Soak Wealth, Not Income?

Bruce Krasting's picture

Two big problems America faces are that there is not enough tax revenue, and income is skewed to the top 10%. These issues will define the 2012 election. Obama wants to lower the taxes that middle-income earners pay at the expense of those bastards who are in the lofty top 10% of income. Romney wants to lower taxes across the board, but his plan heavily favors the shit heels that are at the top of the pile. This chart compares the two candidate's proposals: .



The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) wrote on this topic last week, presenting the following chart to describe what is happening:



The CBO used the actual IRS tax data from 2009, so this info is an accurate description of who made what and what taxes were paid. The results confirm the problem. The top 20% of income earners make 51% of all income. This same group pays fully 68% of all Federal tax dollars. So who are these “fat cats” who are on top of the income pile and how much are they making? The results are surprising, the following shows the incomes for those in the top 20%:

81st to 90th percentile = $137,500
91st to 95th percentile = $175,800
96th to 99th percentile = $271,800
Top 1 percent = $1,219,700

So who are these "wealthy" people in America?

Nearly half of those “rich folks” are a husband and wife who each make $65,000 a year. I understand that there are plenty of folks who don’t earn this much, but if those same people think that the households that bring in $132k a year are “rich”, they are wrong.

The people in this group are not fat cats, they are not rich and they are not bastards. This is your Dr., Dentist, accountant, small business owner. This group is what fuels the economy. Take half their income away and you have a big fall.

If you’re wondering who fits into this income group (91st to 95th percentile) consider that every Senator and Congressman is in this bracket.

We get up to the stratosphere of income when household income averages $272,000 a year (96 -99%). The folks in this group have nothing to complain about; they are doing fine. But I ask the question, “Are they truly getting rich?”

Then you get to the top of the pile. The average salary for the top 1% is a whopping $1,220,000. So the reality is that the top 1% includes:

- Damn near every pro athlete.

- Any face that you see on the silver screen.

- The bozos you see on TV every day (including the “names” on CNBC).

- Paul Krugman (His book sales this year will make him a 1%er.)

- Mitt Romney. But we shouldn’t forget that Obama is also in the 1% group. In 2010 the Prez made nearly five times the average income of those top 1% earners.


Now lets see who is paying federal income taxes. This chart from the CBO report includes transfers from the federal government: .



- The negative tax rates for the bottom 40% (minus 9.3% for the lowest quintile, and minus 2.6% for the second lowest quintile) includes payments of Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and other government transfers.

- The middle 20% has an average income of $64,000 but pays only an average of 1.3% in Federal taxes.

- Those who make $93.5k (the fourth highest quintile) are still only paying 4.6% of their income in federal taxes, on average.

- The highest 20% of income earners pay 13.4% of their income on average. The breakdown of tax rates among this group are:



Many people are advocating raising taxes on people who are making the "big bucks". What would happen if there was a giant increase in taxes? Assume that those "fat cats" that earned more than $250k had to pay 50% in income taxes and the “super rich” (top 1%) had to pay 75% of their income in Federal taxes.

Would that solve the problem? The answer is yes and no.

If taxes had been 50% for the 96-99% group and 75% for the top 1% in 2009, it would have generated addition tax revenues of $770B. A very big chunk of change. Projected deficits as far as the eye can see are in excess of $1 Trillion. Raising taxes on the top 5% would eliminate three-quarters of the shortfall. This result would be close enough to a balanced approach to take most of the budget pressure off of the table.

If we truly sock it to those with high current incomes, we can solve one problem. But another one is created. If we raise income taxes to levels that now exist in France, the result will be that 5% of the working population will be paying 80% of all income taxes! A large percentage of American’s might like an outcome like this. A manageable deficit; paid for by soaking the rich. I’m sorry to tell them that it won’t work. A plan where 5% pay 80% is not going to work. A plan that sucked $3/4 of a trillion of income out of the economy would result in a near immediate depression.

I look at the information provided by the CBO and conclude that there is no way out of the revenue hole the country is in by raising income taxes. While tax increases are part of the fix, cutting expenses has to provide the heavy lifting. But that is a joke, as there are very few places to cut expenses without also cutting entitlements. So cutting expenses is another political dead end.

There is no combination of cutting expenses and raising income taxes that would actually be effective. There is an additional option.

