How to pay for a $1.5 trillion tax cut

The Republican tax plan reduces government receipts by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. This is not a bug, it is a feature: it is, after all, a tax cut. But a trillion is a hard number to wrap your head around. Just how big is a trillion and a half?

So, here’s a thought experiment. You control the presidency and both houses of Congress. You decide to raise a trillion and a half dollars to finally balance the budget — or at least restore it to where it was before the tax cut. Where would you get the cash? Here are a few ideas:

  • Nationalize everybody’s house in San Francisco . . . and throw in Detroit. Everyone knows how inflated home prices in San Francisco have become. According to Zillow, the value of all the homes in the San Francisco metropolitan area is $1.3 trillion. The U.S. Government could acquire them all through eminent domain; then, to raise the rest, we could take over in all the homes in Detroit, with a total value of $289 billion. Sell them all back to their owners — or other folks — and you’ve plugged the hole in the budget.
  • Add a couple grand tax on every baseball ticket. Baseball is the national pastime and gets a huge benefit from the government in the form of an exemption from antitrust laws. It’s time we took a little value back out of the game. Baseball topped all sports with a total attendance of 72.7 million last year. If we add a $2,064 dollar tax per ticket, we’d raise $1.5 trillion in ten years. There might be a slight decline in attendance due to the increase in prices, which I’ll leave it to economists to figure out.
  • Stop paying bondholders for a few years. The government comes within a few hours of defaulting on its debt obligations every time there’s a budget impasse. This is a waste — why do it by accident when you can profit by doing it on purpose? Interest on the national debt costs the U.S. government $459 billion every year. Just stop paying interest for three years and you’ll be within a few billion of solving the problem.
  • Take over tech platforms. As we learned in recent congressional hearings, Google, Facebook, and Amazon make decisions that affect nearly every U.S. citizen, behaving in a quasi-governmental fashion with little regulation. But regulation is for sissies. Anything this important to the country is infrastructure, and ought to belong to the government. As of October 31, the market cap for Google’s parent Alphabet was $715 billion and Amazon and Facebook were just north of half a trillion. Take ’em over and sell ’em back and you’ve raised a trillion and a half with billions left over.
  • Get a contribution from rich people. Many of the nation’s richest residents will receive tax cuts in the upcoming tax plan. Well, it’s time they gave back. According to Forbes, the richest 400 people America have a net worth of $2.7 trillion. Start with Jeff Bezos, who’s worth $94 billion, and Bill Gates, lagging behind at $90 billion. But let’s be fair: go to the bottom of the list, where Rodney Sacks, owner of the company that makes Monster Energy Drinks, is worth $1.8 billion. Every one of these very rich people can afford to give the government half of what they own and still be filthy rich. And this plan has the benefit of affecting only 400 people, leaving the rest of the country unaffected.
  • Eliminate welfare and social security. The government is spending more than it takes in. The total spending on cash and similar welfare-type programs is about $212 billion per year. An across-the-board 70% cut in all cash programs for poor people would pay for the tax cut without increasing the deficit.
  • Tax guns. There were over 33,000 people killed by gunshots in the U.S. in 2016, and twice that number were injured. Forget gun control. Maybe we can solve the gun problem in the traditional American way — by taxing it. Wholesale and retail gun sales combined generate around $16 billion per year. Add a 9300% tax on all gun sales and you’ve raised $1.5 trillion in ten years. Alternatively, recognize that the government runs background checks on 27.5 million gun sales per year; charge $5500 per background check and you’ve generated the full $1.5 trillion in ten years. Perhaps it’s simpler to tax bullets: ammunition manufacturers make 10 billion every year, according to Wired. A bullet tax of only $15 per bullet would wipe out the entire budget shortfall caused by the tax plan in ten years. But these ideas penalize sports shooters who aren’t killing anyone, typically. If we just taxed every death by gunshot at $4.5 million each, we’d raise the necessary money over a decade (although getting the money out of suicides, people who shot somebody accidentally, and mass shooters might prove challenging — and if police have to pay for shooting bad guys, they’re going to pass the costs on to us taxpayers). These ideas might fall short of the financial goal if they prevented gun deaths, gun sales, and ammunition sales.

I’m not sure any of these ideas will work. Do you have any better ideas?

3 responses to “How to pay for a $1.5 trillion tax cut

  1. How about a snark tax? Bloggers can afford it, because everyone knows they get fabulously rich off their creations. A thousand dollars for every verbal eyeroll, two thousand for every witty riposte, and the deficit is gone in no time.
    (In case you’re not sure, I’m writing this with a smile. Thanks for a fun and illuminating article.)

  2. This blog is about writing. You wrote, “There might be a slight decline in attendance due to the increase in prices, which I’ll leave it to economists to figure out.” That’s not a grammatical sentence. Delete “it” from the sentence and you’d be back in business.

    You might want to leave economics to someone else. The problem with all your ideas for fund-raising through seizures by eminent domain is that the Constitution requires the government to pay the property owner the value of what the government has seized (“just compensation” are the magic words in the Fifth Amendment). So whatever you raise doesn’t put an additional $1.5 trillion or any other net amount into the government treasury. The budget is no more balanced after you seize property via eminent domain than it would be before you seized whatever you seized.

    I suppose I’m being slightly unfair. The people whose properties were seized by eminent domain will owe capital gains taxes on the transactions. But the maximum federal tax rate on capital gains is only 20%. Those seizures would therefore raise less than 20% of the value of what is seized. So if you really want to balance the budget through eminent domain, you will need to make the government take a whole magnitude more than $1.5 trillion in property.

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