Tax Hikes and the Impact on Small Business

Sep 3, 2010

Kevin Hassett and Alan Viard in the Wall Street Journal:

Recently, for example, Vice President Joe Biden harshly rejected House Minority Leader John Boehner's assertion that the hikes would harm small businesses, saying that "he has created this myth that a tax cut for millionaires is actually a tax cut for small business. There aren't 3% of small businesses in America that would qualify for that tax cut." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi flipped the number around, saying that the planned tax increases would exempt "98% of American families and about 97% of small businesses." The impact is far more severe than Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Biden suggest. In fact, the sound bite about 3% of small businesses, which has been picked up by numerous pundits, is one of the more misleading statements in the long history of economic propaganda.

The 3% figure, which is computed from IRS data, is based on simply counting the number of returns with any pass-through business income. So, if somebody makes a little money selling products on eBay and reports that income on Schedule C of their tax return, they are counted as a small business. The fact that there are millions of people in the lower tax brackets with small amounts of business income may be interesting for some purposes, but it is irrelevant for the assessment of the economic impact of the tax hikes.

The numbers are clear. According to IRS data, fully 48% of the net income of sole proprietorships, partnerships, and S corporations reported on tax returns went to households with incomes above $200,000 in 2007. That's the number to look at, not the 3%. Would Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Biden deny that the more successful firms owned by individuals in the top income-tax bracket are disproportionately responsible for investment and job creation?

It's clear that business income for large and small firms will be hit by the higher tax rates. And in point of fact, firms of all sizes contribute to the nation's prosperity. So it's a mistake to focus only on the impact of increased tax rates on small business. But will the higher rates actually cause a significant reduction in business activity?

Short answer: Yes. Go read...

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