Tax.Com: Breaking News: Tax Revenues Plummeted

-By David Cay Johnson:

March 3, 2011- We take you now to the official data for important news. Federal tax revenues in 2010 were much smaller than in 2000. Total individual income tax receipts fell 30 percent in real terms. Because the population kept growing, income taxes per capita plummeted.

Individual income taxes came to just $2,900 per capita in 2010, down 36 percent from more than $4,500 in 2000. Total income taxes and income taxes per capita declined even though the economy grew 16 percent overall and 6 percent per capita from 2000 through 2010.

Corporate income tax receipts fell 27 percent and declined 34 percent per capita, even though profits boomed, rising 60 percent.

Payroll taxes increased slightly overall, but slipped per capita because the nation's population grew five times faster than the number of people with any work. The average wage also declined slightly.

You read it here first. Lowered tax rates did not result in increased tax revenues as promised by politician after pundit after professional economist. And even though this harsh truth has been obvious from the official data for some time, the same politicians and pundits keep prevaricating. Some of them even say it is irrelevant that as a share of GDP, income tax revenues are at their lowest level since 1951, when Harry S. Truman was president.

No matter how many times advocates of lower tax rates said it, tax rate cuts did not pay for themselves, did not spur economic growth, did not increase jobs, and did not make America better off.

Now that the news has been broken, let's see how many political leaders start speaking facts instead of fairy tales. And let's also watch to see how many Washington reporters, news anchors, talk show guests, and syndicated columnists use the actual figures. It's called holding politicians accountable, and it used to be a mainstay of journalism, where the first rule is to check it out and the second is to cross-check until you know what is going on and can give context.

The tables accompanying this column should be easy enough to read and turn into graphics for television, newspapers, and magazines, not to mention all those blogs and digital journals.

So how soon will we see Washington journalists holding politicians accountable for what they say about taxes, tax rates, revenues, economic growth, and jobs?

Here's some advice: Don't hold your breath. Washington has become a city of ideological marketing, where those who would note that the emperors have no facts are unwelcome in their own newsrooms. It is a city where access matters most and those who ask tough questions don't get access.

Just as real Mad Men persuaded millions of men to put that greasy Brylcreem™ in their hair and convinced many more that cigarettes make you healthier, pure nonsense about tax cuts spurring growth and paying for themselves gets repeated and replayed and regurgitated as if it had some basis in reality. But Washington is the marketplace of ideas and governance, not the marketplace of products. Lies about taxes sold by people with no regard for facts are at least as dangerous to our society as cigarettes are to smokers.

Consider this nonsense from the syndicated column by Thomas Sowell, who holds the Rose and Milton Friedman chair at the Hoover Institution. Sowell at least hedged a bit when he applied the word "often," writing in December:

High tax rates on paper, that many people avoid, often does not bring in as much tax revenue as lower tax rates that more people actually pay, after it is safe to come out of tax shelters and earn higher rates of taxable income.

But two months later, this former UCLA economics professor seems to have made up his facts, writing in his February column that "in each case, going back to the '20s, the reduced tax rates have led to increased tax revenues for the government.


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