The Greedy Hand is an illuminating examination of the culture of tax and a persuasive call for reform, written by one of the nation's leading policy makers, Amity Shlaes of The Wall Street Journal.
The father of the modern American state was an obscure Macy's department store executive named Beardsley Ruml. During World War II, he devised the plan for withholding taxes from your paycheck, thereby laying in place a system that allows the hand of government to reach into your wallet and take what it wants.
Today, taxes make up more than a third of our economy, the highest level in history outside war. We live in the nation revolutionary father Thomas Paine foresaw when he wrote of "the Greedy Hand of government thrusting itself into every corner of industry." This book is a cultural examination of the way taxes influence our behavior, how they force us into an arbitrary system that punishes families and individual enterprise.
Amity Shlaes unveils the hidden perversities of our lifelong tax experience: how family tax breaks do little to help the family, and can even hurt it. She demonstrates how married women pay a special women's tax rate, higher than anybody else's. She shows how problems that engage and enrage us--Social Security problems, or the things we don't like about schools--are, at heart, tax problems. And she explains why the solutions Washington offers merely accelerate a vicious cycle.
Finally, Amity Shlaes shows us a way out of this madness, endorsing a number of common-sense reforms that will give all Americans a fairer and simpler tax system. Written with eloquent compassion for working Americans and their families, The Greedy Hand makes the best case yet for rethinking our tax code. It is a book no tax-paying citizen can afford to ignore.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
April 24, 2012
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Greedy Hand by Amity Shlaes
What's the biggest tourist destination in america? Disney World and the Epcot Center, in Florida? The Grand Canyon? Graceland, perhaps?
The answer is none of the above. The nation's proudest leisure-time travel destination is a seven-year-old collection of square footage in a second-ring suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul. It is the Mall of America, a megamall so huge its developers once referred to it as the Ninth Wonder of the World. Visitors come from neighboring states like North Dakota and Iowa. They also come, and in great number, from Illinois, New York, and California. They even fly in from Winnipeg, Amsterdam, London, and Osaka. Every year the Mall of America gets nine times as many visitors as the entire population of Minnesota. Its traffic of 42 million a year makes the Mall of America a larger attraction than the Big Three of tourism combined.
In some ways, the Mall of America is any mall. It has Macy's. It has B. Dalton. It has Sears. It has a teenager problem, at times so bad that one year it had to institute a special policy of "escorted kids only." Like most modern malls, it cocoons shoppers from the harsher elements. Its air temperature is "seventy degrees, all the time," an advantage not to be dismissed in an iceland like Minnesota in February.
But the Mall of America also has things no other American mall can compete with. It has more stores than any other American mall, 520 of them. It has an amusement park called Knott's Camp Snoopy, where parents can park their children to play on a million dollars' worth of equipment, including a roller-coaster (the rate is $6 for infants, $7 for bigger kids). It has UnderWater World, a 1.2-million-gallon walk-through aquarium that takes visitors on a simulated trip of the nation's waterways. It has Golf Mountain, an eighteen-hole miniature-golf course. It has novelties like the Rainforest Cafe, where real mist sprays into the air over lunchers and thunderstorms--complete with lightning--happen every twenty minutes. And it has one other, powerful attraction: the Mall of America is a tax haven. Minnesota charges no sales tax on clothing.
At Play with the Greedy Hand
Tax shopping is a national pastime in this country, a game we take up frequently and sometimes seriously. Economists have all kinds of labels for this behavior--they call it things like "tax arbitrage" and build charts around it. In reality tax shopping depicts something simpler: citizens at play with the greedy hand. Governments, in this case state and local authorities, try to pretend the hand isn't there and that it isn't greedy--what's a 6 percent levy here, a little 1 percent charge there? People for their part don't fight with government head on: you rarely see a crowd picketing against a sales tax. But they do dodge and duck, dancing away from the Greedy Hand to shop where it can't reach. And their faces do show a trace of satisfaction: "I'm here to get something, and I'm getting it now. This is my turn."
These days, this play often seems lighthearted. Americans don't evade sales taxes on anything like the scale Europeans do. There a punitive sales tax called the value-added tax, a tax with rates of 17 percent, 18 percent, and more, has converted the tax fun to an out-and-out war. A black market in everything from autos to plumbing services thrives on the Continent. But there are plenty of signs, signs that show up in our tax shopping, that Americans too are ready to break the law--to have some real fun--the moment we decide that Paine's hand is intruding too far. It was not for nothing that the Boston Tea Party was called a party.
Our national game starts with the states, towns, and counties, the levels of government that control most sales taxes. These governments set their tax rates--often rates that differ from one another's. And shoppers respond--by surveying their options and buying at the best price--the price with the lowest tax. Every day purchasing decisions are made on the basis of tax shopping. Americans look for low taxes for the same reasons they wait for sales or transport themselves to outlet malls in rural backlands or buy products that come with cash rebates. They want to save a few pennies. Saving a few pennies along the way makes them feel a little better about the decision to shop that they made in the first place. Not all the tax shopping in this country involves such extravagant excursions as a pilgrimage to the Mall of America. From Florida to Alaska, American citizens regularly cross town, county, and state borders in the name of saving on taxes when we shop.
How important are these decisions? Taxes are rarely the main reason Americans name for choosing to shop how they do. But they are always a factor, a factor that places like
the Mall of America have proven can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Indeed, tax shopping has grown so much in recent years that businesses that didn't have a tax advantage--in this instance, retailers in high-tax states--felt the need to send an ambassador to Washington to warn the House Committee on Small Business that the tax-free world was growing so fast it soon might kill off that most American thing, the old-fashioned, full-tax retail mall.