But if I said we needed to tax the rich, a lot of people's first reaction would be, "Yes! It's about time!"
In fact, there's an astroturf movement based on precisely this notion. There was just a big conference, fittingly named the "Tax the Rich!" conference, hosted by a group called Patriotic Millionaires.
"Tax the Rich. Save America. Yes, it really is that simple," they explain in their mission statement.
This slogan is simply dishonest; rich people do, in fact, pay taxes. Just under half (48 percent) of federal revenue comes from income taxes. If you define the rich as the top 1 percent -- which is probably too narrow, depending on the region of the country -- the rich pay a big chunk of that. In 2016, according to the
The Tax Policy Center estimates that 44 percent of Americans won't pay any federal income taxes for 2018. That doesn't mean they don't pay any taxes, of course. Payroll taxes eat up a big chunk of many Americans paychecks -- a fact we all learn the first time we shout, "Who the hell is FICA!?"
But the income tax is remarkably progressive. Once again citing the Tax Policy Center (a joint project of two left-of-center think tanks: the
The folks shouting "Tax the rich!" know this, which is why, when they move beyond sloganeering, they say that what they really want is for the rich to "pay their fair share." This is a more debatable claim because "fair" is in the eye of the beholder. It's not preposterous to argue that the rich, however defined, should pay a few percentage points more in income tax in the name of fairness. But it's also not preposterous to say that when 1 percent of the people provide more than a third of income tax revenue, they're already paying their fair share -- and suggesting that people who don't want to pay even more are "unpatriotic" is bullying nonsense.
While we're on the topic of fairness, there's another common argument for hiking income taxes for the wealthy, or for even simply taxing wealth itself: The rich deserve it. Or, to be more generous, the super-rich don't deserve their money, while the rest of the country does.
This is populist insanity masquerading as public finance. According the
You could literally confiscate 100 percent of the wealth of the entire one percent and not come close to paying for Sanders' version of Medicare for All (price tag: $32 trillion).
This points to my real problem with all of this "tax the rich" talk. It works from the assumption that the problems of ordinary Americans are the result of a tiny group of people selfishly refusing to do their part. Not only does this assume that the wealth of people who have paid considerable taxes still belongs to everyone, it's also simple scapegoating. By my lights, it would be no less outrageous if the math added up. But it doesn't, which makes it even more irresponsible.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.