An income tax is not a wealth tax

By Felix Salmon
July 11, 2009

The WSJ, on both its print and its online front page, as well as in the headline of the article in question, says that the “Health Bill in House Relies on Wealth Tax“.

But the weird thing is that it doesn’t:

Under the Rangel plan, married couples making $350,000 would also be subject to a 1% surtax to cover the health plan. The levy would rise to 2% for those making above $500,000 and 3% for those with incomes of $1 million or more.

This is an income tax, pure and simple, not a wealth tax. Personally I think a modest wealth tax, in conjunction with an income tax, makes a certain amount of sense. Why tax income, which people work hard for, but not unearned wealth? But in any case, this isn’t a wealth tax, and I don’t understand why it’s being characterized as one.

Update: Tom Lindmark says he’s “not quite sure what constitutes unearned wealth”, saying that “the only way to accumulate wealth is to earn it via hard work or diligent investing”. If that’s true, then really a wealth tax is a (delayed) income tax, and so the choice between an income tax and a wealth tax basically just comes down to choosing whether you tax income as it’s earned or only after it’s been accumulated and invested.

On the other hand, I think there’s lots of unearned wealth in this world, most but not all of it in the form of inherited funds. (There’s also all those lottery winners.) To a large degree anybody who became wealthy by selling their home for much more they bought it for can’t really be considered to have been diligently investing, and can be considered one of the few beneficiaries of the housing bubble. So that wealth, too, might well be caught by a wealth tax but never by an income tax.

17 comments

Comments are closed.