Tuesday, December 6, 2011
A recent report from the Congressional Budget Office says, "The share of income received by the top 1% grew from about 8% in 1979 to over 17% in 2007."
This news caused quite a stir, feeding the left's obsession with inequality. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, for example, said this "jaw-dropping report" shows "why the Occupy Wall Street protests have struck such a nerve." The New York Times opined that the study is "likely to have a major impact on the debate in Congress over the fairness of federal tax and spending policies."
But here's a question: Why did the report stop at 2007? The CBO didn't say, although its report briefly acknowledged—in a footnote—that "high income taxpayers had especially large declines in adjusted gross income between 2007 and 2009."
No kidding. Once these two years are brought into the picture, the share of after-tax income of the top 1% by my estimate fell to 11.3% in 2009 from the 17.3% that the CBO reported for 2007.
The larger truth is that recessions always destroy wealth and small business incomes at the top. Perhaps those who obsess over income shares should welcome stock market crashes and deep recessions because such calamities invariably reduce "inequality." Of course, the same recessions also increase poverty and unemployment.
The incomes that top earners report to the IRS have long been tightly linked to the ups and downs of capital gains. ...
In short, what the CBO presents as increased inequality from 2003 to 2007 was actually evidence that the top 1% of earners report more taxable income when tax rates are reduced on dividends, capital gains and businesses filing under the individual tax code.