News To Obama: The OECD Says the United States Has the Most Progressive Tax System

 
 
October 29, 2008

Barack Obama's admission that his policies would "spread the wealth around" has ignited a nationwide discussion of how progressive the tax system should be and how it should be used to redistribute income among Americans.  Obama has been very successful in bolstering the conventional wisdom that the U.S. tax system does not place a significant enough burden on wealthier households and places too much of a burden on the "middle class."

But a new study on inequality by researchers at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris reveals that when it comes to household taxes (income taxes and employee social security contributions) the U.S. "has the most progressive tax system and collects the largest share of taxes from the richest 10% of the population." As Column 1 in the table below shows, the U.S. tax system is far more progressive—meaning pro-poor—than similar systems in countries most Americans identify with high taxes, such as France and Sweden.

Even after accounting for the fact that the top 10 percent of households in the U.S. have one of the highest shares of market income among OECD nations, our tax system is second only to Ireland in terms of its progressivity for households.

The table also shows that the U.S. collects more household tax revenue from the top 10 percent of households than any other country and extracts the most from that income group relative to their share of the nation's income.

Of course, these measures do not include the litany of other taxes households pay in each country, such as Value Added Taxes, corporate income taxes and excise taxes, but they do give a good indication that our system places a heavier tax burden on high-income households than other industrialized countries.

The study also shows that while most countries rely more on cash transfers than taxes to redistribute income, the U.S. stands out as "achieving greater redistribution through the tax system than through cash transfers."[1]

Overall, the study finds that income transfer systems (social insurance, welfare) are "significantly more efficient than tax systems at reducing inequality, as well as more effective..."

Obama has started an important debate for America, but it is too bad he did so with less than one week before the presidential election.

Table 4.5. Alternative measures of progressivity of taxes in selected OECD countries, mid-2000s

             
 

Concentration of household taxes and market income

Percentage share of richest decile

 

1. Concentration coefficient for household taxes

2. Gini coefficient of market income

3. Ratio of concentration coefficients (1/2)

1. Share of taxes of richest decile

2. Share of market income of richest decile

3. Ratio of shares for richest decile (1/2)

United States

0.59

0.46

1.28

45.1

33.5

1.35

Ireland

0.57

0.42

1.37

39.1

30.9

1.26

Italy

0.55

0.56

0.98

42.2

35.8

1.18

Australia

0.53

0.46

1.16

36.8

28.6

1.29

United Kingdom

0.53

0.46

1.16

38.6

32.3

1.20

New Zealand

0.50

0.47

1.05

35.9

30.3

1.19

Canada

0.49

0.44

1.13

35.8

29.3

1.22

Netherlands

0.47

0.42

1.11

35.2

27.5

1.28

Czech Republic

0.47

0.47

0.99

34.3

29.4

1.17

Germany

0.47

0.51

0.92

31.2

29.2

1.07

OECD-24

0.43

0.45

0.96

31.6

28.4

1.11

Finland

0.43

0.39

1.11

32.3

26.9

1.20

Slovak Republic

0.42

0.46

0.92

32.0

28.0

1.14

Luxembourg

0.42

0.45

0.92

30.3

26.4

1.15

Belgium

0.40

0.49

0.80

25.4

27.1

0.94

Austria

0.38

0.43

0.88

28.5

26.1

1.10

Korea

0.38

0.34

1.12

27.4

23.4

1.17

Poland

0.38

0.57

0.67

28.3

33.9

0.84

Japan

0.38

0.44

0.85

28.5

28.1

1.01

Norway

0.38

0.43

0.87

27.4

28.9

0.95

France

0.37

0.48

0.77

28.0

25.5

1.10

Denmark

0.35

0.42

0.84

26.2

25.7

1.02

Sweden

0.34

0.43

0.78

26.7

26.6

1.00

Iceland

0.27

0.37

0.72

21.6

24.0

0.90

Switzerland

0.22

0.35

0.63

20.9

23.5

0.89

             
             

Source: Computations based on OECD income distribution questionnaire.

   

http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/422013187855

1. The concentration coefficient is computed in the same way as the Gini coefficient of household income, so that a value of zero means that all income groups receive an equal share of household transfers or pay an equal share of taxes. However, individuals are ranked by their equivalised household disposable incomes.

[1] "Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries," Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2008. p. 112.

Buy this blogger a cup of coffee!

Sizes

Follow Us

About the Tax Policy Blog

Subscribe to Tax Foundation - Tax Foundation's Tax Policy Blog The Tax Policy Blog is the official weblog of the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit research organization that has monitored tax policy at the federal, state and local levels since 1937. Our economists welcome your feedback. If you would like to send an e-mail to the author of a blog post, please click on that person's name to locate his or her e-mail address or visit our staff page here.

Monthly Archive

Privacy Policy