Taxing the Rich Healthy For the Economy

Why a Fair Economy is Not Incompatible with Growth but Essential to It

by Robert Reich/ April 15, 2012

One of the most pernicious falsehoods you’ll hear during the next seven months of political campaigning is there’s a necessary tradeoff between fairness and economic growth. By this view, if we raise taxes on the wealthy the economy can’t grow as fast.

Wrong. Taxes were far higher on top incomes in the three decades after World War II than they’ve been since. And the distribution of income was far more equal. Yet the American economy grew faster in those years than it’s grown since tax rates on the top were slashed in 1981.

This wasn’t a post-war aberration. Bill Clinton raised taxes on the wealthy in the 1990s, and the economy produced faster job growth and higher wages than it did after George W. Bush slashed taxes on the rich in his first term.

If you need more evidence, consider modern Germany, where taxes on the wealthy are much higher than they are here and the distribution of income is far more equal. But Germany’s average annual growth has been faster than that in the United States.

You see, higher taxes on the wealthy can finance more investments in infrastructure, education, and health care – which are vital to a productive workforce and to the economic prospects of the middle class.

Higher taxes on the wealthy also allow for lower taxes on the middle – potentially restoring enough middle-class purchasing power to keep the economy growing. As we’ve seen in recent years, when disposable income is concentrated at the top, the middle class doesn’t have enough money to boost the economy.

Finally, concentrated wealth can lead to speculative bubbles as the rich in the same limited class of assets – whether gold, dotcoms, or real estate. And when these bubbles pop the entire economy suffers.

What we should have learned over the last half century is that growth doesn’t trickle down from the top. It percolates upward from working people who are adequately educated, healthy, sufficiently rewarded, and who feel they have a fair chance to make it in America.

Fairness isn’t incompatible with growth. It’s necessary for it. 

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106 Responses to Taxing the Rich Healthy For the Economy

  1. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, if we had more wealthy people in society, we would have a greater tax base. The issue is not having people with too much money. What is really the issue is government’s fiscally irresponsible behavior.

  2. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, some people argue for a wealth tax. What are your inclinations regarding that idea?

    • I don’t care how it is done, Ragnar, but the wealthy (who have benefited most from our pro-business policies) should be paying more and helping remedy the horrible inequality problem. Millions of Americans struggle for food and housing while the wealthy accumulate more money than they will ever need.

      • ragnarsbhut says:

        Arlen Grossman, did it not occur to you that some of the people who end up homeless are in that situation due to decisions of their own making? People who fake their situations make the people who truly need help look bad. It is easy to see that a seemingly homeless person may need help. The problem is in how to know who needs it and who would be considered as claiming a state of being homeless in order to dupe us into giving them money.

  3. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, true economic equality can only be achieved if we were all equal at a 0% level of wealth. I do not support extreme wealth disparities personally. Having said that, hard work and being smart with one’s money should be rewarded. Just my thoughts.

    • The problem with your analysis is that the rich have gamed the system and thanks to Citizens United, can spend unlimited amount of money to get favorable laws from elected
      officials. Thus they get favorable laws, constant tax cuts, eliminating regulation and other favors that ensure they stay on top, and increase their wealth, leading to massive wealth inequalities. In other words, the system is rigged in favor of the rich, and leaves bread crumbs for the rest of us.

  4. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, if taxing the rich was conducive to economic health, why did we have the Great Depression?

  5. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, taxing the rich may be healthy for the economy, as well as society by extension. Having said that, where should the line be drawn regarding taxing the rich in order to benefit society and people who say, “We should tax the rich to pay for our stuff”? When I say “our stuff,” that is relating to people who say that they want the rich to pay for things that benefit some people, just not society at large.

  6. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, if we were taxing the rich for the benefit of society, that is fine and good. If we are taxing the rich in order to pay for other people’s free stuff, that is wrong.

    • Did it ever occur to you, Ragnar, that there are many good people with bad luck who truly need the help of their fellow citizens? You see it as “other people’s free stuff.” I call it helping your fellow man. Give that some thought.

