Adam Smith on progressive taxation

The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the stateā€¦. The necessaries of life occasion the great expence of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expence of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be any thing very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expence, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.

Thanks, Ziggy for pointing me to the original post in The Edge of the American West.

4 Responses to “Adam Smith on progressive taxation”

  1. Alfonzo Hicks Says:


  2. David Friedman Says:

    I’m not sure how you intend the quote, but it’s opposing progressive taxation, not supporting it. Taxation proportional to revenue corresponds to a flat tax–if you have twice my income, you pay twice the taxes I do. With a progressive system, if you have twice my income you pay more than twice the taxes.

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  4. Tati Says:

    Washington State is the worst because they don’t have a state iconme tax. Since they rely on sales tax instead of iconme tax it makes sense that the poorest people would pay a higher percentage of their iconme. I would like to see a breakdown comparison of each state when it comes to their tax rates on business, iconme, and sales taxes to see the correlation between this study and those points.

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