One of the great political divides in the United States concerns the role of the state in redressing income inequality across individuals and groups. Recently, the outspoken conservative commentator Dennis Prager noted that in one representative debate during the 2016 presidential campaign, the words, “Wall Street”, “tax,” “inequality,” and “wealthy” were used 59 times by Democratic candidates. In contrast, “ISIS,” “terrorism,” “free,” “debt,” “liberty,” and kindred terms gathered a scant 10 mentions.
The choice of words reflects legislative priorities. As Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute observes, the Democratic position resonates broadly in the electorate given the increasing inequality of wealth. By noting the diminishing marginal utility of wealth, progressives hope to increase social welfare by taxing the rich in order to support the poor. Today, the top 1 percent of taxpayers, who earn just under 20 percent of total individual income, also pay just under 40 percent of all individual income taxes. So ironically, redistribution programs depend on continued successes at the top. In light of the relatively low economic growth and prolonged wage stagnation of recent years, what price is presently paid for the increase in social equity?