The AIDS deaths, the carnage in Central America, and the distaste for feeding the hungry have all been covered elsewhere, but there’s one lasting legacy of Ronald Reagan’s presidency that is very much on topic for this website. In 1982, in a move memorably headlined by The Onion as “Congress Allocates $300 Billion to Nation’s Rich,” President Reagan slashed the top federal income tax rate from 70% to 50%. By 1988, the wealthiest Americans were paying only 28%, the lowest rate since the 1920s, and just two-fifths of what they would have paid a decade earlier.
This redistribution of cash from those at the bottom of the income scale to those at the top – Reagan slashed jobs programs and other social services at the same time – had an immediate and permanent effect on the U.S. income scale. Where the median U.S. household gained a modest $3,400 in after-tax income from 1979 to 1997 (by this point the top income tax rate had crept back up to 39.6%), the average household in the top one percent of the population was $414,000 a year richer.
All this newfound wealth for the wealthy had a dramatic effect on the sports industry. Where the poor will generally waste money on such things as food and shelter (and, apparently, Cadillacs), the rich are far more likely to put their money into tickets to sporting events. In particular, they’re more likely to buy up luxury suites and high-priced club seats. And it was the newfound lure of these big-ticket items that would set sports owners salivating for new stadiums, and the public subsidies that would build them. (Reagan also slashed taxes on corporations – from 1981 to 1983, more than a quarter of top U.S. companies paid no taxes at all, despite $50 billion in pretax U.S. profits – further juicing the market for suite sales.)
There’s also an argument to be made that the Reagan-era cuts in aid to state and city governments made them more desperate to kowtow to their local corporate bigwigs (the current wave of local-level corporate subsidies first surged under Reagan), but that’s enough speaking ill of the dead for one day. Just some things to consider as you head to the ballpark tonight – and here’s hoping that some team, somewhere, marks the occasion by halting for one night the incessant “Hey ho, let’s go” sound clips from “Blitzkrieg Bop,” and replacing them with a more appropriate Ramones song.