Of taxing tea parties and simple prose


Americans pay far too much in taxes, to hear today’s protesters tell it, and the “Tea Party” rallies against the tax code being held across the U.S. show how simple messaging can resonate. Simple, but perhaps not accurate. The table above shows the history of highest marginal tax rates in the U.S., which peaked at 94% in 1945, fell to 70% under Nixon, 50% under Reagan, 39.6% under Clinton, and 35% under Bush. President Obama has hinted he would return tax rates to the Clinton-era level, a movement that many on the right now call socialism but by historical standards is still a bully good deal.

This isn’t to say who is right or wrong; we’d love to pay zero in taxes ourselves, if only schools and fire departments and highways could be built out of rain from the sky. The Tea Party concept is brilliant because it simplifies the message, evokes America’s history, and makes protesting sound like a bit of fun. If you want to build a movement, don’t talk details or history — instead, create a catchy name. Don’t miss Rick Santelli’s original CNBC tea-party rant that started it all.

3 thoughts on “Of taxing tea parties and simple prose

  1. So in your simple and cynical prose you call tea baggers simple, stupid, insincere protestors.

    Without prose I want you to know you are wrong. Tea bagging is not about not paying taxes. It is about paying taxes for the right things and the right reasons.

    We have enough cynics. Where is your sincerity in this matter?

  2. The flaw in Tea Party 2.0 is that the original worked against, um, another country’s unfair rule and taxation, not against our own established government. Since 1773, we ratified a little thing called the Constitution and even have things called laws to deal with stuff we don’t like. (Elections too if we don’t like the policies or the lawmakers behind them.)

  3. Todd, thanks for your comment.

    The intent of this post was to show that building momentum in a public forum is often more about creating a powerful theme than about informational accuracy. As the historical data clearly shows, today’s taxes in the highest brackets are a bargain. Are they right? Should they be lower? That’s a matter for open debate of course.

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