Progressive Taxation: No Desert for the Rich

Jim Henley offers an interesting challenge:

Liberal theorists in the blogosphere and elsewhere have expended a great deal of energy attempting to problematize desert of income and wealth, with an eye toward justifying taxation. Here̢۪s my question for liberal readers, bloggers and poobahs: Would you identify any particular level of taxation as unjust? Not unwise or counterproductive, but outright immoral and/or unfair.

As several of his commenters have pointed out, really has no answer in a vacuum. Presumably, almost any number would be justifiable if necessary to fight back an invading army and, as with all numbers, once one is offered the “Why not .01% more?” reductio can be invoked.

Kevin Drum disregards these risks and weighs in with a quick “guesttimate:”

  • Above 40%: Unwise.
  • Above 50%: Counterproductive.
  • Above 60%: Unjust.

He qualifies these figures with the caveat “I’m talking about actual maximum tax burdens on high earners here, not theoretical rates and not marginal rates.” These numbers are interesting because, pre-Reagan tax cuts, we certainly had “unjust” rates for those in the upper brackets.

While my favored tax system would be on consumption rather than income and only modestly progressive (perhaps excluding foodstuffs, medicine, and such) I’m not sure that I see any justice issues in the rate of taxation per se. Again, 60% might well be “just” if we’re using it to repel an Islamist superpower threatening to overtake our land. I’m more concerned in minimizing government’s unnecessary extraction of wealth from individuals by minimizing the areas government controls and in having the burden that is imposed on society by government spread proportionately. I prefer a tax policy to generate the revenue necessary to run society and to do whatever redistribution of wealth we decide is “just” to be done on the spending side.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    I prefer a tax policy to generate the revenue necessary to run society…

    I’d prefer a tax policy that generates just enough revenue to run just enough government. Society can damn well chug along on its own damn dime.

  2. Hal says:

    Nice post, James. Strange as it may sound, I actually agree with your tax philosophy (except for the consumption preference).

  3. Mak says:

    I like this site i am doing a debate on it in novice debate 1 i think Progressive taxation is just and fair the rich should be taxed more.