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Argument: Progressive taxes rely on and worsen envy between groups

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Supporting quotations

Edwin R. A. Seligman. "Progressive taxation in theory and practice". American Economic Association. 1894 - Periodic Redistribution, Motivated by Envy

Insofar as it results in “equality,” the progressive income tax is a spawn of the second idea. It attempts to pull the exceptional at least part way back into the pack by canceling a good part of the previous year’s gain every April 15. Since it is not a tax on capital, the progressive income tax cannot do the whole job of diffusing a more or less complete equalitarianism throughout society. But it keeps newcomers from amassing capital on their own out of savings-and, taken in conjunction with stiff inheritance taxes, it could carry out a revolutionary job of leveling within the space of a few generations.

How “moral” is this approach to equality via the tax collector? If the end to be achieved were a benevolent brotherhood, then there might be something to be said for it. But the means are neither relevant to nor consistent with such an end. Equality via the tax collector operates through the social motive of envy, not love or charity. It begins with the politics of “soak the rich.” Soon the definition of “rich” is expanded to include the middle classes. And it all ends with the exaltation of the bureaucrat, who is in charge of spending the spoils. Minorities are inevitably put at the mercy of majorities—and everybody is at the mercy of the politicos, who get first whack at the resources of the state.


Michael Novak. "An Immoral Tax". Wall Street Journal. 18 Feb. 2003 - "Should the top 0.5% (those who earn above $500,000) pay more than the 31% of all taxes they now pay? Should the next 5% shoulder a little more? Why not the entire top 10%? The essence of the progressive income tax then comes down to setting top group against top group, in the top 25% of households. Taking ever more revenue from the well-off is fine. But why set group against group? Wouldn't it be more intelligent to find a better way? When above-the-median earners all pay taxes at the same proportion, the feeling of justice spreads."

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