It's tax season, meaning it's almost time to file paperwork, dig up receipts, and either report or hide your side income. It's an inconvenience, but American taxpayers can take heart in at least one fact: when all of our various taxes (sales, income, payroll, etc.) are taken together, Americans pay less in taxes than citizens of other major developed countries.
Relative to our GDP, U.S. taxpayers are paying less than OECD nations as a group and are also paying less than the other "major seven" OECD nations individually. Tax revenues in the U.S., represented by the bright red line in the below chart, only totaled around 24 percent of GDP as of 2012, compared to 34 percent for all OECD machines as of 2011 (the latest available year for full-OECD data), represented by the thick, bright-blue line.
By this measure, the U.S. also had the second-lowest total of tax revenue of the 30 OECD nations for which 2012 numbers were available. Only Chile, with a 20.8 percent tax-to-GDP ratio, was lower.
Of course, not all tax systems are created equal; interestingly, a far greater share of U.S. tax revenue comes from income taxes (46.5 percent) than in OECD nations as a whole (33.5 percent), according to the OECD. Those nations, however, all pay a greater share of their taxes on goods and services than Americans do.
While it's true that U.S. tax revenues are projected to reach a record level of $2.7 trillion in 2013, that's in nominal dollars, which can be misleading because they are not adjusted for inflation. In addition, a $2.7 trillion tax haul would mean something very different in a smaller nation like Italy, whose economy is one-eighth the size of the United States'.
The question of tax revenue is especially salient at a time of constant budget battles in Congress. A sustainable long-term budget will require either benefit cuts, higher tax revenue, or both, CBO Director Doug Elmendorf has said. That may entail some difficult choices, he told a gathering of economists in 2013, as reported by the Christian Science Monitor.
"Putting the debt on a sustainable path will ultimately require increases in taxes or cuts in government benefits or services for people who consider themselves to be in the middle class," Elmendorf said.
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