      • ragnarsbhut says:

        Arlen Grossman, you had made a point that people who inherit wealth did nothing to earn it. However, you seem to be unwilling to justify why people deserve free college and condemn people who inherit great sums of wealth that is free of tax. The problem is that it is hard to distinguish between people who can prove that they are on hard times and people who fraudulently claim states of hardship in order to justify getting free stuff. How is it right to take money from people who work for it and redistribute it to people who do nothing to deserve it?

        • Some people might call it compassion. That’s a concept mostt righties and libertarians are not familiar with.

          • ragnarsbhut says:

            Arlen Grossman, that is unfair. Government is supposed to protect the citizenry, not run the lives of its citizenry. Regarding your criticisms of libertarians and many conservatives lacking compassion, that is untrue and unfair. They believe that people should be charitable with their own resources, not treat government like it is our nanny and have us in states of cradle to grave government dependency.

  7. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, if the taxes that the rich paid were going to pay for things like infrastructure, as well as other things that benefit society, I would see that as a good thing. If the taxes they paid went to fund Medicare For All, something that benefits everybody, I could go for that. Taxing the rich for the purpose of wealth redistribution and subsidizing the wants of other people who refuse to work toward their desired goals who sit and demand free stuff and ask for handouts is something I find to be distasteful. People who say, “I want the rich to pay for my stuff” are just looking for excuses to be lazy.

  8. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, if taxing the rich was done to pay for things that truly benefit society, I see no problem there. If taxing the rich was done to arbitrarily redistribute wealth from the haves, being the people who worked for it to the have-nots, the people who have done nothing to deserve any of it and just demand that the rich pay for their wants, that is wrong.

  9. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, I know how marginal tax rates work. I get the fact that a top marginal tax rate of 91% does not mean that all income is taxed at 91%, just income above a certain threshold. Yes, there are various deductions that people can take and pay lower effective rates of tax. What galls me is how our tax dollars are spent irresponsibly in some ways.

  10. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, here are a few videos for you: 1:, 2: I am aware of the difference between a marginal tax rate and an effective tax rate. However, what is the most equitable way to tax the rich without driving them outside of the country?

    • I don’t accept your premise that the rich will leave the country with a high marginal tax rate. They can live with a 70% or so marginal tax rate, because they have it good here in so many ways.

      • ragnarsbhut says:

        Arlen Grossman, I know what a marginal tax rate is. I also know what an effective tax rate is. You never answered my question about the idea of what would be a reasonable top marginal tax rate for the rich which would still keep them here and not sending their wealth (or other financial assets) overseas. Even with a top federal income tax of 91%, nobody pays that rate because of all of the tax deductions, credits, exemptions and so on.

        Our currency has no real value, as it is backed by nothing. If it was backed by gold, the story would be so much different.

        Ron Paul advocated returning to the gold standard. Probably one of the more sensible things he has said during his involvement in politics.

        • 70 to 75% percent top marginal tax rate seems about right for me. We had something like that until Reagan came along and did what he could to please his wealthy donors.

          • ragnarsbhut says:

            Arlen Grossman, I know that there will be some people who are wealthy due to investments and savings. I also know that marginal tax rates only apply to incomes above a specific threshold. Obviously, no person who has an understanding of how tax rates work would assume that a 70% to 75% tax rate applies to all earnings. If a family earned $4000, 000.00 with a 70% to 75% rate on any dollar amount above that, that family could still be perfectly comfortable. There is also the issue of what is considered taxable income.

            If our tax code was also more friendly toward savings and investment, everyone would have a better quality of life. One proposal by the democrats is a wealth tax on the top 0.01% of the population. That is all fine and good, at least in theory, however, if all of the nation’s wealth was sent overseas to countries with more economically friendly policies, we would all be screwed.

            Of course, if people who lived paycheck to paycheck were encouraged to save up a few dollars here and there, their standard of living would be greatly improved over time, as well as their wealth building capacity. This is one major problem with our tax code. Savings and investment do not seem to be rewarded.

            Alexandria Occasio Cortez had actively advocated for a top marginal tax rate of 70%. A lot of people seem to advocate for such policies, as well. I know that someone who earns $1, 000, 000.00 will not automatically have 70% or 75% taken from them. Yes, I know that income above that amount would face a 70% to 75% tax rate.

