Besides producing revenue for governments to operate, taxes are used to influence behavior. “Sin taxes” on tobacco and alcohol raise their prices, and hopefully deter their use and abuse. Tax credits may prompt consumers to install solar panels or buy an electric car. Deductions for contributions to IRAs and 401(k)s can encourage retirement saving.
But every tax is subject to the principle of Unintended Consequences; there will be “outcomes that are not the ones foreseen and intended by a purposeful action.” Taxes change the terms of economic activity, and will cause people to adjust accordingly. Makers of tax policy know this, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict what will change. Adjustments may not manifest themselves for years. And sometimes, it turns out the tax has influenced the wrong group of people toward an unintended result. That’s sort of the story of the 401(k).
Life is unfair. But what if there’s a way to tip the cosmic scales of justice in your favor, at least when it comes to money?
A new advertising campaign for a retail brokerage company implies that the difference between your mundane existence and the undeserving bosses, snobs, and idiots who are living the high life can be rectified when you sign up for their self-directed investing services. Some of the tag lines:
As the private sector has systematically replaced defined benefit pensions with defined contribution retirement accounts like 401(k)s over the past three decades, governmental units at the federal, state and municipal level have resolutely maintained their pension plans, continuing to promise public sector retirees generous monthly checks for the rest of their lives. But public pensions aren’t immune to the economic forces that caused corporations to exchange employer-funded pensions for less-costly options that shift the responsibility for retirement to the individual, and there are indications change is coming.
The phrase “financial wisdom” is not an oxymoron like “deafening silence” or “jumbo shrimp.” But there are times when generic financial advice can seem almost as contradictory. For example, persistently low interest rates have experts urging homeowners to ponder two diametrically opposed strategies: