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Taxing Decisions

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Apr 10, 2010    •    231 Views    •    TIME TO READ: 1 minute

Some people believe that government spends more when it has an affluent population to pay for it.  In a recent NY Times column, David Leonhardt presents a slightly different perspective. Instead, he says that because we are a more affluent society, we want government to spend more. As he expresses it, “A tax increase is…a result of a society becoming richer.” As economic growth accelerates, so too does what people want from government.  We want additional services; we want a transport infrastructure; we want medical care.  

So far, how have we funded these wants?

  • On the revenue side, federal taxes have totaled close to 18% of GDP.
  • The individual income tax is our largest source of revenue.
  • The second largest source is social insurance taxes (social security and Medicare) while corporate taxes are a distant third. 
  • During the 1950s and 1960s, the top marginal tax rate was actually 91%.

Where do we go from here? More tomorrow…

The Economic Lesson

There are three basic tax approaches: 1) Progressive taxation: the affluent pay a higher percent of their income than those who have less. 2) Regressive taxation: those who have less pay a higher percent of their income than those who have more. 3) Proportional taxation: everyone pays the same percent of their income. Our individual income tax system is progressive, sales taxes are regressive, and the Medicare tax is an example of a proportional tax.

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