Top 10 Reasons for Higher Taxes on the Top 1%

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CommonDreams.org

Top 10 Reasons for Higher Taxes on the Top 1%

Funding for our country's children is being cut, but we allow a hedge fund manager to make enough money to pay the salaries of every public school teacher in New York City. Most of his earnings are taxed at a rate less than that of his secretary.

We haven't been able to do anything about it because the cry of 'socialism' from the top generates fear in the minds of average Americans. It's a meaningless cry. Here are ten reasons why the wealthiest 10% of us, and especially the richest 1%, should be paying higher taxes.

1. Benefits to the rich (and everyone else)

Americans with land and expensive houses have the most to lose by failing to support national security and a clean environment and infrastructure repair. And they have a lot to lose from the growing levels of crime and violence. Researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have documented numerous studies that correlate economic inequality with shorter life expectancies, increased disease and health problems, and higher rates of murder and other forms of violence.

About their book "The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone," Wilkinson says: "We quote a prison psychiatrist who spent 25 years talking to really violent men, and he says he has yet to see an act of violence which was not caused by people feeling disrespected, humiliated, or like they've lost face. Those are the triggers to violence, and they're more intense in more unequal societies, where status competition is intensified and we're more sensitive about social judgments."

2. Correcting the redistribution of income to the rich

The richest 1% took $7 of every $100 of America's income in 1980. They have increased that to $20 of every $100 today. In just one generation they've TRIPLED their cut of the pie. Most of the gains by the rich were not 'earned' in the sense of production, innovation, inventiveness. They didn't work 3 times harder than everyone else as they tripled their share. They benefited from tax cuts and deregulation.

3. Correcting the redistribution of income from the poor

Since 1980 our country's productivity has steadily risen, with total income doubling approximately every 10 years. If the bottom 90% of America, most of whom have not been lazy, had shared in this prosperity at a level consistent with 1980 incomes, they would be making $45,000 a year instead of $35,000.

Change to Win, a coalition of union organizations, notes that the high point for wages was in 1972 when union membership reached 28%. Workers are now "earning only 83 cents of every dollar they earned more than 35 years ago, while their productivity has increased a dramatic 80%."

4. Outmoded tax brackets

Our tax system is stuck at 1980s levels. As noted by The New Yorker economist James Surowiecki, "Our system sets the top bracket at three hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars, with a tax rate of thirty-five per cent...This means that someone making two hundred thousand dollars a year and someone making two hundred million dollars a year pay at similar tax rates. LeBron James and LeBron James's dentist: same difference."

5. Inequality to instability

As explained by Time's economics writer Stephen Gandel, "Consider what [money held by the very rich] is doing now. It is adding to our economic problems not helping. For the most part it is not money being spent and trickling down. Instead it just adds to that global pool of money that sloshes around our financial markets and creates all types of bubbles...it actually makes our economy prone to booms and busts, and less stable."

6. Instability to catastrophe

The current level of inequality is equivalent to that of the years just before the Great Depression. There is reason to suspect that this level of income inequality is dangerous to our economy. The only other year since 1913 that the wealthy claimed such a large share of national income was 1928, when the top 1% share was 23.9%. The following year, the stock market crashed, which led to the Great Depression. After peaking again in 2007, the U.S. stock market crashed in 2008, leading to what some are now calling the "Great Recession."

7. The Tax Myth

The belief that the "rich pay most of the taxes" is incorrect. The truth comes from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office and the Internal Revenue Service. It's true that the top-earning 1% of Americans pay 23% of their incomes in federal income taxes, while the lowest-earning half of Americans pay only 3%. But top earners pay 5% of their incomes in state and local taxes (sales, property, and income taxes), while low earners pay 10%. Top earners pay 2% of their incomes toward social security, compared to 9% for low earners. Top earners pay 0% (i.e., a negligible portion) of their incomes in federal excise taxes (e.g., tobacco, alcohol and gasoline), while low earners pay 2%. Top earners save another 1% through the Bush tax cuts, while low earners see little benefit. So total taxes for top earners are 29% of their incomes. Total taxes for low earners are 24% of their incomes.

Beyond this, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the American Gas Association concur that low-income households pay over 20% of their incomes for utilities, while high-income households pay less than 4%. As a result, total taxes and utilities for top earners consume 33% of their incomes. Total taxes and utilities for low earners consume 44% of their incomes.

8. The Consumption Myth

The belief that rich stimulate the economy is another myth. If anything, the poor stimulate the economy. Low-income earners have a higher "Marginal Propensity to Consume," which means that they spend a greater percentage of their overall income on consumption. High-income earners, on the other hand, will hold more in investments. A University of California study showed that from 1980 to 2003 the share of capital income (stocks, interest, dividends) owned by the richest 1% grew from 37% to 57%.

It's not just rich individuals holding the money. The 500 largest non-financial corporations are currently sitting on $1.8 trillion in cash.

9. Wealth with Honor

Although our country is built on capitalism, wise American business leaders have recognized the danger of the "free hand" of unregulated open markets. Adam Smith, the father of capitalism believed that unrestricted businesses tend to engage in "conspiracy against the public." John Kenneth Galbraith said "Capitalism left to its own devices, doesn't work properly; it excludes the poor, ruins the environment, and fails to deliver enough collectively produced goods, such as roads, reservoirs, schools and hospitals."

Teddy Roosevelt (in 1910, exactly 100 years ago) criticized the "small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power...We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used...We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community...I think we have got to face the fact that an increase in governmental control is now necessary."

Taxes were raised on the rich shortly after Roosevelt's speech, and the United States gradually became a middle class nation.

More recently, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have been trying to convince the rich of their responsibility to society. "Responsible Wealth," a project of United for a Fair Economy, is a network of over 700 business leaders and wealthy individuals in the top 5% of income and/or wealth in the US who advocate for fair taxes and corporate accountability.

(10) As the Tea Party argues, there should be no new taxes. On 90% of us.

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

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