Much has been said in recent days after Mitt Romney revealed that his effective tax rate is close to 15 percent — below that of many middle-class Americans — because much of his income comes from investment gains, which are taxed at lower rates than normal wages.
But Flyod Norris reminds us in the New York Times today that “unearned income” from investments was not always taxed at a lower rate than earned income. For two years, thanks to Republican icon Ronald Reagan, capital gains and earned income were treated equally:
For most of the history of income taxes in America, long-term capital gains — defined at different times as investments held for minimum periods of as little as six months and as long as 10 years — have been taxed at substantially lower rates than top ordinary income tax rates.
There was, in fact, only one time that capital gains were taxed at the same rates that were paid by people who earned their money by working. That was during the years 1988 to 1990, as a result of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 — a law championed by President Ronald Reagan.
Reagan’s Vice President, George H.W. Bush, convinced Reagan and Congress to lower the rate again as he was preparing to run for the presidency, and the capital gains rates was subsequently lowered to today’s rate of 15 percent by his son, President George W. Bush, as part of his 2003 tax cut. As Citizens for Tax Justice has noted, Reagan’s tax increase did not cause investment to fall, as many anti-tax ideologues had predicted.