The Limits of Taxing the Rich




Sanders’s agenda is not limited to taxes on corporations and wealthy families. The campaign also proposed to partially finance Medicare-for-All through 4.6% of GDP in new tax revenues from broad-based payroll taxes and tax-preference eliminations (within health care). However, even if one uses the inflated revenue figure of 8.6% of GDP (4.0% from the wealthy and 4.6% from broad-based taxes), it still falls far short of financing Sanders’s spending promises. Sanders proposed $23 trillion in new taxes over the 2021–30 period, yet also proposed a $30 trillion Medicare-for-All plan, $30 trillion government job guarantee, $16 trillion climate initiative, and $11 trillion for free public college tuition, full student-loan forgiveness, Social Security expansion, housing, infrastructure, paid family leave, and K–12 education. That is $87 trillion in spending promises, on top of a baseline budget deficit that, at the time, was forecast at $13 trillion over the decade.[104] Even the rosiest revenue estimates of Sanders’s tax policies would cover only a small fraction of his spending promises (see Figure 9).

At the same time, Sanders has obfuscated the funding shortfall by: 1) regularly claiming that his tax policies can cover all his spending promises, even as official scores show otherwise; and 2) proposing most spending increases separately, in order to make each one appear individually affordable within his broader tax agenda.

SummarySome progressives suggest that Bernie Sanders has identified extraordinary potential revenues from taxing the rich. However, his proposed tax increases on corporations and wealthy individuals show revenues of 4% of GDP—and that is before accounting for constitutional challenges and unrealistic tax rates that far exceed the consensus of revenue-maximizing rates. Given behavioral and economic responses, the total potential tax revenues are (at most) 2% of GDP, and possibly far less. Indeed, leading progressive tax officials assume plausible tax rates and revenues far below those of Sanders’s proposals. Even assuming Sanders’s full static revenue estimate and including his steep middle-class tax proposals would not come close to paying for his spending agenda. The contention that Sanders has unlocked an enormous tax-the-rich revenue source is false.

Author(s): Brian Riedl

Publication Date: 21 Sept 2023

Publication Site: Manhattan Institute

The Rich Aren’t Rich Enough to Balance the Federal Budget




As budget deficits surge toward the stratosphere, Congress will soon have to get serious about savings proposals. Yet reforming Social Security and Medicare—the leading drivers of long-term deficits—remains a political nonstarter. Neither party is willing to raise middle-class taxes. And cutting defense and social spending would save at most $200 billion annually from deficits that are projected to approach $3 trillion by 2034.

That leaves one option: Tax the rich. It won’t be nearly enough.

There are a few excessive tax loopholes and undertaxed corporations that lawmakers could address. It’s farcical, however, to suggest that the tax-the-rich pot of gold is large enough to rein in our deficits and finance new spending programs. Seizing every dollar of income earned over $500,000 wouldn’t balance the budget. Liquidating every dollar of billionaire wealth would fund the federal government for only nine months.

In a study for the Manhattan Institute, I set upper-income tax rates at their revenue-maximizing level, while paring back tax loopholes and fighting tax evasion. As background, the Congressional Budget Office projects that our budget deficits—which currently exceed 7% of gross domestic project—will surpass 10% of GDP over the next three decades. My research shows that the “tax the rich” model would raise at most 2% of GDP in additional revenue over the long term.

Author(s): Brian Riedl

Publication Date: 22 Jan 2024

Publication Site: WSJ, op-ed

The day the Social Security funding crisis became inevitable



What wasn’t inevitable was a funding crisis. In fact, from 1950 to 1971, Congress was able to increase benefits nine times. That changed in 1977 when Social Security Amendments responded to a technical error in 1972 legislation which caused retirement benefits to skyrocket and threatened insolvency by 1979. 

The 1977 law sought to slow the rapid growth in benefits for future retirees. At the time, Congress considered two options. The first, recommended by an expert commission headed by Harvard economist William Hsiao, would link the growth of the initial benefits paid to new retirees to the rate of inflation. The second approach, favored by the Carter administration, would index initial benefits to national average wage growth. 

