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The WSJ on Hayek on Class Envy

February 28, 2009

In the Wall Street Journal's Notable & Quotable:

Friedrich A. Hayek in "The Constitution of Liberty" (1960), on the myth that progressive tax rates are necessary to fund large increases in government spending, lest an intolerable burden be placed on the poor:

Not only is the revenue derived from the high rates levied on large incomes, particularly in the highest brackets, so small compared with the total revenue as to make hardly any difference to the burden borne by the rest; but for a long time . . . it was not the poorest who benefited from it but entirely the better-off working class and the lower strata of the middle class who provided the largest number of voters.

It would probably be true, on the other hand, to say that the illusion that by means of progressive taxation the burden can be shifted substantially onto the shoulders of the wealthy has been the chief reason why taxation has increased as fast as it has done and that, under the influence of this illusion, the masses have come to accept a much heavier load than they would have done otherwise. The only major result of the policy has been the severe limitation of the incomes that could be earned by the most successful and thereby gratification of the envy of the less-well-off.

 

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