This may sound like a liberal parody of conservative economic thinking, but let me put it out there: America’s problem is that the rich don’t have enough money.
There, I said it. Let’s rumble.
When it comes to the Scrooge McDuck set, the problem isn’t that they’re not rich enough, it’s that there aren’t enough rich — not enough to do what liberals want to do, anyway, which is to balance the budget by increasing taxes on them. Let’s deploy some always-suspect English-major math:
There are lots of liberal definitions of “rich.” When Pres. Barack Obama talks about the rich, he’s talking about people living in households with income of more than $250,000 or more, the rarefied caviar-shoveling stratum occupied by the likes of second-tier public-broadcasting executives, Boston cops, nurses, and the city manager of Lubbock, Texas (assuming somebody in her household earns the last $25,000 to carry her over the line). Club 250K isn’t all that exclusive, and most of its members aren’t the yachts-and-expensive-mistresses types.
Nonetheless, there aren’t that many of them. In fact, in 2006, the Census Bureau found only 2.2 million households earning more than $250,000. And most of those are closer to the Lubbock city manager than to Carlos Slim, income-wise. To jump from the 50th to the 51st percentile isn’t that tough; jumping from the 96th to the 97th takes a lot of schmundo. It’s lonely at the top.
But say we wanted to balance the budget by jacking up taxes on Club 250K. That’s a problem: The 2012 deficit is forecast to hit $1.1 trillion under Obama’s budget. (Thanks, Mr. President!) Spread that deficit over all the households in Club 250K and you have to jack up their taxes by an average of $500,000. Which you simply can’t do, since a lot of them don’t have $500,000 in income to seize: Most of them are making $250,000 to $450,000 and paying about half in taxes already. You can squeeze that goose all day, but that’s not going to make it push out a golden egg.
But like certain other exclusive clubs, Club 250K has an inner sanctum, a special club within the club, the champagne room of socioeconomic status. And that is Club 1: the million-dollar-a-year club. Not the millionaires’ club — lots of the people earning $1 million in any given year do not have $1 million in assets — but, still, a million a year, even in rapidly depreciating U.S. dollars, is not too shabby. But the trouble for liberals is, Club 1 is really, really exclusive: Only 0.2 percent of U.S. households have incomes that high, meaning that there’s only about 200,000 of them. And like Club 250K, Club 1 is bottom-heavy: There are a lot more $1 million men than there are $6 million men. And there are a whole heck of a lot more $6 million men than there are $60 million men.
You want to tax Club 1 to get rid of the deficit, you have to hit each of those 200,000 households with an average tax hike — not an average tax bill, but tax increase — of $6 million. And a lot of those Club 1 households don’t have $6 million in income to start with, much less $6 million left after the taxes they’re already paying.
Every time you raise the threshold for eating the rich, you get a much, much smaller serving of meat on the plate — but the deficit stays the same. The long division gets pretty ugly. You end up chasing a revenue will-o’-the-wisp.
So, what about Lloyd Blankfein and Charlie Sheen and Tiger Woods? What about these people? You can tax the striped pants off of them, but you won’t get enough money to balance the budget. If you’re doing it, you’re probably mostly doing it because it feels good. (And, yes, that does make you a bad person.)