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A Must Read Explanation of the Capital Gains Double Tax

Posted by Brian Garst on September 15, 2010

Economist Steven Landsburg uses some simple examples to explain how capital gains taxes are always double taxation above and beyond income tax levels.

It always pays to think through stylized examples. Alice and Bob each work a day and earn a dollar. Alice spends her dollar right away. Bob invests his dollar, waits for it to double, and then spends the resulting two dollars. Let’s see how the tax code affects them.

First add a wage tax. Alice and Bob each work a day, earn a dollar, pay 50 cents tax and have 50 cents left over. Alice spends her fifty cents right away. Bob invests his fifty cents, waits for it to double, and then spends the resulting one dollar.

What does the wage tax cost Alice? Answer: 50% of her consumption (which is down from a dollar to fifty cents). What does it cost Bob? Answer: 50% of his consumption (which is down from two dollars to one dollar). In the absence of a capital gains tax, Alice and Bob are both being taxed at the same rate.

Now add a 10% capital gains tax. Alice and Bob each work a day, earn a dollar, pay 50 cents tax and have 50 cents left over. Alice spends her fifty cents right away. Bob invests his fifty cents, waits for it to double, pays a 5 cent capital gains tax, and is left with 95 cents to spend.

What does the tax code cost Alice? Answer: 50% of her consumption (which is down from a dollar to fifty cents). What does the tax code cost Bob? Answer: 52.5% of his consumption (which is down from two dollars to 95 cents).

Read it all.

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