# How much is a trillion dollars -- two perspectives

James Hamilton of Econbrowser puts a trillion dollars into perspective this way:
A trillion dollars is about the total amount collected in [individual] income taxes by the U.S. federal government in fiscal year 2006-- \$1.04 trillion, if you're curious to use the exact number. That gives me a simple rule of thumb for personalizing these numbers. If I want to know what an additional trillion dollars in government borrowing or spending will mean for me, I just imagine what it would be like to pay twice as much in federal income taxes for one year.

So, for example, with the President's proposed budget calling for deficits of \$1.75 trillion for 2009 and an additional \$1.17 trillion for 2010, after 3 years of paying twice as much as I paid in 2006, I'd have about paid off my share of the bill for the first two years of the proposal.

But a commenter on his site has another way of looking at it:
I think this is really misleading since it assumes you would double all equal tax rates equally and pay for the whole thing in 1 year -- which is downright silly.

The top tax bracket is 35% - it was 92% in 1952. A tiny change in the top tax bracket (like 3%... I mean we are talking about adjusted gross income over \$357K) would generate \$1 trillion in revenue in only a few years. I mean you should know this since that's how we got rid of our > \$1 trillion surplus. Or alter corporte income tax accounting rules to raise a miniscule amount from corporations.

How much is a trillion?

### 57

1. Buckets McGaughey says:

Or to look at it another way, if you piled \$1000 bills one on top of the other, a stack of them worth a trillion would be 67 miles high.

Set that on its side and it’ll take you an hour to drive the length of it.

\$1000 bills all the way.

It’s an utterly mind-blowing amount of money.

2. Anonymous says:

And, you’ll notice, the Obama proposal is NOT to double the tax rate for everyone for a few years, but to slightly increase the tax rate for top income earners over a longer period of time. Was this a coincidence? I think not.

3. Anonymous says:

Does that mean that if we charge the top tax bracket another 3% the vast majority of us can stop paying any income taxes whatsoever? :)

4. Anonymous says:

But back in 1952 we were still suffering from the silly notion that we actually had to PAY for wars, not just go out and spend our way to prosperity.

5. fotostuf says:

And another way to look at it:

~ It would take light 62 days to travel a trillion miles
~ A trillion seconds is just over 31.6 thousand years (and that long ago the Chauvet Pont-d’Arc cave paintings were created in France)
~ A trillion protons lined up edge to edge would be about 1 mm (about 0.04 inch)
~ If you estimate the average galaxy has 10 billion stars, a trillion stars would fill 100 average galaxies

~ And I’ve probably wasted a trillion nanoseconds on this post!

6. Patrick Austin says:

Or put another way, it’s a brick of iPhones (16gb) approximately 2 football fields long, 1 football field wide, and as tall as a 5 story building.

And none of them have copy and paste.

7. dragonfrog says:

Can we not have an incomprehensible analogy using football fields and Volkswagen minivans?

Surely every incomprehensibly large quantity is suddenly made tractable, even folksy, if it’s expressed, instead, as an incomprehensibly large number of football fields and Volkswagen minivans.

8. Ghede says:

Sure it’s a mind blowing amount of money. It’s not meant for one person to handle, so single people think it is a large amount of money. Try looking at it from a nation’s perspective instead of a person’s perspective. Adding up totals won’t give you the scale of the number, ratios do.

You could say it is larger than this and that and this added together, but that means nothing. That just makes it seem bigger than it is. You could say, as the second commenter stopped just shy of doing, “We could pay it off in X years if we did Y” which gives you a more realistic sense of the money.

People don’t think in terms of addition when the consider their finances, they don’t say “Well, thats more than I spend on entertainment and gas combined!” they say “Well, if I eat ramen and free food for a month, I can save X dollars for [whatever], but how much will it come to once I factor in my eventual heart attack?” So why do they suddenly do that when it comes to a much bigger ledger?

9. Anonymous says:

As part of the “we’ll see” crowd, I’ll wait. Historically, our “elected officials” have failed to raise the incomes of anyone but the richest, I don’t expect that when the bill comes due, the richest will carry the greater load. Anyway, I suppose Bill Gates could pay double his taxes and not feel it. I would have to go on a noodle diet.

