 19, 2014
The $69 billion mortgage interest deduction (MID) is often viewed as an element of the tax code that promotes middle-class prosperity. However, 64 percent of the benefits, as measured by effective tax reduction, goes to households earning more than $100,000 per year. The large variation in nominal benefits is one of the reasons why many economists state that the MID is regressive.
Christopher Coyne, Lotta Moberg | May 16, 2014
The governments of American states often attempt to incentivize businesses to locate within their borders by offering targeted benefits to particular industries and companies. These benefits come in many forms, including business tax credits for investments, property tax abatements, and reductions in the sales tax. Despite good intentions, policymakers often overlook the unseen and unintended negative consequences of targeted-benefit policies. This paper analyzes two major downsides of these policies: (1) they lead to a misallocation of resources, and (2) they encourage rent-seeking and thus cronyism. We argue that these costs, which are often longer-term and not readily observable at the time the targeted benefits are granted, may very well outweigh any possible short-term economic benefits.
George H. K. Wang | Mar 26, 2014
This paper discusses arguments for and against a securities transaction tax (STT) and evaluates the pros and cons based on a review of empirical evidence concerning the impact of STTs on equity and futures markets (i.e., trading volume, bid-ask spreads, and price volatility) and market efficiency in various countries. I find that an STT would likely reduce trading volume and increase trading cost, but may not reduce price volatility. The size of potential STT revenue depends on the STT’s impact on market activity. A sizable STT on futures and equity markets would not only fail to generate the expected tax revenue, it would also likely hurt the international competitiveness of US equity and futures markets.
Laurence Kotlikoff | Dec 12, 2013
Every country faces an intertemporal budget constraint, which requires that its government’s future expenditures, including servicing its outstanding official debt, be covered by its government’s future receipts when measured in present value. The present value difference between a country’s future expenditures and its future receipts is its fiscal gap. The US fiscal gap now stands at $205 trillion. This is 10.3 percent of the estimated present value of all future US GDP. The United States needs to raise taxes, cut spending, or engage in a combination of these policies by an amount equal to 10.3 percent of annual GDP to close its fiscal gap. Closing the gap via raising taxes would require an immediate and permanent 57 percent increase in all federal taxes. Closing the gap via spending cuts (apart from servicing official (debt) would require an immediate and permanent 37 percent reduction in spending. This grave picture of America’s fiscal position effectively constitutes a declaration of bankruptcy.
Jeremy Horpedahl, Harrison Searles | Sep 17, 2013
The US federal tax code contains a number of provisions designed to encourage individuals to save for retirement. These provisions allow individuals to avoid or defer taxes if they choose to set aside a portion of their income for future consumption. When all of these provisions are combined, they are the second largest “tax expenditure” category as defined by the Joint Committee on Taxation. The exclusion of retirement savings from taxation causes some economic distortions, which we will discuss in this paper. However, unlike some other tax expenditures, there is a strong economic rationale for not taxing savings. Higher rates of investment lead to higher rates of economic growth, and it may be sound policy for the tax code to encourage this behavior, even after considering the economic costs. Excluding retirement income from taxation may also make the tax system more efficient, even though most other tax expenditures reduce efficiency.

Testimony & Comments

Research Summaries & Toolkits

| Sep 24, 2013
The Mercatus State Policy Guide is intended to summarize and condense the best research available on the most relevant topics. It’s a starting point for discussion, not a comprehensive overview of economic policy. Each statement is supported by academic research, with links provided in the endnotes. Mercatus scholars are available to further explain the results of their studies. We hope the guide will prove to be a valuable tool in your economic policy research.
| Jul 23, 2013
The Mercatus Policy Guide is intended to summarize and condense the best research available on the most pressing topics. It serves as a starting point for discussion, not a comprehensive overview of economic policy. Anyone who wants to go deeper into these studies should consult the references listed at the back. Mercatus scholars are available to further explain the results of their studies. We hope the guide will prove to be a valuable tool in your evaluation of economic policy.
Veronique de Rugy, Jason J. Fichtner, Charles Blahous, Matthew Mitchell | Mar 15, 2013
Despite years without a federal budget, trillion-dollar deficits, and ad hoc, crisis-driven fiscal and economic policies that failed to deal with the looming entitlement crisis, leaders on both sides in Washington are now touting seemingly miraculous progress toward a “fix” to our budgetary woes.
Jason J. Fichtner, Veronique de Rugy | Jan 25, 2013
The debt ceiling, or the legal limit the federal government may borrow, is set currently at $16.4 trillion.[1] In his latest report, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner predicts that the United States will need to increase the debt ceiling sometime between February 15, 2013, and early March 2013.[2] The Congressional Research Service estimates the federal government will have to issue an additional $700 billion in debt above the current statutory limit to finance obligations for the remainder of FY2013…
| Feb 13, 2012
This policy brief takes a look at the president's FY2013 budget proposal and emphasizes the need for fundamental reform in the areas of spending, taxes, and the budget process.
| Nov 2011
A new working paper, “Why the United States Needs to Restructure the Corporate Income Tax,” by Mercatus Center at George Mason University senior scholar Jason Fichtner suggests successful reform of the U.S. corporate tax code must address its fundamental problems: 1) the uncompetitive corporate income tax rate; and 2) the outdated “worldwide” system for corporate tax collection.

