The truth is that there has been a modest widening of the income gap in recent decades, regardless of which party is in power. That gap seems due largely to growing returns on education and skills in the global economy. Americans without a high-school diploma are losing ground against those who have college degrees. But this argues not for higher taxes on the rich, who already pay the vast bulk of U.S. taxes. It argues for reforming K-12 education so even the weakest and poorest students can compete against the world.But what's the left's answer to this problem? Punish the rich for the right decisions they make. The rich get richer because of a very simple principle: competition. Maybe public schools should try it for a change.
First, the new data show that the bottom 50% of Americans in income--U.S. households with an income below the median of $44,389--paid a smaller share of total income taxes in 2004 (3.3%) than in Bill Clinton's last year in office (3.9%). That 3.3% is the lowest share of total income taxes paid by the bottom half of earners in at least 30 years, and probably ever. The majority of American families with an income below $40,000 pay no income tax at all today, and many of them also get a welfare subsidy from the Earned Income Tax Credit that effectively offsets much of what they pay in payroll taxes.Now, this is not supposed be news anymore. But the left just doesn't listen to facts. As long as they are some who just can't make it or don't care, the left want all of us to live in misery. Like the French or the Germans.
By contrast, Americans with an income in the top 1% paid 36.9% of all federal income taxes in 2004, down slightly from 37.4% at what was the height of the dot-com boom in 2000. But the top 5% and 10% of earners saw an increase in their tax share over that same period, with the top 5%'s share rising to 57.1% in 2004 from 56.5% in 2000. If this isn't the definition of a highly "progressive," a k a redistributionist, tax code, we don't know what is.
Especially instructive is what has happened to tax shares since the tax rate on capital gains and dividends was cut to 15% in 2003. These investment tax cuts have corresponded with a huge spike in tax payments by the affluent. Between 2002 and 2004, the income tax share of the top 0.1% of earners rose to 17.4% from 15.4%. A reasonable conclusion is that much of this increase reflects tax payments on capital gains and dividends--which have soared by an astounding 79% and 35%, respectively, since the rate cuts.
[...] it's a mistake to put much stock in these class-envy statistics on income shares, gini quotients, and wealth gaps that Washington and the media like to stress. There's nothing that policy makers can do about them in the short run, and a preoccupation with inequality will do actual harm if it leads to policies such as higher tax rates that reduce economic growth. We'd suggest readers ignore the inequality fad that is intended for election-year consumption and keep their eyes on what really matters--the policies that promote growth and prosperity for all Americans.Indeed.
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