Illustration by Sarina Finkelstein for MONEY; Getty Images (5)
By Ian Salisbury
July 19, 2017

As the Republicans in Washington prepare to dig into the coming round of budget negotiations, their top priorities will include an systemic overhaul for U.S. taxes, which President Trump has characterized as “just about the highest in the world.”

But how much do Americans really pay compared with other nations? It may be less than you think.

Courtesy of Federal Reserve of Chicago

A research paper published this week by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago includes the above chart, highlighting the tax burdens of all 35 OECD countries as of 2014. With a tax burden of 25% — a measurement that includes income, property, and various other taxes — the U.S. is near the very bottom, well below the overall average of 34%. It ranks below all the measured countries except Korea, Chile, and Mexico.

Trump and other Republicans are right about one aspect of U.S. taxes, however. When it comes to taxing corporate profits, the U.S. does indeed have one of the highest nominal maximum rates in the world, at 35%.

The new study’s authors looked in particular at how the U.S. tax regime stacks up against Germany’s — a nation they chose because its economy resembles that of the U.S., and because Trump has said Germany’s trade surplus with the U.S gives it an upper hand economically.

And U.S. corporations are in fact paying higher income taxes than German ones. As it happens, deductions and other tax strategies mean relatively few U.S. corporations actually get stuck paying the maximum nominal 35% rate, instead paying about 20% on average. But that is still higher than the comparable 15% effective rate that German corporations pay, according to the Chicago Fed estimates.

The high U.S. nominal corporate tax rate could indeed be a problem for the economy, since it encourages U.S. corporations to shift their operations overseas to keep tax bills low — something Trump and other Republicans have repeatedly called out.

All the same, those the federal corporate income tax represents a relative small part of the U.S. overall tax picture, according the Chicago Fed study — accounting for less than 10% of overall tax revenue.

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