Lowest taxes in more than a half-century

LOWEST TAXES IN MORE THAN A HALF-CENTURY…. Confused far-right activists chose an odd time to launch a “Taxed Enough Already” revolt.

Amid complaints about high taxes and calls for a smaller government, Americans paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman’s presidency, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data found.

Some conservative political movements such as the “Tea Party” have criticized federal spending as being out of control. While spending is up, taxes have fallen to exceptionally low levels.

Federal, state and local taxes — including income, property, sales and other taxes — consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century. The overall tax burden hit bottom in December at 8.8.% of income before rising slightly in the first three months of 2010.

“The idea that taxes are high right now is pretty much nuts,” says Michael Ettlinger, head of economic policy at the liberal Center for American Progress.

Of course, one of the driving factors for these low tax rates was last year’s stimulus bill — which included one of the largest middle-class tax breaks in U.S. history, which Republicans staunchly opposed, and which apparently inspired throngs of misguided conservatives to complain bitterly that they’re “taxed enough already.”

Looking ahead, tax rates more in line with the recent norm — say, tax rates of the 1990s, when the economy was strong and the budget was balanced — would do wonders to reduce the deficit the right pretends to care about.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.