Are your taxes too high? When Gallup asked that question in April, tax month in the United States, 46 percent said they were. An additional 47 percent said their taxes were “about right.” Just 3 percent said their taxes were too low.
This campaign season reflects that result. Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, is offering a 20 percent tax cut for everyone. Given the mood of the conservatives in the United States today, that may not surprise you. But even President Barack Obama, who is routinely described as a socialist by his opponents, is peddling a plan under which 99 percent of Americans would pay less than they did under the last Democrat in the White House, Bill Clinton.
This bipartisan agreement that the overwhelming majority of Americans should pay lower taxes than they did in the 1990s is remarkable for many reasons. For one thing, we are constantly hearing – and it is true – that U.S. politics is more polarized than ever. But unless you are a member of the 1 percent, on this core issue there is a lot more consensus than you might think. Political strategists on both sides, it turns out, know how to read poll data.
But the really surprising thing about the no-more-tax consensus is how much of an outlier it makes the United States compared both with the rest of the world and with itself in recent history. When it comes to foreign policy or to global economic dominance, American exceptionalism may indeed be in jeopardy. But when it comes to taxes, the United States is quite different from most other Western industrialized economies.
According to the International Monetary Fund, in 2011, among the world’s 30 leading Western economies (plus Japan), only in New Zealand and in Japan was government revenue a lower share of gross domestic product than in the United States. Countries like Australia, Estonia, Ireland and Switzerland, which tend to favor low taxes and a small state, have government revenue that accounts for more of GDP than it does in the United States.