So, the first example, that of paying twice the income tax, is probably closer to reality than the “minuscule changes” to the tax code affecting those who fund political campaigns.

10. mdh says:

“If I want to know what an additional trillion dollars in government borrowing or spending will mean for me, I just imagine what it would be like to pay twice as much in federal income taxes for one year.”

fail.

if (a = 1 billion)
and (b = all other revenue sources for the gov’t)
and (a + b = total tax revenue)

than (2a + b) =/= (2x total tax revenue)

unless b = 0.

and b =/= 0

11. Takuan says:

what’s a trillion? The amount of ink it takes to write it in the ledger.

12. kc0bbq says:

Zimbabwe recently devalued their currency by a factor of one trillion. It’s really not that much, coudln’t buy a loaf of bread for Z\$1000000000000.

13. Frank W says:

What’s a dollar?

14. Enochrewt says:

Now, I know there might be some bias against the top income bracket in America and the rest of the world, but I personally do have a problem with only the top income bracket paying for these bailouts. Just because those people have applied themselves well and successful isn’t a reason to punish them for it.

Yes I know that many of the people that make that much money are the reason that we’re in this mess, but not all of them. If you have a problem with how a person makes that much money a year, whether it be because they did it unethically or illegally, fine go after them individually. But you shouldn’t make a blanket punishment for all monetarily successful people.

If they tax the higher tax brackets too much what’s the point in even trying to be successful? There comes a point where it’s better to live off the government teat and not contribute to society in a meaningful way.

15. Timothy Hutton says:

I’m confused – the original post had this as a clarification:

The top tax bracket is 35% – it was 92% in 1952. A tiny change in the top tax bracket (like 3%… I mean we are talking about adjusted gross income over \$357K) would generate \$1 trillion in revenue in only a few years.

I don’t think this makes sense – I am focusing on the “raise a trillion dollars in tax revenue in a few years” angle.

If we all agree that 10 years is an adequate definition of “a few years”, that would mean you’d have to raise 1/10th of a trillion dollars each of those ten years, correct? That 1/10th is \$100 Billion dollars each year, right?

If we agree that there are 100 Million households in America (300 Million people, 3 per household), and it is the top 1% that pays above \$357K/year, that means the assertion relies on the 3 point marginal rate increse yielding \$100,000 more tax revenue per tax payer in the top 1% of income earners every year for ten years – highly unlikely, and most of that top 1% of earners makes alot closer to \$357K/year than the \$3 Million required to generate an additional \$100,000/year in increased taxes from a 3 point bump.

It doesn’t make sense, and I feel I have been overly generous in my approximations:

– There are less than 100 Million households
– Less than 1% of earners make over \$357K/year
– Ten years is a very generous definition of “a few years”

My numbers based (loosely) on what I saw on Wikipedia.

16. Chrs says:

#15, “Highly unlikely” becomes quite likely when you are dealing with the highest income levels. They do not increase linearly. It doesn’t take many people earning well above seven digits yearly to compensate for the other .995 of that 1%.

17. Takuan says:

couldn’t you have an Annual Lottery everyone must enter that creates the needed wealth by selecting donors for overseas organ sales? That way, taxes could stay the same and everyone would be contributing equally.

18. jimbuck says:

I think there’s a group that right now is hardly being taxed at all … there’s millions of them, and they are skating by hardly paying anything. I’m talking about teens with jobs.

Tax teens with jobs at like 75% — all of them. They don’t have mortgages, probably are still on their parents medical insurance. Whatever they’re paying for – it’s probably not necessary. Tax the living crap out of them! And, the best part – you tax them high early, they won’t mind as much when they get older and are making real money. They’ll be all “Like, I’m only getting taxed at like 50%? That’s like, awesome!”

I assume kids still say awesome.

19. Takuan says:

yep, nothing like confiscatory taxes to instill a work ethic.

