The most enduring lies of American politics are: "The rich don't pay taxes." and "You have to have money to make money."
These canards of class warfare are being employed with renewed ferocity in the budget debate over who is to pay for Congress' continuing spending spree.Liberals say President Reagan caused the red ink by cutting taxes for the rich. The only fair solution, liberals say, is to raise tax rates on the rich.
Reagan cut tax rates the same percentage for all income brackets and did not favor the rich. Moreover, as the IRS's "Statistics on Income" shows, upper income taxpayers pay the bulk of the income tax and have paid a rising percentage throughout the 1980s.
The top 5 percent of income earners - those with adjusted gross incomes of $73,757 or more - paid 45.9 percent of total personal income taxes collected in 1988, up from 37.6 percent in 1979. The top 10 percent (incomes of $58,368 or more) paid 56.9 percent of the income tax revenues, up from 49.5 percent. The highest 25 percent ($35,609 or more) paid 77.8 percent, up from 73.1 percent.
According to the IRS, the top half of taxpayers pay almost all of the income taxes collected, while the bottom half pays only 5.5 percent. The bulk of the income tax revenues come from a mere 11 million hard-working Americans who earn more than $58,000 (about half of a congressional salary).
Despite the Reagan tax cuts, hard-working Americans remain brutally exploited by all levels of government. Those earning $58,000 or more paid an average federal tax of $21,473 in 1988; those earning above $73,000 paid an average of $34,788.
Consider a professional or business executive earning $300,000 a year with $18,000 in interest and dividend income:
The federal government charges him $81,601 each year. A moderate tax state will demand another $17,275. Local property taxes will take $5,000 to $10,000 annually. If his family spends $40,000 a year, a 5 percent sales tax takes another $2,000. For a total tax bill of $106,000, he and his family receive once-a-week garbage pickup - if the trash is bagged and placed on the street.
In less than 10 years he will have paid $1 million in taxes.
Billionaires, of course, have plenty of cushion even after taxes.
Turning to America's 66 super rich (proportionally fewer than Germany or Japan), it is amazing how few began with inherited wealth:
Sam Walton of Wal-Mart worked for J.C. Penney for $85 a month. Ross Perot started his company with $1,000 of his wife's savings. Alfred Taubman started his firm with a $5,000 loan. Sumner Redstone is the son of a drive-in theater owner. Leslie Wexner borrowed $5,000 to open his own store.
Walter Annenberg inherited a debt-ridden firm. Harry Helmsley started in the mail room. E.J. DeBartolo gave up truck driving to attend Notre Dame. Daniel Ludwig began with $5,000 borrowed to convert an old steamer. David Packard founded Hewlett-Packard with $538 in a Palo Alto garage.
David Murdock, a high school dropout, began with a $1,800 loan. Richard DeVos and Jay Van Andel started Amway in a basement. Harold Simmons started with $5,000 equity in a Dallas drugstore. Kirk Kerkorian began as a manual laborer at 40 cents an hour. Paul Allen dropped out of college to start Microsoft.
Jack Kent Cooke sold encyclopedias door-to-door. Curtis Leroy Carlson started GoldBond Trading Stamp Co. with a $50 loan. Carl Icahn grew up middle class in Queens. Philip Knight developed Nike while moonlighting as an importer of Japanese track shoes.
Their reward for creating millions of jobs and billions of taxable income is to be demagogued by two-bit politicians who have never created anything but disaster.