Friday, July 06, 2012

Taxes and Recessions

A tweet from Mark J. Perry got me interested in looking at the IRS data on tax returns. We are just getting the 2009 data so we can see how things changed from the business cycle peak in 2007 to the trough in 2009. Looking at the 400 tax returns with the largest AGI some interesting things show up.

To make it into the top 400 in 2007 you had to have an AGI of $138.8 million. In 2009, only $77.4 million. That is a decrease of 44.2%.

Total AGI for the top 400 was $137.9 billion in 2007 and $81.0 billion in 2009. A decrease of 41.3%

Total AGI for all returns fell 12.2% from $8.688 trillion in 2007 to $7.626 trillion in 2009.

Total taxable income for the top 400 fell 42.5% from $118.5 to $68.1 billion. For all returns total taxable income fell 16.1% from $6.063 to $5.088 trillion.

Total income tax payments from the top 400 fell 29.7% from $22.9 billion in 2007 to $16.1 billion in 2009. For all returns total income tax payments fell 22.3% from $1.115 trillion in 2007 to $866 billion in 2009.

From a tax policy standpoint what this tells us is that high incomes are very pro-cyclical. They go up faster than the economy grows and fall faster than the economy contracts. If you skew your tax payments with a very progressive income tax then your tax revenues do the same thing.

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