Monday, January 12, 2009

reagan's real revolution...,

Our Future | Our current economic meltdown may finally have ended the era that began when Ronald Reagan became President. Now a new study — from the Congressional Budget Office — helps us understand the inequality that has us melting. Americans in the overall top 1 percent, the 2007 CBO data showed, did quite well in the Reagan era's first quarter-century. Their average incomes, after taking inflation into account, essentially tripled, rising 201 percent.

But these top 1 percent stats, the new CBO data help us understand, hardly tell the full story. The truly stunning income increases over recent decades have gone to the tippy-top of the U.S. income distribution, not the top 1 percent, but the top tenth — and top hundredth — of that top 1 percent.

The higher up you go on the income ladder, in other words, the sweeter the Reagan era.

Between 1979 and 2005, the bottom half of the top 1 percent saw their average incomes only double, after inflation. These incomes increased 105 percent. The next highest four-tenths of the top 1 percent somewhat raised the income bar. Their average incomes, after inflation, rose 161 percent.

That brings us to the top 0.1 percent of Americans. Their incomes, from 1979 to 2005, rose a staggering 294 percent after taking inflation into account. Not bad at all. But the top 0.01 percent did even better. The 11,000 households in this rarified air took home an average $35.5 million in 2005, a 384 percent increase over average top 0.01 percent incomes in 1979.

Need some perspective here? Let's compare Americans at the top to Americans in the middle. Between 1979 and 2005, the average income of America’s statistical middle class — the 20 percent of Americans in the exact middle of the U.S. income distribution — rose, according to the CBO figures, a mere 15 percent. That's less than 1 percent a year. [...]

And that brings us to about the only hopeful news we can take, of late, from the Congressional Budget Office. No one on Capitol Hill has spoken out more clearly on the noxious consequences of preferential treatment for capital gains income than Peter Orszag, the CBO director until last month.

Taxing capital gains at a lower rate than other forms of income, as Orszag has testified to Congress, “creates opportunities for tax avoidance and complicates the tax system.”

As CBO director, Orszag couldn’t do much about capital gains tax breaks for mega millionaires. Now he can. President-Elect Barack Obama last month named Orszag his choice to direct the Office of Management and Budget, the federal government’s most powerful fiscal agency.