20. asuffield says:

Does that mean that if we charge the top tax bracket another 3% the vast majority of us can stop paying any income taxes whatsoever? :)

Yes, but it would bugger up the markets (too much extra money sloshing around in unexpected places). It is practical to increase the top tax bracket by another 3-5% and cut the tax rate at the low end a bit, though.

There are various reasons why they don’t do that. Campaign contributions are on that list – those would be one of the first things to go to cover that 3%.

21. Anonymous says:

@18: I sincerely hope you’re kidding. As an 18-year old worker (working for a self-owned business and an ordinary cashier job), I feel I use my money wisely. Do you think my university is unnecessary?

I go to school in Canada because US universities cost too much and I can’t get money (not loans) because my parents make too much, but they want me to pay for my education (which, as much as I hate, I agree with).

I use my money for food, education, and an apartment. My largest expense last year was a bike. My biggest waste of money is on fresh bread from a bakery, rather than the grocery store, or the train tickets to visit my family a few times a year.

A trillion dollars to me is enough to pay for 12.5million college tuitions at 20K\$/year for 4 years (cheap for some schools, high for others).

22. ROSSINDETROIT says:

In 1980 the segment of the population making \$1M and more consumed 0.9% of the wages in the USA. 25 years later it was 5% of the wages for that same, inflation adjusted group. Their income rose at a rate 12 X as fast as the average American.
I’m not saying we should soak the rich, but they do have much better towels and comfier robes than the poor.

23. CS Loser says:

The first guy says, “to get an extra trillion you need to increase everyone’s taxes by 100%”

The second guy says, “no you don’t, you can get the same amount by increasing *some* people’s taxes by tiny%”

But seriously, don’t let math get in the way of your political beliefs…

24. Takuan says:

“trollion” ought to be a word. Now I just need a definition…

25. randomcat says:

@14 EnochRewt:

Get. Real.

Do you honestly think taxing the top income brackets a little bit higher is punishing them? They still have far more after-tax disposable income than anyone “living off the government teat.”

To some extent, being successful is its own reward. Very few people who know how to lead a successful life are going to choose to be bums, just because their taxes are proportionally a little bit higher than the single mom working two jobs. Please.

Last, even before the economic crash, the average American’s real income has been declining over the past decade, while the top 1% has been skyrocketing. And they’re the ones complaining about wealth redistribution. The question you should really be asking is whether the most successful people would rather be unbelievably wealthy yet surrounded by poverty, or relatively wealthy in a world of middle-class prosperity.

26. mdh says:

Timothy Hutton – I see what you did there. You’ve got a mean mode of statistical wrangling bub.

27. jimkirk says:

I like to scale it down to a human household budget. In 2007 the US gross “income” was about \$2.7T (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_tax_revenue_by_state)

So compared to a fairly middle class household income of \$54,000, a trillion dollars is something like \$20,000. About equivalent to an entry level Toyota Camry.

The national debt is currently about \$11T (http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock/). To our equivalent household, that’s about \$220,000. On the order of a home mortgage.

This is of course incredibly simplified, but it’s something a lot of people can relate to.

28. jphilby says:

A \$\$trillion dollars is a football field covered in \$100 bills stacked about 6 -1/2 FEET high.

Give or take.

29. Takuan says:

oh, about how much cash they lost track of in Iraq then.

30. Anonymous says:

My favourite explanation to How Much is A Trillion is this:

If you earned 1 dollar for every second you would have:

\$1 million after 2 months
\$1 billion after 32 years
\$1 trillion after 32 000 years. 32 thousand years!

The difference between the 3 is incredible!

31. davigoli says:

Dragonfrog @7,

I used to work a seasonal job in Sequoia National Park. We learned to explain everything to visitors in terms of either football fields (a Giant Sequoia is more than a football field high! The park covers an area greater than 200,000 football fields!)

To nobody’s surprise, the biggest attractions in the park were the “tree you can drive through” and the “tree you can drive on top of”.

Your average American can only comprehend things in terms of cars and football.

1. Antinous / Moderator says:

Your average American can only comprehend things in terms of cars and football.

Not my segment of the population.

