NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

How Progressive is the U.S. Federal Tax System? A Historical and International Perspective

Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez

NBER Working Paper No. 12404
Issued in August 2006
NBER Program(s):   PE

This paper provides estimates of federal tax rates by income groups in the United States since 1960, with special emphasis on very top income groups. We include individual and corporate income taxes, payroll taxes, and estate and gift taxes. The progressivity of the U.S. federal tax system at the top of the income distribution has declined dramatically since the 1960s. This dramatic drop in progressivity is due primarily to a drop in corporate taxes and in estate and gift taxes combined with a sharp change in the composition of top incomes away from capital income and toward labor income. The sharp drop in statutory top marginal individual income tax rates has contributed only moderately to the decline in tax progressivity. International comparisons confirm that is it critical to take into account other taxes than the individual income tax to properly assess the extent of overall tax progressivity, both for time trends and for cross-country comparisons. The pattern for the United Kingdom is similar to the US pattern. France had less progressive taxes than the US or UK in 1970 but has experienced an increase in tax progressivity and has now a more progressive tax system than the US or the UK.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12404

Published: Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2007. "How Progressive is the U.S. Federal Tax System? A Historical and International Perspective," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(1), pages 3-24, Winter. citation courtesy of

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