Published for WSJ Online, July 22nd, 2012

If fairness in paying taxes means the amount you pay is based on the amount you make, then the only group in America paying at least a “fair share” is the top 20%—people who make more than $74,000. For everyone else, the tax code is a bargain.

You wouldn’t know this from President Obama’s rhetoric, but our tax system, according to a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), is incredibly progressive. Consider: The top 1% of income earners pay an average federal tax rate of 28.9%. (See the nearby table.) The average federal tax rate on the top 20% is 23.2%. The 20% of taxpayers earning between $50,100 and $73,999 pay an average 15.1%, and so on down the line. The CBO report includes payroll as well as income taxes paid.

There’s also another way of looking at fairness, and that’s the tax burden. Here, consider the top 20% of income earners (over $74,000). They make 50% of the nation’s income but pay nearly 70% of all federal taxes.

The remaining 30% of the tax burden is borne by 80% of the taxpayers, those who make less than $74,000. In short, this group’s share of taxes paid, 30%, is lower than the share of income they earn, 50%.
Yet President Obama says that “for some time now, when compared to the middle class,” the wealthy “haven’t been asked to do their fair share.”
He’s right that the system isn’t fair, but not because the top 1% pay too little. It is because they pay too much.

Full post here

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