32. Brainspore says:

I’m just glad we haven’t had to pull out Avogadro’s Number net. As in, “the 2012 deficit is projected to be 2.3 moles of dollars.”

Just remember the trap set for you when someone says ‘blah blah federal income tax’ and you end up thinking just ‘blah blah tax.’ How much do you pay in federal income tax and how much in the social security and medicare payroll taxes and in state tax and in sales tax? Some people’s taxes are dominated by the capital gains tax, other people, not so much.

34. Uncle Geo says:

ENOCHROOT sez:
“Just because those people have applied themselves well and successful isn’t a reason to punish them for it.”

Oh, puleeeze! This sorry excuse for reasoned thought perpetuates the self-made man myth -that those who have make lots and lots of money get it from working hard (with the implication that if you aren’t as rich as they are then you are lazy).

Not a single hard working entrepreneur got insanely wealthy without the educated workers from public schools we all paid for, or without police and fire protection or the highways or research funding or universities or water and sewage treatment plants or air traffic control or the rule of law written by legislators and enforced by the government that protects their business contracts or the military, whose protection keeps their factories from being blown up every decade or so –or any number of other things that we, as citizens, have chosen to provide for the commonwealth of everyone. I’ll take “one for all and all for one” any day over “every man for himself”.

Also absurd is the notion that if these guys see their taxes raised they’ll throw a tantrum, take their toys and go home. They had their taxes cut drastically by Bush and made bazillions in the market -and a bunch of ’em took a ton of jobs and factories and profits overseas! Fine Americans they are!

Trickle Down was a highly successful sham to redistribute wealth to the already wealthy and it’s hit home (literally). I don’t know about you, but I feel trickled on! Until Conservatives start making a distinction between incentive -which build businesses, employs people and creates wealth- and greed, which can tear it all down in months, I’ll support any regulation of those who would abuse the public trust and any taxes we can squeeze out of them to help everyone out of this tragically unnecessary mess.

And poor babies of they have to sell a yacht. QYB and pitch in!

35. Enochrewt says:

#35 and #25: Both of you are making the assumption that all rich people are doing something wrong and taking from the poor. While that may be true for some, if not many of them, it’s not all.

Instead of saying “All rich people are evil”, I said “All black/gay/tattooed people are evil” I would be ostracized from (most) of civilized society in short order. Why is it different for rich people?

Personally, I would like to see a flat percentage tax across the board. If America was really being true to it’s “American Dream” then all Americans would pay 22% (or whatever number) of their income in taxes. Then we’d know exactly what our money is going to (3% to education, 5% to infrastructure 14% to military(!) etc.). But that’s too straightforward for the government, because the average person might understand too well what their money is going to and object to it. Especially when they throw out \$75 billion bailouts like they were door prizes adding another .5% or whatever to everyone’s tax rate.

Personally I wish they had never bailed anything out in the first place. Or taken all of that bailout money and used it to cover all of the FDIC claims and other issues to serve and protect the common man when these large institutions failed. Then we could just start fresh.

36. Anonymous says:

I hear those people, and understand (I think) them who complain about taxing the highest tax brackets more than those below them.

First: As pointed out, the highest tax bracket in 1952 was 92%. I don’t recall reading about how NO ONE tried to be rich then. I’m certainly not advocating for a 92% income tax. However, to claim that say, 35% is OK, but 40% would cause all the rich people to suddenly (as someone specifically claimed) “live off the government teat”, seems ridiculous.

Second: Yes, by ONE measure of fairness, it would be fairer to tax every person the same percentage of income. By ANOTHER reasonable, logical measure of fairness, you could instead choose to tax everyone according to exactly how much government benefits they receive. By ANOTHER completely reasonable measure of fairness, you might tax people according to how much those taxes affect their living standard (so, no taxes on those struggling in poverty, and more taxes on those who make hundreds of millions of dollars). Please don’t act like ONLY the first measure of fairness could possibly be “fair”, and everyone who doesn’t agree is out to “punish the rich”.

