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Work V. Wealth: Capital Gains Tax, Explained

A schedule D form and instructions printed from the IRS that are used for 2018 U.S. federal tax returns. (Keith Srakocic, File/AP Photo)
A schedule D form and instructions printed from the IRS that are used for 2018 U.S. federal tax returns. (Keith Srakocic, File/AP Photo)

The capital gains tax. The Biden administration wants to raise it. But why is capital taxed less than work to begin with? We hear the little-known biography of the capital gains tax.


Julia Ott, history professor and co-director of the Robert L. Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies at the New School. Co-editor of the book series Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism for Columbia University Press. Author of “When Wall Street Met Main Street” and the forthcoming book “Wealth Over Work.”

Len Burman, fellow at the Urban Institute. Co-founder of the Tax Policy Center. Author of “The Labyrinth of Capital Gains Tax Policy—A Guide for the Perplexed.” (@lenburman)

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst. (@JackBeattyNPR)

From The Reading List

New York Times: “Why Biden’s Plan to Raise Taxes for Rich Investors Isn’t Hurting Stocks” — “Investors have largely shrugged off President Biden’s proposal to raise taxes on investment income for wealthy Americans, as the stock market hovers near record highs after news of a strong economic rebound and blockbuster earnings reports from technology giants such as Apple and Amazon.”

Boston Globe: “Biden to set $1 million threshold for capital gains tax hike” — “President Biden intends to raise capital gains taxes for those earning more than $1 million a year his top economic adviser confirmed Monday, arguing that the move would affect only a tiny share of American households.”

MarketWatch: “Opinion: Biden’s plan to fully tax capital gains is good policy” — “President Biden has proposed taxing capital gains like ordinary income for those with incomes over $1,000,000. In addition to paying for his agenda, this proposal will make the federal income tax fairer, by ensuring that the wealthy pay their appropriate share of the tax bill, and more efficient, by eliminating the incentive to transform high-taxed ordinary income to low-taxed or untaxed capital gains.”

Seattle Times: “Inslee signs off on capital gains tax for wealthy and tax rebate for lower-income workers in Washington” — “With two strokes of his pen on Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee enacted a new capital gains tax on some wealthier Washingtonians and handed an annual tax rebate to hundreds of thousands of lower-income workers.”

Bloomberg: “Biden Inheritance Tax Rule Would Rip Billions From Biggest Fortunes at Death” — “Jeff Bezos has an ex-wife, a girlfriend, four children and billions of reasons to watch whether Joe Biden’s tax overhaul wins congressional approval.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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