Home > The Economy > US tax rates for the rich then and now

US tax rates for the rich then and now

from John Schmitt

The fictional television series “Mad Men” does a great job dramatizing the astonishing cultural, social, and political transformation of the United States since the early 1960s. A new report (pdf) from the Institute for Policy Studies now adds some insight into one of the key economic differences between then and now.

This graph from the report compares the actual income taxes paid by the rich in 1961 and 2011. As it happens, 1961 falls right between the time covered by seasons one (March to November, 1960) and two (February to October 1962) of “Mad Men.”

Effective tax rates, rich taxpayers, 1961 and 2011
Source: Institute for Policy Studies.


Back in 1961, Don Draper and his partners at Sterling Cooper paid somewhere between 27 and 43 percent of their income in federal income taxes. Their counterparts today pay somewhere between 20 and 24 percent. As the IPS report argues, we don’t need austerity, we need tax increases at the top.

  1. Podargus
    April 12, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    As your government is controlled by the wealthy don’t expect any significant changes to the tax scales any time soon.The sacrifices will be made by the poor,the working class and what is left of the middle class.

    A casual reading of history demonstrates that this situation will continue until the down trodden rise up and destroy the exploiters.

    When will that happen in the USA?

  2. Ken Zimmerman
    April 13, 2011 at 2:05 am

    Lest anyone fail to remember. The exploiters have most of the money, the government (and thus the military), and little sense of honor. It will be a short and bloody up rising, which “down trodden” will lose. As much as they tried even Jesse and Frank never did defeat either the railroads or the US military. I prefer back door methods. These include international pressure, communications disruptions, and boycotts. It’s too late for direct confrontation. That window of opportunity ended about 1995.

  3. Alice
    April 13, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Hallelujah. While budgets reel and crash across the globe and while the poor in many nations suffer rounds of spending cuts and impositions they cant afford and yes its obvious – this wont be enough to fix the stuff up with government budgets….Ive been waiting for someone to post the very obvious fix.

    Its either that or the poor will tear them limb by limb eventually if we keep going this way of tax havens and low taxes for the wealthy.

    Financial deregulation and globalisation has done more damage to the practise of globalisation than anything else ever could have. The banks should always have stayed at home and the people, goods and services been given the global freedoms.

  4. winds_of_change
    July 21, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    All – I have been following this thread and many just like it.
    Im astonished that there hasnt been more backlash at the “Bank-megeddon Melt-down/Bailout…..but the wind may be changing.

    The biggest american traitors are the most wealthy…those who shutdown north American production in favour of low-cost, high profit margin, non-north American centres.
    Then to add insult to injury… the products we used to make in the States (now made in China) are sold by American companies (Walmart)back to americans.

    This has to stop. No tax breaks for any company who stops american production. Monsterous levees and taxes on companies importing products from abroad that compete directly with American products.

    Protectionism….why not?

  5. quiglag
    September 14, 2012 at 12:00 am

    “In short, it is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now. The experience of a number of European countries and Japan have borne this out. This country’s own experience with tax reduction in 1954 has borne this out. And the reason is that only full employment can balance the budget, and tax reduction can pave the way to that employment. The purpose of cutting taxes now is not to incur a budget deficit, but to achieve the more prosperous, expanding economy which can bring a budget surplus.”

    – John F. Kennedy, Nov. 20, 1962

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