How To Go After The US Wealthy Reagan Style

How To Go After The US Wealthy Reagan Style

Ah yes, this is going to be another one of those ironic posts about what a big leftist liberal Ronald Reagan was compared to the current GOP gang in charge of so many of our policies, especially our tax policies. Certainly, the image of Reagan is one who cut taxes for the high-income wealthy, and in general that is the case. But there were a few items going the other way, and again, compared to current policies some combination of what came out of the two major Reagan tax cuts looks downright progressive by comparison.

Let us start with taxing wealth, with the Elizabeth Warren proposal to put a 2 to 3% annual wealth tax on those holding over $50 million. I am not opposed to this in principle, but worry that it faces very serious practical problems of implementation due to the high costs involved in simply determining the wealth of these large and complicated portfolios, especially given the hollowing out and reductions at the IRS, which would have to do all of it. As it is, whereas not too long ago 20 nations taxes wealth, that is now down to three: Norway, Spain, and Switzerland, with the latter lacking either a property tax or a capital gains tax. What have those other 17 nations done? Well, going in the opposite direction from where the US has gone under Trump with his tax “reform.” Indeed, a model might well be what we saw in the Reagan tax laws. So, one of the most important both as a redistribution mechanism taxing wealth while also raising revenue would be to return to the Reagan 1986 tax law’s taxing capital gains at the same rates as income is. The other one is also to undo the cuts in estate taxes Trump has put it and move back to what Reagan had in place after his 1981 tax law, a much more redistributive system than we see now. Both of these, especially the capital gains tax change, would be easily to implement and enforce.

On income taxes, the proposal by AOC for a top marginal income tax rate of 70% does not face the implementation problems the straight wealth tax faces. As noted, putting this only on those earning over $10 million per year should not be too damaging on various fronts, although it would probably not raise all that much revenue. It might be better to go with what came in with the 1981 Reagan tax law of a top marginal rate of 50%, but having it on a broader set of upper income people. This would arguably both raise more money than the AOC proposal while also arguably having fewer disincentive effects. So, returning to a combination of the Reagan 1981 and 1986 tax laws might be something that can be adopted, implemented, and enforced, which would both raise more revenues, and engage in wealth and income redistribution.

Barkley Rosser

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