  11. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, here are 2 videos for you: 1:, 2: The income tax is criminal and fraudulent. No person has the right to claim ownership of the labor or money of another. No government has the right to dictate how much money its citizens get to keep. People need to stop whining about making the rich pay their fair share in taxes.

    • I know you don’t believe this, Ragnar, but taxes are the price we pay for a functioning, workable government that keeps us from descending into a survival of the fittest, lawless, and dysfunctional society. Without taxes, greed and exploitation will take over and a few will benefit at the expense of the many. Of course, that’s what we have now, but it would be much worse without a government to keep it within reasonable bounds.

      • ragnarsbhut says:

        Arlen Grossman, taxing the rich may be healthy for the economy. However, when you were in your working life, who did you get your paychecks from-a poor person or a wealthy person? Watch the 2 videos I linked at your convenience. When I said that people should stop whining about making the rich pay their fair share, I was referring to those people who feel like they or the government are entitled to what other people have. Class warfare is absurd. The one other problem we have is with the estate tax. Why do you want to take money from people who you correctly say are not among the living and give it to the government? Why are you advocating taking money, regardless of the amount, from a grieving family? Explain that to me. Don’t give me the b.s. about heirs getting money that they have not earned.

        • 1) I got my paychecks from the government. 2) Class warfare is only absurd for the rich. They’ve already won the war. And they were able to get so wealthy because the system is rigged in favor of the rich (the politicians have been bought off). 4)Taking money from a grieving family? When you have billions the tax money will not change their standard of living. Many of the super wealthy inherited their wealth, so it’s not BS about heirs getting money they haven’t earned. As much as you seem to like the rich, you would have to admit the playing field is tilted to their advantage, and the wealth inequality is hurting our country.

          • ragnarsbhut says:

            Arlen Grossman, even if someone has inherited a certain degree of wealth, it can only last for so long before it is gone. Your question mark about my point related to taking money from grieving families seems to indicate an apathy to their pain at the loss of a loved one. Wealth and income inequality hurting the country? If people were encouraged to save more and spend less, the wealth gap could be reduced over time.

            From the standpoint of being able to save money, the tax code does its best to discourage this. Here are areas where people can save money: 1: Computer purchases. If a person has the money to buy a computer for $3, 000.00, however, they see another for $1, 500.00, they saved $1, 500.00. 2: A purchase on a house. A family that has $500, 000.00 to purchase a house, however, they purchase another for $250, 000.00 has saved $250, 000.00. 3: Phone plans. A family who has phone plan that totals up to $5, 000.00 a year and yet finds a plan for $2, 500.00 has saved $2, 500.00. 4: College education. If you go to a college that has tuition fees of 50, 000.00 a year and yet sees another college where tuition is $10, 000.00 a year, there is a savings of $40, 000.00.

            We had the perfect tax system until the 16th Amendment. Each state paid a proportion of the federal budget based upon population. It was up to the state to determine how they collected the tax. Each state could tax their people how ever they wished. All we have to do is repeal the 16th Amendment and let the states figure it out. They could institute a sales tax or a property tax or any combination of taxes.

  12. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, politicians love to use the term “fair share” when talking about taxes because it allows them to sound good and caring without having to explain what they mean. That’s part of the problem. I find the estate tax to be offensive. Why not have a tax-free threshold, say $50, 000.00 and have everything above that taxed at 15%? If you labor for a living, get income from stock or other capital gains, you pay 15%.

    • I do not believe in a pure flat tax. That would be regressive, causing people with low income to spend more of their money. A tax-free threshold is a good idea, but I wouldn’t want to be the guy who makes $51,000 a year!

