At one time, you could have bought half interest in McDonald's for $25,000 -- and there were no takers. Anyone who would have risked $25,000 at that time would be a billionaire today. But there was no guarantee at the time that they wouldn't be just throwing 25 grand down a rat hole.
Where a capital gain can be documented -- when a builder spends ten years creating a housing development, for example -- then whatever that builder earns in the tenth year is a capital gain, not ordinary income. There is no guarantee in advance that the builder will ever recover his expenses, much less make a profit.
There are whole industries where no one can expect to make a profit the first year -- publishing a newspaper for example. Virtually every major American airline has lost money in some years, and some of the biggest and most famous airlines have ended up going bankrupt.
If a country wants investors to invest, it cannot tax their resulting capital gains the same as the incomes of people whose incomes were guaranteed in advance when they took the job.
It is not just a question of "fairness" to investors. Ultimately, it is investors who guarantee other people's incomes in a market economy, even though the investors' own incomes are by no means guaranteed. Reducing investors' incentives to take risks is reducing the jobs their investments are likely to create.
Business income is different from employees' income in another way. The profit that a business makes is first taxed as profit and the remainder is then taxed again as the incomes of people who receive dividends.
The biggest losers from politicians who jack up tax rates are likely to be people who are looking for jobs that will not be there, because investments will not be there to create the jobs.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is www.tsowell.com. To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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