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The Rich Are Different From You and Me

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous line, “The rich are different from you and me,” was met by Hemingway’s rejoinder, “Yes, they have more money.” Today, the rejoinder could be changed to say, “Yes, they don’t pay taxes.”

Included in an LA Times article on Rodeo Drive, is the following:

An Internal Revenue Service report obtained by the Wall Street Journal in March showed that the 400 richest Americans — those with incomes of at least $100 million — controlled 1.15% of the nation’s wealth as of 2005, or twice the amount of a decade earlier.

Thanks to President Bush’s tax cuts, though, the average income tax rate for the mega-wealthy fell to 18% from nearly 30% over the same period.

The Wall Street Journal often complains that the rich pay too much in taxes, that a small number of taxpayers pay a high percentage of the total taxes collected. However, the reason is that those taxpayers receive a high percentage of all the income received in America, and for the amount of income they receive, their taxes are relatively low. Although the dates don’t exactly match up, one study says that in 2005 the top 1% of taxpayers received 21.8% of all income. A Treasury press release says that in 2002 the top 1% paid 33.7% of all taxes. This doesn’t seem disproportionately high.

Much of their income is taxed at a low rate, such as the taxes on dividends and other “investments.” One argument for low taxes on dividends is that the company paying the dividend has already paid taxes on its income. But an article in the NYT recently said that two-thirds of businesses do not pay income tax.

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