Bar Stool Economics
Capitalism in the United States is in serious disrepute. The Bush tax cuts have been said to give the top 0.1% of Americans an average of $520,000. That is over 400 times the average tax cut received by middle-class households. Many people are upset at how tax cut policies seem to disproportionately benefit the upper class. If anything, shouldn’t tax breaks help the poorest people? 😕 Well to understand how the tax system works let’s take a look at bar stool economics.
The origins of this parable have been attributed to Professor T.Davies from the University of South Dakota and R. Kamerschen from the University of Georgia. The following is a modified version of the original.
Suppose 5 friends go out for drinks and the total bill comes to $100. If they paid their bill the same way we pay our taxes, in proportion to income, then it would go something like this:
- The first 2 men, the poorest, pay nothing.
- The 3rd man pays $4.
- The 4th man pays $19.
- And the 5th man, the richest, pays $77
The 5 men are happy with this payment arrangement so that is what they decided to do. 🙂 Then one day, drinks at the bar were on sale, and the total bill for the 5 gentlemen came to $80. To make it fair the men still wanted to pay their bill the same way taxes are paid. So the bartender reduced each man’s bill by roughly the same amount based on their economic status. The first 2 men were unaffected because they simply continued to drink for free. The remaining 3 patrons split the $20 in savings, and paid the following amounts:
- The 3rd man paid $2 instead of $4 (50% savings)
- The 4th man paid $14 instead of $19 (26% savings)
- And the 5th man paid $64 instead of $77 (17% savings)
Each of the paying 3 men spend less for their drinks than before. And the first 2 men continued to drink for free. But once outside the bar, the men began to compare their savings. “I only got $2 out of the $20 in savings,” complained the 3rd man. “Don’t look at me,” replied the 4th man. He pointed to the 5th man and said, “he received the majority of the $20 savings. The wealthy get all the breaks.”
“Wait a minute,” yelled the first two poorest men who didn’t pay. “We didn’t get any savings at all. *harumph* The system always exploits poor people like us.”
Similar to wine tasting, the discount for the men can be seen as good or bad depending on their mental frame of reference. The first 4 men ganged up on the 5th man and patronized him for being too greedy. Then they went to a Bernie Sanders rally without inviting their rich friend. 😛 Feeling betrayed and ostracized the 5th man didn’t show up to the bar the following night. The 4 remaining men decided to drink without him anyway. But when it came time to pay they discovered an unpleasant surprise. They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill. 🙁 It appears they were in a bill pickle. 😀
That’s pretty much how the progressive tax system works. Naturally, those who pay the highest taxes benefit the most from a tax break. If we tax the rich too much, or attack them for being wealthy, then they might start drinking in other pubs where the atmosphere is less hostile. According to the WSJ, the numbers used in the bar stool economics above are not far off from the actual share of income tax paid by Americans in 2014.
The bottom 40% of income earners actually paid negative income taxes meaning they received net federal transfers. For those who earn the top 5th (quintile,) one way to reduce your taxes is to collect income from multiple sources so that you can maximize any deductions, expenses, and preferential tax treatments. In the U.S. the average multi-millionaire has at least 7 different sources of income.
Random Useless Fact: