Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Is it a tax or forced savings?

When the subject of taxation is brought up, particularly in who shoulders the most burden, defenders of Obama's tax plan like to claim that it is the lower and middle classes who have the tax burden, and those in the top 5% who aren't paying their 'fair' share. This flies in the face of the facts which clearly show that those making over $250,000 pay a far greater share in federal income taxes than do the remaining 95% of earners. Ah, but this excludes the payroll tax, say Obama's supporters. When you factor in that regressive tax, things change.

So here's my question. For years we've been told that the payroll tax, i.e. FICA, is going to fund Social Security and Medicare. Social Security is continually sold to us as a form of retirement savings. Social Security payments are made in a decreasing proportion to the amount of money collected from payroll taxes over an employees working career. Those who make less and paid in less, receive a higher percentage payback than those who earned more and paid in more. So, if people are getting a retirement benefit based on their 'contributions' to Social Security via FICA, doesn't that mean that FICA isn't really a tax? Isn't it more of a forced savings plan? If so, then we certainly shouldn't be counting FICA as part of a persons tax burden any more that we should be counting any savings the person makes as a tax burden.

On the other hand, if people want to claim that FICA is a tax, then let's admit that Social Security is nothing more than a welfare program and simply eliminate it. If we want to keep the payments, have them come from the general fund. Eliminate the payroll tax entirely. At least then we might be able to have a rational discussion about true tax burden, rather than having FICA muddy the waters.