Americans undoubtedly prize equality as a fundamental value, but
what kind of equality is prioritized: equality of opportunities and
treatment by the state or equality in outcomes? These distinct
applications of equality prove antithetical. In practice, the term
egalitarianism now connotes favoring "a greater degree of equality
of income and wealth across persons than currently exists" (Arneson
2013). Egalitarianism is thus a marker of modern, progressive liberalism
rather than liberalism in its original sense of valuing liberty and
aiming to limit coercion by government as much as practicable (see,
e.g., Hayek 1960, 103). Do most Americans embrace coercive
redistribution in the interest of reducing inequality?
Decades ago F. A. Hayek was pessimistic, fearing that collectivism
had displaced liberalism as the dominant doctrine of policy debate.
Whether in the polemical mode of The Road to Serfdom (1944) or in the
more analytical style of The Constitution of Liberty (1960), he observed
that a state powerful enough to impose substantially equal outcomes
would, by nature, not only prevent the benefits of competition but also
demolish essential individual liberties.
Of course, Hayek did not merely lament the allures of socialism and
its "fatal conceit" but also tirelessly argued against
concentrating power in the state. Did his ideas take root? The huge
growth in public-choice theory is but one sign that skepticism about
statism has steadily grown. In a debate with Hayek in 1945, the renowned
political scientist Charles Merriam was apoplectic that Hayek could see
in what Merriam called the "creative forces of government" a
threat to freedom (qtd. in Hayek 1994, 123). Thirty-six years later, in
one of the most quoted lines from any presidential inaugural address,
Ronald Reagan took Hayek's side: "Government is not the
solution to our problem; government is the problem" (Reagan 1981).
Few ordinary Americans hold utterly consistent views on deep
questions of political philosophy or all policy debates. They embrace,
to some degree, conflicting values. Mining survey data, for instance,
James Kluegel and Eliot Smith (1986), identified not only a stable,
widely held set of values that produce conservative attitudes toward
policies aimed at reducing inequality but also a growing attraction to
interventionist social liberalism, particularly among the young. From a
highly innovative attempt to conduct a laboratory test of John
Rawls's (1971) theories about how much inequality people see as
tolerable, Norman Frolich and Joe Oppenheimer concluded that the desire
to set a floor on poverty is almost universal. But they also found
strong support for "letting people keep what they earn, without a
ceiling, after providing for a floor" (1992, 170).
Fairness Rhetoric in Public Debate on Taxes
A thorough review of the landscape of empirical debates on the
place of equality in the American mind is impossible in a short essay.
My limited ambition here is to reconsider how Americans fare with
competing demands for equality of treatment and equality of condition in
regard to taxes. Survey firms routinely claim that Americans are anxious
or angry about wealth inequality and eager for government remedies (see,
inter alia, Kohut 2015; Newport 2015; Scheiber and Sussman 2015).
There is it seems, at least according to these surveys, consensus
that Americans support higher taxes for the wealthy. Following the
presidential election of 2012, a conservative columnist conceded,
"Yes, a solid majority favors higher taxes for the rich.
That's been true since the dawn of man" (Barnes 2012).
President Barack Obama, meanwhile, when asked about the wealthiest
paying more, noted, "By the way, more voters agreed with me on this
issue than voted for me." Many of Obama's campaign speeches
featured a short description of the "Buffett rule," which says
that "if you make a million dollars a year, then you shouldn't
pay a lower tax rate than your secretary" (White House 2012b).
Obama nearly always asserted that Democrats had the public on their side
in this debate: "And I intend to keep fighting for this kind of
balance and fairness until the other side starts listening, because I
believe this is what the American people want" (White House 2012a).
Four years later, Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton
might be seen as a repudiation of that alleged consensus, given that he
emphasized tax reduction, whereas she again promised to raise taxes on
the wealthy. But it is not yet clear how important tax policy was to
Trump's surprising win, and, of course, Clinton won the popular
vote by about two percentage points. She constitutionally has no
legitimate claim on the presidency, but her popular-vote win indicates
that her policy stances commanded more support.
