Professional sports leagues have ways of ensuring that “the last shall be first.” Teams with bad regular-season records get the top draft choices, theoretically allowing them to bring in the best young talent. Teams with excellent records draft later.
It’s supposedly a way to “level the playing field,” but as any fan knows, it doesn’t work perfectly. Some teams seem to be good season after season, while others usually struggle. In the NFL, for example, the Pittsburgh Steelers have captured six Super Bowls, while the Detroit Lions have never been to one.
Billionaire owners can afford to run their leagues however they wish. But in the real world it makes little sense to punish success or reward failure. Yet that’s exactly what the federal government’s tax policy does.
According to a recent report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, in 2007 (the most recent year for which figures are available) the top 20 percent of earners paid 70 percent of all federal taxes. The bottom 40 percent of earners paid no income tax.
In fact, the CBO reports that during the Bush presidency the tax burden for the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers plunged, even as their income grew. For those in the bottom 20 percent, for example, income increased 4.6 percent, while the tax share paid dropped by 27 percent. The same held true for the next four quintiles -- they earned more, yet paid a smaller percentage of taxes.
It’s only the highest earners (the top 20 percent) who saw their share of the tax burden increase. It jumped by 3.4 percent, while they enjoyed a 12 percent increase in their income.
Lawmakers aren’t just talking about taxing the rich; they’re doing it. And political rhetoric, aside, the already disproportionate burden on the highest earners has been growing. Except for “the rich,” Americans tend to be getting more for less.
This matters, because paying taxes should be a civic duty. It gives Americans a stake in our country, and gives us a reason to keep a skeptical eye on Washington. It seems only fair that, while the wealthy will always pay more, everyone should pay something. Everyone, after all, benefits from our unparalleled military might, and we all ought to contribute something, no matter how small an amount, to keep it strong.
Yet the Tax Policy Center reports that 47 percent of households owed no income tax in 2009. In fact, many actually make money through the Earned Income Tax Credit.