The only alternative is a wealth tax. Anyone who has a net worth over $5m (or $20m, or chose a number) has to pay 1% (or 2%) of that amount, every year. It would be like a death tax, except you paid it while you were alive. Think - pre-paid estate taxes.

Warren Buffett is always complaining that he doesn’t pay enough in taxes. The guy has a net worth of about $40b. If there was a 2% wealth tax he would have to cough up an extra $800m a year. That would shut him up quick; it would also solve all the fiscal problems.

Bill Gates would be forced to come up with an extra $1.2B. The Walton family would have to pony up $1.6B. And the good old Koch brothers would toss in a $1b.

If a 2% wealth tax was applied to everyone who had a net worth in excess of $5m it would add up to about $700B a year. That’s just about the right amount to get the budget to where it starts to make sense. This tax increase would not come out of current income, therefore the consequences to the economy would be muted versus a similar sized income tax increase.

Hopefully, I've convinced some readers that raising income taxes is a dead end. It may sound like a politically “smart” thing to say, but it doesn’t mean spit when shown in the light. Taxing income does not get the job done without too many adverse consequences. Only a wealth tax can make a dent.

I’m amazed that Team Obama has not proposed a tax on America’s wealthy. They must have concluded that there is no other option to balance the books. Maybe Buffett is blowing smoke in Obama’s ears. He should be. Buffett is going to get fleeced if something like this were to happen.

Note: I doubt we will hear talk of a wealth tax before the election. It would be very bad for Obama’s fund raising efforts if he brought it up. That does not mean he will not propose this if he is re-elected. I don’t see another away around the budget problems.



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Pike Bishop's picture

IMHO, the reason there appears no sane way out of this is because it should have taken care of itself, and wasn't permitted to do so.

I'm not saying it would have been pretty. But I'm going to actually use the clearly insolvent outcome of the Supply Side, Neo-Classical, Neo-Liberal crony assholes' religion to prove that they are correct in theory, right up to the moment when you hand their religious dogma over to human beings.

We bailed-out the Creditors and excess Capital holders of shit assets.

Imagine what the adjustment and distribution of wealth would look like today. That top quintile and 1% wouldn't be looking so insanely unequal. St Milton and his Bubble Blowing monetarists insist Economic Clenses are good for the soul and the due course of human events.

No doubt the lower 80% would have felt pain, but remember that risk-outcome would have been spread across the lower 280MM individuals. Each equal to their own deserved moderation or excess. With the lower 60% having little or nil involvement in capital investment markets. The fuckshits who overpaid for their houses and couldn't afford the mortgage anyway, would have gotten, and probably still be getting, their assholes made raw. Which would have made a lot of people uncomfortable to watch, but fair is fair.

The great hysterical fear in Sept 08... was simply..... that things might turn out "fair". That the precious free market judgment would exert its unmerciful blind self.

But, no. the last thing TPTB was going to do was let things be fair.

That's how you end up with a teensy-weensy aristocracy,  a Middle Class half-departed and the rest packing their bags, and a record shitload of transfer payments going to record unemployed and record impoverished. The hypocrisy is sublime. By saving the relatively large and few, we decimate the Economy then complain about paying the bill for the victims created?

So, the reason that some "fair" solution is impossible to find, is because the original situation was created in an unarguably unfair decision. Everything since then has been perpetrated to keep that unfair decision alive.

The shortcut here is to fuck "fair". Don't bother talking to me about fair. That died a long time ago. Fair takes 10X longer to undo Unfair, anyway.

Restart FASB 157, and make Bernanke prove that all of the debt he printed for us went towards comparably valued assets. (I'll bet those Agency MBSs are gonna be some real fuckin' beauties.)

When things get back to even, then we'll reinstate "fair".

Meatier Shower's picture

To me the answer is simple.

Tax spending, not income.

We need a Fair Tax.

alchemisteve's picture

So, if I need money, I should be able to rob a bank once (or twice) ...

Do you really think it will end with twice?

Stealing is stealing, whether it is done by one person or a million people acting together. Just another kind of mob  rule.  This kind of thinking never solved debt problems - read some history!

We expected better from you, Bruce.

Bruce Krasting's picture

I want to thank everyone for all these comments. I've read them all.

