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5 Reasons the Top Tax Rate Should Be 80 Percent

Paul Buchheit

5 Reasons the Top Tax Rate Should Be 80%

It came up in the Republican debate again, the curious notion that striving for less inequality is somehow a form of "class warfare." The implication is that the richest people earned everything they have through their own initiative and hard work. But most of them have exploited an American financial system that has facilitated the transfer of our national wealth to the people who manage that wealth.

Informed Americans understand that an economic war has been waged against the middle and lower classes. As a result, there are at least five good reasons why the tax rate on the upper classes should be MUCH higher.

1. Massive Redistribution Has Occurred. Upward.

Total U.S. wealth increased by a stunning 60 percent since 2009, from $54 trillion to $86 trillion, but 3/4 of that massive increase went to the richest 10% of Americans. According to the New York Times, the wealthiest Americans have formed an "income defense industry" to shelter their riches, with, "a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means." From 2003 to 2012 the average income tax rate paid by the richest 1% went down, while for the 99% it went up.

2. Subsidies to the Rich are SIX Times Greater Than Subsidies to the Poor

The cost of the entire Safety Net is only about ONE-SIXTH of the $2.2 trillion in tax expenditures, tax underpayments, tax havens, and corporate nonpayment, the great majority of which went to the richest Americans.

3. The Super-Rich are the Main Beneficiaries of Our Nation's Prosperity

All the technology in our phones and computers started with government research at the Defense Department, the National Science Foundation, the Census Bureau, and public universities. The Internet made possible the quadrillion-dollar trading capacity of the financial industry. Google is using some of its billions to buy technologies that were built by DARPA with our tax dollars. Pharmaceutical companies wouldn't exist without money from the taxpayers, who have provided support for decades through the National Institutes of Health, and still pay over 80 percent of the cost of basic research for new drugs and vaccines. Big firms use intellectual property law (another gift from the taxpayers) to snatch up patents on any new money-making products, no matter how much government- and university-funded research went into it.

There's much more. The wealthiest individuals and corporations are the main beneficiaries of tax laws, tax breaks, property rights, zoning rules, patent and copyright provisions, trade pacts, antitrust legislation, and contract regulations. The largest companies benefit, despite their publicly voiced objections to regulatory agencies, from SBA and SEC guidelines that generally favor business, and from FDA and USDA quality control measures that minimize consumer complaints and product recalls. Businesses rely on roads and seaports and airports to ship their products, the FAA and TSA and Coast Guard and Department of Transportation to safeguard them, a nationwide energy grid to power their factories, communications towers and satellites to conduct online business, the Department of Commerce to promote and safeguard global markets, the U.S. Navy to monitor shipping lanes, and FEMA to clean up after them.

But instead of paying for all the taxpayer-funded benefits, S&P corporations have spent 95 percent of its profits on stock buybacks and dividend payouts to enrich their investors.

4. Progressive Taxes Actually Work

The prominent economic team of Piketty and Saez and Stantcheva determined that "the top tax rate could potentially be set as high as 83%" before the highest earners are discouraged from attempting to earn more. The National Bureau of Economic Research goes further, proposing a top marginal rate of 90%, and even some conservative analysts concede that the optimal maximum may be at least 50%.

Since the 1970s libertarians and business leaders have rallied behind trickle-down theory. Thus a series of tax cuts for the rich. But evidence from numerous sources leads to the conclusion that there is no correlation between tax cuts and GDP growth, and that in fact the cuts cause governments (as common sense would dictate) to lose revenue.

5. Higher Taxes Won't Make Rich People Leave

During the Republican debates Chris Christie claimed that higher taxes caused wealthy New Jersey residents to leave the state. It's not true. A Stanford study found that lower-income residents left New Jersey at approximately the same rate. "Overall," said the authors, "higher income earners show greater residential stability and geographic embeddedness than do low income earners."

A Conclusion: The Washington Examiner referred to Bernie Sanders as an "elderly extremist." Elderly, yes. But as Democratic debate moderators noted, over two-thirds of Americans favor increased taxes on people making over a million dollars. The desire to reduce inequality is not extreme at all.


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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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