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Noah Smith

The Case for Higher Taxes at the Very Top

The wealthiest 400 Americans have the lowest rates.

How much is enough?

How much is enough?

Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg


The New York Times recently released a dramatic infographic showing how much less progressive U.S. tax system have become since 1950. When the animation starts, most taxpayers are paying about 20% of their income in taxes, but the top 1% is paying almost 30%, while the country’s 400 highest earners are paying 70%. During the next 68 years, most brackets see their tax rate rise, while the richest 400 see their rate fall relentlessly. When the animation finishes, the top 400 individuals are paying just over 20% – lower than any other bracket.

These numbers are astounding, and they suggest that higher tax rates on the country’s wealthiest individuals are in order. But first, it’s important to understand what it does and doesn’t show.