War time taxes to fund the dead hand of big government
The Biden administration wants to raise taxes. A lot. On a lot of people – more than the president is willing to admit.
There are many reasons given for the proposed hikes – paying for some (but not nearly all) of the proposed government spending…fairness and equity…or old-fashioned class envy.
But the rates Mr. Biden proposes are akin to those the U.S. has adopted in time of war. Jay Starkman writes in the Wall Street Journal:
The top federal income-tax rate rose to 77% in 1918 from 7% in 1913. Following World War I, the top rate came down, reaching just 25% from 1925-31. Rates were raised during the Great Depression to 64% in 1932 and 79% in 1936. In April 1942, Roosevelt proposed a top individual tax rate of 100%, declaring that amid “grave national danger, when all excess income should go to win the war, no American citizen ought to have a net income, after he has paid his taxes, of more than $25,000” (the equivalent of a bit more than $400,000 in 2021 dollars). The Treasury Department said this top rate would only affect 11,000 taxpayers. Democrats in Congress pronounced it dead on arrival. Still, the top World War II rate reached 94%. But generous deductions and easier conversion of ordinary income into capital gains helped high-income taxpayers avoid paying that rate.
Top individual tax rates remained at 91% until 1964, when Congress passed John F. Kennedy’s tax reduction proposal and set the top rate at 70%. Richard Nixon carved out a 50% top rate on salary and self-employment (known as “earned income”) in 1969. Then Ronald Reagan pushed the rate on other income down to 50% too, and finally down to 28% in 1988. These reductions were accompanied by removing or altering deductions that had previously helped taxpayers avoid paying the top rate. Today’s Democrats aspire to raise rates to the skies while also limiting such offsetting exclusions.
It’s one thing to demand high taxes to pay the costs of an actual shooting war where defeat has profound consequences for life and liberty. And even then, government has allowed earners ways to lessen the tax burden. It’s something entirely different to demand war-like tax rates without exemption simply to fund the dead hand of big government. Unless, of course, your intention is to declare war on success.