While differing only in seemingly technical ways, the two approaches had dramatically different effects on Social Security’s long-term finances. Simply put, the Hsiao Commission’s recommendation was fully sustainable under then-legislated tax rates. It would allow, as the commission wrote, “future generations to decide what benefit increases are appropriate and what tax rates to finance them are acceptable.” 

In contrast, the alternative approach of “wage-indexing” initial benefits could not be sustained without substantially higher future taxes. 

The Hsiao Commission bluntly criticized that policy, saying that it “gravely doubts the fairness and wisdom of now promising benefits at such a level that we must commit our sons and daughters to a higher tax rate than we ourselves are willing to pay.” Congress, nevertheless, opted for wage indexing.   



Publication Date: 17 Oct 2023

Publication Site: The Hill

7 Democratic Senators Just Did Their Wall Street Donors a Huge Favor



In the name of preserving carefully negotiated legislation, Senate Democrats’ leaders united their caucus to vote down amendments that would have added the party’s Medicare expansion plan and expanded child tax credit into the final spending bill now moving through Congress.

That unity, though, was not universally enforced: soon after those votes, seven Democratic senators joined with Republicans to cast a pivotal vote shielding their private equity donors from a new corporate minimum tax.

The seven Democrats who joined the GOP to give private equity firms that $35 billion gift were: Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia, Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.

Five of the seven Democrats are among the Senate’s top recipients of campaign donations from private equity donors, according to data from OpenSecrets. The group collectively raked in more than $1.4 million of campaign cash from the private equity industry, which has become a huge source of capital for the fossil fuel conglomerates that are creating the climate crisis.

The contrast between voting to protect private equity donors and voting against programs for the working class effectively screamed the quiet part out loud about whom senators typically respond to — and whom they don’t.

In this case, Democratic and Republican senators responded to the demands of an industry that has not only spent more than a quarter billion dollars on the last two federal elections, but that also employs an army of government-officials-turned-lobbyists to influence lawmakers in Washington. The world’s largest private equity firm is headed by one of the Republican Party’s largest donors, and now employs the son-in-law of Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer as a lobbyist.

That influence machine is fueled by $6.3 trillion industry’s profits, generated by collecting massive fees off investments by public pensions and other institutional investors. Those fees have ballooned even when the industry often provides poorer returns than the stock market. Cloaked in secrecy, the industry invests in Medicare and health care privatization, as well as virulently anti-union and fossil fuel companies.

Author(s): David Sirota

Publication Date: 10 Aug 2022

Publication Site: Jacobin

Summary of the Latest Federal Income Tax Data, 2022 Update




In 2019, taxpayers filed 148.3 million tax returns, reported earning nearly $11.9 trillion in adjusted gross income, and paid $1.6 trillion in individual income taxes.

The top 1 percent of taxpayers paid a 25.6 percent average individual income tax rate, which is more than seven times higher than taxpayers in the bottom 50 percent (3.5 percent).

The share of reported income earned by the top 1 percent of taxpayers fell to 20.1 percent from 20.9 percent in 2018. The top 1 percent’s share of federal individual income taxes paid fell to 38.8 percent from 40.1 percent.

The top 50 percent of all taxpayers paid 97 percent of all individual income taxes, while the bottom 50 percent paid the remaining 3 percent.

The top 1 percent paid a greater share of individual income taxes (38.8 percent) than the bottom 90 percent combined (29.2 percent).

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced average tax rates across income groups.

Author(s): Erica York

Publication Date: 19 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Tax Foundation

The Billionaire Tax: The Worst Tax Idea Ever?




The pushback from progressives is that this graph misses key components, including other taxes collected by the government (payroll taxes, Medicare taxes, estate taxes etc.), and that it is the tax rate that is paid, not dollar taxes, that better measures fairness. In 2018, for instance, the federal effective tax rates paid by different income groups were as follows: [above]

Author(s): Aswath Damodaran

Publication Date: 25 Oct 2021

Publication Site: Musings on Markets