The rich are far richer than they used to be, while most of the rest of us are poorer. The latest data show the top 1 percent garnering 93 percent of all the gains from the recovery so far. But median family income is 8 percent lower than it was in 2000, adjusted for inflation.
The gap has been widening for three decades. Since 1980 the top 1 percent has doubled its share of the nation’s total income—from 10 percent to 20 percent. The share of the top one-tenth of 1 percent has tripled. The share of the top-most one-one hundredth of 1 percent—16,000 families—has quadrupled. The richest 400 Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us put together.
Meanwhile, the tax rates paid by the wealthy have dropped precipitously. Before 1981 the top marginal tax rate was never lower than 70 percent. Under President Dwight Eisenhower it was 93 percent. Even after taking all the deductions and tax credits available to them, the rich paid around 54 percent.
The top tax rate is now only 35 percent and the tax on capital gains (increases in the value of investments) is only 15 percent. Since so much of what they earn is from capital gains, many of the super-rich, like Mitt Romney himself, pay 14 percent or less. That’s a lower tax rate than many middle-class Americans pay.
In fact, if you add up all the taxes paid—not just on income and capital gains but also payroll taxes (which don’t apply to income above incomes of $110,100), and sales taxes—most of us are paying a higher percent of our income in taxes than are those at the top.
So how can anyone argue against raising taxes on the rich? Easy. They say it will slow the economy because the rich are “job creators.”
In the immortal words of Joe Biden, that’s malarky.
The economy did just fine during the three decades after World War II, when the top tax rate never fell below 70 percent. Average yearly economic growth was higher in those years than it’s been since, when taxes on the rich have been far lower.
Bill Clinton raised taxes on the rich and the economy did wonderfully well. George W. Bush cut them and the economy slowed.
The real job creators are America’s vast middle class, whose spending encourages businesses to expand and hire—and whose lack of spending has the opposite effect.
That’s why the recovery has been painfully slow. So much income and wealth have gone to the top that the vast majority of Americans in the middle don’t have the purchasing power to get the economy moving again. The rich save most of what they earn, and their savings go anywhere around the world where they can get the highest return.
It would be insane to compound the damage by raising taxes on the middle class and not on the rich…