Cato Institute’s Dan Mitchell details the results of a European Policy Information Center study on how non-income based taxes, like consumption taxes and payroll taxes, affect high income earners. He begins:
This measure of relative “progressivity” focused on personal income taxes. And that’s important because that levy often is the most onerous for highly productive residents of a nation.
But there are other taxes that also create a gap between what such taxpayers earn and produce and what they ultimately are able to consume and enjoy. What about the effects of payroll taxes? Of consumption taxes and other levies?
To answer that question, we have a very useful study from the European Policy Information Center on this topic. Authored by Alexander Fritz Englund and Jacob Lundberg, it looks at the total marginal tax rate on each nation’s most productive taxpayers.
They start with some sensible observations about why marginal tax rates matter, basically echoing what I wroteafter last year’s Super Bowl.
Here’s what Englund and Lundberg wrote.
The marginal tax rate is the proportion of tax paid on the last euro earned. It is the relevant tax rate when deciding whether to work a few extra hours or accept a promotion, for example. As most income tax systems are progressive, the marginal tax rate on top incomes is usually also the highest marginal tax rate. It is an indicator of how progressive and distortionary the income tax is.
They then explain why they include payroll taxes in their calculations.
The income tax alone does not provide a complete picture of how the tax system affects incentives to work and earn income. Many countries require employers and/or employees to pay social contributions. It is not uncommon for the associated benefits to be capped while the contribution itself is uncapped, meaning it is a de facto tax for high-income earners. Even those social contributions that are legally paid by the employer will in the end be paid by the employee as the employer should be expected to shift the burden of the tax through lower gross wages.
Englund and Lunberg are correct. A payroll tax (sometimes called a “social insurance” levy) will be just as destructive as a regular income tax if workers aren’t “earning” some sort of additional benefit. And they’re also right when they point out that payroll taxes “paid” by employers actually are borne by workers.
Read more here.