When President Obama's polls hit 40 percent approval, he fumed at "billionaires and millionaires," "fat cat bankers" and "corporate jet owners." In his sloppy targeting, Obama doesn't care much that a billionaire has 1,000 times more than a millionaire -- or that his new tax proposals will take a lot more from those making $200,000 than from the tiny few making $1 million.
Instead, the president is in a populist frenzy to rev up his base against "Them," who supposedly "are not paying their fair share." The president's argument apparently is not that the top 5 percent haven't paid enough taxes. Indeed, they pay almost 60 percent of all income taxes collected, while nearly 50 percent of households pay no income taxes. Obama seems angry that the top 5 percent will still have more money after taxes than do others, and so they should pay a redistributive government still more taxes.
But 21st century class warfare is a weird thing.
Take the technology that gives most what only the few once could afford. Most Americans now expect as a birthright iPhones, iPods, laptops, DVDs and big-screen televisions, thanks to cheap overseas fabrication and fierce price-cutting global competition. The typical welfare recipient now owns a sophisticated cell phone; a fat cat corporate CEO not long ago did not.
For the president, riding on a private jet from New York to Los Angeles is supposed to be privilege. But a poor person on a discount nonstop ticket can still get there as safely and almost as quickly for about one-thousandth of the cost in fuel and overhead. Once they land minutes apart at LAX, was the Gulfstream passenger all that blessed, the guy in steerage with headphones and a TV screen all that deprived?
The president believes that those who make more than $200,000 are synonymous with millionaires. But such income levels are not good barometers of wealth in a world where graduated taxes can eat up to 50 percent of a salary, and high-income areas have sky-high housing costs. Some of the less well off go to school for near free on scholarship packages to state universities. Other students pay $200,000 for a four-year private college -- sometimes for the prestige of the degree rather than any quantifiably better education. Nor do we talk about off-the-books labor, where millions earn money without reporting either income or sales receipts -- and often while on state subsidies.