37. Fifth says:

“Instead of saying “All rich people are evil”, I said “All black/gay/tattooed people are evil” I would be ostracized from (most) of civilized society in short order. Why is it different for rich people?”

Because all rich people, by definition, do disproportionately benefit from the same inequitable social order, regardless of their personal morals?

“Personally I wish they had never bailed anything out in the first place. Or taken all of that bailout money and used it to cover all of the FDIC claims and other issues to serve and protect the common man when these large institutions failed. Then we could just start fresh.”

It’s a shame that we can’t do that, because shnooks like you supported decades of hacking out every check and balance against the accumulation by the already wealthy of even more enormous shares of wealth, allowing them to accrue disproportionate power in our society that destroys any hope of governance conducted for the actual sake of the common good?

38. Metlin says:

#37 –

Those are some excellent points.

My fundamental bone to pick with taxing the rich is this – if I work my ass off and make partner at my firm some day, it is because I sacrificed 10 or 15 of the best years of my life working 80-100 hour weeks. Being taxed more for that success is almost demeaning, despite all the nonsense that success is its own reward.

Calling anyone who makes more than 250k (or even 1 million) rich is not fair in my book. First of all, that is not necessarily that big a sum of money. And secondly, just because someone makes that much money does not mean that their income is necessarily disposable. I am not talking about luxuries or standards of living, but rather that money is merely an excellent tool for accomplishing some things — a half decent hedge fund, or a new firm, or an expensive science project (think rocketry) is by no means cheap.

Secondly, capital gains taxes on things like profits from equities and trading is also rather unfair – if I am making a profit and have to pay taxes, then would the government subsidize my losses (as an individual, not as an organization)?

While I can see the unfortunate reasoning behind taxing a small minority to support a large majority, it certainly is not fair by any measure.

Here’s a better idea – tax people based on how many hours they put into their work at the time of being taxed. The more you work, the less you get taxed. So, if you are working your ass off, you certainly deserve to be taxed less because you are helping the economy. If you’re pulling 40 hour weeks or 20 hours a week, well, pay more cause you aren’t productive enough.

While not all of the rich may have gotten there because of hard work (I’m thinking Paris Hilton), a very good percentage worked hard to get where they are at.

Here’s another thought – why can’t the government just *ask* the rich for charity? Or at least, a loan? Hey, we will tax you at a higher rate for the next 5 years, but we will give you these other perks, and reduce the taxes to far below what it is currently when things improve?

I mean, it is *of* the people, so there is no reason that the government cannot negotiate, rather than dictate.

My two cents, of course.

39. arkizzle says:

..an expensive science project (think rocketry) is by no means cheap.

I hope you aren’t comparing PersonA having to sacrifice their hobby rockets, and PersonB having to not eat on thursdays.

40. Takuan says:

once you are making a certain amount, taxes become optional. Many high earners make the mistake of putting all their time and energy into earning ,instead of understanding and gaming the system. Take ten hours of the hundred hour week and put it into figuring out how to keep your ninety.

41. dragonfrog says:

if I work my ass off and make partner at my firm some day, it is because I sacrificed 10 or 15 of the best years of my life working 80-100 hour weeks. Being taxed more for that success is almost demeaning, despite all the nonsense that success is its own reward.

Don’t work 80-100 hours a week. You’re doing no one any good. Perhaps the reason rich CEOs (yes, people who make six figures are rich) bitch so much about having to pay taxes, is that they’re fundamentally unhappy because they never get to see their families or go for walks anymore.

Here’s a better idea – tax people based on how many hours they put into their work at the time of being taxed. The more you work, the less you get taxed. So, if you are working your ass off, you certainly deserve to be taxed less because you are helping the economy. If you’re pulling 40 hour weeks or 20 hours a week, well, pay more cause you aren’t productive enough.

I’ve got a better idea – if you’re putting in 80 hours a week, you might as well just go to jail and make license plates – it’s not like you had any free time anyway.

