U.S. Democrats Target Rich

The race for the 2020 U.S. Democratic presidential nomination is quickly becoming a contest to determine which candidate wants to tax the rich the most.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed an "ultra-millionaire" tax on the wealthiest families in America. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to jack up the estate tax for rich heirs. California Sen. Kamala Harris wants to roll back the 2017 Republican tax cuts to funnel more money to low- and middle-income earners.

These proposals and others like them are shaping the early days of the campaign for the White House, as the party prepares to use President Donald Trump's tax law against him. The GOP tax overhaul has only about a 40% approval rating, as Democrats argue it favored corporations and fueled record stock buybacks rather than helping workers.

History could be on the Democrats' side. For decades, the top marginal tax rate hovered between 63% and 92%. While the gap between the poor and wealthy was smaller then, it is unclear how much tax policy on its own influenced gross domestic product growth during that span.

The marginal rate for the top U.S. tax bracket spiked to 67% in 1917 as America pushed to fund World War I, according to the Tax Policy Center. After temporarily falling, the highest tax rate rose again to 63% in 1932, during the Great Depression.

The rate on the wealthiest Americans never dipped below 69% from then until 1982, when it dropped to 50%. It held above 90% from 1951 through 1963. Now, the top marginal rate sits at 37%.