Widget Image
Follow PPD Social Media
Connect With PPD
Monday, November 18, 2019
HomePolicyEisenhower Tax Rates: We Should Listen to JFK, Not Bernie Sanders

Eisenhower Tax Rates: We Should Listen to JFK, Not Bernie Sanders

Bernie-Sanders-CBS-Democratic-Debate
Bernie-Sanders-CBS-Democratic-Debate

Socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders defends his support for raising the top tax bracket to 90% during the second Democratic debate hosted by CBS News on Nov. 14, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo: AP)

During last night’s Democratic debate, Senator Bernie Sanders said he would not raise tax rates as high as they were in the 1950s. And if Twitter data is accurate, his comment about being “not that much of a socialist compared to [President] Eisenhower” was one of the evening’s most memorable moments.

But a clever line is not the same as smart policy. Promising not to raise top tax rates to 90 percent or above is hardly a sign of moderation from the Vermont politician.

Fortunately, not all Democrats are infatuated with punitive tax rates.

Or at least they didn’t used to be. When President John F. Kennedy took office, he understood that the Eisenhower tax rates (in fairness to Ike, he’s merely guilty of not trying to reduce confiscatory tax rates imposed by FDR) were harming the economy and JFK argued for across-the-board tax rate reductions.

…an economy hampered by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough revenues to balance our budget just as it will never produce enough jobs or enough profits. Surely the lesson of the last decade is that budget deficits are not caused by wild-eyed spenders but by slow economic growth and periodic recessions and any new recession would break all deficit records. In short, it is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now.

Here’s a video featuring some of President Kennedy’s wisdom on lower tax rates.

[brid video=”20073″ player=”1929″ title=”Obama vs. JFK on Taxes”]

If that wasn’t enough, here’s another video featuring JFK’s wisdom on taxation.

[brid video=”20074″ player=”1929″ title=”Income Tax Cut JFK Hopes To Spur Economy 1962813″]

By the way, if Senator Sanders really wants the rich to pay more, one of the lessons reasonable people learned from the Kennedy tax cuts is that upper-income taxpayers respond to lower tax rates by earning and reporting more income. Here’s a chart from a study I wrote almost 20 years ago.

Last but not least, let’s preemptively address a likely argument from Senator Sanders. He might be tempted to say that he doesn’t want the 90-percent tax rate of the Eisenhower years, but that he’s perfectly content with the 70-percent top tax rate that existed after the Kennedy tax cuts.

But if that’s the case, instead of teaching Sanders a lesson from JFK, then he needs to learn a lesson from Ronald Reagan.

Written by
Contributing Economist

Daniel J. Mitchell is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, and a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy. Mitchell’s articles can be found in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Investor’s Business Daily, and the Washington Times. He is the author of "The Flat Tax: Freedom, Fairness, Jobs, and Growth," and co-author of "Global Tax Revolution: The Rise of Tax Competition and the Battle to Defend It."

Latest comment

  • Avatar

    You mean the Ronald Reagan who imposed one of the greatest tax reductions in history only to impose within two years one of the greatest tax increases in history?

leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.