Presuming that a progressive tax system makes sense--and I firmly believe that it does--the problem seems to be that it's easily misrepresented and confuses people.
Talk about raising taxes on the rich, and you have the GOP frothing at the mouth, lying to people, suggesting that everyone is going to be taxed at that rate, and acting as if the marginal tax rate applied to everything.
It's relatively complex (which is why the flat taxers can appeal to people--it's "simple" and it's "fair" -- which I don't agree with; it's so simple as to be simplistic, and fair is an assertion that suggests that identical treatment is fair, in a situation where people and their incomes are anything but identical).
So what do we do to make it easier for folks to understand and support?
I think that the primary problem is the way that the progressive system is set up. It allows most people NOT to have any reason to understand tax brackets and marginal rates. So when the professional misrepresentatives on the right spew their crap about taxes and taxation, most people are confused, and may be scared.
I propose that we flip the system on its head. Set the tax rate so that the rich really do pay the same rate on every cent of income--and so that people of lesser means get tax rate breaks.
Everyone loves a break. They understand it.
Now you may think that this is really not going to work, but let me give you an analogous case, so you can see how the psychology of it works out, with real people.
Years ago, my father and his brother -- both aerospace engineers -- invested a major chunk of their retirement savings into real estate, and specifically, into an apartment building. And the headaches of landlordship were revealed. But that's a tangent.
The one that really stuck out (for a reason about to be revealed) was late payment of rent. My father and uncle had to make mortgage payments to the bank, and the bank had a deadline, and if you were late, they got pissy and imposed a penalty. And they didn't like that. And they--like most landlords--imposed the same system on renters; you're late, it's costing me money in late fees I get hit with, and they just passed them on. And renters hated that, too.
Everyone was unhappy. And it didn't seem fair; you're a couple days late, but there's this big markup, and that's just not fair. Right? That's the logic and psychology involved.
At some point, one of them had a brainstorm. They scrapped late fees. At least on paper...
Instead, they just wrote them into the rent; the base rent was set at the rent they expected, plus the late fee. And then they made sure that renters understood that if the rent was in on time, by the deadline--not late at all--they could take an early payment reduction of whatever the old late fee used to be.
No difference, really. It's just the way that things were represented.
But HOW things get said, and done, is often as important as WHAT is done. Human beings are only marginally logical creatures....
The results? They were stunned. Late payment of rents fell, by a lot. And that alone was a good thing. But the real surprise was that their tenants were happier. They were getting a break.... And other problems with the building declined. Which ended up meaning that costs of running it fell some, and they actually were able to keep the rents down some, because turnover fell. So in the end, everyone really did benefit. But note that everyone was happier, even though the actual math said that nothing was different.
Back to taxes.
I propose that we set a progressive tax rate system that starts at the top and works down. I am NOT proposing actual numbers here, this is just representative, an example, to show how it might work.
Everyone pays the nominal income tax rate of 50%. Call that the national tax rate.
But for income below $500,000, down to $250,001, you get a break--on that income you only pay 40%.
Below $250,000, down to $100,001, you only pay 30% on that income. Another break!
Below $100,000, down to $50,001, you only pay 20% -- again a break!
Below $50,000, down to (poverty level*1.25), you only pay 10%. Again, a break for those who most need it.
Again, the actual brackets (where the incomes start and stop) and the rates are utterly arbitrary here. I'm not looking at the Treasury's income, or where we should tax various groups. I'm suggesting a system that gets talked about as a single national rate, which you pay LESS THAN, if your income is below the top level (and the further down from that level you are, the bigger the break).
The marginal tax brackets end up being essentially the same. But what changes is the psychology of how we talk about and think about taxes and rates. When they start arguing that the rich need a break down to 40% (compared to the example above), because it will "let them create jobs" < cough >, they'll get pushback from people who ask why the very wealthy should get the same break as the merely very well off--and why others don't get a similar break. If the top want a 10 point cut, shouldn't everyone get that, too? (At which point reality can kick in with the math that says that the budget wouldn't work...).
In the future, all that needs to be done would be to index the brackets for inflation, and to tweak the brackets.