10 Economic Questions for Americans

bernsterThe following are ten questions that every American needs to ask before going to the polls and casting a vote. The first few questions address general economic issues and history. Next there are some questions concerning current presidential candidates, specifically, Bernie Sanders. The last question deals with the ethics of income inequality and what we as Americans can/should do to end it.

Question #1. How much does the 1% make?

A. If you make $350,000 or more, you’re in the top 1%. A common misconception is that all one percenters are bringing in millions and millions of dollars per year. In actuality, the threshold to become part of the top 1% begins around $340k/yr. The average income for the top 1% is estimated by Forbes to be around $700k/yr

Question #2. When was income inequality at its lowest in America?


As shown in the chart above, America was most equal in terms of income during the Reagan years of the 80’s. In fact, we see the recent increase in inequality make a big jump in the late nineties and then completely surge since the mid 2000’s. Income inequality has increased dramatically under the Obama administration and now approaches the rates of the 1930’s.

Question # 3. How much of the U.S. budget is spent on the military?

A. Bernie’s plan involves significant defunding to the military. According to the Federal Budgeting Office, 15.88% of the total U.S. budget goes toward funding the military, with an additional 4.19% towards Veterans Benefits. For context, Medicare and Healthcare account for 27.42% of the budget, while 33.26% goes to Social Security, Unemployment and Labor benefits. More than 60% of the entire US budget is currently spent on entitlements, which literally triples the portion of our budget used for military and veteran expenses. 

total_spending_pie,__2015_enactedQuestion #4. How much does the US currently spend on healthcare? 

A. Bernie has said repeatedly that we as a nation don’t spend enough on healthcare and his plan includes investing over $28 trillion dollars into a single-payer system. At this point, the U.S. spends $9,146 per citizen, the third highest ratio in the world and this number has steadily increased year after year. Only Switzerland ($9,276) and Norway ($9,715) spend slightly more per person on healthcare than the US. Even countries with single payer systems such as Canada ($5,718) and the UK ($3,598) spend far less money per person than the United States.


Dollars and cents aside, the real question is not “cost,” but “value.” The American cancer survival rates rank among the best in the world. Waiting times for receiving care, including elective surgeries are significantly lower in the U.S. than in other nations. The U.S. also has the sixth-lowest average hospital stay length.

That’s not to say that the U.S. healthcare system doesn’t have it’s own massive flaws and failures. Both sides of the aisle agree that our system needs repairs and according to Sanders, Obamacare has come up short. However, the single-payer model may prove too costly for America. Clause Castonguay, the architect of the Canadian single-payer (socialized) system has since opposed single-payer systems and said,

“We thought we could resolve the system’s problems by rationing services or injecting massive amounts of new money into it,” says Castonguay. “We are proposing to give a greater role to the private sector so that people can exercise freedom of choice.” – Clause Castonguay (Father of Canadian Healthcare)

Question #5. What is the current U.S. debt?

A. The current U.S. debt is just above $19,000,000,000,000 (trillion). The economy is losing value and credibility. For the first time since 1941, America has dropped it’s AAA credit rating with S&P. This graphic explains our debt situation in terms of a family budget. Note: Added debt from Sanders’ plan is on the right. (How much new debt? Just keep on reading to find out):


Question #6. How much is Bernie’s plan going to cost?

The new costs of the Sanders program have been estimated at over $28 trillion for healthcare, with an additional $1.5 trillion in other spending (free tuition, expansion of entitlements, etc), bringing the total just shy of $30 trillion. Simply put, this would nearly double our debt over ten years.

How does this cost compare with anticipated revenue? Well, in earnest, not well. Despite costing an additional $29.5 trillion, all of the revenue collected by Bernie’s plan via taxation, fees, surcharges and the elimination of breaks still comes up about $8 trillion short of covering Bernie’s plan.

cost v rev

What puts the Sanders plan under even more scrutiny is the anticipated effect it will have on the U.S. economy. Economists with the Tax Policy Institute found that Bernie’s aggressive tax policies would actually bring in less total revenue than more conservative approaches. For example, the financial Transaction Tax (FTT) was once a popular policy among European countries in order to reduce volatility and increase tax revenue. However, the FTT has had the opposite effect, increasing volatility and lowering total tax revenue. The FTT has since come under fire from prominent European economists and policy makers. American economists have speculated that, at best, Bernie’s FTT would bring in only $50 billion.

The viability of Bernie’s plan as it’s currently laid out been the subject of many American economists. The preponderance of evidence suggests that Sanders’ ambitious plan, as currently written, would not come close to paying for itself. However,  some have analyzed Bernie’s plan in principle to answer whether the policies could work if taxes were even higher. The following video provides a satirical but honest perspective, complete with numbers, facts and figures to address if and how Bernie’s plan could work.

Question #7. What is Bernie’s tax plan and how does it compare with competitors?

Sanders’ income tax plan includes four new brackets of 37%, 43%, 48%, and 52%. The top rate applies to taxable income over $10 million (not featured in the chart), and is the highest since Jimmy Carter’s 70% rate in 1980. Also, Bernie’s plan increases the top estate tax rate to 65%, while lowering the estate tax exclusion down to $3.5 million. Additionally, Sanders plans to end reduced taxes on capital gains and dividends, meaning those types of income would be taxed at the same rates as ordinary income for taxpayers earning in excess of $250,000. These changes will bring in an estimated $235 billion in tax revenue annually (About 0.008% of the plan’s cost).