Survey Says ...
Politicians routinely claim to be advocating positions preferred by
majorities, but Obama and Clinton could in fact point to survey support.
Consider a fairly representative study published by the Pew Research
Center, "Tax System Seen as Unfair, in Need of Overhaul: Wealthy
Not Paying Fair Share Top Complaint" (2011). The tide belies the
survey's finding that the most popular choice for describing the
current system was "moderately fair" (40 percent), ahead of
"not too fair" (31 percent) and "not fair at all"
(24 percent). The subtitle, meanwhile, describes a question that offers
respondents three statements and asks which one "bothers" them
most about the tax system. Fifty-seven percent had "the feeling
that some wealthy people get away not paying their fair share," far
ahead of those who chose "the complexity of the tax system"
(28 percent) and those who chose "the large amount you pay in
taxes" (11 percent) as the thing that bothers them most. The
percentage selecting that first answer also rose slightly from 2003,
when it was 53 percent.
One wonders why a "feeling" was in competition with two
less-fuzzy claims and how other complaints might have fared. In a survey
I distributed in 2004, I gave respondents a similar list, with the
addition of "Government wastes so much of the money collected in
taxes," and allowed them to select as many responses as they liked.
Almost 80 percent agreed with the government-waste claim, making it the
most popular complaint.
Is there stronger evidence of American egalitarianism in other
survey items? Every year from 2012 to 2016 in surveys timed to coincide
with the April income-tax-filing deadline, at least 60 percent of Gallup
respondents have said that upper-income people pay too little federal
taxes. When I likewise asked respondents to assess the taxes paid by the
rich in a study administered by YouGov in February 2012 to a
representative sample of about 3,500 Americans, 64 percent of
respondents said the rich paid too little, rather than die right amount
or too much. (1) Although those responses seem to reveal broad support
for increasing taxes on the rich, the questions, like Obama's
campaign rhetoric, are regrettably vague.
What does the response tell us about the public's preferred
tax system? Who is rich? What sorts of rates do respondents believe that
the people they regard as rich are presently paying in income tax? If
those rates (whether they are accurate or not) are too low, how much
higher should they be in order to be fair? These points are critical to
understanding exactly what sentiment is being expressed, and I take them
up in sequence.
Do people agree on where to draw the lines between
"poor," "middle class," and "rich"? I know
of no survey on taxation that has explored this question, despite the
preponderance of questions inquiring into whether these groups are taxed
at appropriate levels. In the survey I conducted in 2012, I asked
respondents to name the minimum annual income levels to qualify for
"middle class" and "rich." About 88 percent of
respondents were willing to pick threshold values, but there was a great
deal of variation in where respondents drew their lines. Roughly
one-third of the respondents thought that "rich" started at
$100,000 per year; another third drew the line somewhere between
$100,000 and $250,000; and the balance picked a higher value (with
nearly 10 percent selecting a level of $500,000 or higher). About
one-quarter of respondents thought that the line between poor and middle
class should fall below $25,000 per year, but 35 percent picked a figure
higher than $70,000.
Figure 1 shows the income thresholds that respondents chose, with
middle-class zones shaded gray, ordered by the size of the
middle-class-income range. Clearly, there is much variation, and there
is no broad consensus on what the terms rich and poor mean. In turn,
responses to questions using those terms are inherently ambiguous. Those
whose responses fell on the left side of the figure and those who were
placed on the right will generally mean very different sets of people
when they discuss "the rich."
Second, asking if the rich or poor are paying about the right
amount of taxes begs the question of how much tax these groups presently
pay. Survey researchers implicitly assume either that respondents know
what others pay in taxes or that accuracy is immaterial. Either
assumption is problematic. If the point of a survey question is merely
to assess subjective fairness, without regard for accuracy, the
conclusion that the public wants higher taxes obviously does not follow.
