To the Editor:
Commenting on Mr. Feigelson's Letter
My first thought on reading Mr. Feigelson's letter commenting on Walter Cadette's column was that President Clinton created a budget surplus and 22 million jobs with a top income tax rate of 39% and higher rates of taxation on dividends and capital gains. It seems to me that this is decisive in showing that Cadette is right and Feigelson wrong.
I am not an economist, but an attorney with a background in philosophy and tax law. Mr. Feigelson contends that it would not be right, in other words, that it would be unjust to raise taxes on millionaires. He supports this contention in two ways. First, he states that it is the millionaire's money and does not belong to the government. To the contrary, the 16th Amendment to the Constitution gives Congress very broad authority to tax incomes. Consequently, taxing millionaires at a higher rate than others could not be unjust in the sense of being unlawful or unconstitutional. Perhaps Mr. Feigelson has in mind a Rawlsian understanding of justice as fairness. However, given all the benefits of our society that are enjoyed by those at the higher end of the economic scale, the position that it would be unjust to tax their income at a higher rate than applied to others could not be successfully defended. More generally, any political philosophy or theory from which it followed that higher rates of taxation on the wealthy are unjust, would, I believe, be a theory that could be shown to be fundamentally flawed. To be sure, there are injustices in our society, but they arise from the lack of equal opportunity, which affects those at the other end of the economic scale.
This brings me to Mr. Feigelson's second reason for believing that imposing higher rates of taxation on the wealthy would be unfair or unjust, namely, that, as reported in the news media, 50% of American households do not pay any federal income tax. To the contrary, most of those that do not pay any federal income tax are either unemployed, or in low-income jobs, or retirees on fixed income, who barely have enough to get by. In this regard, it should be kept in mind that it has also been reported in the news media that 50% of Americans now fall into the "poor or "near-poor" categories.
Mr. Feigelson's letter caused me to have one further thought. Conservatives continue to argue that their tax and economic policies, while benefiting those at the upper end of the economic scale, benefit everyone, the so-called "trickle down" effect. Unfortunately, what we have observed as the result of those policies has not been "trickle down," but rather a "giant sucking up." In this regard, it is instructive to compare Germany and the United States in 1970 and 2011. In 1970, the top one percent had 11% of the wealth in Germany and only 9% of the wealth in the United States. In 2011, the top one percent in Germany still had 11% of that country's wealth, but in the United States, the portion of the country's wealth belonging to the top one percent had increased to 22%.
Millbrook, New York
This letter appeared in the February 15 edition of the paper