While this ‘dance’ of negotiations plays out over the next week, readers should consider that the entire ‘Fiscal Cliff’ charade could be resolved with one program, one proposal involving taxation on the wealthiest 1% of US households—i.e. those whose average annual income is about $1.5 million and whose effective and actual income tax rate today is not the nominal 35% but in fact only about 22.5%.

The very wealthy 1% actual income tax rate has never been the 35% top rate. In 1980 that top rate was 70% but the actual effective rate they paid was only 45%. Similarly, today the reported top rate is 35% but the actual rate on average 22.5%. Some hedge fund managers making billions a year actually pay less than 10%.

University of California professor, Emmanual Saez, and his colleagues, Thomas Picketty and Stefanie Stantcheva, a few months in the third quarter 2012 issue of ‘Tax Justice Focus’, estimated that by simply making the wealthiest 1% pay the same effective, actual tax rate they paid in 1980 (45%) it would raise an additional $405 billion a year in tax revenue. Over a decade, that’s more than $4 trillion—which is coincidentally the amount identified as necessary to reduce the deficit over the coming decade by all the parties, Democrat and Republican, as the deficit cutting target amount. Since the Simpson-Bowles report of November 2010, the target has always been $4 trillion.

Thus, one simply tax measure would solve the entire fiscal cliff issue, generate the $4 trillion in deficit reduction, allow all the other tax cuts in question to continue, and require no cuts whatsoever in social security, Medicare, Medicaid or anything else.

Professors Saez and others estimated this $405 billion on an assumption of a GDP of $15 trillion in 2011. Today’s $16.5 trillion GDP means this one tax measure would now raise more than $450 billion a year. The 45% tax on the richest 1% amounts to a 2.7% increase in government tax revenue as a percent of GDP. If you think that is too much, consider that federal tax revenues as a percent of GDP was 20.6% in 2000 before George W. Bush began his investor-corporate tax cuts in 2001. That 20% had been the average for a number of years. But after Bush’s two recessions, his $3.4 trillion in tax cuts, his wars, runaway health care costs, and the historic weak recovery of the US economy under Obama since 2008, federal tax revenue as a percent of GDP had fallen to 14.4% from the 20.6% of only a decade or so ago. So taxing the 1% at the 1980 effective rate raises tax revenue as a share of GDP by 2.7%, to about 17%. Taxes can and should be raised on Corporate America as well, to get back to the 20%.

But don’t count on the latter, since Obama has promised throughout the election campaign to cut corporate tax rates from the current 35% to 28%. And don’t be surprised by the major spending reductions that will come out of current fiscal cliff negotiations, in the next few days and continuing throughout this year. Fiscal Cliff is only a cover phrase for what amounts to ‘Austerity American Style’.

The problem with the US deficit and debt is not a spending program problem. It has always been overwhelmingly a tax cut for the rich and corporations problem. And it can be resolved with one program and proposal to ‘make the millionaires pay 45%’. It’s that simple.


Jack Rasmus is the author of the 2012 book, “Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few”, and host of the weekly radio show, Alternative Visions, on the Progressive Radio Network, PRN.FM. His website is Kyklos Productions, his blog,, and twitter handle @drjackrasmus.