- Series: What Everyone Needs to Know
- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 22, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199890269
- ISBN-13: 978-0199890262
- Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 0.9 x 5.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #85,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Taxes in America: What Everyone Needs to Know® 1st Edition
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Burman and Slemrod explain for the average tax payer as well as those seeking more tax information how the U.S. tax system works, how it affects people and businesses, and how it might be improved. They contend that the timing of this book is good because both candidates for president in 2012 embrace tax reform, albeit with very different visions, and the debate about taxes has become a proxy war in the battle about the size and scope of government. Part 1 provides an overview of personal and business taxes in the U.S., and part 2 explains the costs and benefits of taxation. Part 3 reviews tax policies and tax reform. The authors conclude by explaining sensible tax reform ideas, including those developed by President George W. Bush’s blue-ribbon panel and President Obama’s Bowles-Simpson Commission. This is an excellent, understandable book on a topic important to a wide range of library patrons. --Mary Whaley
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Top Customer Reviews
"Taxes in America" is an accessible book on tax policy in America. Educational and informative this book does its darndest to engage the audience by taking a reader-friendly approach on how our tax system works by asking logical questions and answering them in straight-mannered fashion. Professors Burman and Slemrod with background in economics and specifically tax policy do an effective job of sharing their wisdom with the public. This informative 301-page book is broken out into the following three Parts: 1. How are we Taxed?, 2. The Costs and Benefits of Taxation, and 3. A Tour of the Sausage Factory.
1. A well-written and accessible book on tax policy.
2. Great command of the topic.
3. Excellent format. Smart decision to ask layperson-styled questions and provide direct responses. Cartoon inserts help break up the monotony and add much needed humor to a dry topic.
4. Does a good job of defining terms. "A tax is a compulsory transfer of resources from the private sector to government that generally does not entitle the taxed person or entity to a quid pro quo in return (that's why it has to be compulsory)."
5. Some interesting tidbits of note, "In early 2011, antitax crusader Grover Norquist accused conservative Republican Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) of breaking his no-tax-increase pledge by proposing an amendment to end a tax credit for ethanol. Norquist objected to the elimination of the credit because he views it as a tax increase, while Senator Coburn considered it to be a spending cut."
6. The use of taxes as a form of regulation. "A cap-and-trade system can have similar effects to a carbon tax. Under this system the government sets a limit on total emissions, and then allocates or auctions a number of permits equal to that amount. The permits can then be bought and sold, which establishes a market price."
7. Straightforward explanation of how taxes vary across the federal, state, and local governments. "The federal government's revenue comes predominantly from individual income taxes (43.5 percent in 2009) and social insurance and retirement receipts (42.3 percent), while only 6.6 percent comes from corporate income taxes and about 3 percent from excise taxes."
8. Standout facts. "The cost of government is measured much more accurately by what it spends than by what it collects in taxes."
9. Payroll taxes in perspective. "Although it's conceivable that consumers or capital owners could bear part or all of the tax burden, statistical studies have almost uniformly concluded that workers bear the entire burden of both the employer and employee portions of the payroll tax."
10. The arguments for and against lower capital gains tax rates.
11. Interesting discussion on why we tax corporations and how some get away with paying no income tax. For example, the New York Times reported that General Electric, one of the largest companies in the world, paid no income tax in 2010 despite worldwide profits of over $14.2 billion and U.S. profits of $5.1 billion.
12. Did you know? "Oregon and Delaware are sales tax havens--they levy no sales tax at all."
13. It goes over what seems to be a countless variety of taxes: use, luxury, excise, sin, Pigouvian, flat, estate, property...to name a few.
14. The most progressive estate tax is..." For sure, the estate tax is the most progressive tax in the federal tax system. The Tax Policy Center estimates that, in 2011, 97 percent of the tax will be collected from the estates of households in the top 5 percent of the income distribution, and 78 percent from the richest 1 percent. By comparison, only 58 percent of personal income tax revenues are collected from the top 5 percent and 34 percent from the top 1 percent."
15. Strong conviction on what is not true. "It is not true that cutting taxes by itself will guarantee a spurt of growth. We know this by observing that some countries with substantially higher tax takes are doing quite well, thank you. We know that higher tax rates on the rich do not guarantee economic disaster, because in the 1950s and 1960s, when the U.S. top individual tax rates exceeded 90 percent, the U.S. economy performed very well indeed. Better than in decades since, on the whole, in the rate of growth of GDP and productivity. We know that lowering tax rates will not boost the economy so much that revenues will go up rather than down. We know this by observing that recent tax cuts in the United States and in other countries were inevitably followed by bigger deficits."