I apologize for doing a bad job of writing this up. Many of you read it as me saying I want big government and more taxes. That is not what I want.

I want smaller government with smaller INCOME taxes.

I don't "want" a wealth tax. I think the country is in a black hole unless something new is tried. Taxing income at higher levels is not going to "fix" anything.

To all of those who crapped all over this, I ask the question:

What would your rather have?

a) A 6% higher tax rate on all INCOME.

b) A one time (or two time) wealth tax of 1 or 2%.

If you're a 97+ percenter I can see how you would chose a, but if you are a 1-96 percenter I cant' fathom why you would not chose b.


SamuelMaverick's picture

Bruce why do you not at least acknowledge choice C ; LESS GOVERNMENT SPENDING. 

Itinerant's picture

Don't have a lot of time, am not inimical to your suggestion regarding wealth -- people often confuse income and wealth, and wealth is where the real inequality is. A lot of the income from these assets is not being re-invested in production or even consumption: a lot of it is recycled in hoarding even more assets. Renteniering off accumulated/hoarded property is not good for any economy, and prosperous economies are always relatively equitable societies. If things become too polarized between creditors who own everything and debtors who have nothing but debts, things will devolve back to the basic struggle over ownership that is always just under the surface: conquest and tribal warfare.

A tax system shouldn't just be about how to get enough money: taxes reward and punish different kinds of behaviour. Although it is a bad idea to tax productive capital, since that is what is needed to develop things further, it is hard to separate productive uses of capital and renteniering. But a large part of the economy revolves around bidding up the price of assets whose value has no costs except financial costs (like location). Location and site value are socially constructed and should not be for proprietary benefit. Luckily the rights to the water and the air have not yet been given away and protected by the force of government property laws. The tax system should attempt to recoup the site value, re-investing it in public infrastructure which creates more site-value. This incidentally also keeps down prices (which is good). Otherwise the value will be bid up to the maximum of what the market can bear and will capitalized by the lenders who create "money" on balance sheets and who will siphon off the income stream from for non-productive renteniering.

Think about it in terms of farmers who really need a piece of land to survive, paying a large part of their income to the guy who owns the land, all the land, and whose only "costs" are defending his ownership of the land.

Sun and Moon's picture

You are just a stinking big government dork!

There are lots of us who are not 97%-ers who oppose giving money to the government because the government is a threat to our freedom.

spooz's picture

freedom to be a muppet?  wanna trade some futures?

spooz's picture

I go for b, but periodic, so the wealth doesn't get so lopsided that elites own the system.

SamuelMaverick's picture

Spooz, you are one ranting left wing lib. Please carry on with your stupidity.

Itinerant's picture

P r o p a g a n d a


Not one person here (as far as I can tell) mentions that income tax only comprises about 40% of federal tax revenue.

Unmentioned the fact that federal tax revenue is less that 50% of total taxation. (See

Many taxes have been decreasing in importance, and it is generally the regressive taxes that are of increasing importance. The payroll tax plays a much larger role now that previously, as do sales taxes.


The effective tax burden is mostly flat and amounts to about 30% for all income quintiles.


See for both charts


bcecil's picture

The assets of the top 460 americans equal the assets of the bottom 150,000,000

therein lies your problem

if 10% of you, or 38,000,000 went into the streets, for as long as it took,  with a handfull of leaders,

and a list of changes you wanted to make it would happen. Lots of smart folks here on ZH... Time to get at it!!!

We need this in Canada also.


spooz's picture

Don't let the corporate interests take big bites out of your health care.  Your system is working, why move in the direction of the dysfunctional US?

Cthonic's picture

If I'm ever in need of a shitstorm, I know which instigator to hire.   Thanks for the entertaining read, Mr. Krasting.  I'm sure some morons will run with your idea; after all the flogging of the captive tax base (citizens and residents) must continue until morale (aka government revenue) improves...

dir's picture

Bruce, normally I agree with your posts, but this is a disaster.

Spending, not taxation, is the problem.

Slash spending back to 18% of GDP from its current 25%.

Use a flat tax or the Fair Tax to streamline accounting and promote productivity for businesses.

Lastly, a wealth tax is unlawful.  It would take a Constitutional Amendment.


spooz's picture

Right, leave the elites piles alone. They figured out how to game the sytem.  They won.  Get over it.

