Do income tax rates affect people’s behavior?

By Tom Quiner

Two political philosophies clash in the public square.

Democrats are the party of government. They agitate for higher income tax rates at both the state and national level to pay for the services (spending) they believe make our communities better.

Republicans are the party of limited government. They agitate for moderate income tax rates at both the state and national level. They believe you are a better custodian of your money than government. They believe that the government that governs best governs least.

Here is the practical debate that separates the two sides: Democrats believe that higher income rates do NOT change one’s behavior on how you spend your money or live your lives. Republicans do.

The Republican thinking goes like this: if the penalty (tax) on your next dollar earned is too high, you may not want to work as hard since you get to keep a shrinking percentage of your productivity.

The simplicity and irrefutable common sense of this premise was driven home by some very high earners: professional golfers.

Golfing superstar, Phil Mickelson, created a controversy when he dared to utter this philosophy publicly earlier this year:

“But if you add up, if you add up all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and the state, my tax rate’s 62, 63 percent. So I’ve got to make some decisions on what I’m going to do.”

Mr. Mickelson suggested he might have to move to a state with a lower income rate than California, such as Texas or Florida.

The Left pushed back in typical intolerant fashion, calling him selfish.

And yet Sports Illustrated released a poll of professional golfers on a number of issues. One question asked: “Were state income taxes a factor in where you chose to live?”

64% said yes.

36% said no.

There is nothing surprising in these results. They simply reflect human nature. The Left can scream and rant all they want and call  those folks who don’t like high taxes “selfish.”

Fine. They can scream all they want. They can demonstrate their legendary intolerance all they want.

Nonetheless, you can’t change human nature. High income tax rates DO affect people’s behavior.

They leave.




  1. eMatters on June 3, 2013 at 6:21 am

    Of course they do. Just ask John Kerry (re. the location of his yacht, among other things) or any other Democrat who uses sophisticated tax-avoidance strategies.

    • quinersdiner on June 3, 2013 at 7:56 am

      Good point. Thanks for writing.

    • Shawn Pavlik on June 5, 2013 at 1:21 am

      Or Charlie Rangel, who was in a bit of hot water over unpaid taxes.

  2. Bob on June 3, 2013 at 10:10 am

    They never call the recipients of government largesse selfish for demanding larger handouts. In America you’re selfish only if you would like to keep what you yourself earned — not if you demand a larger share of what someone else has earned.

    • quinersdiner on June 3, 2013 at 10:33 am

      Exactly. Thanks for writing.

      • Bob on June 3, 2013 at 11:53 am

        By the way, liberals will admit that taxes influence human behavior when the subject turns to taxes on cigarettes, which they advocate as a means to reduce smoking.