Back to previous page

Taxes and the redistribution of wealth

Regarding Harold Meyerson’s Sept. 26 op-ed column, “Redistributing wealth upward”:

Mr. Meyerson made a fascinating argument. He claimed that the only time in U.S. history that workers substantially benefited from productivity increases was during the three decades after World War II, a period characterized by union power and high marginal tax rates. Since then, he noted, wage rates have not matched productivity increases. At the same time, the social situation of “poorly educated whites” has declined.  Their marriage rates and family stability have declined, and so has their longevity. And who is to blame for all this? Republicans, of course.

According to Mr. Meyerson, “the market” is not just redistributing incomes, it is redistributing life. Who knew?

This analysis ignored a few inconvenient facts.  The first cut in marginal tax rates after World War II was made in the early 1960s by President John F. Kennedy and his Democratic Congress, right in the middle of Mr. Meyerson’s golden age. A few years later, Daniel P. Moynihan, a former Kennedy administration official, famously observed that a decline in marriage rates and family stability had already decimated the African American community and predicted that these developments would shortly do the same to white Americans.

Is there a connection between markets and marriage? Between marginal income taxes and longevity? Unlike Mr. Meyerson, I have no idea. But I have a pretty good notion of how desperate some writers are to discredit people who think American citizens should be able to keep a good bit of what they work so hard to earn.

J.L. Smith, Bethesda

Harold Meyerson claimed that wealth is being “redistributed upward.” Where did this wealth come from in the first place? Who created it? Is he saying that wealth is being stolen from the ones who created it? If so, he got that right but has the direction wrong since wealth is actually being redistributed downward from the producers to the non-producers.

A simple honesty test can be applied here. If you believe that wealth is truly being distributed upward, then surely you would support a simple flat-tax system, where all produced wealth (i.e., income) is taxed at the same rate, thus ensuring no redistribution in either direction.

John Kosko, Germantown

Harold Meyerson argued that the tax cuts and tax rates lowered by Republican leaders in past decades exemplify a redistribution of wealth to the wealthy, but this argument misconstrues the basic premise of the idea of redistribution.

This word indicates that money is collected and then spent or passed out in a different way, but tax cuts are not concerned with how money is distributed; they instead lessen the amount collected in the first place. Mr. Meyerson rightly argued against tax cuts as special advantages for the wealthy, but these are problematic not because they give undeserved wealth to the wealthy — because they do not in fact give anything — but instead because they do not allow all people to keep their own wealth in this way.

Emily Simmonds, Arlington

© The Washington Post Company