Not-So-‘Mad’ Ideas About Taxes

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...In a certain sense, wealthy people could live with a justifiable guiltlessness in “Mad Men” New York. Not because they were blind to the city’s mounting racial crisis or to the perils of smoking or sexism, but rather because, fiscally speaking, they were paying their due. In 1966, which is where the new season finds us, the federal income tax topped out at 70 percent on income over $100,000 (approximately $700,000 in present-day dollars), a figure reduced from 90 percent in a tax cut enacted two years earlier.

Absent were any obvious incentives for amassing perverse amounts of money (and thus there was more time for the languorous lunch). In April 1968, Fortune magazine published a list of those Americans whose net worth exceeded $100 million; the list ended at 153. Today, those in the highest federal income tax bracket will pay 35 percent.

Long-term capital gains taxes were higher than they are today, and so were New York State income taxes: the richest paid 14 percent in 1966; today they pay 8.82 percent, and current law has that figure reverting to 6.85 percent in three years. Moreover, beginning his mayoral tenure in 1966, John Lindsay delivered the city’s first personal income tax....

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