My proposal to raise the marginal tax to 70 percent on incomes over $15 million, to 60 percent on incomes between $5 million and $15 million, and to 50 percent on incomes between $500,000 and $5 million, has generated considerable debate. Some progressives think it's pie-in-the-sky. Here, for example, is Andrew Leonard, a staff writer for Salon:The rest of the argument is at TPM Cafe.
A 70 percent tax bracket for the richest Americans is pure fantasy - even suggesting it represents such a fundamental disconnect with the world as it exists today that it is hard to see why it should be taken seriously. I would be deeply worried about the sanity of a Democratic president who proposed such a thing.Fantasy? I don't know Mr. Leonard's age but perhaps he could be forgiven for not recalling that between the late 1940s and 1980 America's highest marginal rate averaged above 70 percent. Under Republican President Dwight Eisenhower it was 91 percent. Not until the 1980s did Ronald Reagan slash it to 28 percent...
Will the rich avoid it? Other critics of my proposal say there's no way to have a truly progressive tax because the rich will always find ways to avoid it by means of clever accountants and tax attorneys. But this argument proves too much. Regardless of where the highest marginal tax rate is set, the rich will always manage to reduce what they owe. During the 1950s, when it was 91 percent, they exploited loopholes and deductions that as a practical matter reduced the effective top rate 50 to 60 percent. Yet that's still substantial by today's standards. The lesson is government should aim high, expecting that well-paid accountants will reduce whatever the rich owe.
Besides, the argument that the nation shouldn't impose an obligation on the rich because they can wiggle out of it is an odd one. Taken to its logical extreme it would suggest we allow them to do whatever antisocial act they wish - grand larceny, homicide, or plunder - because they can always manage to avoid responsibility for it.
16 February 2011
A proposal to increase taxes on the super-rich
A proposal by economist Robert Reich: