The Plank

Kudlow Misses The Mark

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Critiquing Larry Kudlow's blogging is essentially a futile endeavor, but this post is incoherent even by his usual standards. First, Kudlow says:

Obama’s tax plan would add up to a 39.6 percent personal income tax, a
52.2 percent combined income and payroll tax, a 28 percent
capital-gains tax, a 39.6 percent dividends tax, and a 55 percent
estate tax. In other words, Sen. Obama is a very-high-tax candidate.
Whether Wall Street has fully discounted this, I have no idea. Probably
not yet. But somebody in the investor class ought to be thinking about
it, because it’s not good.

First, part of this is factually incorrect. Under both Obama's tax plan and Hillary's, the top marginal tax rate would revert to 39.6 percent. This year, the top marginal rate applies only to income above $349,701. But the Social Security tax, which makes up the bulk of payroll taxes, applies only to the first $97,500 of income--which is taxed at a marginal rate of 28 percent. Not a single dollar earned by anyone, as far as I can tell, would face a combined 52.2 percent marginal rate.

Second, if I have this straight, according to Kudlow, the market is so attuned to politics that it drops on days when Democrats are holding their primaries and caucuses--but investors aren't aware that Barack Obama isn't a fan of the Bush tax cuts? Really?

Even curiouser is this:

Interestingly, at least two of Obama’s top economic advisors--Austan
Goolsbee and Jeffrey Liebman--are highly regarded free-market
economists. Goolsbee from Chicago, Liebman from Harvard. But somehow
their candidate has a very punitive high-tax campaign plan for the
economy.

Of course, there's no mystery at all: Goolsbee and Liebman are supporting Obama because they like his economic views, which are not at all incompatible with their respect for markets. This only seems strange to Kudlow because he, like some other conservatives, has convinced himself that being a supporter of free markets is synonymous with incessantly and dogmatically pushing for tax cuts. But of course there are plenty of people who understand and appreciate the beauty of market mechanisms without accepting the normative, philosophical claim that less government is always better. What Kudlow labels a "punitive high-tax plan," in reality, would do nothing more than restore the evil and oppressive scheme we had in the 1990s.

Update: Commenter Blue Valentine rightly notes that the 52.2 percent figure assumes that Obama has proposed lifting the earnings cap on the Social Security tax. But it's more than a little misleading for Kudlow to make that assumption--Obama has floated doing that as "one possible option," but he hasn't endorsed it or included it as part of his platform or anything like that.

--Josh Patashnik

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