Interview With Conservative Economist Bruce Bartlett.
BILL MOYERS: You've made the point that America's top earning one percent had an effective 33.1 percent federal income tax rate in 1986, and an effective rate of only 23.3 percent in 2008. And you say if the top one percent had kept paying at the 1986 effective rate, quote, "the federal debt today would be $1.7 trillion lower." That's a lot of money.
BRUCE BARTLETT: Well, that's right. And when I say effective rate that means the taxes that they paid divided by their income. So that tells you what the revenue is that the government gets from taxing them. And clearly, they were doing okay at the beginning of that period.
And that was Ronald Reagan's administration. Up until 1986, the top marginal rate, the top statutory rate was 50 percent. Now it's 35 percent. And all the pressure is on to lower that even further. And this just doesn't make a great deal of sense to me. When people say, 'Oh, we can't raise taxes on the rich. They'll go on strike, they'll move to another country.' But within recent memory, it hasn't been that long ago that we had rates that were substantially higher. And these people did just fine.
BILL MOYERS: Well, when I was growing up in the '50s the top marginal tax rate, if I remember correctly, was 91 percent.
BRUCE BARTLETT: That's right. And I just think that there's a disconnect between the facts of what taxes do and the sort of mythology of what they do.