An open letter to Senator-elect Jim Webb

Posted: Nov 21, 2006 12:20 PM
An open letter to Senator-elect Jim Webb

Okay, complete disclosure: I didn’t vote for you. But my wife did, so the split in our household was 50-50, which almost exactly mirrors the statewide result of your victory over Sen. George Allen (49.59-49.2 percent). Oh, and I predicted you’d lose this election, a guess I was wrong about (by fewer than 9,400 votes, but in politics a win by an inch is as good as a win by a mile).

So congratulations on proving me wrong.

Even without my vote, though, you’re going to be my senator for the next six years, and I’d like to see you succeed. However, so far you’re sounding more like a redistributionist Ted Kennedy clone than a conservative who voted for George W. Bush in 2000. Let’s look at some of your odd assertions in the Nov. 15 Wall Street Journal.

“America’s top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country.” Oh, how so? “The top 1 percent now takes in an astounding 16 percent of national income, up from 8 percent in 1980,” you write. Further, you insist that “the tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.”

Indeed, the rich do earn a lot. But let’s consider how much that top 1 percent gives back to the country in taxes. According to the IRS, in 2004 the top 1 percent of tax filers paid 36.89 percent of federal income taxes. In other words, their tax burden is twice as high as their share of national income. If anything, wealthy people are overtaxed.

Interestingly, the IRS also says that the bottom 50 percent of taxpayers shelled out a total of 3.3 percent of all taxes. It’s difficult to see how we could cut taxes for them, since they already pay next to nothing.

Mr. Webb, you also claim that these wealthy people “own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people.” Well, those workers would probably disagree.

The Securities Industry Association reported last year that, “The number of households owning equities has increased more than three-fold since the early 1980s. Today, nearly 57 million U.S. households, half of all U.S. households, own stocks directly or through mutual funds.” Clearly, more people than ever are enjoying the benefits of being in the market.

Your piece concludes, “Our government leaders have no greater duty than to confront the growing unfairness in this age of globalization.” But you offer no solutions. So, let me make some suggestions that would begin to rectify the unfair situations mentioned above.

First, let’s dump our convoluted tax system.

Many of your fellow Democrats want to scrap the Alternative Minimum Tax, and that’s fine as a first step. However, while we’re fixing the tax code, let’s go all the way and have a flat tax that would allow workers to figure out their taxes in minutes, instead of wrestling with forms for hours (or paying somebody else to do their taxes for them).

A flat tax isn’t just good for workers; it’s good for businesses. Last year, the Christian Science Monitor noted that “flat-taxers have moved Eastern Europe from a communist backwater to an investment spring.” Six countries in that former communist region now use the flat tax, and that’s putting pressure on Western Europe. If the United States wants to maintain our economic advantage over the former Soviet bloc, we’d better move toward a flat tax, too.

Our country also should build on the gains in the stock market by making it possible for even more people to own stocks.

In 2005, President Bush proposed Social Security reform that would have allowed any worker to invest a small portion of his Social Security taxes in an account he would own and control. Democratic opposition helped stop that idea in Congress, but we’re almost two years later, and nobody on the left has come up with another solution.

You could bring back the idea of private accounts, which would help low-wage earners by allowing them to invest in the stock market and start reaping long-term gains. If your fellow Democrats won’t go for it, we’d like to hear what they plan to propose instead.

Here’s hoping, Mr. Webb, that you can maintain your reputation as a maverick -- it would be fun to have a Democratic version of John McCain to shake up the Senate. In your Journal piece you perfectly talked the talk of the American left. Now, why not shake up the liberals by proposing some conservative solutions to today’s problems?