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The Greedy Hand: How Taxes Drive Americans Crazy and What to Do about It Paperback – 1 Mar 2000

3.3 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books (Mar. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156011522
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156011525
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13.5 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 8,417,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 13 May 2004
Format: Paperback
When George Washington was president, taxes were few. Since then, government has really gotten expensive. The 20th century especially was an arms race between the governments in the United States and its citizens to determine who would control the citizens' income. Government was on the offense and the citizens were on the defense. The citizens lost to date. Taxes went from less than 5 percent of income to 40 percent over that time. Most would agree that we cannot afford another century like that one.
This book nicely lays out the history of taxes that take more income and waste a lot of time and effort in the process. The author looks at sales taxes, withholding taxes at work, the marriage penalty in the income tax, whether the housing deduction for interest and taxes is a good thing or not, the problems with taxes on domestic help, property taxes and school support, the social security system, and estate taxes.
She doesn't like much of what she sees, and is concerned that reform could simply lead to adding new types of taxes (like a national sales tax while keeping all of the old taxes).
The newer the tax or tax idea, it seems like the worse it is working.
Her solutions are basically principles to be followed in reforming taxes. I doubt if they will be followed anytime soon. Recent polls show that most Americans are concerned about paying off the national debt and fixing social security before doing anything about cutting taxes.
Although most of her observations were good ones, I was a little doubtful about her automatic focus on the high income people being taken to the cleaners unfairly. There was not as much attention paid to benefits that lower income people may be receiving.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a pretty good half-assed book. It does an entertaining job of telling us half the story of taxation in America; it is especially good at illuminating the invisible taxes which we all take for granted because we don't see them every day. But it fails completely to tell the untold story of the extent to which government provides goods and services to virtually every American, goods and services which are so invisible they take them completely for granted. In her Acknowledgments, Shales mentions the help provided her by at least four agencies of the federal government. Did she pay for these services? Did these government bureaucrats charge her consulting fees? Did the Social Security Administration charge her anything for "hosting her for a day?" No, these were services provided by government which she simply took for granted. She failed to make the connection between those services and the taxes which she so resents. George Bernard Shaw once observed "A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul." The real "greedy hand" in America is not that of government, but the millions of outstretched hands of a nation of Pauls.
Taxation is always resented and railing against it is an easy cheap-shot. More than two centuries ago, Edmund Burke stated the dilemma of government: "To tax and to please, no more than to love and to be wise, is not given to men." And we even distort our history in the service of this resentment. The American Revolution was not driven by rebellion against usurious tax rates, or even by resentment over "taxation without representation." The real problem was that the taxes were levied on the colonies and the benefits were lavished on England.
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Format: Hardcover
This is more a book of culture and emotions than it is a description of our tax system and how to "fix" it. Woven through the book are tax law changes over time and people's reaction and behaviors to them. For example, people who work in Massachusetts live in New Hampshire to escape the taxes of Massachusetts. New Yorker's send expensive purchases to friends and relatives in other states to avoid the high taxes of New York City. Nevertheless, there seems to be less of a cry to redo the system today, perhaps because the economy is good, than there was under in the Reagan years. The cry for change is bound to be heard again as soon as the stock market and the economy falter. In fact, corporate profits are already under pressure. It appears that there is no simple way to fix the tax system. Do legislators know how to adapt to the kind of change that may be suggested to develop a new system? Tradition and Bureaucracy Stalls may get in the way. Disbelief and Misconception Stalls about the benefits of a new system will be raised. Perhaps a new process, starting fresh and looking for the ideal solution, without any old baggage and emotions, would generate a better process. If you are interested in learning more about stalls that stall progress and a process to develop solutions with twenty times the benefits, you should also read THE 2,000 PERCENT SOLUTION. There must be a 2,000 percent solution to developing a tax system that benefits the country and each citizen.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an uneven book, with a couple chapters providing insightful commentary on the parlous state of various taxes imposed in the US, and other chapters using somewhat shaky logic. For example, the author criticizes wage withholding as an unwarranted grab by various levels of givernment. In fact, almost no one criticizes the concept of wage withholding- certainly not the government (which, after all, is responsible for collecting taxes), and not employees (given that, absent wage withholding, about 100 million employees would find themselves making quarterly estimated income tax payments). In other words, wage withholding, whatever its original motives, is an administrative convenience for employees and the government. One chapter contains a curious criticism of 401(k) plans- that, since the employees funds are being invested in stocks, mutual funds, and the like, then withdrawels from the 401(k) plan should be taxed at capital gain rates, and not as 'ordinary income'. The author does not indicate that she understands the underlying concept of 401(k), IRAs, etc.- that the amounts invested in such tax-preferred vehicles are deducted from ordinary (wage) income; correlatively, withdrawels are taxes as ordinary income. The chapter on school funding is excellent, but it has little to do with the local property tax. Rather, it is a compelling critique of the travesty of federal and state judges seizing control of local school districts. Interesting, but not really a tax issue. The chapter on the estate tax is also excellent, especially the discussion of this tax being a 'zero-sum game'- the revenue raised (about 1% of the federal budget) is less than amounts spent by citizens to plan around the estate tax. The 'deadweight' costs of the estate tax are staggering. Although he limits himself to the federal income tax, a much better book on Ms. Shlaes' topic is Michael Graetz's 'The Decline of the Income Tax'
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