Walter E. Williams

But let's stick with the rich and ask a few questions. Politicians, news media people and leftists in general entertain what economists call a zero elasticity view of the world. That's just fancy economic jargon for a view that government can impose a tax and people will behave after the tax just as they behaved before the tax, and the only change is more government revenue. One example of that vision, at the state and local levels of government, is the disappointing results of confiscatory tobacco taxes. Confiscatory tobacco taxes have often led to less state and local revenue because those taxes encouraged smuggling.

Similarly, when government taxes profits, corporations report fewer profits and greater costs. When individuals face higher income taxes, they report less income, buy tax shelters and hide their money. It's not just rich people who try to avoid taxes, but all of us -- liberals, conservatives and libertarians.

What's the evidence? Federal tax collections have been between 15 and 20 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product every year since 1960. However, between 1960 and today, the top marginal tax rate has varied between 91 percent and 35 percent. That means whether taxes are high or low, people make adjustments in their economic behavior so as to keep the government tax take at 15 to 20 percent of the GDP. Differences in tax rates have a far greater impact on economic growth than federal revenues.

So far as Congress' ability to prey on the rich, we must keep in mind that rich people didn't become rich by being stupid.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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