A widespread belief that the rich pay too little might rest on
widespread underestimation of actual tax rates. In that case,
conclusions of the form "Americans want the rich to pay more"
could be more accurately rephrased as "Americans want the rich to
pay about what they now pay, but they also mistakenly believe that the
rich currently pay less."
Conventional wisdom holds that the general public is ill equipped
to discuss tax codes because of the fitter's complexity and the
former's ignorance of key terminology. Public ignorance about
important aspects of taxes is emphasized in a study done by the Kaiser
Foundation, the Kennedy School, and National Public Radio in 2003
("Americans Views on Taxes" 2003), in an influential book
arguing that Americans are actually content to pay higher taxes that
reduce inequality (Page and Jacobs 2009), and in the Pew study done in
2011 ("Tax System Seen as Unfair" 2011), among others. It is
thus ironic that so many questions about fairness rest on an unstated
assumption that respondents actually know what various kinds of people
Do many people have an accurate sense of what others pay in income
taxes? I asked respondents how much federal income tax was owed in 2011
by hypothetical single taxpayers who had annual incomes of $60,000,
$250,000, and $ 1 million and who took standard deductions rather than
itemizing. Admittedly, very few who earn a quarter of a million or more
fail to itemize, but the question allows comparison of responses to
precise, correct answers. The correct answers were $8,750, $64,262, and
$323,989. For the $60,000 earner, 52 percent of respondents guessed
amounts that were more than 10 percent too low, 9 percent were within 10
percent on either side, and the remaining 39 percent were more than 10
percent too high. For the tax bill on $250,000, 73 percent were low, 11
percent about right, and 16 percent high. For the tax bill on $1
million, 75 percent were low, 20 percent about right, and only 5 percent
Before I conclude that underestimation of the tax burdens of the
comparatively wealthy is very common, one might wonder if respondents
ignored the language about itemizing and perhaps gave estimates that are
roughly in accord with what actual taxpayers, most of whom take
advantage of a vast array of credits and deductions, really pay.
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data permit a second comparison. For
2011, the average percentage of adjusted gross income paid in taxes by
earners in the $50,000-75,000 range was 8.6 percent. For a $60,000
earner, that rate implies a tax bill of $5,160. The rates for households
in the $200,000-500,000 range and $1-1.5 million range were 19.7 percent
and 24.9 percent, respectively. Applying those rates to my hypothetical
incomes, I get lower estimates, to which I can again compare
respondents' estimates. With this approach, the proportions of
respondents whose guesses of tax owed were more than 10 percent too low,
within 10 percent, and more than 10 percent too high to match these new
estimated true tax bills were 31 percent, 8 percent, and 61 percent,
respectively, for $60,000; 59 percent, 13 percent, and 29 percent for
$250,000; and 66 percent, 7 percent, and 27 percent for $1 million.
Underestimation of wealthy Americans' tax bills is indeed common.
If people agreeing that the rich pay too little tax not only
disagree on who is rich but also underestimate how much tax such people
pay, the modal survey finding is hopelessly ambiguous.
Since 2004, I have Beach Vista Dubai Harbour periodically presented survey respondents with
specific vignettes to generate more precise measurement of what
constitutes a fair level of taxation. For example: "What do you
think is a fair amount of federal income tax for a family of 4 to pay?
For each of the income levels listed below, please enter the amount of
federal income tax in dollars that you think should be paid by a couple,
one of whom works outside the home, who have two children under age
The actual income levels specified were randomly generated from a
small set of increasing, round numbers. So a respondent might have been
asked about families with incomes of $35,000, $70,000, $120,000,
$300,000, and $500,000. One can also, of course, vary the
taxpayer's other traits, prominently whether the subject is a
married couple with one or two incomes or a single individual as well as
how many dependent children the taxpayer has. Hereafter, for simplicity,
I focus only on the fair taxes selected by respondents for hypothetical
families of four with one income. But the main patterns described
subsequently hold generally.