Expert Commentary

Aug 18, 2014

Several states cut a wide variety of taxes this summer. Indiana and Rhode Island, for example, cut the conventional corporate tax. Idaho, meanwhile, took an unconventional route by cutting sales taxes on software purchased through “the cloud.” When revenues are on the rise, some states choose to lower taxes, while others prefer to spend the tax windfall. Both moves could be wrong.
Jul 31, 2014

The mortgage interest tax deduction is often justified as promoting homeownership among the middle class and supporting industries that employ middle-class workers. The deduction also has broad public support: a recent survey found that six out of ten Americans oppose its elimination.
Jul 10, 2014

It's simply untrue that when government repays its creditors with money devalued by inflation, taxes aren't raised. Taxes are raised. But in this case the burden of the higher taxes falls disproportionately and unfairly on government's creditors.
May 16, 2014

With over half a billion dollars grossed worldwide, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is one of the summer's biggest blockbusters. It's also the largest film production ever made in New York, and as a result, the largest beneficiary of its tax breaks for movie makers. Every year, New York gives roughly $420 million in tax breaks to the film industry alone. Louisiana comes second at $236 million.
Apr 28, 2014

Mercatus Center research finds that a higher number of temporary tax breaks means more spending and investment in lobbying activities. Rather than emphasizing productive jobs, a growing supply of lobbying jobs emerges to protect various industries’ tax privileges. The Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, has noted that the tax extenders’ “stop and go nature obviously contributes to the lack of certainty and predictability needs to create more family wage jobs.”…
Feb 13, 2014

The Internal Revenue Service has been in some hot water lately for allegedly targeting political enemies. In 2013, it was revealed that the federal tax agency systematically hassled and unfairly scrutinized nonprofit organizations applying for tax-exempt status, simply on the basis of their names or assumed political leanings.

Charts

One of the most commonly cited justifications for the mortgage interest deduction (MID) is the claim that the deduction promotes homeownership among the middle class and supports industries that employ middle-class workers. But with 65.2 percent of all tax filers claiming to make less than $50,000, only 9.8 percent of these returns used the mortgage interest deduction.

Experts

Antony Davies is a Mercatus Center–affiliated senior scholar at George Mason University and associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. He also is a member of the Research Program on Forecasting at George Washington University. He specializes in econometrics, public policy, and economic psychology.
Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Her primary research interests include the US economy, the federal budget, homeland security, taxation, tax competition, and financial privacy. Her popular weekly charts, published by the Mercatus Center, address economic issues ranging from lessons on creating sustainable economic growth to the implications of government tax and fiscal policies. She has testified numerous times in front of Congress on the effects of fiscal stimulus, debt and deficits, and regulation on the economy.
Jason J. Fichtner is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. His research focuses on Social Security, federal tax policy, federal budget policy, retirement security, and policy proposals to increase saving and investment.
Matthew Mitchell is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he is the lead scholar on the Project for the Study of American Capitalism. He is also an adjunct professor of economics at Mason. In his writing and research, he specializes in economic freedom and economic growth, public-choice economics, and the economics of government favoritism toward particular businesses.
Eileen Norcross is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. As lead researcher on the Mercatus Center’s State and Local Policy Project, she focuses on questions of public finance and how economic institutions support or hamper economic resiliency and civil society. She specializes in fiscal federalism and institutions, state and local governments and finance, pensions, public administration, and economic development.

Podcasts

Jason J. Fichtner | March 05, 2014
Jason Fichtner Discusses Tax Reform on NPR's On Point

Recent Events

This program is not about the accounting and legal particulars of tax law, but a broader look at the impact of tax policy on the economy.

Books

Jason J. Fichtner | Aug 27, 2012
This book shows not only what is wrong with the current federal spending plan, but ways to fix it. Business professionals and anyone interested in the government’s response the recession will find this an important book. Mercatus senior research fellow Jason Fichtner authored Chapter 5: “Three Approaches to Fostering Economic Competitiveness.”…

Media Clippings

Jason J. Fichtner | Jul 24, 2014
This excerpt originally appeared in FOX Business.
Jason J. Fichtner | Jul 17, 2014
This excerpt originally appeared in FOX Business.
Eileen Norcross | Aug 26, 2013
Eileen Norcross cited at Variety.
Jason Sorens, William Ruger | Aug 22, 2013
Freedom in the 50 States Project mentioned at Investor's Business Daily…
Vincent H. Smith | Jul 17, 2013
Farming, it turns out, is not so risky after all. Smith reports that the annual failure rate for farms is only 0.5 percent, compared to 7 percent for other businesses.
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