Politics & Policy

Ignore the Income Gap

A Manhattan graffito (Deroy Murdock)
Rather than lift the lobby, the Left would plunge the penthouse.

‘Every time a bank fails an angel gets its wings.” So goes a graffito in Manhattan’s East Village. One block away, as marchers occupied Broadway on May Day, their picket signs proclaimed, “Millionaires must pay their fair share” and “No free ride for Wall Street.” Lacking capital letters, another oddly stated: “i put all my books in the oven and i’ll never read again.” 

Apart from that last, puzzling sentiment, the placards echoed Occupy Wall Street and its spiritual leader, President Barack Obama. Class warriors scream about imposing “fairness” on the rich, but their shouts become mumbles when asked what precise tax rate achieves “fairness.”

Liberals fall mum amid these facts: In 2009, the latest IRS figures demonstrate, the much-maligned top 1 percent of taxpayers earned 17 percent of national income and paid 37 percent of federal income taxes. The top 10 percent made 43 percent of national income and surrendered 70.5 percent of income-tax revenues. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent scored 13.5 percent of national income and paid just 2.3 percent of income taxes.

Unfair? If so, the Left should specify what heavier tax burden on the wealthy or lighter tax load on the lower half of taxpayers would constitute “fairness.”

#ad#“Fairness” evidently does not involve augmenting tax revenues, either to pay down the national debt or even to fund the social spending that makes liberals salivate.

As the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Peter Wehner recalled April 12 in a superb essay on Commentary’s website, in 2008 then-Senator Obama advocated a higher capital-gains tax rate. He did so even though lowering that tax rate from 28 percent to 20 percent in 1997 actually expanded net revenues by 124 percent — from $54 billion in Fiscal Year 1996 to $121 billion in FY 2000, according to a Congressional Budget Office report. That tax-rate cut was enacted under tea-party pinup William Jefferson Clinton.

“Well, Charlie,” Obama told ABC’s Charles Gibson during the 2008 campaign, “what I’ve said is that I would look at raising the capital-gains tax for purposes of fairness.”

For too many liberals like Obama, “fairness” is not about enriching the modest; it’s about impoverishing the moneyed.

Multibillionaire Warren Buffett has energized liberals with his still-unverified claim that his tax rate lags his secretary’s. If that is true, “fairness” could mean slashing the secretary’s taxes to match Buffett’s 11 percent effective tax rate. (Like many 1 percenters, Buffett chooses to derive most of his income from lower-taxed investments rather than higher-taxed wages.) Somehow, reducing the secretary’s taxes never came up. Instead liberals demand the so-called Buffett Rule, an instrument for bludgeoning the successful rather than boosting the downtrodden.

In her final appearance in the British House of Commons, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher skeweredthis liberal mindset. Feisty as ever, she answered her colleagues’ questions on the gap between the needy and the affluent: “The honourable gentleman is saying that he would rather that the poor were poorer, provided that the rich were less rich,” Thatcher explained on November 22, 1990. “So long as the gap is smaller, they would rather have the poor poorer. One does not create wealth and opportunity that way.”

Like Thatcher, American conservatives should reject the concept of the income gap. Who cares about the gap, provided that those on the bottom advance in absolute terms? 

Consider two job offers: (a) You will earn $50,000, while your boss makes $55,000, just 10 percent more. (b) You will earn $500,000, while your employer gets $1 million — twice your salary. “Unfairness” suddenly looks spectacular.

Here’s how the Right should challenge the Left:

“If you dislike income inequality, lift those with the least. Let’s adopt universal school choice, allow personal Social Security retirement accounts (to democratize long-term capital accumulation), radically reduce or eliminate America’s anti-competitive 35 percent corporate tax (to supercharge businesses), and pass right-to-work laws (so the jobless won’t fester outside closed shops). Let’s build the Keystone Pipeline (to create 20,000 blue-collar positions right now and lower everyone’s energy costs), frack for natural gas, and tame the EPA, OSHA, SEC, and other power-mad bureaucracies, so U.S. companies will stay here, and foreign firms will move in.” 

If liberals agree, they should enact this economic-growth agenda. If they do not, they should explain why they reject these proposals to help poor people prosper.

Most likely, the ensuing silence would reveal liberals’ true intentions: not to lift the lobby, but to plunge the penthouse.

— Deroy Murdock, a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service, is a Fox News contributor and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.

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