Creative Destruction

April 2, 2006

Top Marginal Tax Rates

Filed under: Politics — Brutus @ 7:57 pm

Bazzer's comment on top marginal tax rates has me bugged. His insistence that he has his numbers right misses the point of the argument. Plus, it reinforces my belief that numbers often do not show the truth behind an assertion. This link has a table showing the top marginal tax rates from 1913 to 2003. It provides as comprehensive a view of the top marginal tax rate as we can get. My initial remark compared the 1960s to today. Bazzer chose 1988 (or 1989 or 1990) as his point of comparison.

By framing his comparison in terms of numbers most advantageous to his argument, Bazzer gets to tell only the part of the story that benefits his perspective. Plus, Bazzer selected one of most progressive of taxes — the marginal tax rate — as his model for tax fairness rather than the effective tax rate. He showed us what he wanted us to see. In some circles, that is called lying with numbers, and it is disingenuous.

Why choose the 1960s? Because it is a useful comparison to the time of many of our parents following the postwar economic expansion. If I had instead chosen the 1950s, the numbers would be even more heavily in support of my contention. For the 1970s, the rates were about the same as the 1960s. Bazzer's choice of the late 1980s is an aberration when viewed over the past 50 years. Rates had not been that low since the Depression.

Eventually, I will give up on arguments relating to specific data on taxes. The data is too elusive to demonstrate very much when it can be given too narrow a frame. And besides, I think it is a poor measure for how folks are doing economically.



  1. Dude! I chose 1989 as a reference point because we were discussing the income tax structure after Ronald Reagan’s presidency! Remember? That’s how this whole thing began. I did not choose that time frame to strengthen my argument, or to stack a deck. In fact, I didn’t even make an argument other than the fact that tax rates have trended upwards since Reagan left office. That’s all I ever claimed, Brutus. And that’s why I chose to compare 1989’s tax rates with today’s. That’s it. There’s no broader argument than that. Sheesh.

    Comment by bazzer — April 2, 2006 @ 9:12 pm | Reply

  2. I responded to this more at length here, but I will say this:

    I’m glad that you linked to that website; it has a lot of useful information.

    For instance, the real big downturn which came after the 70’s–look at long term trends in standard of living for the thirty years that follow that, and you will have found yet another bit of evidence in favor of flatter taxes.

    Well, one economist certainly seems to think that standard of living improved at an unprecedented rate in that thirty year period.

    Comment by Adam Gurri — April 2, 2006 @ 9:52 pm | Reply

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