Not sure how a wealth tax is unlawful and an estate tax is not.

4 wheel drift's picture

sorry mr. krasting.....

without the shit-eaters of the current government answering in a satisfactory manner the simple question....

what have you done with our previously handed out money, (i.e. taxes) ?

and if not answered satisfactorily, without making pay those responsible for the blatant waste that we all have witnessed...there should be no consideration given to any attempt to pay off the so call deficit or unfunded liabilities, period.

complete tax reform and return to the constitution is the only way to get anywhere close to a truly functional country...because the bs that has been going on is simply a lie... and we should not pay for such bs

spooz's picture

huh.  So how does a return to the constitution take care of banksters gaming our financial markets, for example? Our government is owned by lobbyists, whose effects will grow along with the size of SuperPacs. Eliminating taxes won't end the corruption.  And if we got rid of the corruption, taxes could be used wisely.

Blammo's picture

 Eliminating taxes won't end the corruption. 

But, raising them will????????????????????

greersteven's picture

Anyone who wants to give even ONE CENT more to government is a complete moron. 

Sorry...but I've seen this movie before.  We give another dollar....they spend another two...then come back saying they're a dollar short and need more.  We give another dollar...they spend another two....etc., etc, etc.

spooz's picture

So instead of reforming our government we just rely on the free-for-all markets to provide the greater good.

Moe Howard's picture

"Two big problems America faces are that there is not enough tax revenue, and income is skewed to the top 10%."

You lost me on this sentence Bruce. Even given the second premise, the first is not correct. This would be better:


"Two big problems America faces are the Federal and State governments are spending too much [and have promised to spend way too much in the future], and income is skewed to the top 10%.


Address the issue that way. I cannot come up with a vaild plan in my life to balance my budget or save money for a rainy day if there is no limit on what I put on my credit card. Why is government different? If you had an income / outgo disparty, would your first action be to raise income or cut expenses? Do you think our governments have cut everything to the bone? Really?

spooz's picture

You are not a sovereign. talk about apples and oranges...

Toolshed's picture

Ok, Bruce's articles are usually quite good, however I stopped reading at this point:

"- The middle 20% has an average income of $64,000 but pays only an average of 1.3% in Federal taxes."

WTF? I am in this group and let me tell you, I paid waaaay more than 1.3% in federal income taxes. I am single and my kids are grown, so I have just myself to deduct. I am hardly alone in this situation today. I paid more like 20% in federal taxes. Basing the article on this info makes it completely invalid.

Besides, citizens aren't bitching about the taxes paid by people who make hundreds of thousands a year, they are bitching about the lack of taxes paid by the weasels at the top who make millions AND don't pay shit (percentage wise) in taxes. These are the asshats who can afford tax lawyers, off shore tax havens, and numbered accounts in Switzerland. You know, the ONE PERCENT THAT ARE SCREWING US ALL. All articles like this do, and there are many, is confuse the masses. The man in the street is easily baffeled by this sort of bullshit. Is that your intention Bruce? Are you on their payroll now? I hope not.

spooz's picture

Agreed.  Another case of the elites trying to hook their agenda up with the sheeple's. 

Moe Howard's picture

Exactly. I am squeezed like a lemon.

Cthonic's picture

Spouse's tax remittances from income (my percentages are worse and atypical):

12% federal income tax

05% fica futa

09% property, state, and local taxes

04% sales taxes

31% taxes paid / total income 2011


barroter's picture

Another argument that says.."Dear God..Don't tax the rich! We'll all DIE!" 

Tax write offs, overseas tax haven countries and god knows what else.  My heart bleeds for the plight of the 1%.

buzzsaw99's picture

The 1% only stay that way because the federal reserve essentially guarantees that they get richer every year. Let the stock and bond markets crash like they should have years ago and let us see how smart they are. It may have been smarts and hard work that got them to the 1% ranks but it is the bernank who keeps them there.

legal eagle's picture

How about military spending, almost all of which is not rational.  Why is the US so afraid of the rest of the world that they need to spend as much on military spending as the rest of the world?  Military Industrial Complex: talk about entitlements.  Stop blowing people up first and then I will listen about taking away granny's entitlement to her social security and medicaire. 

