CBO on Income and Tax Distribution

July 12, 2012

The Washington establishment loves talking about the “distribution” of income and taxes. The CBO has issued a new report on the topic that will no doubt keep the discussion rolling on.

The mindset of many people in government is encapsulated by this sentence in the CBO report: “Market income is very unevenly distributed.” But anyone with a decent appreciation of America’s economy knows that market income is in fact earned in a decentralized fashion by 140 million people and 25 million businesses spread across this vast land. It is not ”distributed” from a big vault in the capital by central-planning czars with a god-given preemptive right to decide how much everyone gets.

Yes, the huge subsidies that the federal government hands out each year are “distributed.” But CBO statisticians seem to be so used to thinking about the entire economy as a giant government-created pie that they say market income is also distributed.

That said, the CBO report has some interesting statistics to consider. Most important are calculations of average federal tax rates, which are total federal taxes paid as a share of income. The chart shows average tax rates by quintiles, which each contain one fifth of U.S. households grouped by income level. The households at the top are hit with the largest burdens by far. Elsewhere, I’ve discussed who some of these high-earning households are and the damage done by nailing them with such high taxes. (For example, see here and here).

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