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Why the Rich Should Pay Higher Taxes

Paul Buchheit

Wealthy Americans will recoil at the suggestion, likely responding with the tired mantra that the top earners pay most of the income tax. But two points can be made in response to that: (1) federal income tax is only a small part of the burden on the middle class. Based on data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the total of all state and local taxes, social security taxes, and excise taxes (gasoline, alcohol, tobacco) consumes 21% of the annual incomes of the poorest half of America. For the richest 1% of Americans, the same taxes consume 7% of their incomes. And (2) the richest people pay most of the federal income taxes because they've made ALMOST ALL the new income over the past 30 years. Based on Tax Foundation figures, the richest 1% has TRIPLED ITS SHARE of America's income since 1980, AFTER TAXES.

But there are better reasons why the rich should pay higher taxes.

Tax the Rich placard

The very rich benefit most from national security, government-funded research, infrastructure, and property laws. Defending the country benefits the rich more, because they have more to defend. Taxpayer-funded research at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (the Internet), the National Institute of Health (pharmaceuticals), and the National Science Foundation (the Digital Library Initiative) has laid a half-century foundation for their idea-building. The interstates and airports and FAA and TSA benefit people who have the money to travel.

Over a hundred years ago, Teddy Roosevelt, facing an epidemic of inequality not unlike today, reminded us that "Great corporations exist only because they are created and safeguarded by [democratic] institutions; and it is therefore our right and our duty to see that they work in harmony with these institutions."

Here's another good reason for the rich to pay more taxes: With the drop in tax revenue, funding for the preservation of American culture is disappearing. Do we want our national treasures deprived of maintenance because of budget cuts, as is currently happening in Italy? Do we want our national parks sold to billionaires? Do we want programs for music and the arts eliminated from schools, so that only children of the wealthy can participate in them?

The 1912 book "Promised Land" by Mary Antin revealed the wonder of a Russian immigrant coming to the U.S.: "In America, then, everything was free...light was free...music was free."

Not that capitalist markets don't have their place. But the current view of democracy has gone to the other extreme, in which individualism and personal gain trump societal responsibility, and growing inequality makes community support and safeguards unnecessary for the privileged elite.

Finally, back to the tax statistics. Why should financial earnings (i.e., capital gains) be taxed less than wage earnings from actual work? The richest 10% of Americans own over 80% of the stocks, the gains from which are taxed at a 15% rate. Most wage earners pay more.

Furthermore, over the past 15 years millionaires have seen their income tax rates drop from 30% to 22%. During approximately the same time period, American economic growth declined from an annual 3.2 percent rate to 1.7 percent. Lower taxes for the rich do not lead to productivity.

Will the rich stop investing or move to another country if their taxes are increased? Not likely. They have it too good here. As Warren Buffett recently stated, "I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone - not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 - shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain."

Mr. Buffett is admitting what everyone else is beginning to realize. The rich take much more than they pay for.


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Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is an advocate for social and economic justice, and the author of numerous papers on economic inequality and cognitive science. He was recently named one of 300 Living Peace and Justice Leaders and Models. He is the author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (2008) and "Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income" (2017). Contact email: paul (at) youdeservefacts.org.

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