Phil Magness: Who Really Pays the Most Taxes?

Economist and author Phil Magness debunks a recent New York Times piece and shoddy academic work about the rich and their taxes.


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How much do billionaires really pay in taxes?

"Today, the superrich control a greater share of America's wealth than during the Gilded Age of Carnegies and Rockefellers," said Gabriel Zucman in a recent New York Times opinion piece entitled, "It's Time to Tax the Billionaires."

Zucman is an economist at the Paris School of Economics and the University of California, Berkeley, and a frequent collaborator with superstar economist Thomas Piketty, author of the extremely influential book on wealth inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

But today's guest, Phil Magness—an economic historian, author, and the David J. Theroux Chair in Political Economy at the Independent Institute—says the work of Piketty and his circle of inequality-obsessed colleagues is deeply flawed and sometimes outright deceptive. He points out that billionaires do pay taxes…a lot of taxes. And the inequality literature is riddled with errors and bad statistics.

Watch the full conversation on Reason's YouTube channel or the Just Asking Questions podcast feed on AppleSpotify, or your preferred podcatcher.

Sources referenced in this conversation:

  1. Magness' viral post debunking Zucman
  2. Zucman's article discussed in the introduction
  3. CBO: Tax credits awarded by quintile
  4. Zucman's explanation for excluding the Earned Income Tax Credit (p. 19)
  5. Tax Foundation: Summary of the Latest Federal Income Tax Data, 2024 Update
  6. Piketty's inequality U-graph
  7. Auten-Splinter adjustment, after-tax income for top 1 percent
  8. Piketty: "r > g"
  9. Piketty: Capital income has increased as labor income has fallen


  • 00:00 Introduction to Just Asking Questions: Billionaires and Taxes
  • 01:38 Unpacking the Misleading Tax Rate Graphs
  • 06:38 The Political Motivations Behind Misleading Tax Narratives
  • 15:39 Analyzing the Impact of Tax Credits on Lower-Income Earners
  • 22:32 The Real Tax Burden: A Closer Look at Wealthy Americans' Contributions
  • 27:05 Countering Piketty's Inequality Data With Accurate Accounting
  • 34:58 The Practical Problems With a Wealth Tax
  • 40:04 Piketty's Inequality Narrative and Its Flaws
  • 48:50 Global Financial Transparency and Taxation Proposals
  • 54:40 The Moral and Economic Case Against High Taxation
  • 57:48 Listener Q&A: Defending the Show's Title