TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, October 31, 2008

Freakonomics: Why Do Americans Whine So Much About Taxes?

Freakonomics asks:  Why Is Everyone Whining About Taxes?:

We are a low-tax country; our average tax rate, counting all taxes, hovers above 30%. Why do we hear so many more complaints about high taxes than I hear in the European Union, where taxes are a much higher percentage of G.D.P.? ...

Joe the plumber pays far lower taxes than Josef or José the European plumber does, so why should Joe’s fellow citizens have any sympathy for him? One economic answer to this question is that we all expect to become rich and don’t want to have very high taxes on our expected large incomes. Yet today, income mobility is no greater in the U.S. than in Europe, so our expectations do not seem rational. What’s the answer? Are we more selfish than Europeans? Are our governments less efficient?

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This is an easy one...American's don't like being told what to do and that goes with their money too. Greedy? My a**, we are the most generous bunch of "greedy" contributors to charity on the face of the earth. In Europe they measure generosity by how much their stinkin' government gives away...I, like most American's, prefer to give to those "I" think are most deserving, not what my government thinks is most deserving. Face it, my government thinks ACORN, a pro-Obama non-profit org, is deserving of my money and I think it's BS. I want my *amn tax dollar back that the US Govt took from my family and gave to these bastards.

Posted by: Stevo | Oct 31, 2008 8:52:58 AM

I don't care what they do in Europe, and I don't care what they pay in Europe for taxes or gas or anything. What I care about is what we do in America and what is best for us. One has nothing to do with other.

If NYT subscribers want to pay more taxes, then they can add them as voluntary contributions onto the bottom of page two of the 1040. Just don't try to force me to pay for their programs and don't expect me to accept them because some socialist jerks in Europe have already done that.

Also, don't expect me to buy into income redistributions. Unlike some voters, I don't want someone else's money that I haven't earned myself, just because the goverment can force them to hand it over at the point of a gun.

Give me as little government as possible, as few business mandates as possible, and keep the costs down as much as possible. I appreciate my individuality and the freedoms to earn what I can without it being stolen.

Posted by: Woody | Oct 31, 2008 11:53:01 AM

Oh, to answer the question, "Why Do Americans Whine So Much About Taxes?," maybe part of the answer is the same as "Why do dogs lick themselves?"--because they can.

Posted by: Woody | Oct 31, 2008 11:55:53 AM

"only 30%".... are you kidding me.

The government takes about - on average - a third of people's earnings and you somehow think this is reasonable??? A third. For every $3 I make, the government takes $1. You have been in academia way too long.

By the way, just because European tax rates are higher does not prove that American tax rates are either low or reasonable. Yes, maybe we do not "have it as bad", but that doesn't mean we have to like it.

Of course, your 30% number only reflects income taxes. What happens to the percentage of a person's income when you reflect (a) payroll taxes, (b)capital gains taxes, (c) real property taxes, (d) sales taxes, etc.

The number climbs much higher.

Posted by: Mark Green | Oct 31, 2008 2:07:18 PM

Why the hell are we so worried about what the Europeans are doing? This country set out on a path different from Europe's, of which society privately quell its ills, as opposed to having the government do it (or at least it used to be one of our principals).

So we bury our heads in the sand to the fact that Europeans do complain about taxes and that they've been moving in a more capitalist centric direction as of late. But lets continue to adopt policies that have kept them less competitive in the global market, we should be able to let them catch up soon.

Posted by: MJ | Oct 31, 2008 5:56:35 PM

I am speculating that one reason Americans complain about taxes so often is to let our current lawmakers know that a rise in taxes will not benefit them in getting reelected. Perhaps we feel it is better to object before the decision is made rather than suffer the repercussions after the fact(sounds similar to what we have based our legal system upon).

Posted by: Andrea | Nov 1, 2008 10:57:19 PM

With a parent who is an Irish & UK citizen, a brother-in-law who is a German, an aunt who is French, Spanish friends and Swiss uncles, it has been my experience that these nationalities (except the Swiss) complain much more about taxes than Americans do. And most of these people are teachers, secretaries, etc. The premise of the question is ridiculous and fatally flawed.

Posted by: T | Nov 2, 2008 9:08:56 AM

Why do Americans complain so much about taxes? Because the Republicans complained so much about it.

Why so vehemently anti-European? If a European were to point out that you are stepping into a pile of defecation, will you say, I don't want to hear you because you're European, and step into it?

Posted by: Catherine Tan | Nov 6, 2008 4:59:03 PM