42. synocrat says:

To people defending the rich as incredibly hard working titans of industry that shouldn’t be “punished” for making so much money… shove it up your butt. The facts are that the rich have leveraged themselves into more and more wealth at the expense of the little guys that do the real work. Wages are stagnant or technically reduced with inflation for the average worker, while the top 1% has grabbed 75% of all new wealth created in the country. If large corporations that basically control our government through legions of lobbyists had been equitable with distributing the wealth their companies had generated, instead of shunting it to the top executives, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Ideally, the government wouldn’t need all this revenue and would be a much smaller force in our lives, but that is simply not reality at this point. The argument that if the rich are taxed more they will simply stop being rich to avoid some more taxes is just a stupid argument, it’s not going to happen. I say we should tax people who make over \$5 Million a year at closer to 50%, bring all of our troops home and slash the defense department budget, and provide free college to all of our citizens if they agree to a certain amount of community service. Also, the corporate tax structure has to be fixed to cut out all of the loopholes that allow large corporations to evade large shares of their tax obligations. And while we’re at it, legalize and tax marijuana, because it won’t be the end of the world, it’s easily available to anyone now, having it illegal only enriches violent criminals, and maybe people would be a bit more chilled out and not take jokers like rush limbaugh seriously. This is from someone who was raised in a household that took in millions of dollars a year, and now lives a very frugal existence, so I’m well aware of both sides of the coin, and I say the rich can handle a bit more in taxes without any actual pain.

43. Anonymous says:

It’s \$9/day/UScitizen for a year.

44. stuckinkiel says:

It seems that many people who have made comments on this thread have a misconception about who “rich” people are and how they got rich. Many people have an almost primordial instinct that if one person has more than another person, they must have done something immoral to get it. This was a rational belief in the stone age when we lived in a much more primitive society where anyone could make anything anyone else could make. Back then, the extended family was the primary social structure and any type of resource hoarding was highly anti-social. In this simple society it was likely that coercion and oppression was used to amass wealth.

This is no longer the way things work today. In our current society, wealth is most effectively created by knowledge and information. By creating useful new ways of doing things, either new products (iPod) or new ideas (Google) or new ways of putting together existing things (collateralized debt obligations), it is possible to *create* wealth. The emphasis here is on creating wealth because this wealth did not exist before and this wealth creation did not involve taking it away from others. This new knowledge and information benefits us all in countless ways that are not reflected in the amount of cash we have in our pockets because in increases our standard of living.

I am not trying to say that there are no coercive forces at work amassing wealth today. I am saying that most of the rich people today got their wealth by creating it using knowledge and information. Still our old instincts kick in whenever we see an unequal distribution of resources, despite the fact that it did not necessarily result from a transfer of resources from the poor to the rich. We can disagree as to the ratio of coerced wealth to created wealth in our current society, but I think the misconception that all wealth must be coerced should here be immediately dispelled.

45. Uncle Geo says:

Though my comments have been strident, I don’t believe rich people as a group are evil or have done immoral things. Some have and some haven’t and I’m sure there is plenty of “immorality” at all income levels -wall street bankers and bank robbers seem more alike than different.

Working 80-100 hours a week as a lawyer nets you a high income. Working in a coal mine or scrubbing floors or working two jobs to make ends meet is pretty darn hard work too. Not everyone has the same abilities nor does the market value abilities equally -is an exceptional teacher really worth one tenth of an investment banker?

I’ll give the lawyer the benefit of the doubt and, rather than assuming his folks sold a winter home in Bermuda, I’ll assume his folks saved their tips for 50 years working in a barber shop to send their lad to Harvard. By the forces of the market, their son’s hard work is worth more than their hard work. He’ll always make more than they will. I believe the price you pay to live in a country that enables you to make way more money than you’ll ever need (and you do not need 250K a year to live happily) is that you just might pay proportionally higher taxes.

I actually have no problem with capitalism. I like the incentives granted by the tax system to encourage my own entrepreneurship and I like the payoff I get building my business. For capitalism to work, incentive is necessary and has been a proven performer. But I am completely aware of and grateful for the contributions of all Americans, past and present, who have made it possible. If I get more then I’m fine being taxed more.

