No, a wealth tax is not unconstitutional

In response to a discussion about Elizabeth Warren’s so-called “wealth tax,” I recently had someone ask “How exactly does a wealth tax (which is not income) conform to the sixteenth amendment?”  (“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”)

Well, first let’s discuss the 16th and why it was passed. I will quote from this wonderful new book called “How to Argue the Constitution with a Conservative”:

You’d think it would be obvious that a country can ask its citizens for an income tax, right? Well, the United States had an income tax, too, ever since the Civil War. But when Congress tried to tax income from rental properties, well, that was the last straw. The 1% flew into a rage and a majority of the Supreme Court agreed that some income wasn’t really income. (It’s actually a lot more complicated than that, but let’s not write an essay here.) The only way to overturn a Supreme Court decision is to amend the Constitution, so that’s what we did, while pointing to the 1% and giving a Nelson laugh.

Chico: Taxes? I got an uncle living in Taxes.
Groucho: No, taxes … money, dollars …
Chico: That’s where he lives! Dollars, Taxes

The passage of the 16th amendment doesn’t mean all other forms of taxes are unconstitutional. After all, there are tariffs and capital gains taxes and inheritance taxes and property taxes and so on, and there were before and after the 16th amendment.

And, after all, a wealth tax is an income tax, which is perfectly constitutional under the 16th amendment. It just means that the progressive tax we now have (where the % you pay goes up the more you have) gets to be like it was back when Eisenhower was President.

One problem is that many people don’t understand is how progressive tax works. When you hear that the top tax rate under Eisenhower was 94% you think, “Wow! Millionaires only got to keep 6% of their income?”

But that’s not how it works. You pay a certain percentage up to a specific amount. For instance, our current tax rates look something like this:

10% on taxable income from $0 to $8,700, plus
15% on taxable income over $8,700 to $35,350, plus
25% on taxable income over $35,350 to $85,650, plus
28% on taxable income over $85,650 to $178,650, plus
33% on taxable income over $178,650 to $388,350, plus
35% on taxable income over $388,350, plus
40% on taxable income over $400,000

If you earn more than $400,000, it doesn’t mean the government gets 40% of your $400,000. It means they get 10% of your income under $8,700 and then 15% on your income between $8,700 and $35,350, and so on. The highest rate is only for whatever income you have over $400,000. That’s how we were able to have tax rates in the 90% range on the very very wealthy without bankrupting them (while at the same time providing for budget surpluses). It’s also how we were able to have a balanced budget, pay for infrastructure like highways and roads, have very cheap public colleges, and otherwise do the sorts of things that make America great.



Lizzie Warren

Steve Breen

The next President…

The next President is going to need an adviser who is an expert in both economics and law if we’re going to fix things in America. Maybe a person who taught those things at a top school like Harvard Law School. Maybe someone who has written a lot of books on the subject that have been used as textbooks over the years. Maybe even someone who has been an adviser to the President on these subjects in the past.

Oh, wait.

The connections

Matt Wuerker

A Veterans Day Reminder

Just a reminder to all my veteran friends that the $2 million fine Trump had to pay last week was because he had stolen the money from a veteran’s benefit.

Happy Veterans Day!


The hospitality business


Chris Britt

Pennsylvania: Vote no on question 5 (victim rights)

Look, we’re all in favor of victim rights — District Attorneys now do what the can to help victims, and there are already laws that protect victims in many ways.

Marsy’s Law is on the ballot as a Constitutional amendment here in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, and everyone should vote “no.”  Voting “no” doesn’t mean you’re against victim rights; it means you’re against bad law.  And especially bad law that shouldn’t be in the Constitution in the first place.

The ACLU has stated its reasons for opposing this law and just won an injunction against it (which they filed along with the League of Women Voters). An injunction means that even if it passes, it will not go into effect until there is a hearing on its constitutionality. The reason the injunction was granted is because Pennsylvania requires that any addition to the constitution must have only one provision, and this has many parts. We are supposed to vote for each part individually.

But let me explain in simpler language why this is a bad idea, and why even the District Attorneys and judges I know are against it:

This would give victims rights equal to if not greater than the rights we give defendants in criminal cases. Victims, of course, do not face the entire power of the government against them like defendants do and victims have no chance of going to jail. There is a reason we give defendants many rights. This amendment would give victims the right to refuse to present evidence prior to a trial, to refuse to attend a deposition, to demand that trials not be continued, and to basically dictate to the District Attorney how to proceed in the case.

In other words, it takes the discretion away from the prosecutor to decide how — and even if — to proceed in a case.

It’s not often you get defense attorneys and prosecutors agreeing, but this time, they pretty much do.

Here’s the thing: I’ve dealt with victims, and the DAs and judges have dealt with victims and — stay with me here — sometimes the victim is wrong. Sometimes the victim is even lying.

Sometimes victims are like “My neighbor’s dog keeps crapping on my lawn, and you won’t arrest him and throw him in jail!” Sometimes they’re angry wives and husbands who exaggerate fights and even lie to get even with someone they’re mad at. Sometimes they’re crazy.

Thanks to this new law, these victims can demand that the DA take action, taking away the DA’s power to decide which cases to prosecute. This amendment apparently allows them to demand that a case be heard quickly when sometimes that is not the way to achieve justice, especially if there are preliminary motions that must be filed and investigations that have to be completed.

Should victims be heard? Absolutely. Should they dictate to everyone else how the system of justice should operate? Of course not.

Vote no.justice