Figure 2 shows in two panels respondents' estimates of mean
fair-tax rates for families of four with various incomes in 2012. The
top panel shows the full range of incomes, with smooth curves to
emphasize the patterns. For comparison, I also draw in the well-known
flat tax described by Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka (2007), based on a
19 percent tax rate with personal allowance of $16,500 and $4,500 child
credits (all values taken from Hall and Rabushka's proposal from
1995). The crosses mark average rates of adjusted gross income reported
by the IRS, drawn at the midpoint of the income ranges (e.g., for
$50,000-75,000, I plot 8.6 percent at $62,500). The bottom panel shows
only annual incomes of $200,000 or less to clarify how the three series
compare in the income region inhabited by most Americans.
In brief, up to about $ 150,000 in income per year, there is little
difference between what people regard as fair and the average tax rates
presently paid, though the latter are sometimes a little lower. Those
making about $40,000 or less and $200,000 or more are paying more than
they would under Hall-Rabushka, whereas those in between pay less. If a
19 percent flat tax would lower the tax bills of those who make more
than $200,000 per year, it is more striking that die public's view
of what is a fair income tax is even lower. In the upper-income ranges,
subjectively fair rates resemble a 17-18 percent flat tax, whereas the
current system looks more like a 25 percent version (but with high
variance around the means).
The data presented in figure 2 puncture the simple story told by
most other public-opinion researchers: that most Americans are eager to
make the rich pay more. Tax rates regarded as fair are lower than
current rates for large incomes but about the same for low and moderate
incomes. Insofar as these vignettes tap into true beliefs better than do
the far more common but deeply vague questions, the default view should
be that Americans like fairly low taxes, not just for themselves but for
others, too, including the wealthy.
In the aftermath of the election of 2016, misforecast by most
poll-based models, skepticism about the scientific value of surveys is
running high. Could it be that these respondents who seem to defy the
common wisdom that ordinary people want the rich to pay more were a
strange draw? It is wise never to forget that survey results are merely
estimates with inherent uncertainty. But several points reassure me that
the conclusion that Americans think of quite low levels of taxation as
fair is robust. First, I have employed related but distinct vignettes
five times across about ten years and have consistently found that the
rates chosen as fair map into relatively flat schedules more or less
like those pictured in figure 2. Second, none of the surveys seemed
badly skewed in terms of respondents' self-reported ideology or
partisanship or in terms of respondents' self-reported incomes. (2)
I next consider three other potential objections.
What If the Revenue Is Too Low?
The respondents whose answers are shown in figure 2 were free to
select any rates of income tax as fair, without regard for revenue
implications. How would they react in the event that the tax rates they
regard to be lair generated less revenue than the present system? To
find out, I calculated a conservative estimate of how much income tax
revenue would be produced by the rates each of our respondents provided
and then asked those whose preferred tax rates translated into reduced
total revenue (which was about 90 percent of die respondents) how they
would deal with the shortfall. I allowed them to choose as many of the
following four options as they liked: cut government spending; raise the
rates on all taxpayers; raise die rates on the more wealthy only; and/or
let the deficit and debt grow.
The most popular response, from about 44 percent of respondents,
was to endorse only the option of cutting government spending. About 22
percent endorsed both cutting spending and taxing the wealthy, and
another 19 percent endorsed only taxing the wealthy. About 5 percent
said they would favor raising all tax rates, and 4 percent said that
they would both raise all tax rates and cut spending. The remaining
responses were dispersed across other combinations in small numbers. In
light of the explosive growth of government debt in recent years, it is
noteworthy that only about 3 percent of respondents chose any set of
options that included allowing the deficit and debt to grow, and a mere
2 percent chose that option alone.
