Using Lego bricks, an economist demonstrates how taxes affect income inequality.

Do taxes actually help bridge the wealth gap? Kinda.

One of the most common tools in adjusting the wealth gap is the tax code.

Some more liberal economists argue that the tax code doesn't put enough of a burden on the country's top earners. On the other hand, some conservative economists make the argument that if top earners didn't have to pay so much in taxes, they'd be able to spend their money directly within the economy, which would (in theory) result in a healthier economy with a smaller gap (see trickle-down economics).


But let's take a look at the current tax system. Does it actually shrink the gap between the rich and the poor?

A little.

In a video for the Brookings Institution, David Wessel uses Lego bricks to illustrate the tax system.

Each stack represents the average income before taxes for each 20% segment of the population.

GIFs via Brookings Institution.

The bottom 20% of Americans (baristas, fast food workers) made $14,248 before taxes.

The next 20% (massage therapists, substance abuse counselors) made around $35,551.

The next (nurses, welders), $63,270.

The next (pharmacists, experienced programmers), $105,666.

And finally, the top 20% (CEOs, surgeons), averaged $306,320.

The average income of the top 1% is a whopping $2 million pear year.

So what does all of this look like after taxes? Kind of the same.

Sure, top earners saw almost 25% of their income go to taxes, but it's still pretty massively unequal.

So wait, since the average income for the top earners dropped by a higher percentage than others, does that mean income is being redistributed?

Again, kind of.

It's extremely hard to live on barista wages.

For the tax system to actually have a large impact on the U.S.'s wealth distribution, it would have to get significantly more progressive.

That is, it would need to tax the top earners even higher and the lower earners even less.

So, as much as it's a political talking point, no, the tax code is not a form of socialism. (I wish!) It is not some massive redistribution of wealth. (Again, I wish!) It's just the bare minimum the country needs to avoid completely burying the lower and middle economic classes.

So while taxes don't have a huge effect on income inequality, the good news is that they CAN have an effect.

All we need to do is push for a system that puts more of a burden on the high earners.

Check out the Brookings Institution video for more details on how taxes relate to income inequality:

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

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The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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