Friday, November 30, 2012

The great data battle

At the center of the current wrestling match between Congress and the president, between the Democrats and the Republicans, is the issue of who gets and who takes, who pays and who doesn’t.

So far, most of the arguments have been framed in ways that work to divide the country. Those tactics belie the complexity of the economic issues involved, are detrimental to the health of our body politic and should stop.

No one loves taxes. Almost everyone thinks the other guy pays too little while they pay too much. Politicians and pundits throw around statistics that play on those feelings, but do little to clarify the debate over how to run the country.

Income tax is based on adjusted gross income (AGI). In 2009, those in the top 5 percent of AGI earned 37.1 percent of all AGI but paid 58.7 percent of the nation’s total income tax collected.

That sounds unfair unless the discussion includes the fact that income earned from work is not the same as wealth, which includes assets owned and returns on money invested. It sounds unfair unless it’s acknowledged that 45 percent of income earners in 2011 made, and probably had to live on, less than $30,000. It sounds unfair unless figures comparing taxes also include payroll, state and local taxes paid. 

Pitting those with great wealth against those who struggle as a matter of givers and takers completely ignores the basic fairness of our progressive income tax system in which those who will be hurt the least are asked to pay the most.


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