NEW YORK — “Every time a bank fails an angel gets its wings.” So goes a graffito in Manhattan’s East Village. One block away, as marchers occupied Broadway on May Day, their picket signs pleaded, “Millionaires must pay their fair share” and “No free ride for Wall Street.”
These words echo Occupy Wall Street and its spiritual leader, President Barack Obama. Class warriors scream about imposing “fairness” on the rich, but their shouts become mumbles when asked what precise tax rate achieves “fairness.”
Liberals grow mum amid these facts: In 2009, the latest IRS figures demonstrate, the much-maligned top 1 percent of taxpayers earned 17 percent of national income and paid 37 percent of federal income taxes. The top 10 percent made 43 percent of income and surrendered 70.5 percent of income-tax revenues. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent scored 13.5 percent of income and paid just 2.3 percent of income taxes.
Unfair? If so, the Left should specify what heavier tax burden on the wealthy or lighter tax load on the lower half of taxpayers would trigger “fairness.”
“Fairness” hardly involves augmenting tax revenues, either for debt relief or even the social spending that makes liberals salivate.
As the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Peter Wehner recalled April 12 in a superb CommentaryMagazine.com essay, then-Senator Obama advocated a higher capital-gains tax rate, although lowering it from 28 percent to 20 in 1997 actually expanded net revenues by 124 percent —
from $54 billion in Fiscal Year 1996 to $121 billion in FY 2000. That levy was chopped by Tea Party pin-up, William Jefferson Clinton.
“Well, Charlie,” Obama told ABC’s Charlie Gibson in 2008, “what I’ve said is that I would look at raising the capital-gains tax for purposes of fairness.”
For too many liberals like Obama, “fairness” is not about enriching the modest; it’s about impoverishing the moneyed.
Financier Warren Buffet has energized liberals with his still-unverified claim that his tax rate lags his secretary’s. If true, “fairness” could mean slashing his secretary’s taxes to match Buffet’s 11 percent effective tax rate. Somehow, reducing the secretary’s taxes never came up. Instead liberals and Democrats demand the so-called Buffet Rule, an instrument for bludgeoning the successful rather than boosting the downtrodden.
In her final appearance before the British House of Commons, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher skewered this liberal mindset. Feisty as ever, she answered her colleagues’ questions on the gap between the needy and the affluent.
“The honorable gentleman is saying that he would rather that the poor were poorer, provided that the rich were less rich,” Thatcher explained on November 22, 1990. “So long as the gap is smaller, they would rather have the poor poorer. One does not create wealth and opportunity that way.”
Like Thatcher, American conservatives should reject the income gap. Who cares about the gap, provided that those on the bottom advance in absolute terms?
Consider two job offers: a) you earn $50,000, while your boss makes $55,000, just 10 percent more. b) You earn $500,000, while your employer gets $1 million — twice your salary. “Unfairness” suddenly looks spectacular.
Here’s how the Right should challenge the Left:
“If you dislike income inequality, lift those with the least. Let’s adopt universal school choice, allow personal Social Security retirement accounts (to democratize long-term capital accumulation), radically reduce or eliminate America’s anti-competitive, 35 percent corporate tax (to supercharge businesses), and pass Right-to-Work laws (so, the jobless won’t fester outside closed shops). Let’s build the Keystone Pipeline (to create 20,000 blue-collar positions RIGHT NOW and lower everyone’s energy prices), frack for natural gas, and tame the EPA, OSHA, SEC, and other power-mad bureaucracies, so U.S. companies stay here, and foreign firms move in.”
If liberals agree, they should enact this economic-growth agenda. If not, they should explain why they reject these proposals to help poor people prosper.
Most likely, the ensuing silence would reveal liberals’ true intentions: Not to lift the lobby, but to plunge the penthouse.