In his Town Hall column today, Thomas Sowell comments on the demagoguery of the leftist argument that we must increase taxes on the wealthy.

I would add that this claim is based purely on the political gains that come from appealing to envy. Many people are attracted to the idea of taking more money away from those who have a lot of it and therefore regard as their friends politicians who promise to increase taxes on the rich. (As the Labor Party used to say in Britain, “We’ll tax the pips until they squeak.”) Sadly, few of those envious voters ever stop to ask, “How will it make me any better off if the government takes more money away from rich people?” A tiny reduction in the vast federal budget deficit does them no good, while investments the wealthy might make could lead to more job opportunities and production of goods and services they might choose to purchase.

The political gratification of envy is one of the greatest obstacles to economic and social progress. The US was fortunate in its formative years because a) envy was regarded as a bad characteristic and b) the powers of government were so limited that taxing the wealthy just to make them somewhat poorer was not possible. Imagine where we’d be today if going back to 1789, Americans had been smitten with egalitarian envy and we had allowed progressive income taxation. We would be a much poorer, strife-ridden nation.