The best kept secret in America is that the rich pay most of the income taxes.
Did you know, for example, that in 1988 the top 1 percent of taxpayers paid 27.6 percent of the federal income tax revenues, up from 17.9 percent in 1981?Did you know that the top 5 percent of taxpayers paid 45.6 percent - almost half - of the personal income tax revenues collected by the government, up from 35.4 percent in 1981?
Did you know that the poor - measured as the bottom half of the taxpayers - altogether paid only 5.7 percent of the income tax revenues, 23 percent less than the share paid in 1981?
No, you hadn't heard? Amazing, isn't it?
We just had an election in which the media, even more than "soak-the-rich" candidates themselves, endeavored to cast the election as a tax-fairness issue.
The Washington Post, for example, editorialized: "The big income tax cuts of the 1980s, particularly at the top, were a major cause of the deficit, and their beneficiaries should have to make a comparable contribution to the cure."
On Nov. 2, 1990, a Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department released a dynamite press release containing all of the above information just in time to enliven the weekend news.
With the atmosphere heavy with politics blaming the budget deficit on tax cuts for the rich, the official release of Internal Revenue Service data showing that "the share of federal income taxes paid by higher income taxpayers has increased since 1981, while the share paid by lower-income taxpayers has decreased" was big news indeed.
It was news, however, that didn't fit the agenda of those ready to whip up envy against the rich as a way of raising taxes and electing tax and spend candidates, and it was not widely reported.
An argument can be made that the rich should pay more than others, but when 1 percent of the taxpayers pay almost 30 percent of the income tax, while half of the taxpayers pay less than 6 percent, hasn't the tax system gone beyond "fairness" into punitive discrimination against the rich?
The Treasury release also reports the tiny fraction of taxpayers with incomes of $100,000 or more paid 36.1 percent of the income taxes. These are the people President Bush and the Congressional Democrats decided would have to give up their family exemptions and deductions for mortgage interest, charitable giving and state and local taxes in order for the government to make a budget.
America now discriminates against the rich, not only with higher income tax rates than we apply to others, but also by denying them exemptions and deductions that we grant to others.
Certainly, if the federal government tried to pin special class taxes on blacks, females or homosexuals, the taxes would be thrown out of court for being discriminatory. The government would argue that income, not race or sex, is the basis for discrimination against the taxpayer.
Even if the courts dismissed an income tax discrimination suit as frivolous, it would be a great public service to establish that in our free, democratic society, not even being a member of an "oppressed minority" can overcome the stigma of being rich.
In America, the only people against whom it is legally permissible to discriminate are the successful.
This, of course, creates perverse human incentives.
Where would we be if we ran science and engineering the way we run our society?
Yet those clamoring to "soak the rich" will continue to repeat the lie that "tax cuts for the rich caused the deficit." The propagandistic intent is obvious, because it is inconceivable that they are unfamiliar with Treasury reports and accumulating economic research showing the reduction in the top tax rate more than paid for itself in new tax revenues.
(Paul Craig Roberts is the William E. Simon professor of political economy at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington and is a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury.)