from Kevin Williamson at National Review, The U.S. Is Not the Highest-Taxed Nation in the World

The problem for the Left is that Democrats cannot, under most circumstances, tell the truth about U.S. taxes, either, because the American middle class does not want to hear that it isn’t paying enough in taxes to fund the benefits it wants. The Left insists that something, somewhere — somebody rich, preferably in a Republican-voting state — is getting over on us, that the rich are not paying “their fair share.” It is true that the highest-income Americans do make a great deal more money than do the poor and the middle class — that’s what it means to be high-income — but they already pay an even more disproportionate share of the taxes. The top 20 percent takes in about 55 percent of all income but pays about 70 percent of all federal taxes as Curtis Dubay, formerly of the Heritage Foundation, runs the numbers. Other analysts have come to similar conclusions. That’s what you’d expect: We have a progressive tax code, after all.

Country-to-country comparisons tend to be exercises in cherry-picking. Switzerland is generally considered one of the best-administered countries in the world, and its taxes and public spending are a bit higher than in the United States, though lower than in much of Europe. The Swiss pay higher income taxes, but pay very low business and investment taxes, and essentially no capital-gains tax. (There are local taxes on profits from real-estate sales in some parts of the country.) It also has high wages but no national minimum wage, very free trade, and very light regulation in most respects. On the other hand, most workers are covered by some sort of collective-bargaining agreement. There’s a lot more to economic policy than tax rates as such. Northern European welfare states may have tax rates that look confiscatory from the American point of view, but some of them have much more free economies in other respects. On the Heritage “economic freedom” index, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Ireland, Canada, and the United Kingdom all rank higher than does the United States.


Trying to compare tax systems, like comparing health care systems, isolates a single policy from its economic and political ecosystem. This includes the history that brought it there, its culture, its relative size, and the availability of other options. To think that a system that we believe is successful can be transplanted from a homogeneous small country to a giant federation of 50 states with widely differing dynamics is as politically naive as it is economically ignorant.