In a survey conducted in 2015, I asked respondents to select tax
rates for 1,000 hypothetical taxpayers falling into eight income groups,
roughly mirroring the actual U.S. distribution (i.e., 350 taxpayers with
$15,000 earnings each; 240 with $30,000 earnings each; and so on up to
only 2 with incomes of $2 million each). (3) Randomly half of the
respondents were required to reach a revenue target, scaled roughly to
correspond to actual federal spending, whereas the others were only
instructed to choose fair-tax rates. The revenue constraint did raise
the rates selected as fair, particularly for conservative respondents,
whose unconstrained rates fell well below the target. But the effect was
not concentrated on the highest incomes ($2 million, $800,000, and
$350,000). The proportional increase was about the same for the taxes
chosen for the top six groups; only the $30,000 and $ 15,000 earners,
usually assigned 0-5 percent tax rates, did not get elevated fair-tax
rates when explicit revenue floors were set.
So there is some sign that some respondents can be talked into
bending up their fair-tax curves, but cutting spending is much more
What about the Superwealthy?
The penultimate paragraph of Warren Buffett's much-discussed
New York Times op-ed in 2011 read: "But for those making more than
$1 million--there were 236,883 such households in 2009--I would raise
rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including,
of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10
million or more--there were 8,274 in 2009--I would suggest an additional
increase in rate."
Exactly what rates the Sage of Omaha wanted was left for the reader
to guess. My fair-income-tax scenarios did not feature any incomes
higher than $1 million, but the survey did include another item asking
respondents to identify a fair-tax level for some very large incomes. I
asked, "What is a fair amount of tax to pay on lottery winnings of
... ?" and randomly assigned each respondent a prize level of $1
million, $2 million, $5 million, $10 million, $20 million, $50 million,
or $100 million as the prize to be taxed. Respondents gave their answers
in dollars, which I converted to percentages. This question did not
explicitly distinguish between federal and state income taxes, but I
intended for them to name a fair total tax bill. For winnings that
large, winners presently pay very' nearly the top rate in federal
income tax (35 percent for 2011, which reverted to 39.6 percent in 2012,
when the survey was conducted) and in most states 5 percent or more in
state and local income taxes.
I found no evidence that the American public wants the (suddenly)
very rich to shoulder a high tax burden or even to pay current rates.
Figure 3 shows the mean rates selected by respondents for each prize
level according to their self-identified party identification. Only
about one-quarter of respondents chose a fair lottery tax of 30 percent
or higher; for the vast majority, the Obama-Buffet rates were too high.
Indeed, the average fair tax proposed by respondents was only 15
percent. Variation across prize levels was mildly sporadic, and, perhaps
surprisingly, most differences across prize amounts were too small to be
regarded as statistically significant. Whether taxing $1 million or $100
million in prizes, most respondents chose rates of 10 percent or less.
On this question, moreover, Democrats, Republicans, and independents
differed only a little. Republicans chose an average lottery tax of a
little more than 14 percent, while Democrats and independents set it
around 17 percent.
These rates are broadly similar to those shown in figure 2, and it
thus seems unlikely that they are so low only because the hypothetical
income was obtained in an unusual manner. Although hardly anyone ever
accrues any significant lottery income, millions of Americans buy
tickets and dream about the ultraslim possibility of a giant windfall.
So a preference for low rates is probably not a function of lotteries
being too strange or inaccessible for respondents ever to have given any
thought to what level of taxation is fair for the winners.
What about Contrary Evidence?
I also asked a question about a specific instance of the Buffett
rule: "Would you favor or oppose a law requiring millionaires to
pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes?" The responses
were similar to those reported by others: 62 percent said they favored
the tax, only 24 percent were opposed, and 14 percent said that they
were unsure. Because the question is fairly specific, how can one
reconcile this finding with the strikingly low fair-tax responses?
