To hear the right tell it, the United States is horribly overtaxed. But compared to other industrialized nations, our tax burden is among the lowest in the world. Citizens for Tax Justice looked at taxes collected as a percentage of GDP in the OECD countries and found exactly that.
Of the 34 OECD countries, the US ranks 32nd, with only Mexico and Chile having lower rates. And at 24.8% of GDP, we’re just barely over half the countries at the top (Denmark, Sweden, Belgium) and about 50% lower than the average. And yet we spend more on defense than those other 33 countries combined, and by a significant margin. That has long been our problem, of course; we want to be an empire but we don’t want to pay for it. Thus, we start wars that cost trillions of dollars while simultaneously cutting taxes, in effect writing a huge IOU to ourselves that we have to pay back with interest.
Also interesting are the trends. Since 1979, we have steadily slid down the list from the middle of the pack to one of the least-taxed countries. Also bear in mind that there has been a huge shift in where that tax burden is placed. In 1955, 27.3% of federal revenue came from corporate income taxes; today it’s 8.9%, with two-thirds of all corporations paying no income taxes at all and some of the largest and most profitable companies actually getting taxpayer money transferred to them rather than paying in. As a percentage of GDP, in 1955 corporate taxes were 4.3%; today they are 1.3%. Personal income taxes, on the other hand, have gone from 58% of federal revenue to 81.5%.
If we were to return corporate tax rates to where they should be, it would raise about half a trillion dollars a year (even now, when GDP is down; when the economy cranks up again, it would be even higher).