The preferable treatment that investment income receives in the tax code is one of the factors driving the income inequality and galvanizing the Occupy Wall Street movement. Because the capital gains tax is capped at 15 percent, “anyone making more than $34,500 a year in wages and salary is taxed at a higher rate than a billionaire is taxed on untold millions in capital gains.”
The reason this low rate helps create an income divide is that capital gains are made almost exclusively by the wealthy. In fact, “over the past 20 years, more than 80 percent of the capital gains income realized in the United States has gone to 5 percent of the people.” And the concentration is actually far greater than that, as half of all capital gains are made by the richest 0.1 percent of Americans:
Income and wealth disparities become even more absurd if we look at the top 0.1% of the nation’s earners– rather than the more common 1%. The top 0.1%– about 315,000 individuals out of 315 million– are making about half of all capital gains on the sale of shares or property after 1 year; and these capital gains make up 60% of the income made by the Forbes 400.
It’s crystal clear that the Bush tax reduction on capital gains and dividend income in 2003 was the cutting edge policy that has created the immense increase in net worth of corporate executives, Wall St. professionals and other entrepreneurs.
This is why the various Republican plans floated to reduce or eliminate the capital gains tax are folly. Doing so only benefits the very wealthy, who have already been the main beneficiaries of the tax cuts package enacted by the Bush administration. Remember, it was President Reagan — the patron saint of today’s conservatives — who completely equalized the tax treatment of capital gains and wages, taxing them at the same exact rate. Since then, the capital gains tax has been steadily eroded, as the richest Americans have steadily increased the gap between themselves and the rest of the country.
Pat Garofalo is Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.
Posted November 24, 2011 at 8:00 am, in Allied Approaches