As Chris Rock once said (over and over again, as is his style), “I’m not talking ’bout rich, I’m talking ‘bout wealthy.” Everyday Americans have a different perspective about who’s rich and who isn’t. Are you rich? Odds are you’re not. And even if you were, you might not admit to it. In fact, ask the person sitting next to you if they’re rich. They could earn five times what you do, but it’s likely they don’t consider themselves rich. Just overtaxed.
That said, Americans believe that the rich should be on the hook for deficit reduction rather than the austere measures outlined in the President’s deficit reduction panel. According to a recent Bloomberg national poll, Americans don’t want higher gas taxes, reductions in farm subsidies, elimination of tax breaks (such as mortgage deductions) or decreases in Medicare/Medicaid or Social Security benefits. What they do want is means-testing (meaning a reduction of benefits for the wealthy), a higher cap on wages subject to payroll taxes, ending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and imposing higher capital gains tax.
If you don’t trust that poll, there are others. This time last year, Vanity Fair and 60 Minutes conducted a poll asking ‘If the Obama administration proposed a 50 percent tax or higher on the income of the wealthiest millionaires, would you support it?’ Better than 50 percent said ‘Yes,’ with that number varying expectedly based on the answer’s reported income. Another poll suggests that over 80 percent of Barack Obama’s supporters oppose the Bush tax cut extension for the highest earners that seems poised to pass both the House and Senate and garner the President’s signature.
While Obama has brought in the Big Dog, former President Bill Clinton, to endorse the policy in a very unusual, “Let’s hear what Dad has to say about it” moment at an impromptu press Q&A session in the White House conference room, he’s started a dialogue on changes to the tax code that he’d like to see continued by Congress in the upcoming year. Whether they’ll be willing to work with him is a different matter entirely, but if it’s anything like the budget neutral tax code simplification that Reagan signed off on in the ’80s, the road to even-higher deficits in the future will be paved by Obama’s good intentions. That’s due to the ongoing legislative creep that added a great deal of the breaks eliminated by tax reform back into the tax code, making the code no longer budget neutral but instead putting the country’s finances further into the red.
And who’s perched on the shoulders of members of Congress suggesting tax breaks for companies, investments and estates? The rich.
Seriously, fuck those guys.
Who else is there to blame deficits on in the first place? The Chinese who lent us all the money? As taxes have gradually decreased for the wealthiest over the last 30 years, budget deficits have skyrocketed. The richest 10 percent of Americans went from having roughly between 30 and 35 percent of the country’s wealth from the early 1940s until 1987. Now, they command almost 45 percent of the nations’ wealth. The top 20 percent now possesses 85 percent of America’s total wealth, and the top 40 percent possesses 95 percent.
The craziest part is we don’t even believe it. Across political and economic situations, Americans believe that only 60 percent of the wealth is held by the richest 20 percent, and that the bottom 20 percent holds maybe 3-4 percent of the total wealth. Most believe that the bottom 40 percent has more wealth than the middle 20 percent has in reality.
The bottom 40 percent barely charts. Maybe 1 percent.
So as billionaires who make only $1 in salary and give away half their fortunes are fawned over in the media, their accountants are busy reducing their tax contributions through a myriad of stock options and deductions that convert as much income as possible into the speculative capital gains bracket (which has been at an all-time historical low of 15 percent for ten years). Meanwhile, no company makes capital investments in public spaces or job creation (see every stadium built over the last twenty years, for instance) without massive tax incentives, further siphoning dollars from government coffers.
And the Republicans elected on the basis of fiscal prudence and deficit reduction have just coordinated a deal to spend more money in unemployment benefits in exchange for foregoing tax revenue because they wouldn’t accept tax cuts for the richest Americans.
On a human level, it’s hard to point fingers. If someone can take advantage of a tax incentive, they’re going to. No one blames the working single mother for counting her pennies, why would someone blame the oil magnate for counting his villas and ensuring he’s getting the best possible deductions on all that land ownership? And heating all those pools adds up, after all.
But when it comes down to it, rich people, whoever you are, fuck you guys. Before you all emigrate, have your butlers throw some change in the deficit reduction buckets at the green grocer. It’s manned by that bell-ringing Uncle Sam.