My problem with today’s unfettered free market apologists is that greed is not factored in. Or rather, that the solution to greed is the greedy will eventually be found out and their companies will fail and they’ll lose money. On a small scale the tragedy is contained. In today’s situation, the actions of the greedy banker and house poor yuppie alike have brought the world economy to it’s knees. A decade or more of GOP control of Congress has successfully redistributed wealth from the middle class to the wealthy at levels unseen since the robber barons and all I hear from Conservatives is that the market will correct itself and we need to back off the wealthy who have benefited so much from the public investment by all of us.

It boggles the mind to think that as a people, we should be prevented from doing anything to keep this from happening again through regulation and enforcement or that we should not invest in infrastructure to keep people working and allow us come out of this hole stronger, as we did after the New Deal. Seems to me the Bush era status quo of no rules, wink wink, make money without regard to consequences is what got us into this mess in the first place. I simply fail to see how it will get us out.

46. dainel says:

There is a good reason why rich people pay more tax. We want to make them poorer. Why’d we want that?

1) the greater the income disparity between the rich and the poor, the more unstable society becomes. If the difference is great enough, the more numerous poor will eventually kill the rich and take their money by force (Marx). Unless they have robot soldiers.

2) in a capitalistic society, the more money you have, the easier it is for you to get more. The less money you have, the harder is it for you to get any more (Grameen). If we do nothing, most of the money in the system will end up with a very small group of people.

3) we don’t want you to get so far ahead in the game, that nobody else can catch up with you and your family for the next 10,000 years; if you stop contributing to society and merely “employ your capital”, you become a parasite

4) we don’t want people to fall so far behind that they can never catch up with everybody else. They will lose the incentive to make any effort then.

5) even though the rich pays more in tax than the poor, there is still an incentive to work hard. Nett taxes, the rich are still richer than the poor. They may complain about high costs of living, financial commitments, etc; but none of them will trade places with any of the poor.

How many people earning \$200k a year will trade places with someone earning \$10k a year? How many people earning \$10k will trade places with someone earning \$200k?

6) there will be no incentive to work hard for more money, only when the tax is “all your income more than \$30k a year”. In that case, no matter how much your total income, you will get a max of \$30k/yr. When you bump up against that ceiling, you stop working any harder. Unless you have a tax system like that, no matter how high the tax rate at the top bracket is, there will remain an incentive to work harder to get more money, because your income nett taxes will be higher.

7) in some democratic systems, each person gets one vote, no matter how rich or poor they are. The poor being more numerous, as a group will have more votes, and end up with more political power. Well, this sometimes happens. Once in a while. In some places.

47. Timothy Hutton says:

TAKUAN said:

once you are making a certain amount, taxes become optional.

Well, I see your point – but I’m not sure the point I see is the same you’re trying to make…

Once your earnigs exceed a certain threshold, it becomes adventageous to structrure your wages as something else – bonus, stocks, deferred salary, etc., funding personal retirement account.

The “rich” are hard to quantify, I know rich people that live in small houses, drive older cars, wear older clothes, and don’t indulge in expensive hobbies. By rich I mean a liquid net worth north of two million dollars. I also know poor people that live in houses they can’t afford, trade in their cars as soon as the payments are over, have all the latest “gadgets”, and have a name-brand wardrobe with nothing that they have personally distressed (they may buy new distressed clothes). By poor I mean negative net worth. Everything in the middle I consider “middle class”, though that \$2M upper threshold is certainly variable, \$1M might be a more reasonable upper limit…

I suspect that all would agree, anyone whose recurring annual income has at least two commas in it is rich, but you can’t characterize them by how they live, how they got their money, what they value, how they vote, etc. As a group they are quite diverse.

48. Anonymous says:

FYI, in 1952 the threshold for the top bracket was taxable income over \$500K. Adjusted for inflation that’s close to \$4M.

49. aluxeterna says:

can someone just go ahead and start singing the praises of Ayn for us all? You know she’s the elephant in the room here. Seriously, this unfettered market-love is killing my braincells.