      • ragnarsbhut says:

        Arlen Grossman, a pure flat tax should treat all income, regardless of its source, the same. My idea does just that. So what you say is not entirely accurate. Assuming that a family earns $50, 000.00 a year, that family would pay 0% in federal income tax. The higher that family climbs, the higher their effective rate is. If you make $60, 000.00 a year, your effective rate is 10%. When you make beyond that, that is where the 15% ultimately kicks in. So the poor and much of the middle class would not be affected too adversely. I would also get rid of the payroll tax and substitute a simple flat tax of 15% on all business income. So the more money you earn, the more you pay in $ amount. The percentage is low as far as the tax rate is concerned, however, if the poor and much of the middle class is unaffected, I would think that this should have some appeal. In my idea, you could only deduct charitable contributions, medical expenses, educational expenses, assuming you are using the money you earn to pay for college tuition, expenses related to childcare and business purchases. Everything else goes. No corporate welfare, no ability to cheat on taxes, no preferential tax treatment for one form of income over another. Even though I oppose it, I would rather let the individual states make laws regarding estate taxes instead of the federal government. As has been proven all too often, the federal government has shown a tendency to mismanage our money.

  13. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, I know how a marginal tax rate works. The only real issue in my view is to what the money is spent on. From my way of thinking, I do not believe that the top marginal tax rate should exceed 25%. If it is not good enough, eliminate federal departments that serve no real purpose. Take that money and put it to more useful things.

  14. ragnarsbhut says:

    Arlen Grossman, here is a video I would like to get your thoughts on: In my view, anything higher than 25%, maybe 30% at the outside, is too high a rate from a tax standpoint. Some people may disagree with me, which is fine. However, if a person claims to advocate for high tax rates, they should be honest about that.

  15. Arlen Grossman, if you have someone who earns $15, 000, 000.00, I think that they should be able to keep a good amount of that money. Yes, that is a lot, however, the problem is that you have people who say raise the income and capital gains taxes, which I disagree with on principle. Why? Because a non-rich person who says that a rich person is not paying his or her fair share in taxes is looking for a handout in some cases. A rich person who says, “The government is not taxing me enough” is another matter.

    • It’s not about getting a “handout,” Jeffrey. It’s about a rapidly increasing wealth inequality that leaves some people obscenely rich while a great many Americans are struggling financially. That is not a healthy society, in my opinion.

      • Arlen Grossman, if you give a guy on the street a couple bucks for food and then you find that the person in question used that money for drugs, how would you feel?

        • I would feel the money was wasted, as most anyone else would. Why do you ask, Jeffrey?

          • Arlen Grossman, here is a video for you: The guy who is presenting this video clearly missed the fundamental point that John Stossel was trying to make. John Stossel was saying that you should not just give money directly to homeless people, however, it is better to give that money to charities that will help these people. Self-described conservatives give more time and money to charities than their liberal counterparts. Liberals’ ideas of morality and conservatives’ ideas are not the same. For liberals, they want to take money from people like me and give it to people who do things that they approve of, like sitting on their butts and getting tax-free welfare checks. Conservatives actually want to help people get back into the fold of society.

          • Jeffrey, you rely too much on stereotypes. Conservatives, liberals, the homeless are not necessarily who you think they are. Please stay away from broad-brush stereotypes, and stick to facts.

          • Arlen Grossman, those on the Left don’t care about facts. They only rely on feelings.

          • Oh no, more unsupported stereotypes! I can’t deal with those.

          • Arlen Grossman, who was subjected to a rip off with Henry Ford’s creation of the Ford motor company? Who was subject to a rip off by purchasing Microsoft products that Bill Gates helped to create?

          • All the more power to them, Jeffrey! But they still need to pay their fair share of taxes! And make sure they pay decent, livable wages to their workers (Jeff Bezos is one of the worst).

          • Arlen Grossman, the Dictionary’s definition of the word fair is the only valid one. This talk of fair share from people on the Left is based on envy. Ideally, a system that is fair would be a flat tax with a tax-free amount, which still allows a certain income level to be non-taxable at the federal level. or a consumption tax.

  16. Arlen Grossman, the only legitimate argument for taxing the rich is that they can afford it. Outside of that argument, all other arguments are based on entitlement mentalities.

    • One reason the rich should be taxed more is because they take more than their share of government services: roads, laws, infrastructure, legal system, fire and safety, etc.

      • Arlen Grossman, the argument that those on the Left make that the rich can afford to pay more in taxes is legitimate in some ways. What makes no sense to me is how arguments based on envy are the only types that those on the Left use.

