Critics have called a wealth tax 'un-American,' but the idea is as old as the American Revolution

Business Insider | 2/9/2020 | Tom Shachtman
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The idea of levying a tax on the wealthy has become more popular, and critics have attacked the idea as "un-American."

But the history of progressive taxation in the US dates back to the founding of the country.

Wealth - Tax - Return - Founders - Principles

So perhaps a wealth tax is a return to the Founders' principles, rather than a radical change.

Tom Shachtman is an author. His most recent book The Founding Fortunes: How the Wealthy Paid for and Profited From America's Revolution, was just published by Saint Martin's Press.

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This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

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% - Government - Income - Taxes - People

Although more than 70% of the federal government's income from personal taxes is paid by people making above $100,000 a year, progressive taxation has been in decline for the last 75 years.

Currently the 400 wealthiest Americans, billionaires all, pay a smaller percent of their income in taxes (around 23%, according to economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman) than do Americans with incomes nearer the national average income of $69,000 a year (a 25% to 30% rate).

Critics - Calls - Taxes - Wealthy - Tax

So while critics have attacked the calls for increasing taxes on the wealthy and for making the tax code more progressive "un-American," the policy shouldn't be thought of as a new idea but as a return to the Founders' principles.

Today we judge the Founders to have been quite conservative in their economic predilections. But they embraced progressive taxation.

US - Colonies - Principle - Colonial - Taxes

Before the US was born, taxing the rich in the colonies proportionately more than the poor was already an established principle. Colonial legislatures repeatedly assessed local taxes based on property ownership, with larger amounts owed for larger properties.

During the Revolutionary War this progressivism continued, but only on the state level, since national taxation was out of the question for a revolution whose trigger phrase was "no...
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