One conjecture is that people strongly associate high incomes with
shelters and tricks that protect much of this money from taxes. In turn,
one might endorse a 30 percent rate with the idea that only such a high
rate can actually achieve effective rates in the range of, say, the 17
percent that is roughly the mean fair-tax answer for very large incomes.
Of course, the whole point of the Buffett rule is to establish a fixed
average rate for total income, and my wording was meant to convey as
much. But to the extent that Buffett's argument has been widely
aired, it has surely reinforced the view that people whose income has
six or seven digits not only escape high tax rates but also accrue a
great deal of wealth that is simply not taxed. It is difficult to write
survey questions that successfully induce respondents to set aside their
existing beliefs and to answer only for the hypothetical worlds as
described by the survey researcher.
Arguably, asking about fair taxes for lottery income is useful
precisely because lottery income is so unlikely to be shielded from
taxation. One interpretation of the discrepancy between support for a
Buffett rule and the low preferred lottery taxes is that people will
embrace a 30 percent rate when they suspect that much of the income in
question is sheltered but like low rates when they expect the whole
income to be taxed. If so, even those who seem on board with Buffett
might have in mind a fair-tax bill that is lower than 30 percent.
When asked to provide best guesses for current tax rates, those who
said that they favor the Buffett rule gave answers that averaged out to
12 percent taxes on a $1 million income. Opponents' answers
averaged about 21 percent. Both values are too low to be regarded as
accurate, given the stated premise of the question, and respondents may
have had in mind capital-gains rates (after having heard Buffett say,
repeatedly, that his own effective tax rate is lower than 20 percent).
But the difference points yet again to the importance of inaccurate
beliefs about the status quo in regard to support for raising rates.
Indeed, although those who said that they favor a 30 percent tax on
millionaires did tend to select higher fair-tax rates, only a minority
of them actually picked an amount that converts into a 30 percent rate,
whether answering for a $1 million income or a $1 million lottery prize.
In support of the conjecture that horizontal rather than vertical
comparisons preoccupy Americans, I can point to one other item. The
survey gauged preferences for revenue-neutral tax reform with this
question: "Some tax reform plans being discussed would change the
tax code without aiming to change the total amount of tax revenue
collected. Which of the following alternatives would you prefer?"
Thirty-six percent said they were "not sure," but the
remainder broke strongly in favor of "Decrease tax rates, but
eliminate some deductions" (43 percent) over "Increase tax
rates, but increase deductions" (10 percent) or "Keep rates at
current levels and keep current deductions" (10 percent). Many
Americans, it seems, see unfairness less in low rates than in the myriad
complexities in the current code.
Shallow Roots of Egalitarianism
Doubtless, many Americans hold not entirely consistent beliefs
about what is fair in the realm of taxes. There is scope for talking
them into and out of higher rates on fairness grounds. There is a
visceral appeal to the main argument heard from the Left that the rich
are not pulling their weight. Others have shown that tax support can be
conditional on expectations about how the revenue is spent (e.g., Page
and Jacobs 2009).
Just the same, the difference between the portrait sketched in this
essay and the portraits painted in most headlines about American
attitudes toward wealth inequality and taxes is striking. When asked
what is fair, Americans name fairly low and flat tax rates. Most support
very low (even zero) rates for the poorest and only modest increases in
rates across the range from median to high incomes. I did not ask for
philosophical justifications in any of these surveys, but die aggregate
data recall Hayek: "It is the great merit of proportional taxation
that it provides a rule which is likely to be agreed upon by those who
will pay absolutely more and those who will pay absolutely less and
which, once accepted, raises no problem of a separate rule applying only
to a minority.... In no sense can a progressive scale of taxation be
regarded as a general rule applicable equally to all.... Progression
provides no criterion whatever of what is and what is not to be regarded
as just" (1960, 314-15).
Americans Views on Taxes. 2003. An NPR, Kaiser Family Foundation,
and Kennedy School of Government poll, April.