When contrasted with the plans of GOP candidates, we see that Bernie’s tax plan includes some massive increases for several tax brackets, while the GOP plans lower the tax rate of all Americans, including deep tax cuts for middle and lower classes. The chart at the bottom enumerates the tax rates per bracket in regard to married families filing jointly (Green indicates tax cut and red indicates tax hike).

Perhaps the most noteworthy takeaway from a tax rate analysis is how the candidates plan on taxing the poor. Under the current laws, families making less than 20k per year pay a 10% income tax rate. Sanders’ plan makes no changes to tax burden of the poor. In contrast, both Trump and Cruz have proposed eliminating income taxes on the poor entirely. Neither GOP plan enforces any income tax until a family makes at least 40k per year. Ted Cruz’s plan also includes the removal of the payroll tax , which will reduce the marginal tax rate on nearly all workers and particularly low-wage workers struggling to get off welfare.

Another major difference between Bernie’s plan and those of his GOP counterparts is the level of complexity. While Bernie’s tax plan includes four income brackets, a laundry list of additional fees and surcharges (listed below) and heavy penalties on investment; the GOP candidates opt for a simpler approach. Trump’s plan features four brackets at 0%, 10%, 20% and 25%, with a few additional charges to high income individuals and those in the financial sector. Cruz’ plan is even simpler: two tax brackets of 0% and 10%, with a flat business tax of 16%. If you’re wondering how much YOU will be paying in taxes under each respective plan, find your income in the chart below and check the plans yourself.


Now that actual numbers have been released by the campaigns, we can get a picture of how the national tax burden would be spread between the upper, middle and lower classes. Currently, the top 1% of wealth earners pay nearly half of all income taxes despite making only 17% of expanded cash income. In other words, the one percenters’ share of taxes is 2.7 times their share of income. While the wealthiest Americans pay nearly three times more than they pull in, the bottom 60% of Americans pay only 2% of all income taxes. According to the Tax Foundation, the top 1 percent of households collectively pay more in total taxes than all of the tax-paying households in the bottom 90 percent

Bernie’s plan, while taxing every working American, will increase the burden placed on high income earners substantially by implementing more taxes for the rich. The GOP plans would still keep the majority of tax burden on the wealthy, but would accomplish this by doing away with taxes on the lower class and providing massive tax cuts to the middle class.

Question #8. Will Bernie’s tax increases affect the middle and lower classes?

A. Yes. On top of the current tax rate for the middle and lower classes, which will remain unchanged by Bernie, Sanders has already authored legislation that would increase taxes on the working middle class by at least 9%. Sanders’ $319 billion proposal for providing paid family and medical leave would be financed by an increase in the federal Social Security and Medicare FICA payroll tax that all working Americans must pay. The payroll tax applies to annual incomes of up to $118,500 and proportionately hits lower income wage earners harder than higher income Americans.

In addition, Sanders has supported legislation to: repeal housing and wage exemptions for US citizens working abroad, tax capital gains at the regular income rate, increase the death tax, institute a new financial transaction tax and cap the home mortgage interest deduction at $300,000. He also voted “no” on increasing the child tax credit and opposed HR 3081, which provided tax relief for small business owners.

If history is any indicator, Bernie’s plan will likely have even larger tax increases hit the middle class. Sanders has often referred to Scandinavian models as examples of his policies. The Tax Foundation explains that Scandinavian countries raise their revenue largely from the middle class. Scandinavian income taxes are “flat,” in that they tax most people at high rates, not just high-income taxpayers.

For example, the top marginal tax rate of Denmark  is 60% and it applies to all income over 1.2 times the average income in Denmark. For American perspective, all income over $60,000 (1.2 times the average income of about $50,000 in the United States) would be taxed at 60% if we were to match the Scandinavian model. A model that has come under increased scrutiny and is currently undergoing significant changes. 

Question #9. How much money, outside of income taxes, would be raised in Bernie’s plan?

A. According to Bernie’s website, only $1.5 trillion, less than 5% of the projected costs come from non-income taxes. This places a high burden on taxes in order to raise money sufficient for financing Sanders’ bold plans as roughly 95% of the funding will come from income taxes.

Aside from income tax increases, the Sanders campaign has outlined plans to target offshore tax havens, establish a Wall Street speculation fee and end subsidies for energy companies. Also, Bernie plans on taxing capital gains and dividends the same as work, meaning that money that has previously been taxed will be taxed again. Such a policy dissociates from modern economic research findings which conclude that such rates tend to deflate natioanl GDP and hurt job growth:

“On balance, the evidence supports the economic case for a low rate of tax on capital gains. Recent actual experience suggests that a low rate of tax on capital gains increases capital investment and new business formation. Tax revenues have surged when the capital gains rate has been cut as trillions of dollars of locked-in capital are released to be put to more productive uses.” – Stephen Moore

Question #10. Will you pay your fair share?

The final question is a personal question regarding income inequality, and how far we are willing to go in order to end income inequality worldwide. It comes from author and historian Tom Woods, featured in the video below.

If you have answers for any of these questions or disagree with something here, comment below and tell me where I’m wrong.