Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Tax Rates of the 50s and 60s

You can't throw a stick without hitting someone saying that everything would be fine if only we would go back to the tax rates of the 1950s and 1960s.  Normally, when this point is made, it is in a discussion about income tax rates and how low they are.  I have often been perplexed by this perspective since I have always thought that total tax receipts were lower during that period.  So I took a look.

The top graph shows personal tax receipts as a percentage of GDP by decade historically from the OMB historical tables and the bottom graph shows the current CBO forecast of personal tax receipts from 2013 to 2023 (post the changes in the ATRA).

Two conclusions make themselves pretty immediately evident.  First, the personal tax receipts were lower in the 1950s and 1960s than they were in any subsequent decade despite the higher marginal tax rates that were in place during that time.  Second, projected tax receipts under the ATRA quickly outpace the average of any decade during the entire postwar history of the country.  So while one can always argue that personal tax rates should be even higher, it is very difficult to argue that based on a "getting back to the successful economy of the 50s and 60s" framing.

The next part of this debate is to deal with the distributional question, namely that personal taxes on "the rich" were a lot higher in the 50s and 60s.  This is also not true but more on that in the next post.

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