Daniel J. Mitchell

As regular readers know, one of my great challenges in life is trying to educate policy makers about the Laffer Curve, which is simply a way of illustrating that government won’t collect any revenue if tax rates are zero, but also won’t collect much revenue if tax rates are 100 percent.After all, very few people will be willing to earn and report income if the government steals every penny.

In other words, you can’t estimate changes in tax revenues simply by looking at changes in tax rates. You also have to consider changes in taxable income. Only a fool, for instance, would assume that you can double tax revenue by doubling tax rates.

But how do you explain this to the average person? Or, if you want a bigger challenge, how do you get this point across to a politician?

Over the years, I’ve picked up a few teaching examples that seem to be effective. People are always shocked, for example, when I show them the IRS numbers on how rich people paid a lot more tax when Reagan cut the top tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent.

And they’re also more likely to understand why class-warfare tax policy won’t work when I show them the IRS data on how upper-income taxpayers have considerable control over the timing, level, and composition of their income.

Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy at the Cato Institute.

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