Suggesting that the rich can afford to pay more taxes than they do currently DOES NOT EQUAL calling them all evil. How is this a hard concept to understand? Whether or not someone honestly “earned” their money, the fact is that an increase in taxes for one person might be the difference between going hungry or not, and for another, the difference is between buying a 150 foot yacht or a 151 foot yacht.

The above notwithstanding, however, support for the rich in the aggregate — as a block of hard-workin’ heroes worthy of our admiration — falls particularly flat in our current age of incredible greed and despicable behavior.

I say soak ’em.

50. Frank W says:

This one‘s for Enochrewt.

51. Mark Jaquith says:

Whether or not someone honestly “earned” their money, the fact is that an increase in taxes for one person might be the difference between going hungry or not, and for another, the difference is between buying a 150 foot yacht or a 151 foot yacht.

That just makes me want to go out and buy a 1 foot yacht before some low-income zombie tries eats it out of my wallet.

52. Anonymous says:

With all the money the government is throwing around right now, imagine there’s some kind of mistake in accounting and you, private citizen, end up with a billion dollars. 1,000,000,000. One thousand million. Dollars. A lot.

Imagine the kind of home you could buy. Imagine a hundred million dollar estate on a private island you had specially built. You could put basically anything in there. Ball pit. Zoo. A Taco Bell AND a White Castle.

You start getting into the question of, “how much would I need to get paid to do anything?” 10 million seems to be about the consensus answer for my friends and I. That’s right, knowing I could get away with it, I would do anything for \$10mil. I could pay back everybody, hook a few friends up, and live the rest of my life off money generated through proper investments. No to mention hire a top-notch head doctor to help me get past whatever I did to earn that scrillah.

\$100million is enough to make me do anything 10 times. A billion is enough to make me do anything 100 times. Seriously, if the government just gave you a billion dollahs you could hand somebody like, 10 grand like, “hey, could grab me a beer?” A billion buys you 10 of those private island estates with the endangered species pets and your own wal-mart. It’s a fuck-ton of money.

Now imagine that you are given a billion dollars everyday for nearly three years. That’s a trillion.

53. fotostuf says:

#44 Anonymous said it was about \$9 a day for a year for every citizen in the US. Interesting idea that.

I used to stop by Starbucks every work morning to get a \$4 cup of chai. That’s \$20 a week, for about 45 weeks a year (minus vacation, sick days, etc). This comes out to \$900 a year just for a morning pick me up. This doesn’t include the weekends I might get 2 cups, or the days I just wanted an extra cup. So if we round that of to a grand a year for frakin coffee… it would only take the US population (about 300 million people) about 3 1/3 years to pay of the trillion.

Of course… Starbucks wouldn’t be too happy.

54. Anonymous says:

My wife and I made 10300 dollars last year…and we managed to have high speed internet :)

55. Anonymous says:

“I think there’s a group that right now is hardly being taxed at all … there’s millions of them, and they are skating by hardly paying anything. I’m talking about teens with jobs.

Tax teens with jobs at like 75% — all of them. They don’t have mortgages, probably are still on their parents medical insurance. Whatever they’re paying for – it’s probably not necessary. Tax the living crap out of them! And, the best part – you tax them high early, they won’t mind as much when they get older and are making real money. They’ll be all “Like, I’m only getting taxed at like 50%? That’s like, awesome!””

I know this was posted more as a joke than to be taken seriously, but showing why this is can only be a joke offers up an interesting example in this tax debate.

If the average teenager makes \$2,000-\$4,000 in a summer and were taxed %100 on that, say, \$4,000 then it would take 250 MILLION teenagers generate \$1 trillion.

Now, if you reverse that equation, it would only take 4,000 companies that make over \$250M (again, unrealistically taxed at %100) to generate \$1 trillion.

56. Anonymous says:

First of all, the monies which the US treasury derives from income taxes only goes to pay the interest on the debt. If that continues as is likely, we will slightly decrease what we owe to the bankers and will not change the standard of living for anyone in this country. It will only spark our elected officials to find more ways to spend……Read the Grace report commissioned by President Ronald Reagan here is a link
http://www.uhuh.com/taxstuff/gracecom.htm