Hillary Proposes History’s Most Complicated Cap Gains Tax Regime

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Posted by Ryan Ellis on Friday, July 24th, 2015, 1:20 PM PERMALINK

Hillary Clinton today proposed the most complex and Byzantine capital gains tax rate regime in history. And it won't even fix the perceived problem she purports to address.

Under the Clinton plan, there would be six – yes, six -- capital gains tax rates for those whose total taxable income puts them in the top 39.6 percent bracket.

The six brackets would differ based on how long the taxpayer held the sold asset:

Less than two years: 43.4 percent

Two to three years: 39.8 percent

Three to four years: 35.8 percent

Four to five years: 31.8 percent

Five to six years: 27.8 percent

More than six years: 23.8 percent

The top rate today is 23.8 percent for assets held longer than a year, which is an unusual number due to the sum of the 20 percent statutory capital gains rate plus the 3.8 percentage point surtax from Obamacare.

Clinton's plan is a hash of decimal point tax rates for the same reason. Expressed differently, the rates are 39.6, 36, 32, 28, 24, and 20, plus the 3.8 percentage point surtax on all those rates.

But that's not all. For taxpayers not in the 39.6 percent bracket, we already have a graduated capital gains structure on assets held longer than a year. For taxpayers in this range, the rates could be 0, 15, 18.8, 20, or 23.8 percent.

How many tax rates does Hillary Clinton think we need on capital gains? By my count, her plan actually creates 10 different tax rates on capital gains, not counting those gains taxed as ordinary income due to their shorter duration of ownership.

By anyone's definition that's really stupid tax policy. It will only serve to distort capital markets as investors will buy and sell not based on rational market signals, but on exogenous, arbitrary tax holding period considerations.

Additionally, this unnecessary complication of capital gains taxation would not solve the purported public policy goal--getting corporations to invest more for the long term than for the next quarterly earnings report.

If Hillary's people knew the first thing about corporate finance or stocks, they would know that corporations don't care how long their shareholders hold onto their stock. Corporations don't make investment decisions with that in mind, at all. They make investment decisions based on what they think will maximize shareholder value.

Hillary's plan is akin to shoring up the durability of your roof by painting your garage blue. It all has to do with housing, kind of, but the solution doesn't speak to the problem.

If this is the level of seriousness we're going to get from Hillary's campaign, it's going to be a long election season.

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