Switzerland has a wealth tax, it is small, something like .5%, it isnt crushing the economy.


buzzsaw99's picture

wealth tax is fine by me. the biggest welfare cases are the uber-wealthy. they take and take and corrupt and corrupt evade and evade until we have what we have here today, which sux.

gibbs's picture

I suspect a Kool-aid overdose here.  Or maybe he can't find his unicorn.  Either way I'll never waste time reading this yahoo again.

Burticus's picture

1. Cut spending by limiting federal gubmint to its enumerated powers.

2. Eliminate all direct, unapportioned federal taxes.

For starters, the People will never have liberty as long as the federal government continues to violate Article 1, Section 9 by assessing direct unapportioned taxes, robbing the citizens of the states, then using this "federal money" to manipulate the state legislatures.  Our framers' intent was that federal taxes would be apportioned among the states based on the census.  State legislatures are then faced with the unpleasant task of taxing their citizens to pay the federal government.  Rather than groveling for "federal money," state legislatures will instead clamor for federal government limited to its enumerated powers and direct their U.S. Senators to vote for smaller, less expensive government.

The only way to re-establish federalism, the balance of power between the federal and state governments, is by state nullification of unconstitutional laws, followed by repeal of the 16th and 17th amendments and the Federal Reserve Act.  Secession is the states' only other option.

Obviously, the ruling ElephantJackass Party doesn't want this to happen...

Tippoo Sultan's picture

Precisely. +1


d edwards's picture

There's already a wealth tax called the inheritance tax.

We don't have a revenue problem, we have an out of control SPENDING problem on unneeded crap, plus enought waste and corruption to choke a whale.

How about abolish the INCOME  tax and have a flat rate SALES tax-that would tax the illegal and under the table "earnings" too? Don't tax income, tax spending.

InjuredThales's picture

The 'peasant class' must be so glad to have a champion such as yourself.  If they only knew what was best for them, then they would love you as much as they should.

Your condescension is admirable.  Your empathy is Christ-like.  Your beacon of goodness shines through the darkness like a Supernova.

Thank you for unselfishly caring for the proles when no one else would. 

spooz's picture

A voice in the darkness in this space, anyways.  I got passion, I got vision, trying to figure out the action.

And if you want to call the small busness owners who I champion "proles", I guess that shows where YOU are coming from.

mr1963's picture

Is this guys arms tired from always carrying the water for Obama?

Ask Denise Rich if a wealth tax is a good idea. Ask anyone with wealth.

Singapore is becoming the hub for wealth anyway, this'll just make it faster. And when they're all gone, who you going to tax?

spooz's picture

So of course the 1% think a wealth tax is a terrible idea.  Maybe they should just move to Singapore. We don't need them. Do furriners and multinationals get to create superpacs to buy our legislature or is that just for citizens?

janchup's picture

So take ALL the funds from the Koch-Gates-Walton wealth taxes, add them together and pay for 7 days of wasted war that kills mostly innocent people for nothing.

spooz's picture

So THAT would be the FIRST budget cut I'd make if I had the choice.  Our military is the biggest waste of money, along with anything we spend on the big brother PATRIOT ACT and the bogus WAR ON TERROR.  How about we just end the "State of Emergency" already? I am not losing sleep over terrorism, certainly not to the point where I am willing to give up my freedoms.

InjuredThales's picture

But you're more than willing to give up other people's freedoms by taking from them what they have legitimately earned.

Ask Athens, or Saxon Britain, how long freedoms last when there is no army to support them.

Toolshed's picture

Either you are a complete idiot or employed in the military industrial complex.

spooz's picture

I'm tired of being the evil imperialistic Americans.  Why do we need so much bigger amy than the rest of the world? What does "support" mean?  Plundering?  Certainly not civil defense.

John Law Lives's picture

"Two big problems America faces are that there is not enough tax revenue, and income is skewed to the top 10%."

America's annual deficits are primarily a result of excess spending.  There is no collective will among sufficient numbers of Democrats and Republicans to make substantial spending cuts.

Estate tax is immoral.  Your wealth tax proposal is a lousy idea.

spooz's picture

Estate tax is fair, not immoral.  It makes for a fairer democracy where wealth doesn't get concentrated into the hands of a powerful few. And it keeps the next generation from being unproductive loads who are only interested in living large.