In the back corners of my "to blog about" list, I finally found In Defense of "The Rich," by Larry Elder.  I'd originally bookmarked it because of the facts about charitable giving (see below); I'd remembered, from another source, George W. Bush's impressive record in this matter, but couldn't find it when I needed it in a debate with my brother.  This article gave the hard numbers for my hazy memory, but at that point it was but l’esprit de l’escalier, so I filed it under "sometime" know.

But sometime is now here, and I find that the article has several good points, and complements my previous post, Think You're Rich?  Or Poor?

A recent poll commissioned by Investor's Business Daily asked, in effect, "What share [of the tax burden] do you think the rich pay?"  Their findings? Most people are completely clueless about the amount the rich actually do pay.

The top 5 percent (those making more than $153,542) pay 60 percent of all federal income taxes. The rich (aka the top 1 percent of income earners, those making more than $388,806 a year) 40 percent of all federal income taxes. The top 1 percent's taxes comprise 17 percent of the federal government's revenue from all sources, including corporate taxes, excise taxes, social insurance and retirement receipts.

[Of those polled,] 36 percent thought the rich contribute 10 percent or less of all federal income taxes. Another 15 percent thought the rich pay between 10 and 20 percent, while another 10 percent thought the rich's share is between 20 and 30 percent. In other words, most people thought the rich pay less—far less—than they actually do. Only 12 percent of those polled thought the rich pay more than 40 percent.

A U.S. News & World Report blogger went to the Democratic National Convention in Denver and conducted an informal poll of 24 DNC delegates. He asked them, "What should 'the rich' pay in income taxes?" Half the respondents said "25 percent"; 25 percent said "20 percent"; 12 percent said "30 percent"; and another 12 percent said "35 percent." The average DNC delegate wanted the rich to pay 25.6 percent, which is lower than what the rich pay now.

Thirty percent of American voters pay nothing—zero, zip, nada—in federal income taxes.

And here's the above-mentioned charitable giving data.

  • In 2007, President George W. Bush and his wife had an adjusted gross income of $923,807...and donated $165,660 to charity—or 18 percent of their income.
  • Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, in 2007, had a taxable income of $3.04 million...and donated $166,547 to charity—or 5.5 percent of their income.
  • Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, earned between $200,000 and $300,000 a year between 2000 and 2004, and they donated less than 1 percent to charity. When their income soared to $4.2 million in 2007, their charitable contributions went up to 5 percent.
  • Joe and Jill Biden...made $319,853 and gave $995 to charity in 2007, or 0.3 percent of their income. And that was during the year Biden was running for president. Over the past 10 years, the Bidens earned $2,450,042 and gave $3,690 to charity—or 0.1 percent of their income.

Liberal families earn about 6 percent more than conservative families, yet conservative households donate about 30 percent more to charity than do liberal households. And conservatives give more than just to their own churches and other houses of worship. Conservatives, especially religious conservatives, give far more money and donate more of their time to nonreligious charitable causes than do liberals—especially secular liberals.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Edit
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Interesting, yet the fact that the rich pay 40% of Federal Income Taxes does not mean that they pay 40% of their income to Federal Income Tax. Hence the question "What should the rich pay in income taxes?" seems to me to be different from the statistics sighted. Or did I misunderstand something?

Posted by Janet on Friday, May 08, 2009 at 1:59 am

Good point. A lot depends on how the question was asked, and since it was an "informal poll," it's likely to have been somewhat ambiguous—even carefully-designed polls have that problem. The other survey makes it clear that most people think the rich pay much less than they really do, however. And even if the average DNC delegate was thinking the rich should pay a quarter of their income in Federal income taxes alone, the current rate of 22.79% isn't that far off. (And let's not forget state and local income taxes!)

Posted by SursumCorda on Friday, May 08, 2009 at 7:36 am

In one of those amusing moments, the Random Observations blog showed up again. I'm not sure what was going on, since there were apparently many other posts before the one this morning, but for whatever reason (a "vast, left-wing conspiracy" no doubt), none had appeared in either of my feedreaders, and trying to get to the blog directly resulted only in an error. But whatever the reason, I find it amusing that the first post to show up in several months, appearing shortly after I made the previous comment, was this one from yesterday, The Motivations of Those Demanding Higher Taxes.

