As I’ve pointed out before, the big difference between the United States and Europe is not taxes on the rich. We both impose similar tax burden on high-income taxpayers, though Europeans are more likely to collect revenue from the rich with higher income tax rates and the U.S. gets a greater share of revenue from upper-income taxpayers with double taxation on interest, dividends, and capital gains (we also have a very punitive corporate tax system, though it doesn’t collect that much revenue).
The real difference between America and Europe is that America has a far lower tax burden on lower- and middle-income taxpayers.
- Tax rates in Europe, particularly the top rate, tend to take effect at much lower levels of income.
- European governments all levy onerous value-added taxes that raise costs for all consumers.
- Payroll tax burdens in many European nations are significantly higher than in the United States.
This makes for interesting cross-border comparisons, but it also raises an overlooked point about political attitudes. Why are leftists so hostile to successful people?
Think about it this way. If a farmer has five cows but one of the cows produces most of his milk, at the very least he would treat that cow with great care and concern.
Left-wing politicians in the United States, by contrast, express contempt and disdain for the upper-income taxpayers who finance our welfare state.
Let’s look at some of the numbers
The invaluable Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute points out that the top-20 percent bear the lion’s share of the fiscal burden in the United States.
CBO provides detailed data on American households for each income quintile in 2013 for: a) average household “market income”(includes labor income, business income, income from capital gains, and retirement/pension income), b)average household transfer payments (payments and benefits from federal, state and local governments including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)), and c) average federal taxes paid by households (including income, payroll, corporate, and excise taxes).
Mark presents that data in an easy-to-understand format and highlights the relevant numbers in red. The key takeaway is that the top-20 percent basically finance our Leviathan.
To make the issue even clearer, Mark created a chart showing the data from the sixth line in the above table.
Again, the only possible conclusion to reach is that higher-income households are the net financiers of big government.
Now let’s augment Mark’s analysis by examining some research from Scott Greenberg and John Olson of the Tax Foundation.
They also review the new CBO numbers and their focus in the tax burden on the top-1 percent (i.e., people who actually are rich).
One of the main takeaways from this year’s report is that the richest Americans pay a lot in taxes. In 2013, the top 1 percent of households paid an average of 34.0 percent of their income in federal taxes. To compare, the middle 20 percent of households paid only 12.8 percent of their income in taxes. Moreover, taxes on the rich are much higher than they’ve been in recent years. …in 2013, the top 1 percent of taxpayers paid a higher tax rate (34.0 percent) than in the year President Reagan took office (33.2 percent).
And here’s the chart accompanying their analysis.
There are all sorts of interesting stories inside this graph, such as the interaction of capital gains taxes and stock market performance (the top-1 percent tend to be significant investors).
There are also interesting stories that aren’t captured by this graph, such as the fact that rich people have great ability to adjust their taxable income when tax rates climb and fall (which was one of the reasons rich people paid a lot more tax when Reagan dropped the top tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent). Also, the average tax rate is less important than marginal tax rates if you want to understand how much damage the tax code imposes on the economy.
But for our purposes today, all that matters is that rich people over the past several decades have coughed up, on average, about 31 percent of their income to Uncle Sam.
That’s a lot of money. In effect, the federal government gets a dividend when successful taxpayers earn money.
Which brings us back to the perplexing fact that leftists have nothing but scorn for the folks who finance the welfare state.
Indeed, some statists have so much contempt for successful people that they want to push tax rates to high that the rich no longer would want to earn additional money. Which means, of course, that the IRS wouldn’t be collecting any money.
I don’t know whether the right metaphor is a farmer abusing the cow that produces most of the milk or a shareholder who sabotages the company paying good dividends, but the only possible conclusion is that leftists hate rich people more than they like big government.
If you think I’m exaggerating and such people don’t exist, watch this video – especially beginning about the 4:30 mark.
In Global Tax Revolution, Chris Edwards and Daniel Mitchell chronicle tax reforms around the world in recent decades, exploring one of the most dynamic and exciting aspects of globalization international tax competition.More info →