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The last time someone tried to show me this, that person started by ignoring the pre-tax benefit of contributing to a 401(k), which of course invalidates any comparison from that point on. <P>

I have come to believe that you are correct.

Clearly the advantage of the 401(k) disappears at a sufficiently high marginal tax rate.

OTOH, there have been many years in which I maxed out my 401(k) pre-tax contributions and just continued making the same deposits, but on an after-tax basis. The after-tax contributions are disadvantaged compared to just investing the money in a taxable account in a tax-efficient manner. Either SPY or QQQ will do for me.
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