The Death of the Income Tax (or, the Rise of America's Universal Wage Tax)

47 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2018 Last revised: 10 Apr 2019

Date Written: April 8, 2019


Recent proposals from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D NY) to raise the top marginal tax rates under the income tax, and from Senator Elizabeth Warren (D Mass), to add a stand-alone wealth tax to the existing mix of taxes, are promising beginnings. They have burst forth from a veritable desert of progressive tax alternatives in the public political discussion. But both sets of ideas suffer from an allegiance to the status quo; both operate within the existing paradigm of nominally attempting to tax “income” and “wealth” – wealth transfers, in the case of the status quo, wealth itself, in the case of Warren’s proposal. This Article examines that status quo to show that the “income” tax is dead, replaced by a universal wage tax in which payroll taxes add on to a wage/income tax to highly, and inescapably, burden labor while wealth is left off the hook of taxation altogether. This Article traces the century-long movement of our tax system from an income tax to a wage tax, culminating, to date, in President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Liberals and progressives must change the way they think about tax in order to get non-taxpaying billionaires, such as the President and his son-in-law, to pay anything at all.

Suggested Citation

McCaffery, Edward J., The Death of the Income Tax (or, the Rise of America's Universal Wage Tax) (April 8, 2019). USC CLASS Research Paper No. CLASS18-25; Forthcoming, 95 Indiana Law Journal; USC CLASS Research Paper No. CLASS18-25; USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 18-26. Available at SSRN: or

Edward J. McCaffery (Contact Author)

USC Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States
213-740-2567 (Phone)
213-740-5502 (Fax)

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