Does The U.S. Really Have The Highest Taxes In The World?

Donald Trump says America has the highest taxes in the world. There are two problems with this claim. First, it’s not true. Second, the reason taxes are as high as they are in the US is largely due to spending on things that will not change under his presidency.

Let’s look at the first part, that his claim isn’t true. Although Aruba is close to the US, it doesn’t count. There they had the highest tax rates in 2015. The US isn’t even in the top 10. With the exception of Japan the rest are European countries. The 2015 International Tax Competitiveness Index ranked the United States as 32 globally. Perhaps this is a simple misunderstanding. Taxes are complicated and confusing and vary a great deal in how  they are applied from country to country. So is it possible that Donald Trump got so deep in the weeds of his taxes that he made a natural conclusion that the US has the highest taxes in the world? Probably not.

Maybe Trump was calculating the addition of the state taxes and figured that had to put the US higher than the rest of the world. But it was recently revealed that he has many of his companies located in New Hampshire where he pays zero in state income or sales taxes. Additionally, the most recent documentation of Trump’s taxes reveals that he paid no taxes in the late 70s. Zero taxes doesn’t seem like the highest taxes in the world. Of course there are other examples of higher taxation in the US, but his claim is simply false.

The big problem with his claim isn’t that it’s not true, but how this narrative is manipulated to justify domestic spending on the citizens who actually pay taxes. When we look at actual government expenses we see two major ones that will likely expand if Trump were to become president: military and prisons.

The military takes up about half the US discretionary budget. With Trumps bluster about policing the world there would certainly be no reduction in this major driver of domestic spending. And Trumps answer to crime has historically and loudly been, put them in jail. He prides himself on being tough on crime and pro punishment. Currently the US spends over $70 billion on imprisoning criminals. By comparison, Sanders’ plan to pay for college would cost a fraction of that amount. Portland State University’s school of criminal justice says that there are many more effective and less expensive methods to prevent and deal with crime than prison, like education, drug programs, counseling and therapy. But these are all viewed by Trump and his ilk as soft on crime.

And even if Trump were to find cuts in the budget so he could have some marginal tax relief, there is the expense of that yet-to-be built wall he keeps bragging about. He claims Mexico will pay for the wall, but Mexican officials have stated they ‘won’t pay a single cent for Trump’s stupid wall’. So Trump will either have to raise taxes to pay for the estimated $25 billion wall or go to war with Mexico, which seems consistent with his foreign policy narratives.  

Ultimately, if Trump thinks Americans are overtaxed, he would be forced to make cuts. He can’t lower his state tax rate of zero, so it would have to come out of the federal budget. It is obvious that those expenses that dominate our nation’s budget will be off limits. So, could we really expect lower taxes under a tough on crime world police president Trump?