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Is it constitutional to impose a wealth tax?

The question of whether a wealth tax is constitutional or not remains a heated debate not just among scholars but also among ordinary people. In a report published by the Roosevelt Institute in 2021, the authors, Ari Glogower, David Gamage, and Kitty Richards have argued why a federal wealth tax would be constitutional. They argued that those who believe that a wealth tax is unconstitutional are misinterpreting the apportionment rule, which requires certain taxes to be apportioned among the states according to their population. Glogower, Gamage, and Richards further argued that the Constitution grants Congress broad taxing power that allows for a wealth tax, whether it is apportioned or not. They mainly use the Sixteenth Amendment to give a legal backbone to their argument.

A wealth tax is essentially a tax imposed on an entity’s holdings of assets or net worth. The essence of the question “Is a wealth tax constitutional” underlies a moral purpose. The reason why this question is asked in the first place is because progressives and socialists believe that it is immoral for an individual to have accumulated immense wealth while the bottom half of the population lives in poverty. The reason why progressives and socialists adamantly believe that a wealth tax is constitutional is because it would grant them the legal authority (not moral authority) to forcefully take what’s not theirs and redistribute it across society under the premise of fulfilling a moral purpose: achieving “equity.”

The fundamental problem with issuing a wealth tax is that it is morally wrong. It is morally wrong because wealth is something that has to be created in the first place. The creation of wealth requires a lot of sacrifices. In American society, wealth creation is essentially done through business ownership.

Business ownership is hard because business owners usually take their life savings to start a business venture without any guarantee that their venture will succeed. If their venture fail, those business owners will not recover the financial loss that they incurred as well as the time spent running the business venture. This is why when a business venture succeeds, the business owner becomes wealthy in the process because he is rewarded for his underconsumption, the effort put in, the resources invested, and the time spent growing the business venture.

What then gives the moral authority to socialists and progressives to impose a wealth tax on a person that sacrificed so much to be where there are today? how is that fair? In a market-based economy like the United States, the wealthiest people always represent the minority. Progressives and socialists complain that it is not fair that 20% of the population (the rich), broadly speaking, owns 80% of society’s resources, which is the application of the Pareto rule. Based on this unfairness of the Pareto principle, they argue that a wealth tax must be enforced to redistribute wealth more equitably.

Constitutionalizing the wealth tax does not make it morally right. It is morally wrong because it uses political power to forcefully, and without just cause, take a person’s resources under the premise that such a person’s resources exceed his needs and does not need to have all of them, and redistribute these resources into programs that proved to be inefficient under government management.

Involuntary wealth redistribution does not solve the issue of wealth inequality. The involuntary redistribution of wealth has been practiced literally everywhere, and it always generated the same outcomes. The recipients of the wealth transfer did not end up better off because they did not have the technical knowledge to manage and maintain the value of the resources given to them.

If wealth ought to be distributed, it must be done voluntarily through private initiative rather than forcing people to give what they own through punitive laws. A wealth tax is nothing but a punitive law that does not reduce wealth inequality. What reduces wealth inequality is financial education. People who are financially educated understand how the system works and can increase their wealth accordingly. The constitutionalization of the wealth tax is simply legalized robbery.

The market economy is an economic system in which anyone can build wealth. It is not a feudal system wherein for one to be rich, someone else must be poor. That’s not the case with capitalism. For one to be wealthy in capitalism, s/he must simply understand how the financial system works, comprehend its loopholes, and take advantage of them. Instead of trying to constitutionalize the wealth tax, which is inefficient, why not constitutionalize financial education so that everyone will be compelled to learn about the financial system and take advantage of the loopholes it has to offer?

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