The notion America’s wealthiest individuals do not pay enough taxes has widespread political support, and several Democratic politicians and presidential candidates have strong proposals for various forms of wealth taxes.
Yet taxing wealth has proved elusive in this country. Witness the latest effort at tax 'reform' from Donald Trump and the Republican Party, which moved radically in the opposite direction.
The new law cut individual taxes for the rich and slashed corporate taxes, further boosting inequality that is already at levels not seen since the Great Depression.
A new book entitled “The Triumph of Injusitce: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay,” by economists Emanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, helps trace the roots of the apparent tax-phobia that pervades the American political class.
The Berkeley economists maintain that the reluctance to tax wealth is linked at least in part to the gruesome days of slavery, when human beings were kidnapped then bought and sold as property.
While Northern states had developed fairly elaborate systems of taxation, Saez and Zucman argue, the economies of the South were more primitive, and local governments made no attempt to raise revenues by taxing income.
Citing historian Robin Einhorn, the economists identify a "deep link between this backwardness and slavery."
"A fear haunted slaveholders of the South: that non-slaveholding majorities would use taxation to undermine and eventually abolish" slavery, Zucman and Saez write.
"They particularly feared wealth taxation: at a time when 40% of the population was considered property, property taxes were an existential threat for slaveholding planters."
Doesn't American politics make so much more sense with a little bit of context and history?
"While the sources of anti-government sentiment in America are complex, over the last centuries, few have done more to perfect the anti-tax narrative than Southern slaveholders," Saez and Zucman argue.
Tax phobia is not the only pervasive anti-social instinct in the United States descendant from the scourge of chattel slavery, according to research from other economists and activists.
Opposition to more expansive social programs, including universal healthcare, also owe their origins and dissemination to the destructive political manifestations of American racism.