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Member since: 2001
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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.

From 2005:

Little Red State Fundy sez...

Whatever will we tell the children?

One day we will have to explain to the children what happened when Thurston Howell III lost his right mind and decided that for the sake of some tax cuts to make him incrementally more comfortable, his very bestest buddies in the whole, wide world were the Ultra Right Wing Gorgons down in Jesusland.

May I suggest the following?

The Story of Little Red State Fundy

Little Red State Fundy found a grain of hate.

"Who will help me plant the hate?" she asked.

"Not I," said the Moderate Republicans.

"Not I," said the Undecideds.

"Not I," said the Libertarians.

"Then I will," said Little Red State Fundy.

So she buried the hate in the bloody ground of the Old Confederacy. After a while it grew up paranoid and ignorant and violent.

"The hate is ripe now," said Little Red State Fundy. "Who will do the mass mailings and preach bigotry from the Pulpit?"

"Not I," said the Moderate Republicans.

"Not I," said the Undecideds.

"Not I," said the Libertarians.

"Then I will," said Little Red State Fundy.

So she licked envelopes until her bill was cracked and dry and stood up into the House of God and crowed to her flocks in their millions that God Loved Them for hating and killing creatures who were not like them.

Then she asked, "Who will help me focus this hatred politically?"

"Not I," said the Moderate Republicans.

"Not I," said the Undecideds.

"Not I," said the Libertarians.

"Then I will," said Little Red State Fundy.

So she made databases and phone banks, and walked door-to-door with petitions that talked of Gods Great Hatred of Gays, and Gods Great Hatred of Judges that did not worship the Hate God in exactly the way the Little Red State Fundy told them to.

Then she carried the hate to steps of the Congress and the White House.

"Who will make a mandate from this hate?" she asked.

"Not I," said the Moderate Republicans.

"Not I," said the Undecideds.

"Not I," said the Libertarians.

"Then I will," said Little Red State Fundy.

So she got on the phone with her very good friend Karl Rove and with his help organized carpools to the polls, and get-out-the-vote drives, anti-gay marriage amendments and smear campaigns. For Jesus.

And Little Red State Fundy delivered the margin of victory and was featured in many, many magazines: without Little Red State Fundy, the Republican Party could never, ever, ever win anything.

And now everybody knew it.

Then she said, "Now who shall help me Rule the Earth."

"We will!" said Moderate Republicans, Undecideds, and Libertarians.

"I am quite sure you would," said Little Red State Fundy, "but see, now you are all my bitches."

Then she called Randall Terry and Tom DeLay and Ann Coulter and Jerry Falwell and Rush Limbaugh and James Dobson, and they and the rest of the Shining Path Republicans used what was left of the Constitution as ass-floss.
And judges were terrorized into silence.
And those deemed ungodly were beaten in the streets.
And they invaded whoever the fuck they felt like, for whatever fucking reason they chose.
And the very idea of a Free and Fair press died.

And to people who had been very clear all along that they genuinely believed in a Theocratic Nanny State and thought that precipitating Armageddon and triggering the Second Coming should be the highest calling of any worldly government, were handed over the police, courts, government, treasury and nuclear weapons stockpiles of the United States of America.

And in the end -- just as they had been warned for the past twenty years -- there was nothing whatsoever left at all for Moderate Republicans, Undecideds, and Libertarians.
Posted 24th April 2005 by driftglass
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