“Some people say it differently, and they will say we are the highest developed nation taxed in the world. . . . A lot of people know exactly what I am talking about, and in many cases they think I am right when I say the highest. As far as I am concerned, we are really essentially the highest. But if you’d like to add the ‘developed nation,’ you can say that, too. But a lot of people agree that the way I am saying is exactly correct.”
— President Trump, responding to a question from Mike Sacks of E.W. Scripps Co., Oct. 17, 2017
Mike Sacks, national political correspondent for E.W. Scripps, asked President Trump a question The Fact Checker has been dying to ask: Why does he keep saying that the United States is the world’s highest-taxed nation when that is objectively false?
We have written a lot about this claim, ever since Trump started saying it during the 2016 presidential campaign. In our database of false and misleading claims by the president, he has made this particular claim 14 times between Jan. 20 and Oct. 8, but he has added to the tally since then. (We are struggling to keep up!)
The president’s response is, well, rather Trumpian. And his amended explanation is false, unfortunately.
Trump’s claim that the United States is the world’s “most taxed nation” was so obviously wrong that we never wrote a full-fledged fact check of the claim. Instead, we dealt with it as part of debate roundups, speech roundups and the like.
In his answer to Sacks, Trump suggested that he simply was using shorthand, that maybe it would be more precise to say the United States is the most taxed nation among developed countries. But he suggested that it did not really matter. “A lot of people know exactly what I am talking about, and in many cases they think I am right when I say the highest,” he said.
Here’s the rub: Every time we have fact-checked this statement, we have compared the United States to its peers in the developed world. The most accepted proxy for developed nations is the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). And, no matter how you slice it, the United States never ends up on top.
The Pew Research Center, using 2014 data, looked at average taxes and social insurance contributions as a percentage of gross income for different family types. This chart of the findings had a total of 39 countries, including some non-OECD members. The United States almost always ranked near the bottom.
The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, also using 2014 data, looked at government revenue as a share of the economy. Again, the United States ranks near the bottom of the list — far below the OECD average.
Finally, CNBC used OECD data to make a chart that examined the amount of taxes paid per person in each country. In this scenario, the United States was slightly above average — but still in 13th place.
As we have noted before, the United States has the highest statutory corporate rate among OECD countries, 35 percent, but the effective rate — after deductions and the like — is 18.6 percent. The OECD does not report effective rates, but the Congresssional Budget Office says that is the fourth-highest rate among the Group of 20 countries, another set of U.S. economic peers.
The Pinocchio Test
The president’s slight modification of his claim simply further demonstrates how seriously mistaken he continues to be on this issue. Among its economic peers, the United States is not at all the highest-taxed nation, no matter how you crunch the numbers. Trump may have convinced himself that he’s right, but he continues to be very, very wrong.
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