Let’s say you and I are neighbors. You’re an emergency room doctor, and I don’t work, thanks to a pile of money my grandparents left me.
You spend your days and nights stitching up gunshot wounds and helping children survive asthma attacks. I’ve gotten really good at World of Warcraft, winning EBay auctions, and frying shishito peppers to just the right crispiness.
Let’s also say we both report $300,000 in income to the Internal Revenue Service this year. Who pays more in taxes?
You do, by a lot. You owe the IRS about $38,500 more, assuming each of us pays the maximum with no special deductions. I also have more flexibility to lower my burden with tax planning strategies and other tricks, and I get to skip about $24,000 in payroll taxes that you and your employer must fork over each year.
This isn’t some quirk of the U.S. tax code. Politicians have intentionally set tax rates on wages much higher than those on long-term investment returns. The U.S. has a progressive tax system in the sense that well-paid workers sacrifice much more than poor workers on their “ordinary income.” But Americans with so-called unearned income-qualified dividends and long-term capital gains-get a break. A billionaire investor can pay about the same marginal rate as a $40,000-a-year worker, a fact Warren Buffett has famously lamented.
The last time Congress passed comprehensive tax reform, in 1986, it eliminated the gap between workers’ and investors’ taxes. Their rates didn’t start diverging again until the early ’90s, when Congresses controlled by Democrats boosted taxes on wealthy Americans’ wages more than on their…
click here to read more.