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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 7/21/09

The Great Tax Con Job

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Both he and his employer know that he'll do the job he's doing for around $60,000 a year in take-home pay.

So what happens if his taxes go up, cutting his take-home pay to $55,000 a year (even though his gross is still $75,000)? Over time (typically one to three years) his wages will rise enough to compensate for the lost income.

Alan Greenspan used to be hysterical about this effect - he called it "wage inflation" - and The Wall Street Journal and other publications would often reference it, although the average working person has no idea that if his taxes go up, his wages will eventually go up. Similarly, when working-class people's taxes go down, their gross wages will, over time, go down so their inflation-adjusted take-home pay remains the same. We've seen both happen over the past eighty years, over and over again.

When I was in Denmark last year doing my radio show from the Danish Radio offices for a week and interviewing many of that nation's leading politicians, economists, energy experts, and newspaper publishers, one of my guests made a comment that dropped the scales from my own eyes.

We'd been discussing taxes on the air, what the Danes get for their average 52% tax rate (free college education, free health care, 4 weeks of vacation, being the world's "happiest" country according to research reported on CBS's "60 Minutes" TV show, etc.). I asked him why people didn't revolt at such high tax rates, and he smiled and just pointed out to me that the average Dane is very well paid with a minimum wage that equals about $18 US (depending on the exchange rate from day to day).

Off the air, he made the comment to me that was so enlightening. "You Americans are such suckers," he said, as I recall. "You think that the rules for taxes that apply to rich people also apply to working people. But they don't. When working peoples' taxes go up, their pay goes up. When their taxes go down, their pay goes down. It may take a year or two or three to all even out, but it always works this way - look at any country in Europe. And it's the opposite of how it works for rich people!"

Working Person's Tax Effect - Version Two

The other point about taxes - which Obama leveraged with his "no tax increases on people earning under $250,000 a year" pledge - has to do with the fact that our tax structure in the US is progressive.

Here's how it breaks out for a single person from the 2008 federal tax tables [2]:

10% on income between $0 and $8,02515% on the income between $8,025 and $32,550;25% on the income between $32,550 and $78,850;28% on the income between $78,850 and $164,550;33% on the income between $164,550 and $357,700;35% on the income over $357,700.

Note that our $75,000/year worker has two full tax brackets above him, which, if they go up, will not affect him at all. (This is also true, of course, for the median-wage and average-wage American workers who earn in the low to mid-$40,000/year range.)

The top tax rate that a person pays is referred to as their "marginal tax rate" (in our worker's case 28%). So what happens if the top marginal tax rate on people making over $357,700 goes up from its current 35% to, for example, the Eisenhower-era 91%?

For over 120 million American workers who don't earn over $357,700/year, it won't mean a thing. But for the tiny handful of millionaires and billionaires who have promoted The Great Tax Con, it will bite hard. And that's why they spend millions to make average working people freak out about increases in the top tax rates.

Income taxes as the "Great Stabilizer"

Beyond fairness and holding back the Landed Gentry the Founders worried about (America had no billionaires in today's money until after the Civil War, with John D. Rockefeller being our first), there's an important reason to increase to top marginal tax rate, and to do so now.

Novelist Larry Beinhart was the first to bring this to my attention. He looked over the history of tax cuts and economic bubbles, and found a clear relationship between the two. High top marginal tax rates (generally well above 60%) on rich people actually stabilize the economy, prevent economic bubbles from forming, prevent economic crashes, and lead to steady and sustained economic growth (and steady and sustained wage growth for working people).

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Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network, live noon-3 PM ET. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle (more...)
 

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