Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed 70% tax on the wealthy isn’t the highest in history — here’s how rates have changed in the past 150 years

6 min read

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has made waves in the United States Congress. At 29, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress was sworn in at the beginning of the month and has already drawn both attention and criticism for her sartorial choices, dance moves and strong opinions.

The latest: Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed tax plan.

In an interview with Anderson Cooper on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Ocasio-Cortez called for a tax rate as high as 70 percent for the nation’s wealthiest, as defined as making $10 million or more. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. In accordance with Ocasio-Cortez’s plan, the tax rate would be nearly double today’s highest rate of 37 percent that individuals who make more than $510,300 and married couples who make more than $612,350 more pay.

Some critics, especially conservatives, have mocked Ocasio-Cortez and ridiculed her outlandish idea.

As history has shown, however, Ocasio-Cortez’s ideas may not be as eccentric and unprecedented as they are being made out to be. Income tax had been around for generations when it was introduced to Americans in 1862 as a wartime measure to bolster funds for the Civil War.

The 19th-century’s version of the tax system would be hardly recognizable to tax professionals today, but each iteration of the tax brackets and filings has dynamically shape-shifted to meet the needs of Americans and the United States.

Exactly how much leeway has the U.S. tax system afforded Americans in the highest tax bracket (for those who filed as single)? Bankrate investigated and searched for answers.

Dollar amounts have not been adjusted for inflation.