Right-Wing Radio Follies: The Rich Already Pay Their Fair Share Of Taxes?

In the past, I have written about how irritated I get when I listen to the parade of right-wing “experts” that are interviewed on WSYR Radio’s morning show by host Joe Galuski. I hate the overall conservative slant of the station (owned by Clear Channel–which is owned by Bain Capital–Romney’s vulture capital business) but I love the weather/traffic report every ten minutes–the perfect snooze alarm. Plus they do a halfway decent job on the local news. This morning I got so mad at the discussion about income inequality and fair taxes, I had to get up, turn the damn radio off and forfeit some extra sleep. What follows is my e-mail to the show’s host.

Dear Joe Galuski:

I have written to you before about my concern about the “experts” that are interviewed on your show–and I was again left incredulous while listening to your show between 7:30 and 8 am this morning. You and some expert, whose name I did not catch, discussed income inequality in America and decided that arguments made by folks (like myself) on the left do not hold up to scrutiny. You cite statistics that you claim could not be refuted. I believe you were working off of statistics from the CBO on percentage of income received and percentage of federal income taxes paid amongst different income percentiles.

As with any argument of this sort, statistics and numbers come in many shapes and sizes–and can be marshaled to support different sides of the same issue. I do happen to believe these numbers can be refuted.

1) I do not think anyone can argue that income is not becoming more and more unequally distributed. I would point you to Timothy Noah’s powerful series on why inequality matters published on Slate.com in 2011 As Noah shows, income inequality was not a real factor in post-WW2 America in the 50’s and 60’s but has exploded since then.

2) As David Cay Johnston points out in an article for Reuters entitled Beyond the 1%, the top 1% of earners are a very mixed bag. This cohort mixes wealthy doctors with obscenely rich hedge fund billionaires. The real inequality is lodged in the top 0.1%, the people making over $1,000,000 income per year. And that’s where the inequality starts to reveal itself. As Mr. Johnston asks: “how many people know that households making less than $75,000 collectively paid more federal income tax than those making $1 million or more?”

(BTW: Mr. Johnston–a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist on taxes for the NY Times, now teaches at Syracuse U. Couldn’t you get him on your show?)

3) Citizens For Tax Justice goes on to ask a more interesting question: what percentage of a taxpayer’s income goes to all taxes– local, state and federal? This seems to be a more accurate assessment of the burdens placed on households by taxes. It also makes moot the right-wing’s argument that nearly half of Americans pay no federal income tax.

All Americans pay taxes. The percentage of total income paid out in cumulative taxes ranges from 16% for the poorest 20% of income earners to 30.8% for the top 1% of income earners. What the figures also show is that while the rate of progressivity on taxes increases as incomes rise, the increase in percentage paid out slows as income rises. In fact, taxes paid out even becomes regressive as the top 1% of income earners pay less of a percentage of their taxes than the rest of the top 10%.

4) I believe this last point is really where the differences lie between the right and the left. The debate stretches back to biblical times. The left believes in a staunchly progressive tax system, that those favored more by the system should contribute more in taxes. “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required.” (Luke 12:48) The right believes less in progressive taxation–believing instead in rewarding personal success and initiative through the tax code. “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” (Matthew 25:14-30) I welcome this debate. I would ask your program to not try to shackle the debate by declaring your argument as self-evident and unassailable.

P.S.–We didn’t even begin to get into issues of inequality of wealth (as opposed to income) and corporate taxation.

Thank you for listening–I will continue, as well.

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