16. Worthwhile quotes. "President Lyndon Johnson once said: "The most damaging thing you can do to any businessman in America is to keep him in doubt, and to keep him guessing, on what our tax policy is."
17. Tax subsidies. "Tax subsidies add up to more than $1 trillion per year. That's not chump change, but, until recently, it's been off limits in any bipartisan budget negotiations in Congress because Republicans have been unwilling to consider anything that might be labeled a tax increase."
18. One of the more interesting chapters, "Tax Administration and Enforcement". Good stuff! "Overall, in fiscal year 2010, 1.1 percent of individual income tax returns, 1.4 percent of corporation income tax returns, and 10.1 percent of estate tax returns were audited."
19. Reality. "While tax revenues are at the lowest level as a share of GDP in more than fifty years, they are expected to increase as the economy rebounds and the stimulus measures expire. However, population aging and rising health care costs will put unprecedented pressures on the federal budget. Unless Congress figures out a radical cure for health cost inflation, services would have to be cut drastically from current levels to balance the budget with the tax system of current law."
20. Political reality. "The era of surpluses died because the younger Mr. Bush was not about to repeat his dad's mistake. His vice president, Dick Cheney, growled that "deficits don't matter." Mr. Bush cut taxes by trillions of dollars while creating a huge prescription drug entitlement program, waging two wars, and increasing non-defense discretionary spending even faster than Mr. Clinton. Mr. Bush left office with a burgeoning deficit and record-low approval ratings, but both sides continued to embrace the two Santa theory. Candidate Barack Obama criticized Mr. Bush's fiscal profligacy, but proposed new spending programs and tax cuts that would have increased the deficit almost as much as Mr. Bush's policies. Candidate John McCain was more restrained on spending, but his huge promised income tax cuts would have led to even larger deficits."
21. Links to notes and a helpful glossary of terms.
1. As hard as they try (and they do try), tax policy is a dry topic.
2. Tax policy can be very complex.
3. The authors provide some helpful charts and diagrams but I was hoping for more. As an example: tax policies by president, timeline of tax reforms and implications, to name a few.
4. Failed to take advantage of the more controversial aspects of tax policy. A chapter on the major scandals involving tax evasion would have added some spice to this book.
5. Some hot-topic buttons were purposely ignored or barely mentioned: income inequality, religious tax breaks, Affordable Care Act (does mention the 3.8% tax on investment income for individuals with income over $200,000, and couples with income greater than $250,000).
In summary, this is a very solid book on tax policy but no matter how you slice it, it remains a very dry topic. The authors do well in explaining the basics of how the tax policy works and how it might be made better. The book is well written, accessible and provides a helpful glossary of terms. The book lacks spice but it is a welcomed reference for us laypersons in tax policy. I recommend it.
Further suggestions: "Taxing Ourselves, 4th Edition: A Citizen's Guide to the Debate over Taxes" by Joel Slemrod, "The Benefit and The Burden: Tax Reform-Why We Need It and What It Will Take" by Bruce Bartlett, "Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget" by David Wessel, "White House Burning: Our National Debt and Why It Matters to You (Vintage)" by Simon Johnson, "The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future" by Joseph E. Stiglitz, "Tax Havens: International Tax Avoidance and Evasion" by Jane G. Gravelle, "Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else" by Chrystia Freeland, and "Deficits, Debt, and the New Politics of Tax Policy" by Dennis S. Ippolito.
This first edition was published just before the January 2013 changes in tax policy by Congress, so it's best to get informed of those changes while reading some of the most up-to-date passages in the book. If you're curious about the different types of taxes on all levels (federal, state, local, etc.), and you want to know how the money you pay in taxes each year contributes to the US economy at large, then you'll love reading this book.
Taxes are not only the price we pay for a civilized society, taxes are also the price we pay as a society that uses the tax code to try and achieve social policy objectives, such as equality, income redistribution, home ownership, savings incentives, work incentives, healthcare coverage, economic stimulus, etc...the list goes on and on. These social policy goals have both economic and societal costs and benefits -- Burman and Slemrod do a good job explaining these tradeoffs.
If everyone in this country read this book and came away with a proper understanding of the incidence/burden of various forms of taxation (Chapter 2) or how some tax breaks can rightly be classified as spending (Chapter 7 - Burman's letter to Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" on tax expenditures is a definite must read), then we might actually be able to pass legislation and institute a tax system that we truly deserve...not the one we currently have.
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