Incremental Versus Fundamental Tax Reform and the Top 1 Percent

72 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2003

See all articles by Deborah A. Geier

Deborah A. Geier

Cleveland State University, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law


This article describes the historical shift from consumption taxation at the federal level to income taxation with the enactment of the 16th amendment (the intent of which was chiefly to tax the capital income of the wealthy) and the incremental shifts since then back toward consumption taxation (which frees capital from tax) through expansion of both the payroll taxes as well as the consumption tax features of our current hybrid income/consumption tax that target the middle class. It then addresses the issue of whether we ought to expand consumption tax treatment to the very wealthy by reviewing two recently published books on fundamental tax reform, Edward J. McCaffery's Fair Not Flat and Michael J. Graetz's The Decline (and Fall?) of the Income Tax.

One of the author's chief concerns with McCaffery's proposal to replace the income/consumption tax (as well as the estate and gift tax) with a cash-flow consumption tax with graduated rates is the effect his proposal could have on the tax paid by the top one percent of wealth owners, which now owns nearly forty percent of the private wealth in the U.S. The author believes that a significant shift in the tax burden away from the top one percent would likely occur under McCaffery's proposal - in return for speculative economic benefits for the country, in the view of many economists - which could do no more than accelerate the wealth concentration in the top one percent that has already reached record levels in recent years.

Graetz proposes a two-tier tax system in which all individuals pay a VAT and those individuals earning above $75,000 to $100,000 also pay an income tax. The author beleives that Graetz's proposal, which would remove 100 million taxpayers from having to file an annual return, is extremely important, but she would attempt to accomplish what Graetz is proposing within a single tax system rather than a two-tier system.

Keywords: Consumption tax, income tax, top one percent, wealth concentration

JEL Classification: H24, N3

Suggested Citation

Geier, Deborah A., Incremental Versus Fundamental Tax Reform and the Top 1 Percent. Southern Methodist University Law Review, Vol. 56, No. 1, March 2003, Available at SSRN:

Deborah A. Geier (Contact Author)

Cleveland State University, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law ( email )

2121 Euclid Avenue, LB 138
Cleveland, OH 44115-2214
United States
216-687-2341 (Phone)
216-687-6881 (Fax)


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