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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Puckett: Means-Testing 'Ability To Pay' In The Income Tax To Combat Wealth Inequality

James M. Puckett (Penn State), Improving Tax Rules by Means-Testing: Bridging Wealth Inequality and 'Ability to Pay', 70 Okla. L. Rev. 405 (2018):

The federal income tax can and should do more to address wealth disparities and income inequality. The income tax does not directly count wealth, and the realization rule and basis "step-up" at death exclude substantial amounts of income for the wealthy. The Constitution limits Congress's ability to tax wealth. Despite these serious challenges, this Article considers how to potentially bridge the gap between wealth and the income tax.

For example, asset-based phase-outs in the income tax should pass muster without apportionment, although their bite would necessarily be limited. The Article posits that the public would be more receptive to phase-outs than more progressive tax brackets. Relevant to complexity, the existing literature has identified potential mark-to-market solutions to correct the exclusion of unrealized gains. The design of asset-based phase-outs would be prefigured to some extent by whether these proposals gain traction. The income tax, to be sure, cannot by itself solve the problem of wealth inequality. Principles of tax justice, however, arguably require greater attention to wealth in measuring the taxpayer's "ability to pay."

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If defined contribution retirement balances are counted as assets, then the present value of defined benefits should also be counted.

Posted by: AMTbuff | Jul 17, 2018 4:48:37 AM

A wealth tax or "asset-based phaseout" = taxing the responsible savers and incentivizing wasteful spending.

Posted by: r | Jul 17, 2018 7:03:37 AM