Greg Sargent is one of my favorite bloggers, because he makes good catches:
In a rational world, a new study that came out today on income equality would constitute a major blow to the GOP argument on the sequester.
The new study was performed by Thomas Hungerford of the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. Though the study is not a CRS product, Hungerford’s data is widely cited on both sides; he’s an impeccably objective analyst.
Here’s what Hungerford found: The single greatest driver of income inequality over a recent 15 year period was runaway income from capital gains and dividends.
This finding is directly relevant to the current debate, because Obama and Democrats want to offset the sequester in part by closing loopholes enjoyed by the wealthy, such as the one that keeps tax rates on capital gains and dividends low. Dems want to do this in order to prevent a scenario where the sequester is averted only by deep spending cuts to social programs that could hurt a whole lot of poor and middle class Americans. Republicans oppose closing any such loopholes and want to avert the sequester with only deep spending cuts.
Hungerford’s report, like all serious examinations of inequality, is very complicated. He looks at a bunch of recent data on inequality from the period from 1991-2006 — measured by the so-called “Gini index” — and calculates the degree to which various factors exacerbated it. Hungerford found that over that period, the rise in the Gini index (a story that’s been widely told elsewhere, one that’s largely been driven by the runaway wealth of the top one percent and top 0.1 percent) was driven mainly by the rise in capital gains and dividends income.
“By far, the largest contributor to increasing income inequality (regardless of income inequality measure) was changes in income from capital gains and dividends,” the report concludes.
Or, as Hungerford put it in an interview with me: “The reason income inequality has been increasing has been the rising income going to the top one percent. Most of that has come in capital gains and dividends.”
In other words, wealthy beneficiaries of low tax rates on capital gains and dividends are doing extremely well — and their runaway wealth is a major driver of income inequality. There’s a lot of that money out there that could be taxed as ordinary income — as Obama and Dems want — as a way to avert the sequester, which could badly damage the economy. Republicans oppose this.