The Filthy Rich

Bill Murchison

4/26/2011 12:00:00 AM - Bill Murchison
I haven't investigated, but I'm sure of it. A pollster in ancient Babylonia was sampling the citizenry on a proposal to raise money by taxing the vineyards and flesh pots of the obscenely rich. I don't know a word of ancient Babylonian, but can we doubt the response went something like, "You bet! Go for it! Get those miserable shekel-grubbing sons of camels!"?

In other words, there never was a human instinct that didn't continue to play out, century after century, millennium after millennium. Class resentment included: which explains polls purporting to demonstrate that a majority of Americans want to fight the federal deficit by raising taxes on those earning $250,000 a year.

Two hundred and fifty thousand is indeed a lot of bread, and you can see why poll respondents who work at the hardware store might lack innate sympathy for those who earn such a sum. True, we're not supposed to envy others -- envy being one of the Seven Deadly Sins -- but whenever the plate is being passed around, you may count on a raft of demands that those who earn the most should pay the most.

Actually they do already, generally speaking, while those who earn the least, plus some who earn as much as $50,000 a year, pay nothing at all in the way of income tax. The imbalances inherent in the present system -- which ought to be thrown out the window, as everyone with a brain well knows -- are not today's subject. Today's subject is the left's pathetic acquiescence in the nonsense that if we'd just squeeze the #*^&%$# rich harder, the government could turn to the serious business of spending their money in behalf of us all.

As this particular brand of nonsense never goes away, there's no surprise in hearing, say, (The Hill's finance and economics blog) that Democrats "are more than happy, messaging-wise, to set themselves up as champions of programs like Medicare and Medicaid while casting Republicans as defenders of millionaires and billionaires." Yes, take that, Paul Ryan, for daring to propose maintenance of the tax rate cuts engineered nearly a decade ago under George W. Bush.

The should-we-tax-those-rich-guys question, followed by the expected you-bet, shows Americans to be unserious about getting our finances under control. Sure, tax the rich -- it's all their fault, right? Couldn't it be ours on account of demanding government favors and services larger than we seem able to finance? No need, in such an event, to reorder our larger priorities: just make the rich do it for us.

Horse feathers! Had Congress last year scrapped the rate reduction for over-$250,000 earners, the resultant gain to the Treasury for this fiscal year would have been $32 billion. That's assuming the intended victims sat still in order to be plucked rather than, as is far likelier, ferreting out new loopholes and exemptions.

The wealth of the wealthy is large, undoubtedly, but far smaller, in relative terms, than is often imagined. There is an old story about an agitator who supposedly went to see Andrew Carnegie, I think it was, demanding that Carnegie distribute his wealth to the poor. As the story goes, Carnegie, after listening, reached into his pocket, took out a quarter, handed it to the man and said, helpfully, "Here's yours."

Obsession with other people's money isn't humanity's only problem, but it's among the major ones blocking constructive overhaul of nearly all our financial assumptions. Why not just make the rich do everything? Saves time and elects Democrats -- a persuasive way of looking at things if you're a Democrat; at least until you've stamped out the ability to rise financially, pulling up others as you rise.

The price of prosperity is putting up with rich blowhards and showoffs -- does Donald Trump come to mind? -- so as to make room for the rich who start hospitals, finance museums and symphony orchestras and, yes, create jobs; all the things you rarely hear about from certain politicians. Why should they tell you such things? If they did, you wouldn't vote for them.