Tax Analysts Blog

A Tax Credit for Liposuction?

Posted on Sep 28, 2009

Watch out, fat cats: populists and lipophobes are on the march. Americans want to tax your incomes and your waistlines.

In a recent 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, respondents were asked the following question:

    If the Obama administration proposed a tax of 50 percent or higher on the incomes of the wealthiest millionaires, would you support it?
A majority of 51 percent endorsed the idea, while 45 percent opposed it. Support was highest (61 percent) among those earning less than $15,000 annually and lowest (32 percent) among those making more than $100,000. Middling sorts generally endorsed the tax with 50-something majorities. (Notably, 57 percent of women liked the hike, but only 46 percent of men.)

It's hard to know what to make of those numbers. It's not exactly a landslide, after all. And the question itself is fraught with problems. Did the pollsters mean a top rate of 50 percent? An average rate of 50 percent? Do they even know the difference? And who, exactly, did they mean by "wealthiest millionaires"?

A second question also raised some public finance issues:
    California and New York City now require calorie counts to be printed on chain-restaurant menus. Which of the following other things would you most like to see happen to reduce obesity?
The winning solution, endorsed by 21 percent of respondents? A special tax on fast food. By comparison, only 7 percent favored a soda tax, and 4 percent endorsed a new tax credit for liposuction. Reassuringly, 15 percent didn't like any of these ideas (or the suggestion that scales be required at restaurants), making obesity-indifference the overall runner-up.

To be sure, I'm taking the whole poll too seriously. It's pervasively tongue-in-cheek, asking a range of odd, quirky, irritating questions on a range of utterly unrelated topics. Example: "Which of the following celebrities’ likenesses do you think is most likely to be used to endorse products 100 years from now?" Einstein won with 35 percent, beating out Michael Jackson (24 percent), Miley Cyrus (10 percent), James Dean (7 percent), and Madonna (6 percent).

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