This month, Barack Obama gave a speech vowing to make curbing income and wealth inequality a top priority for the remainder of his time in office. He better get to work. As of 2011, he was headed in the opposite direction.
New data is out from the IRS, showing the share of federal income taxes paid by those in each economic strata. Bruce Bartlett points out that the richest Americans have seen their share of taxes declining rather significantly under Obama. Specifically, the richest 1% paid 37.5% of taxes in (recession-damaged) 2008; in 2011, their share was down to 35%. (Their share peaked in 2007, during the boom times—and the Bush administration.) The top 5% of earners also saw their share of taxes decline by a similar margin. So, under the first three years of the Obama administration, the very rich saw their share of taxes go down. This is the class warfare that Republicans are always complaining about.
This is happening, remember, during a time with a disparity between the rich and poor that has not been seen since the Gilded Age. This is not the legacy that Obama wants to leave. Two easy ways to address this worrisome trend are to cut or abolish the (highly regressive) payroll tax and to just go ahead and tax the hell out of absurdly high incomes. Also, tax investment income, which flows mostly to the rich, as what it is: income.
Obama says all the right things. In his speech, he said that this issue "drives everything I do in this office." Fine. I hope it shows up in the numbers next year.