Ganesh Sitaraman has written an oped in the New York Times arguing that our Constitution was not built for a society as unequal as our has become. Even leaving aside the claim that our society is becoming substantially more unequal—one I have contested, the essay is mistaken. First, the Constitution as amended today empowers the federal government to engage in regulatory redistribution and progressive taxation to reduce economic inequality. Second, the Constitution of 1789 on which Professor Sitaraman principally focuses was consciously built to protect against legislative attempts to mandate more equality. The populist demagogues with whom the Framers were mainly concerned were those who would bamboozle the populous into debtor relief legislation and other wealth destroying schemes that could be sold, just as in our day, as aids to poor and retribution to the rich. Sitaraman misunderstands both our contemporary Constitution and our original Constitution.
After the 16th amendment and the New Deal Court’s interpretation of the Commerce Clause, the federal government has plenary powers of income taxation and regulation. There is nothing to prevent the left wing of the Democratic party from making our income tax code even more progressive than it already is.