"I happen to believe in the people and believe that the people are supposed to be dominant in our society. That they, not government, are to have control of their own affairs to the greatest extent possible with an orderly society." - Ronald Reagan

Applying the maths to effective tax rate claims.

Posted: January 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

So, Warren Buffet says his entire this year is at “between 33 and 41 percent in payroll and income taxes paid to the federal government”.

The top tax bracket is 35%. The social security component of payroll taxes is 4.2% of gross compensation, subject to a limit of $106,800. The medicate component is 1.45%, with no limit.

This means that for most filers the top marginal rate they would ever be… subject to is 36.45%, and only on income over $379,151. Married people filing separately would be slightly higher, hitting a top marginal rate of 38.65% once their earning hit $106,151, but then when they hit $106,800 it drops back down to 34.45% until it hits $189,576 and jumps up to the 36.45% rate.

Note that these are marginal rates. That doesn’t even include the standard deduction or personal exemption, much less anything else.

For his secretary to pay an effective rate anywhere near he claims, she would have to be very highly compensated. Or her husband is, which makes it disingenuous to imply the high tax rate is her own. Consider that a woman filing under the least favourable conditions – married, filing singling – making $386,000 a year (the threshold for being part of the maligned “one percent”) taking nothing but the $5800 standard deduction and $3700 personal exemption would end up paying $109,089 in personal income tax, $4485.60 in social security tax and $5597.00 in Medicare tax, yielding a final effective tax rate of 30.87%.

In fact, you can calculate the minimum income necessary to hit a 35.8% rate pretty easily with a little algebra.

((((X – 5800 – 3700)* 0.35) – 22686.00) + (X * 0.0145) + (108600 * 0.042)) / X = .358

Solve for X (i.e. income) and you get $3,299,969.23. And again, that would assume absolutely *no* tax preferred investments, no retirement fund, no itemized deductions, nothing. So either Buffet got her rate wrong (possibly including state taxes, or conflating marginal rate with effective rate), or his secretary – or maybe her husband – is in the top 0.1% of earners.

On Santorum and Zombies and the doctrine of double effect.

Posted: January 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Public relevance inevitably carries a strict price; one paid in loss of privacy, in scrutiny and criticism. In the case of Rick Santorum, who enjoyed a renewed relevance in the wake of the Iowa caucus results, this has included a number of misguided attacks on the neonatal loss of his Gabriel. These attacks are not particularly original, largely being echoes of criticism on blogs after the formation of his exploratory committee and again after the formal announcement of candidacy.

Much of the commentary gets the basic facts wrong; claiming that Karen Santorum had “an abortion”, or at least that labor was voluntarily induced. Others refer to Gabriel as stillborn or a fetus, despite his (albeit brief) survival outside the womb. Some get the events correct on the face, but insist on dehumanizing the child by referring to him as “it”.

Even those that concede the facts, and allow that events as they occurred did not violate his professed beliefs or political stances, nonetheless conclude he is a hypocrite because they would have induced labor if necessary to preserve Karen’s life. This betrays the ignorance of the accusers, not merely of a candidate but of Catholic teaching in general. The Santorums went well beyond the demands of their faith.

The key concept is called the doctrine (or sometimes principle) of double effect, which allows that some actions have a positive and negative effect. There are generally four criteria that need to be satisfied for such an act to be considered moral. First, the act in and of itself must not be intrinsically evil. Second, the positive effect must be the intention. Third, the positive effect must not be consequence of the negative effect. Fourth, there must be grave reason for permitting the negative effect.

For example, let’s say you are in a group of people fleeing zombies. Even if tripping a companion would preserve the lives of yourself and your other companions, it would not be moral under this test, as the positive outcome would be achieved through an act of deliberate, intentional evil.

Alternately, let’s say your band of survivalists makes their escape down an alley with a chain link fence, but one member of the group is a particularly slow runner. Even though locking the gate would consign the fate of the lagging member, it would be moral under this test, as his death would incidental rather than intentional.  Though the ultimate consequence of sacrificing one for the survival of the many is the same, the nature and intent of the immediate action is fundamentally different.

Using this standard as guide, it is clear that induced labor would have been well justified.  No one disputes that Karen was in grave and immediate danger, and no act of intrinsic evil or directly evil intent would have been performed.  There is simply no evidence that the actions or intentions of the Santorums were anything but aligned with their faith.