I posed this question to Fox News commentator Juan Williams in Dallas the other day. "The top 10 percent of income earners are paying 71 percent of all income taxes," I said. "Isn't that enough?" Although Juan was trying to defend the Obama position, he didn't have an answer.
Then I turned the question around. "The bottom one-half of the population is paying zero, or close to zero, income taxes. What's their fair share?" He didn't have an answer to that question either.
Perhaps you have an answer. The median household income in the United States is $50,054, according to the latest Census Bureau report. People earning up to this amount are contributing almost nothing to the operations of the federal government, even though the government is spending one out of every four dollars in our economy.
When you couple that with the fact that nearly half the population is receiving at least one entitlement benefit, we have a dangerous political situation on our hand. If roughly half the population is receiving and not paying, they have an obvious self interest in seeing taxes and spending go higher and higher. This could be a ticket to national bankruptcy.
So back to the original question. What portion of the federal burden should each of us pay? Actually, I have an answer. It's called the Biblical tithe.
One of the reasons why tax rates are so high is that about half of all the income earned in our economy is not taxed at all. This income escapes taxation, courtesy of the standard deduction and tons of other deductions, credits and loopholes in the tax code. What if we wiped out all of these escape routes and taxed all income at one low rate? Then we would all be paying a tax rate of about 10%.
If we want to replace the corporate income tax as part of reform, our rate would have to rise to 11%. But with these low rates the economy would be more efficient. It would grow faster. More income would be reported. Taking that into consideration, it looks like an across-the-board rate of 10 percent is all we would need to replace the personal and corporate income taxes we are now paying. As Dick Armey used to say, most of us could fill out our tax returns on a post card!
John C. Goodman is President and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis, Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute, and author of the acclaimed book, Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis. The Wall Street Journal and National Journal, among other media, have called him the "Father of Health Savings Accounts." He is also the Kellye Wright Fellow in health care. The mission of the Wright Fellowship is to promote a more patient-centered, consumer-driven health care system.