Opinion

David Cay Johnston

Obama’s hamburger problem

David Cay Johnston
Mar 8, 2012 17:42 UTC

If President Barack Obama can persuade Congress to reduce the corporate income tax rate to 28 percent from 35 percent, he will move tax rates closer to what other modern countries charge.

But his plan to treat “manufacturing” as a special category, with a 25 percent tax rate, brings us to what I call Obama’s hamburger problem.

The problem is how to define manufacturing. To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart on obscenity, I know manufacturing when I see it; I just don’t know how to define it in tax law.

Assembling automobiles is considered manufacturing. So what about assembling two hot protein discs with special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions — all on a sesame seed bun?

The notion of hamburger-making as manufacturing may seem silly, a bit like the 1981 U.S. Agriculture Departmentproposal to classify ketchup as a vegetable for school lunches. But classifying activities as manufacturing or not becomes crucial if manufacturers pay taxes at a reduced rate.

Nonsense posing as wisdom

David Cay Johnston
Sep 13, 2011 13:26 UTC

By David Cay Johnston
The views expressed are his own.

Every day we hear politicians and pundits say that government spending cannot lift the economy out of the worst slump since the 1930s, which is as sensible as saying that 2-1=3 or that water and flour make steak.

Those who said after President Barack Obama’s speech last week to Congress that government does not create wealth, does not create jobs and cannot stimulate the economy spoke nonsense. So do those who say that only private business creates wealth, as if any revenue going to taxes destroys wealth.

Adam Smith, who figured out market capitalism in his 1776 book “The Wealth of Nations,” could set them straight. We have plenty of equally competent economists who understand these issues today. They just do not get the attention that the news media lavish on high-profile politicians and pundits who speak with absolute certainty on matters about which their words show they know nothing.

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