by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
After President Obama’s latest effort this week to stir up some good, old-fashioned class warfare, Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner decided to revisit an earlier piece in which he sought to determine the “fair” level of taxation for the nation’s highest earners.
In 2008, the most recent year for which full data is available, the infamous top 1% – those earning over $380,354 – paid 38.02 percent of federal income taxes, according to an analysis of IRS data by the Tax Foundation. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent of income earners – the group that, according to the liberal world view, is subsidizing tax handouts to the wealthy – shouldered just 2.7 percent of the federal income tax burden.
And keep in mind that in 2008, the higher income-earners share of taxes slipped from the previous year’s 40.4 percent due to the economic downturn.
When you make this argument to liberals, they’ll often respond that the only reason such a distribution exists is that there’s a lot of income inequality in America. But even if you account for that, the wealthy are paying disproportionately. The top 1 percent, for instance, earned 20 percent of the nation’s adjusted gross income in 2008 – yet their share of the tax burden was nearly twice that. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent earned 12.75 percent of the nation’s income, while their share of the tax burden was about one-fifth of that. …
… Of course, this doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t account for payroll taxes, for instance, which do hit middle and lower income levels. But much of the current debate has focused on the need to raise marginal income tax rates on higher earners while keeping them the same for everybody else. The question is, though, if a society in which the top 1 percent already pay nearly 40 percent of the nation’s income taxes (and when combined, the top 10 percent pay nearly 70 percent), then what would it take for liberals to be satisfied that the rich are paying their fair share? Should the top 10 percent pay 90 percent of the taxes? Should the bottom 50 percent pay zero income taxes? President Obama’s vision to subsidize the ballooning social safety net by shifting even more of the tax burden on the wealthy – while increasing the percentage of people who are net takers in society – is simply unsustainable.