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The Rich Can Afford It, but Can We?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Few displays of phony generosity and bogus earnestness are more irritating than watching a stinking-rich tycoon advocating that others shell out more in taxes.

"People at the high end, people like myself, should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we've ever had it," explained Warren Buffett, who must be aware that "people like him" number somewhere in the low single digits.

But please, go for it, Mojambo. Hand it over if you're feeling compelled. And if your "please-tax-me-more" companion Bill Gates feels equally bonded to the virtues of federal revenue streams, he can always divert some of that foundation funding from the private sector to the IRS -- where the magic really happens.

"Rich" families with two student loans, mortgages, outrageous property taxes and young children they can't send to the awful local public schools are, undoubtedly, indebted to you guys for finally speaking up.

Let's just call it what it is, though. We may still live in a free, capitalistic society, but taxation policy has long been instilled with progressive moral purpose. Taxation is the most accessible and politically viable way to "spread it around."

Economists and politicians can argue all day about the effects of pending tax increases. They can argue that continuing the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone, including the rich -- filthy immoral scoundrels that they are -- would create jobs. They can quarrel about that sweet spot for tax rates. Some of us may contend that the estate tax is nothing more than a tidy way to confiscate private property. We can argue about a lot of things.

That's today. If we continue to increase the disparity in taxation, we add a host of problems.

Right now, the top 1 percent of earners pay more in income tax than the bottom 90 percent. (The top 20 percent pay almost all federal taxes.) Some economists argue that as revenue streams become more reliant on the fortunes of the few, the economy becomes increasingly more volatile. We also know that Washington will always avoid fundamental changes in spending when there is always an easy revenue stream to tap.

Perhaps the most damaging aspect of it all, however, is that progressive taxation creates an irresponsible electorate. We seem a tad bit disconnected from the cost of all the Utopian voting we do.

But we bought it. Why should we be denied the honor of paying for it? What will be the bulwark against the evils of caffeinated alcoholic beverages? Who will have the moral fortitude to extend unemployment benefits in perpetuity? Who, I ask, will provide free health care and education for everyone?

Let's all pony up. Together.

After all, it wasn't only the rich who voted for those Republicans who took a budget surplus and turned it into a huge deficit. And it certainly wasn't only millionaires who voted for those Democrats who took that large debt and placed it on a trajectory that will have us measuring it in the sextillions.

Anyway, if tax cuts do not generate economic activity, as most liberals contend, why limit tax hikes to the rich? Being in the middle class does not guarantee that you're a productive citizen. (I can attest to that personally.) Surely, some in the middle class can afford to pay more.

Now, even though I happen to believe that Buffett and Gates would do this nation a favor if they kept their money flowing into Berkshire Hathaway and Microsoft -- or built another 66,000-square-foot home in the Pacific Northwest -- I have no doubt that billionaires can afford to pay a bit more in taxes.

But it's not the rich we should be worried about.

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