Tax Myths

On 60 minutes, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently said “people are going to have to start paying their fair share in taxes.”

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Anderson Cooper then asked her what a “fair share” would be.

Ocasio-Cortez responded that in the past, “Sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60-70%.”

Soon, that became the progressive plan.

But John Stossel interviews economic historian Phil Magness, of the American Institute for Economic Research, who says that progressives miss an important fact: high tax rates that America had in the past actually didn’t bring in much revenue.

When rates were at 70%, Magness tells Stossel, “a millionaire on average would pay 41%.”

That’s because rich people find loopholes. When America had its highest top tax rates, newspapers ran ads like “cruise for free … $2499 value.”

Magness explains: “Basically [you could] take a vacation around the Caribbean, but while you’re onboard the ship, you attend, say, an investing seminar or a real estate seminar — then write off the [whole] trip.”

Stossel says that deductions became so complex that rich people, instead of inventing, say a precursor to the iPhone, hired accountants and tax lawyers to study the tax code. Some also worked less.

This led President Reagan, with bipartisan support from Democrats, to lower rates and remove deductions. That began the path to the 37% top rate that rates that we have today.

Despite the lower rates, federal government revenue — as a percentage of the economy — is still about the same as it was when the top rate was 70%. It’s even about the same as it was when the rate was 90%.

Progressives still say, “raise taxes on the rich.” Stossel asks Magness about the claim that: “the government will collect more, and do good things.”

“You’re asking for an economic disaster,” Magness replies. More money will be wasted in the hands of government. “Do we leave it in the private sector where the market decides? Or do we subject it to corrupt politicians?”

Stossel says: let the market decide, even though that means some get really rich, because economic growth benefits everyone.

John Stossel

Libertarian journalist John Stossel is a zealous advocate of free markets, a syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor. Prior to joining Fox, John co-anchored ABC’s primetime newsmagazine show, 20/20. Stossel’s economic programs have been adapted into teaching kits by a non-profit organization, "Stossel in the Classroom." High school teachers in American public schools now use the videos to help educate their students on economics and economic freedom. They are seen by more than 12 million students every year.