Sunday, January 30, 2011
Americans like to tax the rich. As a nation, we rely more on progressive taxes—and less on regressive ones—than any other developed country. We impose no broad-based consumption tax, standing firm against the global popularity of value-added levies. But we make ample use of corporate and individual income taxes—touchstones of progressive politics for more than a century. Our national penchant for progressive taxation has deep roots in American history. ...
It's one thing to say that American politicians have been taxing the rich for more than 200 years, but what were they trying to achieve? Were they seeking to redistribute wealth, to recast society along more egalitarian lines? Or were they simply trying to ensure that rich people paid their "fair share"? The answer, predictably, is both.
American political leaders have defended progressive taxation on narrower grounds, using it to remake the tax system, not society. No one made the case more succinctly than Rep. Cordell Hull, legislative father of the 1913 income tax. "I have no disposition to tax wealth unnecessarily or unjustly," he explained in his memoirs. "But I do believe that the wealth of the country should bear its just share of the burden of taxation and that it should not be permitted to shirk that duty."