Reading Ross Douthat’s (terrible) column this morning, I really only have three thoughts:
1) Someone should tell him to shy away from writing policy columns; not only is he not very good at them, but he has this very strange aversion to, you know, facts.
2) On that note, if Douthat had taken a little bit of time to research, he would have quickly found that despite having a progressive federal income tax, the average tax rate for the richest 400 Americans is 17.2 percent. What’s more, the effective tax rate for the richest 1 percent of Americans is about 31 percent, which is quite low in historical terms. Contra Douthat then, the tax code isn’t even really that progressive on the margins, in a variety of ways, it offers a whole host of breaks and deductions for the wealthiest Americans, at the expense of services for everyone else.
3) I find it very strange that Douthat would write an entire column criticizing Democrats for having yet to deliver on promises to reduce income inequality without once mentioning that said inequality has been stoked by conservative enthusiasm for massive tax cuts/giveaways for wealthy Americans. Or, to put it more succinctly, hidebound teachers unions and illegal immigration certainly doesn’t help us tackle the root causes of inequality, but it’s extremely disingenuous for Douthat to argue that the tax code is basically irrelevant to this discussion. It’s not. The incomes of high earners rose dramatically in large part because we stopped taxing them. So again, pace Douthat, the single best thing we can do to reduce income inequality – in the short-term at least – is to simply tax the rich more, either by raising marginal tax rates, reinstating the tax on capital gains, or – better yet – instituting a continuous marginal tax (which I discussed briefly here).
4) And finally, I wonder how Douthat explains away northern Europe’s high economic growth rates and robust welfare state?