Obama’s Tax Increase Has Reduced Income Inequality


Max Ehrenfreund passes along the latest from the Congressional Budget Office today:

Here’s proof President Obama really did reduce inequality

Income inequality declined abruptly in 2013 after President Obama and Congress negotiated an increase in taxes on the wealthiest Americans, according to new federal data. The legislative changes resulted in the most onerous federal tax system for the rich in almost 20 years. As a result, 2013 was an unusual year for the economy, one of only a handful of years in recent decades in which inequality has decreased, outside recessions.

The CBO report is here. The reduction in inequality from the tax change is the blip at the very end of the chart:

I’d take a couple of lessons from this. First: yes, taxes can affect inequality. CBO estimates that the reduction in GINI attributable to federal taxes got bigger (i.e., more negative) after the Clinton tax increase; got smaller after the Bush tax cuts; and got bigger again after the Obama tax increase. Second: these effects usually seem to wash out after a few years, reverting to the mean. Third: taxes matter, but not nearly as much as spending. Inequality reductions from government spending (Social Security, SNAP, Medicaid, etc.) are more than double those from taxes.

If you want to increase taxes on zillionaires, I’m with you. But if you really want to make a dent in inequality, you should also be eager to raise taxes across the board and then spend the money on things like pre-K, health care, and so forth. That’s probably where you’ll get the biggest bang for the buck.

Finally, for your enjoyment, here’s a chart of increasing GINI (i.e., increasing income inequality) in the United States since 1967 as measured four different ways. There’s really no good reason to include it here. However, I thought I had a point to make before realizing, after I’d finished, that I didn’t.1 There’s no good reason to waste a perfectly good chart, though, so here it is.

1This pretty much describes my entire morning, by the way.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.