A few days ago, I expressed support for the notion that people of modest means -- people who have passbook accounts -- should be permitted to earn tax-free interest on their savings.
Not unexpectedly, I have received favorable response from small savers and officials of savings institutions.
One in the latter group who responded was Henry E. Johnson, executive vice president of Jefferson Federal Savings & Loan Association. I like the ardor with which he argued our point. Henry wrote:
"When you consider the pure baloney of allowing a tax deduction for costs of consumer credit while taxing away the earnings of those who save and avoid using consumer credit, you really have to wonder what kind of collective mentality we Americans possess. I am sure the members of Congress, as individuals, see it our way -- or at least most of them do. But when they get together, their senses seem to leave them."
Henry, I wish I had said that.
Inasmuch as our tax laws punish those who save and reward those who borrow, it is illogical to ask people to put their money into savings instead of fanning the fires of inflation by buying on credit.
If Henry is correct in assuming that individual congressmen understand the illogic of our tax laws, he has posed an interesting question. Why is it that as a group, when they get together "incongruous assembled," they pass such bizarre laws?
I think it is because the tax code has become too complicated for an individual, even a congressman, to understand. The tax code began getting complicated when we stopped using taxes to raise needed revenue and began using taxes to foster desirable social goals. Now the tax code is such a tangle of spaghetti that the average congressman can do little more than fight for the inclusion or exclusion of specific provisions that will help to hurt constituents who are important to him. It is beyond his power to get at the root of the evil.
For those of you who think things are better for the saver who becomes a risk-taker and puts his money into American industry instead of socking it into a bank or S&L, Richard M. Clendenin of Frederick has a suitable reply.
It is safe to assume that Richard is one of the owners (at least $37 worth) of the Standard Oil Co. of California, for he has sent me a Socal "Report to Stockholders" to illustrate his point.
For the first quarter of this year, Socal paid out $3 in federal income taxes for every $1 it paid out to the owners of the company. To earn the $2 annual dividend, a stockholder had to pay $37 for a share of stock. The rate of return is therefore about 5.4 percent, and except for a minuscule annual exclusion of $200, the dividend is taxable as "unearned" income at rates that range up to 70 percent.
For affluent investors, the effective rates of return is as little as 1.6 percent after federal taxes are extracted, and even less after state or District of Columbia taxes are paid.
Meanwhile, Social earned $666 million while laying out $966 million for capital and exploratory expenditures. I doubt if there is a public utility in America that does not show the same kind of picture: more money spent for the new facilities needed to serve public requirements than is earned from existing facilities.
Perhaps one must be slightly mad to invest his savings in a venture that is so "profitable" it must borrow more every year. Yet is people stopped investing, we'd have no telephones, no electricity, no gas, no gasoline -- and fewer jobs. Small wonder that the natives are growing restless and demanding tax reforms.
People who have no hope of saving because they can just barely make ends meet may have little sympathy for those who complain that their savings are heavily taxed. I have news for them. They have an even bigger stake in tax reform than do the rich.
If you can't bring yourself to worry about people, who at the end of the month have something left to save or invest, worry about this: If corporations didn't have to pay so many income taxes, real estate taxes, Social Security taxes and taxes of various other kinds at the federal, state and local-levels, they could sell their products for a lot less. Taxes are a major factor in driving up retail prices.
Anybody who thinks his own money problems would disappear if only Congress would soak the rich with high enough taxes doesn't understand what Congress has been doing to all of us in recent year.