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The Progressive Income Tax and the Joy of Spending Other People's Money

Written By: Burton W. Folsom Jr.  |  Posted: Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

            On August 31, 1910, Teddy Roosevelt traveled to Kansas to make a stirring speech in support of a federal income tax. "The really big fortune," Roosevelt said, "the swollen fortune by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes."

            Those two sentences helped focus the Progressive worldview. First, the United States needed an income tax to capture large chunks of revenue. Second, someone who had a large fortune, "by the mere fact of its size," had to be treated differently from other wealth holders. Property rights became variable. One group would be treated one way, other groups would be treated another way. Third, the nation needed a "graduated income tax" to redistribute wealth from the haves to the have-nots. The new tax slogan would be "ability to pay."

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