Rich People Are Mad They Have to Pay So Many Taxes on Their Ballooning Incomes

Philip Bump

No group of Americans is less happy about the taxes they pay than the wealthy, The Wall Street Journal reports, glossing over the fact that they are paying more in taxes in large part because they are seeing most of the increase in incomes. This is like being mad that you paid more in sales tax on your Bentley than your doorman paid in taxes for a Ford.

The Journal, being the literal journal of Wall Street, takes great pains to articulate the anguish of the wealthy while downplaying that contributing factor. "Higher earners' share of the overall federal tax burden has been climbing fairly steadily," the Journal's John McKinnon writes, "even before lawmakers negotiated the fiscal-cliff deal at the end of 2012." He tells the story of a business owner that saw her taxes "rise from around $600,000 in 2012 to more than $700,000." That's a steep increase. And, McKinnon continues, it was "driven mainly by changes in investment-tax rates on the $2 million in dividends she received from her firm." Oh. Well. Sorry? "She was really shocked by the increase," her attorney said. "That one hit home." Which home? Not the Aspen one, I hope.

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It's in the fifth paragraph that McKinnon mentions the role of increased incomes. "The share of overall income for the top 1%, now at around 17%, according to the Tax Policy Center," he writes, "has roughly doubled since the early 1980s," according to the Congressional Budget Office. Contrast the Journal's graph of how taxes on the top 1 percent have increased (at left, below) with the change in income by group as plotted by the Economic Policy Institute (at right, purloined from The Atlantic's Derek Thompson).

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It is the case, as McKinnon notes, that taxes on the wealthiest Americans have gone up. Obamacare instituted new taxes, including on investment income. And there were also the "latest tax-rate increases, passed at the start of 2013," as McKinnon puts it, which close watchers of American politics might remember were a reversion to the tax rates paid by the wealthy before the Bush tax cuts.

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Interestingly, no one is complaining more about the taxes they pay than the rich. Gallup published a new survey on Monday showing that more than half of Americans feel as though their taxes are too high — but only barely. Forty-two percent of Americans think that they're paying about the right amount.

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There's a significant split along party lines — one that has emerged since January 20, 2009. "[T]he pattern has changed from prior to Barack Obama's presidency," Gallup writes, "when Americans across partisan groups felt similarly about whether their taxes were too high." In 2006, the percentage of Democrats and Republicans who thought their taxes were too high were equivalent. Now, Republicans and independents are both far more likely to say they're too high, at about 58 percent each.

But 61 percent of those making over $80,000 a year in income think taxes are too high. For those making between $30,000 and $80,000, a plurality think the level of taxes is about right.

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The data isn't broken down any further, and the sample sizes are probably too small to do so. But it's fair to assume that as those incomes increase — and as the taxes paid increase — opposition to the level of taxation goes up, too. Like anyone else, I would be mad if I suddenly had to pay an extra $100,000 in taxes. But I would gladly take the $2 million in income that prompted the increase. This complaint is a problem reserved for America's real lucky duckies.

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