  17. Arlen Grossman, if my tax dollars went where I wanted them to go, I would gladly pay more. Just let me be the one to make that decision. If my tax dollars went to pay for the care of combat veterans and their families, I would gladly pay more in taxes. Should my tax dollars go to fund research for cures for diseases that would otherwise be fatal, I would be happy to pay more in taxes. Just let me be the one to decide.

    • We all would like that, Jeffrey. But I don’t think it is workable.

      • Arlen Grossman, this is an area where we will disagree. To be clear, I was stating the scenarios in which high tax rates would be of no concern to me. Quite honestly, as long as my tax dollars are spent responsibly, I could care less how high my taxes are.

        • Most people would feel the same as you in your last sentence, Jeffrey. But obviously that’s not going to happen. Everyone disagrees on what the government does with our tax dollars and how much they spend.

          • Arlen Grossman, where would you rather see your tax dollars go-subsidizing organizations like Planned Parenthood or would you prefer that they go to pay for the care of combat veterans? Between those 2 options, I would prefer to see my tax dollars pay for the care of combat veterans.

  18. “Arlen Grossman, eliminating most of the deductions would allow reductions in rates across the board. Now, as I said, even though we have differing views on this issue, as long as we can agree to disagree and be civil about it, communication should not be too difficult.”

    Yes, Jeffrey, I certainly agree.

    • Arlen Grossman, here are a few questions that I have for you: 1: If we got rid of the marriage penalty in the tax code, should that lead to lower tax rates or is one not relevant to the other? 2: Even though my idea of taxing the rich is different than yours and other people who advocate raising taxes on the rich, what is a fair way to do it if we had a single flat rate with capital gains being taxed on a sliding scale?

      • Tax rates are clearly important to you, Jeffrey. But I’m afraid I don’t spend any time thinking about that subject. I’m sorry, but since I have no informed or intelligent answers, I’ll have to pass on your questions.

  19. Honestly, JeffreyI haven’t given this nearly the thought that you appear to have given it. I probably should.
    But you seem to have some good ideas, probably much better than we have now.

    • Arlen Grossman, even though we obviously disagree on economic issues, I am glad that we are able to have honest differences of opinions on things. Some issues may be areas we agree on and other areas we disagree on. Your ideas on taxing the rich and my ideas are different, however, a sliding scale on capital gains taxation would technically cause the rich to pay more taxes. You can have a flat tax that still has the poor as being non-taxable from the standpoint of federal income taxes. You and I both want fairness. We just disagree about what is fair.

      • Yes, we differ on what is fair. It seems to be a difference in values.

        • Arlen Grossman, I am well aware of what a marginal tax rate is. Now, with the deductions, you pay a lower effective rate. Having said that, I think as long as the poor are still not paying anything, a flat tax of 15% sounds fair. Just my thoughts.

          • I understand, and agree with the first part.. We disagree on the second part as I would prefer a progressive tax.

          • Arlen Grossman, eliminating most of the deductions would allow reductions in rates across the board. Now, as I said, even though we have differing views on this issue, as long as we can agree to disagree and be civil about it, communication should not be too difficult.

  20. Sometimes government can spend money better. I don’t want private firms to wage war. I would rather the government run fire and police stations, and build highways. And many other things that are part of the commons.

    • Arlen Grossman, even if you have a top marginal tax rate (I know what a marginal tax rate is) as high as 91%, can you explain to me logically why the rich will not just send their money into overseas bank accounts to avoid the taxes? What about the various deductions, which lower the effective tax rate? Would that not make the idea of a top tax rate of 91% self-defeating?

      • 91% would be too much, I agree. But it should be much higher than it is now. And if Congress would penalize Americans for sending their money overseas, maybe that would help solve the problem.

        • Arlen Grossman, a simple flat tax, if we retained the income tax, which excludes the poor and a certain percentage of the middle class would be better than our current tax code. My personal view is that we should have a simple flat tax of 15%. Capital Gains would be taxed between 15%-25%. I said tax long term capital gains at 25% and short term capital gains at 15%. Just so I am clear, why is speculation a bad thing if a greater return is generated as a result?

  21. Arlen Grossman, this is all fine and good. However, who can spend your money better-you or a government official? Even if we had a flat tax, percentage and dollar amount are not the same thing.

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