(Updated slightly for clarity and to correct a typo.)
I've long liked Ben Stein as an actor but held a low opinion of his politics. He was a speechwriter for Nixon and Ford who still strongly defends Nixon, going so far as to dismiss Nixon's sins as merely lying to "protect his subordinates" and to stay in office and "keep his agenda of peace going." Stein surely knows better than that. (To be fair, I agree with him that Nixon did a lot of very commendable things that should not be forgotten, but neither should his crimes.)
I was also appalled that he narrated an alleged documentary that was a very dishonest -- not merely ignorant -- piece of Creationist propaganda. (Roger Ebert had a nice rant about it.)
But Stein has partly redeemed himself in my view by saying something at least halfway sensible about taxes on the rich.
In an appearance on Fox and Friends, Stein said, "I hate to say this on Fox -- I hope I'll be allowed to leave here alive -- but I don't think there is any way we can cut spending enough to make a meaningful difference. We're going to have to raise taxes on very, very rich people. People with incomes of, say, two, three, four million a year and up. And then slowly, slowly, slowly move it down. Two fifty a year, that's not a rich person." (Actually, someone making $250,000 a year would be a fairly rich person to most of us, Ben, but never mind; you're on a roll.)
Stein, a lawyer with some background in economics, pointed out (correctly), "The evidence is that there is no clear connection between the level of taxation and the level of economic activity. The biggest growth and prosperity we've ever had in this country was from roughly 1941 to 1973. That was the best years we've ever had and those were years of much higher taxes than we have now."
Steve Doucy responded, "Taxes were at 70, 80 percent then" and Stein pointed out, "The highest rate was in the 90s during parts of the 50s, and yet we were very prosperous."
I should note that Doucy and Stein were speaking of the top marginal tax rate, which applied only to the portion of income over a very high limit. (That's basically what "marginal" means in this context.) Even the ultra-rich paid lower rates on the part of their income below that limit.
Recall that we came out of the Great Depression and World War II with a huge national debt bigger than the size of the economy, and these rates, which came down some under Kennedy and Johnson, helped hold the debt in check, so that by the time Jimmy Carter left office the debt was only about a third of GDP. The debt then exploded under Ronald Reagan, the two Presidents Bush, and Barack Obama -- all of whom, it should be noted, cut taxes. On the other hand, the debt-to-GDP ratio fell under Clinton, who presided over the first budget surpluses since Lyndon Johnson and started paying down the debt. A "national debt clock" some political group had put up near the mall in Washington had to be turned off, because it was not designed to run backwards.
Under most of Reagan's presidency the top marginal rate was 50%. For a few years under Reagan and G.H.W Bush it was cut to just 28% as part of a tax reform, but a disastrous deficit explosion led to its being raised, and under Clinton it was 39.6%, and under Bush and Obama it's been 35%. In the past taxes rates were more progressive, continuing to rise for higher and higher amounts of income, but now there are no breakpoints above about $390,000 a year. I think Stein is suggesting (and I agree) that there ought to be more progressivity and additional steps above that point.
Here's a clip of Stein's appearance: