Tax-Hike-Happy Democrats Are Economic Illiterates | Opinion

One wonders what the Democrats in charge of the party's economic program are thinking—if they indeed think at all. Their proposals are frighteningly similar year after year, decade after decade and now century after century.

The truth is that their objective is not fairness so much as it is to punish the successful. As it is, because honesty and other important virtues got tossed out the window long ago, the public continues in ignorance, counseled by fools and pretenders who explain their troubles away as being someone else's fault.

Democrats' worldview does not include certain proven realities, such as the fact that higher tax rates on income do not necessarily raise more revenue than lower ones. Each time the federal government has enacted major rate cuts, revenues increased because the corresponding increase in activity caused the economy to grow, as happened under Presidents Harding, Kennedy and Reagan.

It also happened under Trump. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the 21 percent corporate income tax generated revenues of $372 billion in 2021—nearly as much, the Wall Street Journal recently observed, as the CBO projected would come in at the previous rate of 35 percent.

Somehow, today's Democratic Party leaders missed all that. When you recall that people used to refer to them as the party of "sound money," the shift is comical. Consider Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's latest gambit to reduce energy prices—which spiked after the Biden administration attacked the production of energy from domestic sources—by raising energy taxes.

"A wide array of Democrats, including Sens. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), are now finalizing measures that would impose steep fines for abuse, crack down on corporate consolidation or set up new taxes on oil and gas companies' profit windfalls," The Washington Post recently reported, without bothering to explain how making energy more expensive (which is what more taxes on energy will do) will bring the price down.

Up is up and down is down unless someone convinces you somehow that two plus two equals five.

The problem of economic mismanagement isn't confined to Washington. Some politicians believe subsidies are forever. In Kentucky, Democratic governor Andy Beshear vetoed legislation bringing the COVID state of emergency to an end—not because the disease remained a threat, but because he wanted to preserve the flow of relief money to fight the sudden reappearance of inflation by distributing it to folks who are most severely affected. These same people are probably more likely to vote for him when he runs for reelection than those who can better manage the rise in the price of essentials occurring on Joe Biden's watch, but Beshear almost certainly never gave that a moment's thought.

Nancy Pelosi
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 29: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly news conference in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center on April 29, 2022 in Washington, DC. When asked about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Pelosi pointed to what she considered the hypocrisy of his concern for the danger posed by some Republican members of the House and his opposition to the use of magnetometers following the attack of January 6, 2021. House leaders are pressing to to bar lawmakers from carrying firearms on the Capitol grounds. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The latest gambit, also backed by Schumer, is the Biden plan to tax unrealized capital gains. As the Democrats see it, when the value of an asset—such as stock shares, real estate holdings or artwork—increases, the owner should have to pay a tax on its newly assessed value. Why that won't work, at least in economic terms, is that the owner of an unsold asset realizes no actual "gain." That makes the proposal a wealth tax, which is constitutionally dubious.

Those who understand economics, and believe the government should preserve value rather than loot the stores of the successful, have argued in response that real fairness would lead to the indexation of the value of capital assets to take inflation into account. Without indexation, as data from the Committee to Unleash Prosperity created by Dr. Arthur Laffer show, "the effect of high and persistent inflation in the 1970s pushed the tax rate on REAL gains to 100 percent or more. In other words, investors paid a tax on real capital losses."

Inflation, which occurs most often because of government mismanaging the economy, destroys the real value of assets even if their price appears to go up. Taxing the apparent appreciation of those assets without considering whether their real value has gone down is confiscatory.

Therein, as Shakespeare wrote, lies the rub. Republicans see tax policy as a tool useful for producing economic growth—which is a good thing. Jobs are created, wages rise, gains in productivity are achieved and living standards improve. Unfortunately for us all, including the disadvantaged, that's not how progressives see them.

To progressives, taxes are a way to redistribute income and punish the successful. The concept of progressive taxation is based on the idea that equalization of outcomes is a good thing. Somehow though, year over year, decade over decade and century over century it never happens.

When the economy doesn't grow, the rich generally manage to stay rich or get richer while the poor get poorer. Nevertheless, progressives continue to promote these policies as they have since before the creation of the income tax under Woodrow Wilson. That's because, as historian Ryan Walters writes in his new book on President Warren G. Harding, "The idea of a national income tax had always excited those who wanted to expand the size and scope of government."

Such proposals, Walters writes, bring inherent danger. "When men once get in the habit of helping themselves to the property of others, they are not easily cured of it," The New York Times once wrote during the debate over the income tax amendment, according to Walters. The great grey lady of American journalism was, that time at least, absolutely right.

Newsweek contributing editor Peter Roff has written extensively about politics and the American experience for U.S. News and World Report, United Press International, and other publications. He can be reached by email at RoffColumns@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.