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The Greedy Hand: How Taxes Drive Americans Crazy and What to Do About It Hardcover – February 16, 1999
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Americans are being taxed to death--literally, says author Amity Shlaes in The Greedy Hand. At work or out shopping, upon marriage or even after death, we are paying more in taxes than ever before, according to Shlaes, a Wall Street Journal editorial writer. The average family with two wage-earners is now seeing almost 40 percent of its money go to local, state, and federal taxes. "The greedy hand of government"--first described by American revolutionary Thomas Paine--is greedier than ever, creating a situation ripe for tax reform, if not revolt, Shlaes writes. "We think of our forefathers who felt compelled to rebel against the Crown for 'imposing Taxes on us without our consent.' We know we live in a democracy, and so must have chosen this arrangement. Yet nowadays we find ourselves feeling that taxes are imposed on us 'without our consent'," she writes.
Chapter by chapter, and in great detail, Shlaes analyzes the tremendous burdens imposed by a wide range of taxes. She assails the marriage penalty, for example, and exposes problems with Social Security and the estate tax. And she documents how Americans feel increasingly unhappy with what government does with their money and shows how people go to great lengths to avoid taxes--driving across state lines to escape a sales tax, for instance. Shlaes calls for political leaders to overhaul the nation's tax code and suggests starting with guiding principles like the following: "Taxes have to be simple;" "Taxes have to be lower;" and "It's time to privatize Social Security." The Greedy Hand warns that the tax system damages the economy and hurts working people, and is a good read for anyone who wants to rail intelligently about taxes. --Dan Ring
From Publishers Weekly
In a furious and furiously argued look at the effects of taxation on American life, Shlaes (Germany: The Empire Within), a Wall Street Journal editorial writer on tax policy, argues that a progressive tax structure merely acts as a brake on those who are moving up the ladder of success. She notes that American taxes?overt, hidden, intrusive, ubiquitous?once touched only a 12th of the average person's annual income but now bite into close to 40%. In place of today's byzantine tax code, Shlaes suggests either a flat tax or a simplified tax structure with lower rates and no home mortgage deduction (the latter change, she surmises, would very likely bring down interest rates for mortgages). She also calls for privatizing Social Security and favors abolition of the estate tax (arguing that the latter is a major killer of family businesses and that the rich find loopholes to avoid paying it anyway). Shlaes has nothing good to say about Medicare and, indeed, relates some awful horror stories about its shortcomings. In a chapter on school funding, she contends that the move by states to centralize school financing (as opposed to the old system whereby local property taxes funded local schools) has not brought equitable spending or improved academic performance. Whether or not readers agree with Shlaes's reform proposals, her informal, colorful report elucidates the often subtle ways taxes affect citizens' lives, from child rearing to the decision to marry, women's careers, the quality of day care, consumers' shopping habits and retirement. Agent, David Chalfant at IMG Literary; Conservative Book Club main selection; author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book nicely lays out the history of taxes that take more income and waste a lot of time and effort in the process. The author looks at sales taxes, withholding taxes at work, the marriage penalty in the income tax, whether the housing deduction for interest and taxes is a good thing or not, the problems with taxes on domestic help, property taxes and school support, the social security system, and estate taxes.
She doesn't like much of what she sees, and is concerned that reform could simply lead to adding new types of taxes (like a national sales tax while keeping all of the old taxes).
The newer the tax or tax idea, it seems like the worse it is working.
Her solutions are basically principles to be followed in reforming taxes. I doubt if they will be followed anytime soon. Recent polls show that most Americans are concerned about paying off the national debt and fixing social security before doing anything about cutting taxes.
Although most of her observations were good ones, I was a little doubtful about her automatic focus on the high income people being taken to the cleaners unfairly. There was not as much attention paid to benefits that lower income people may be receiving.
If you spend time thinking about how to keep your tax bill down, there's not much new in this book. If you are new to all of the ways that government helps you spend your money, this is a good introduction to the subject.
The book is well written and pleasant to read. The only drawback I found was that it was a little depressing to be reminded of how much I actually pay to all of the various governments.
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