The number of rich Americans rose last year and that’s a good thing, but progressives want to see those added earnings redistributed.

CNBC reports that, according to data from the Social Security Administration, from 2013 to 2014 the number of Americans who earned more than $50 million a year rose 20 percent from 110 to 134. The class of those who earned from $20 million to $50 million jumped significantly from 565 to 776 during the same time period.

Many high earners built their fortunes from starting businesses that took off or leading companies that performed well under their management. The market has rewarded their risk-taking in the form of earnings.

Don’t tell that to progressives – especially those running for office – who find something fundamentally wrong with the wealthy earning a lot of money and want to use government’s coercive tax power as the tool to right this perceived wrong.

The “You didn’t build that” philosophy – articulated by President Obama which earned a well-deserved firestorm of criticism – inspires these redistributionist ideas. Progressives contend that we can pay for expanded social safety net programs and every expansion in government power by taking the wealth of the rich and redistributing it.

Will soaking the rich actually work? There’s historical evidence that, when you raise taxes on the wealthiest, revenue actually drops. Whereas lowering taxes paradoxically raises more revenue. So what does that mean for proposals like hiking the top marginal income tax rate to as high as 90% – a la Bernie Sanders?

Jason Riley on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board makes an interesting discovery:

Time and again, history has shown that the rich pay more when the top marginal rate is reduced. The income-tax rate on high earners fell to 24% in 1929 from 73% in 1921. Over that same period both the amount and fraction of taxes paid by the rich increased, while the amount and proportion of taxes paid by low earners went down.

By 1962, the top marginal rate had shot back up to a confiscatory 91%, which may have prompted a smile from a young Bernie Sanders but not from President Kennedy, who noted at the time that “it is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now.” The Kennedy tax cuts, which reduced the top rate to 70%, passed after his assassination. Once again, tax receipts rose and the deficit shrank after the code was made less progressive.

The Reagan and Bush tax cuts of the 1980s and 2000s continued this pattern. In both decades, the rich reported much more taxable income after the top rate was reduced. By contrast, an increase in the top marginal rate in 1990 under George H.W. Bush was followed by a reduction in the fraction of taxes paid by higher earners.

So if soaking the rich actually doesn’t work as well as granting tax relief, why hasn’t everyone gotten on board? Riley astutely points to politics. Class warfare motivates voters more than economics:

During a 2008 presidential debate, moderator Charlie Gibson of ABC News quizzed Barack Obama over his proposal to raise taxes on investment income, and the candidate’s response was instructive. “ Bill Clinton in 1997 signed legislation that dropped the capital gains tax to 20%,” Mr. Gibson said. “And George Bush has taken it down to 15%. And in each instance, when the rate dropped, revenues from the tax increased. The government took in more money. And in the 1980s, when the tax was increased to 28%, the revenues went down. So why raise it at all, especially given the fact that 100 million people in this country own stock and would be affected?”

Mr. Obama’s answer was that raising the capital-gains tax is necessary “to make sure . . . that our tax system is fair.”

At the end of the day, many progressives don’t really care about those they purport to represent as much as they care about getting them to vote. “Taxing the wealthy” is bad economics but makes for good campaign slogans. Like raising minimum wages, these ideas are unsound economically, but that doesn’t matter because if you repeat a false statement long enough, people will believe it.

Philanthropy is the better vehicle to motivate the wealthy to invest in their communities and causes that help the least fortunate or those in other communities. Government’s role should be to incentivize giving in the tax code, not to drain those resources to feed the gaping government beast where resources are swallowed up by bureaucratic, red tape, overhead and waste rather than in the hands of those who need the help.