Interestingly, the latest Internal Revenue Service data on distribution of the tax burden were released the same day Ms. Tritch’s tirade appeared. They show that the top one percent of taxpayers paid 34.3 percent of all federal income taxes in 2003, although they earned just 16.8 percent of the adjusted gross income. The top five percent of taxpayers paid more than half of all federal income taxes, the top 10 percent paid two-thirds, and the top half of taxpayers paid 96.5 percent, meaning that the bottom half paid just 3.5 percent.
Another IRS report decomposed the top one percent and found that the top ten percent of the top one percent (the top 0.1 percent) increased their share of all federal income taxes from seven percent in 1980 to 15.3 percent in 2003. These 129,000 tax filers earned 7.6 percent of the income and paid an average tax rate of 23.6 percent. This came to $114.6 billion—four times more than all the taxes paid by the 64 million taxpayers in the bottom 50 percent—who paid an average tax rate of 2.9 percent.
I would be curious to know just how much more Ms. Tritch thinks the wealthy ought to be paying? Back in the good old days (from her point of view) when Jimmy Carter was president and the top statutory tax rate was 70 percent (versus 35 percent today), the top one percent of taxpayers paid only 19.7 percent of all federal income taxes. In other words, although their marginal tax rate has fallen by 50 percent, their tax share has almost doubled.
I assume that Ms. Tritch would be happier with the British tax system, where the top income tax rate is 40 percent. But according to British tax data, the top one percent of taxpayers there pay just 21 percent of income taxes. The top five percent pay 40 percent and the top 10 percent pay 52 percent. The bottom 50 percent pay 11 percent of all income taxes. In other words, wealthy British pay higher rates—as Ms. Tritch would have here—but pay less of the overall tax burden.
According to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, we pay a very heavy price for the heavy taxation of saving, investment, corporations and estates that Ms. Tritch strongly favors. It found that the efficiency cost of the tax system—the output that is lost over and above the tax itself—is between two percent and five percent of the gross domestic product. In short, we lose between $240 billion and $600 billion every year just because of the way we raise taxes.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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