Thomas Sowell writes ‘Bait and Switch’ Taxes in The American Spectator, 9/5/12


The Constitution of the United States had to be amended in 1913 to permit the federal government to collect income taxes. Almost immediately, very high tax rates on people with very high incomes led to their taking steps to avoid paying those taxes.

In 1920, Secretary of the Treasury David Franklin Houston in the Democratic administration of Woodrow Wilson pointed out that the taxable income of people with incomes of $300,000 and up had been more than cut in half, just from 1916 to 1918. He did not believe that this was because the rich were becoming poorer but “almost certainly through investment by the richer taxpayers in tax-exempt properties.”

President Woodrow Wilson himself urged Congress to reconsider whether very high tax rates are in fact “productive of revenue” to the government. He said that, beyond some point, “high rates of income and profits taxes discourage energy, remove the incentive to new enterprise, encourage extravagant expenditures, and produce industrial stagnation with consequent unemployment and other attendant evils.” That sounds a lot like where we are today.

Both Democratic and Republican presidents once warned that high tax rates can reduce economic growth. And Secretaries of the Treasury under both Democratic and Republican administrations once pointed out that higher tax rates do not necessarily bring in more tax revenues than lower tax rates. Yet this lesson from more than 90 years ago has still not been learned by those who advocate higher taxes on “the rich” as the answer to our fiscal problems.


This concept did not originate with Arthur Laffer or Reagan.  It has been repeated throughout history.  Only the historically ignorant or ideological blind still cling to the belief that taxes can be raised on any group without consequences.  The hard mathematical reality is that the taxes will have to go up very high on the middle class to pay for the programs this president supports.