How Not to Argue for Tax Justice

Liam Murphy in the Boston Review:

The crowd at Elizabeth Warren’s rally in New York City in September was enthusiastic throughout, but it was her proposed new wealth tax—2 percent on wealth above $50 million, rising to 3 percent above $1 billion—that got them chanting: “Two cents! Two Cents! Two Cents!” Bernie Sanders has proposed a similar wealth tax, with rates peaking at 8 percent above $5 billion. In the October Democratic debate, a number of centrist candidates were open to it, and even Joe Biden, who seemed to reject one, argued for eliminating the favorable tax treatment of capital gains and raising income tax rates for the rich.

Democratic presidential candidates used to be far less comfortable about advocating higher taxes, let alone proposing an entirely new one. The dramatic transformation of America’s tax system that has brought us to this point is told in Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman’s important and accessible new book, The Triumph of Injustice. Drawing on their own technical work in economics, the authors present a detailed picture of the distribution of income and wealth in the United States over the last century, along with the history of taxation in all its forms—federal income, corporate, payroll, and estate taxes, as well as state and local income and consumption taxes.

More here.