Posted by SursumCorda on Friday, May 08, 2009 at 8:56 am

It's somewhat misleading to just talk about federal income tax. If you include all taxes, they are a lot flatter.

Do you think the difference between conservative and liberal giving is linked to the fact that liberals want the government to take care of the poor, while conservatives tend to think that's the job of charity, not government?

Posted by Peter V on Friday, May 08, 2009 at 10:42 am

Quite possibly. But what that says to me is that conservatives want to give of their own resources to care for the poor, while liberals want to care for the poor with other people's money. And the major problem with that—aside from the moral one of using other people's money to make yourself look generous—is that, while governments can introduce certain efficiencies of scale, I doubt they can be made to compensate for the inefficiencies and extra expense incurred by the additional layers of bureaucracy. Furthermore, government programs tend to lack a certain common sense, a problem that leads to (bad) unintended consequences, as during the War on Poverty when the aid setup encouraged the creation of single-parent households, first with husbands leaving the home in order for their families to qualify for aid, then with teenage girls getting pregnant in order to be able to move out from under their parents and be "independent" (with government support). Private charities seem better able to function without a one size fits all, amoral, non-judgemental approach. Finally, with private charity one can support programs that do not violate one's conscience, but tax-funded programs leave one helpless on that account, whether it's in funding an unjust war or in funding the abortion holocaust.

Posted by SursumCorda on Friday, May 08, 2009 at 11:14 am

I knew (basically) about the percentages how much different groups pay of tax, but I hadn't heard the statistics regarding how much people donate to charities.

The Obama numbers almost seem hard to believe, but maybe it is just the thing about "donating" other people's money.

At my last company, we had a number of conversations about what percentage of the tax should the rich pay. The "liberals" in the group thought that the number should be much higher - more like 75 to 90%, though they generally had the "problem" of defining the "rich" as people making more money than them.

Posted by Jon Daley on Friday, May 08, 2009 at 11:31 am

What if I'm not conservative or liberal? Can you generalize about me too please?

Also, the actual rich only pay capital gains taxes which are far lower than income taxes. 15% iirc.

Posted by Phil on Friday, May 08, 2009 at 11:56 am

Maybe I could, Phil, but I know better than to try. :)

I did not mean, by the way, to suggest the idea of a private army. National defense does seem like the prerogative of a national government, bloated and bureaucratic as it may unfortunately be.

[T]hey generally had the "problem" of defining the "rich" as people making more money than them." A common problem, related to the infamous NIMBY Syndrome. Who should pay more taxes? Everyone who makes more than I do, of course. The people who drive me crazy are those—Ted Kennedy comes to mind, and certain Hollywood stars, but there are many, many more—who want to take from those who are poorer than they are, and call it generosity, human kindness, and moral virtue on their part.

Posted by SursumCorda on Friday, May 08, 2009 at 1:32 pm

THe rich arent people who make more than $X. They are people who own more than $X.

BTW, i pray that someday you will realize that republican != christian. Note that Bush was just as in favor of stealing your $$ as Ted Kennedy to bailout the bankers. And is it any better to steal your money and hand it to bechtel and haliburton than it is to steal your money and hand it to poor drunkards?

Posted by Phil on Friday, May 08, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Phil, please don't put words in my mouth. I have never said, nor do I believe, that all Republicans are Christians, nor that all Christians are Republicans. I myself am Exhibit A. And George W. Bush may be both Republican and Christian, but he was and is not a fiscal conservative. I was applauding his personal charitable giving, not his economic decisions as president. And while it is true that the care of the poor is a Christian duty (and that of many religions, for that matter), it is not religion, but hypocrisy, that was the point.

Posted by SursumCorda on Friday, May 08, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Heh... Sure, I'll generalize about Phil. He wants to pay zero taxes, and doesn't think anyone should either. :)

I wonder where you got the idea that any of those people commenting or posting on this blog thought that republican == christian. Knowing the specific people, I'd suspect that none of them do.

Posted by Jon Daley on Saturday, May 09, 2009 at 11:21 am

The very fact that you SursumCorda posts about the differences between Bush and Obama suggests that she thinks there is any. IMO, the differences are only cosmetic.

Posted by Phil on Monday, May 11, 2009 at 12:27 pm
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