Inequality was a big topic in last week’s Democratic debate. Of course, it was no surprise that self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders decried the “casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little.” But he was matched by Hillary Clinton, who promised to heal the divides that exist “because there’s too much inequality.” And Martin O’Malley worried, “Our middle class is shrinking … the poor are getting poorer.” Even Lincoln Chafee”want[s] to address income inequality.”

The class warfare was greeted rapturously by the partisans in the audience. Unfortunately for the candidates, though, the latest research suggests that they have once again gotten it all wrong.
For example, it is an article of faith on the Left that inequality exists because the rich fail to pay their fair share of taxes and our social-welfare programs are too stingy. Of course, this ignores the facts that (a) the rich, who earn around 19 percent of U.S. income, pay more than 42 percent of federal income taxes, and (b) federal and state governments spend nearly $1 trillion on welfare and anti-poverty programs. But why let a few facts get in the way of a good narrative?
And now we have a new study from the Brookings Institution. Yes, the liberal Brookings Institution. Authored by former Obama economic adviser Peter Orszag and others, the study concludes that even raising the top individual-income-tax rate to 50 percent from its current 39.6 percent and redistributing all the new revenue to those with incomes in the lowest 20 percent would do surprisingly little to reduce inequality. Hillary, Bernie, et al. could tax the rich as much as they want and pour the money into welfare programs, but that still wouldn’t do more than dent inequality.