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A Time When Government Never Shut Down

Research & Commentary
April 11, 2011


Did America’s rich 50 years ago live on a different planet? Or reside in some parallel universe?

Taxing today’s rich could, of course, help fill these budget shortfalls and avoid these program cutbacks. But if we do that, our political leaders solemnly warn us, business will lose confidence, our rich will flee, and the economy will crumble.

These warnings strike a good many 21st-century Americans as eminently plausible. Yet a half century ago, in 1961, the implausible — at least by today’s conventional wisdom — ruled supreme.

In 1961, the Institute for Policy Studies notes in its newly released annual Tax Day report, Americans who made over $1 million — in our current dollars — paid 43.1 percent of their incomes to the IRS, almost twice as much as taxpayers who make over $1 million pay in taxes today. And the sky didn’t fall!

In fact, America’s economy did just fine. In 1961, the United States had come halfway through a 25-year span that saw the real incomes of average Americans double. We were enjoying a middle class golden age. America’s awesomely affluent, a half century ago, paid nearly twice as much of their incomes in federal income taxes as they do now.

And the rich? They stayed put in 1961 and paid their taxes, and those tax dollars helped lay the foundation for a generation of economic progress.

We only have two possible explanations for this remarkable 1961: Either the rich 50 years ago lived in some parallel universe United States where the normal rules of physics — and politics — do not apply or the conventional wisdom our pundits and pols today take for granted has no mooring whatsoever in reality.

Put your money on the latter. And share this new Institute for Policy Studies report, Unnecessary Austerity, Unnecessary Shutdown, with anyone you know who still has faith in we-can’t-tax-the-rich fiction.

We once did tax America’s rich, the IPS report’s authors make plain, and we thrived, as a nation, amid that taxation.

Maybe, just maybe, we should try that taxation again. Unnecessary Austerity, Unnecessary Shutdown shows us how — by detailing eight tax changes that could undo the preferential tax treatment the rich and Corporate America currently receive and “move our economy to a more equitable and sustainable footing.”

These details make for mighty good reading. On any planet.

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