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Response to roamer65 (Original post)

Fri Apr 2, 2021, 06:00 PM

11. We do need more brackets that stretch higher up the income scale, though the details...

...should be open for debate. The main goal is reversing what the 80s ushered in, that the highest virtue was shooting money skyward -- as much as possible, as fast as possible, as high as possible. Even with all the loopholes that let the well-off and wealthy avoid paying the top rates, the old high-level brackets put a damper in that upward geyser (and many of the loopholes still helped push money outward rather than upward). It was the 80s tax cuts and other policies that removed that damper and eliminated drawbacks to grabbing for every last dollar.

Back during the centennial of the Income Tax in 2013, the Tax Foundation put out a spreadsheet of historical tax rates (in both original and inflation-adjusted terms). Since "Is $250K/year 'rich'?" was still making the rounds in tax discussions (or blather, from some sources) and I know things had been very different pre-Reagan, I crunched some numbers and wound up focusing on the number and spread of brackets rather than the rates themselves.

For instance, here's the distribution of brackets from 1942 to 2013 (using 'married couple filing jointly' inflation-adjusted data):



I used 1942 as a start because in inflation-adjusted numbers spiked so far upward before then (and even more just before the Roosevelt administration but quickly came back to a less-astronomical top bracket boundary) that I would have needed to build a "skip" in the graph, and my Excel skills weren't up to that.

The compression of rates as you move forward in time is how inflation shows up in the inflation-adjusted numbers, and you can see when various tax reform efforts changed things. It wasn't until the mid-80s that tax brackets indexed to inflation and stayed relatively steady across years.

But look how far up the income spectrum those past brackets ran. To pick one year, "good old 1955" as the movie said, there were 24 brackets. Adjusted for inflation, 16 of them affected taxable income over $250K. Two thirds of all the brackets. 11 of those affected income over the equivalent of $500K. About 45% of the brackets. The top rate (91% that year) kicked in for taxable income over the equivalent of about $3.3 million.

Here's the yearly breakdown for total brackets vs number affecting inflation-adjusted income over $250K and $500K:


The reason I think raising awareness of these bracket spreads rather than the raw rates is because how it changes the framing and terms of the debate. Instead of going hammer and tongs over particular thresholds like $250K or $400K, it points up that there is a lot more room to maneuver. Historical bracket levels were wiped out in the 80s and have never returned. They should, even if the actual rates are open to debate.

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Arrow 18 replies Author Time Post
roamer65 Apr 2 OP
Karadeniz Apr 2 #1
JHB Apr 2 #2
Dr. Shepper Apr 2 #3
roamer65 Apr 2 #4
Dave in VA Apr 2 #5
Scrivener7 Apr 2 #6
roamer65 Apr 2 #14
doc03 Apr 2 #7
JustAnotherGen Apr 2 #8
kelly1mm Apr 2 #9
WarGamer Apr 2 #10
roamer65 Apr 2 #13
WarGamer Apr 2 #16
roamer65 Apr 3 #17
LineNew Reply We do need more brackets that stretch higher up the income scale, though the details...
JHB Apr 2 #11
roamer65 Apr 2 #12
tinrobot Apr 2 #15
roamer65 Apr 3 #18
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