In the early 1920s the highest tax rate was 73%. In 1921 President Harding appointed Andrew Mellon to be Secretary of the Treasury. Over the next eight years he reduced the top rate to 24%. The result, federal revenue increased from $700 million to over $1 billion. Every year that decade the federal government ran a surplus, hard to believe I know. Unemployment and inflation were at record lows.
It may seem counter-intuitive that lowering tax rates would increase revenue but it is actually easy to understand. In general, people do not like paying taxes. They will often go out of their way to avoid paying taxes by exploiting any loopholes in tax codes, decreasing any activity that is taxed, consuming less of any commodity, or just plain cheating. If tax rates are relatively low, it is not worth the trouble and people go ahead and pay their taxes. If tax rates are relatively high, then people start putting their money in tax shelters.In other words, people don’t just sit still and allow themselves to be taxed. They take action to limit their tax burden as much as possible.
The reason I mention all of this is that there seems to be a movement among the Democrats to raise taxes in order to lower the deficit. They believe that the reason that we are in the fiscal mess we are in is because people, especially the greedy rich, just do not pay enough in taxes. The problem is that raising taxes simply will not produce the bonanza of increased revenue that they expect. Raise taxes on the wealthy and they will send their money abroad, or not invest, or do what it takes to pay as little as they can. I know I am being repetitive, but I cannot seem to pound that concept into Progressives’ heads.
In any event, revenue to the federal government as a percentage of GDP seems to hover at about 19%, regardless of tax rates as shown here and here. And check out this chart here. The US has the honor of having the second highest corporate tax rate in the developed world, 13% higher than the OECD average. This is not exactly helping our recovery.