Arneson, Richard. 2013. Egalitarianism. In The Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, Calif.:
Stanford University Press. At
https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2013 / entries/egalitarianism/.
Barnes, Fred. 2012. A Setback, Not a Catastrophe. Weekly Standard,
Buffett, Warren E. 2011. Stop Coddling the Super-Rich. New York
Times, August 14.
Frolich, Norman, and foe A. Oppenheimer. 1992. Choosing Justice: An
Experimental Approach to Ethical Theory. Berkeley: University of
Gaines, Brian J. n.d. Fair Taxes: A Public Opinion Approach.
Manuscript in preparation.
Hall, Robert E., and Alvin Rabushka. 2007. The Flat Tax. 2nd ed.
Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution.
Hayek, F. A. 1944. The Road to Serfdom. Chicago: University of
--. 1960. The Constitution of Liberty. Chicago: University of
--. 1994. Hayek on Hayek: An Autobiographical Dialogue. Edited by
Stephen Kresge and Leif Wenar. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Kluegel, James R., and Eliot R. Smith. 1986. Beliefs about
Inequality: Americans' Views of What Is and What Ought to Be. New
York: De Gruyter.
Kohut, Andrew. 2015. Are Americans Ready for Obama's
"Middle Class" Populism? Pew Research Center poll, February
Newport, Frank. 2015. Americans Continue to Say U.S. Wealth
Distribution Is Unfair. Gallup poll.
Page, Benjamin I., and Lawrence R. Jacobs. 2009. Class War? What
Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality. Chicago: University of
Rawls, John. 1971. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
Reagan, Ronald. 1981. Inaugural Address. January 20.
Rivers, Douglas. 2006. Sample Matching: Representative Sampling
from Internet Panels. Polimetrix White Paper.
Scheiber, Noam, and Dalia Sussman. 2015. Inequality Troubles
Americans across Part)' Lines, Times/CBS Poll Finds. New York
Times, June 3.
Tax System Seen as Unfair, in Need of Overhaul. 2011. Pew Research
Center poll, December 20. At
White House. 2012a. Remarks by the President at the Associated
Press Luncheon. April 3. At
--. 2012b. Remarks by the President at a Campaign Event--Hollywood,
FL. April 10. At http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/04/10/remarks-president-campaignevent-hollywood--fl.
Acknowledgments: My work on public opinion about fair taxation
began long ago in collaboration with Doug Rivers and Lynn Vavreck, both
of whom arc, of course, blameless for this article. I am also grateful
to the Hoover Institution and in particular to David Brady for strong
support of this project. Too many audiences have heard some version of a
talk on my fair-tax findings for a full listing here, but I am thankful
for copious feedback from many along the way. In 1988, the late George
Feaver first introduced me to the writings of F. A. Hayek in a dazzling,
Brian J. Gaines is professor of political science in the Department
of Political Science and the Institute of Government and Public Affairs
at the University of Illinois.
(1.) For details on the sampling technique, see Rivers 2006.
(2.) I report elsewhere (Gaines n.d.) extensive statistical
analysis of the heterogeneity in responses. Respondent wealth is a
slightly significant predictor of higher "fair" rates, ceteris
paribus, as is gender (women choose higher values than men). Both of
those effects are much smaller than that of self reported ideology,
which behaves as expected: fair rates chosen by liberals arc higher than
those chosen by moderates, which are higher than those chosen by
conservatives. Even those who describe themselves as "very
liberal," however, do not, on average, endorse rates much higher
than the status quo for very large incomes.
(3.) The survey was administered by YouGov in March 2015, with
Caption: Figure 1 Many Definitions of Rich, Middle Class, and Poor
Caption: Figure 2 Mean Fair Income Tax Rates Compared to
Hall-Rabushka Flat Tax
Caption: Figure 3 Mean Fair Income Tax Rates for (Large) Lottery
Prizes, by Respondents' Political Party