No, Elon Musk Didn’t Pay a 3.27 Percent Tax Rate

“Musk’s income puts him in the top federal income-tax bracket, where income is currently taxed at 37 percent.

According to ProPublica, Musk’s average effective federal income tax rate between 2013 and 2018 was 27 percent.

And the tax on exercising his Tesla stock options was much higher. “Since the options are taxed as an employee benefit or compensation, they will be taxed at top ordinary-income levels, or 37% plus the 3.8% net investment tax,” notes CNBC. “He will also have to pay the 13.3% top tax rate in California since the options were granted and mostly earned while he was a California tax resident. Combined, the state and federal tax rate will be 54.1%.”

Jayapal seems to have reached her “alternative facts” (to use a vintage Trump-administration term) by calculating Musk’s tax rate based on a system she wishes we used rather than the calculation system we actually use.

As it stands, Americans do not pay taxes on unrealized gains—that is, appreciations in investments that exist only on paper. If you own a stock worth $5 per share and its worth increases to $6 per share over the course of a tax year, you have an unrealized gain of $1 per share. You aren’t expected to pay taxes on that gain until you sell your shares—which makes sense, since 1) you don’t actually have that money yet and 2) the stock’s worth could drop again before you sell. Maybe next year the stock decreases to $4 per share.

Jayapal appears to have come up with the alleged 3.27 percent tax rate for Musk by including unrealized gains in the amount she thinks he owes taxes on (while using the standard method for calculating the average income tax rate). However, unrealized gains are, by definition, gains that Musk doesn’t yet have. When he actually realizes the gains, he will be required to pay taxes on them. That’s how it works.”

The race to the bottom on corporate taxation starves us of the resources we need to solve our biggest problems

The Truth About Income Inequality

“On a global scale, inequality is declining. While it has increased within the United States, it has not grown nearly as much as people often claim. The American poor and middle class have been gaining ground, and the much-touted disappearance of the middle class has happened mainly because the ranks of the people above the middle class have swollen. And while substantially raising tax rates on higher-income people is often touted as a fix for inequality, it would probably hurt lower-income people as well as the wealthy. The same goes for a tax on wealth.

Most important: Not all income inequality is bad. Inequality emerges in more than one way, some of it justifiable, some of it not. Most of what is framed as a problem of inequality is better conceived as either a problem of poverty or a problem of unjustly acquired wealth.”

“The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) produced a report in November 2018 on the growth of household income in each of five quintiles. Between 1979 and 2015, average real income for people in the top fifth of the population rose by 101 percent, while it rose for people in the bottom quintile by “only” 32 percent. For the middle three quintiles, average real income increased by 32 percent as well.

Or at least those are the numbers if you ignore the effects of taxes and direct government transfers. But you really shouldn’t leave those out: If you’re debating whether to increase taxes on the rich and transfers to the poor, it seems important to take into account the taxation and safety net already in place. Once the CBO researchers subtracted taxes and added welfare, Social Security, and so on, the picture changed dramatically for the lowest quintile: Income rose by 79 percent. (For the middle three quintiles, it increased by 46 percent. For the highest quintile, it went up by 103 percent—slightly more than before, probably thanks to Ronald Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s tax cuts.)”

“That’s still an increase in income inequality, of course. But it’s not an inequality increase in which the poor and near-poor are worse off. They’re much better off. Everyone is.”