Jacob Gershman has an interesting story in the current issue of New York Magazine. He wonders what explains the success of the recent “Tax the Rich” policies in New York City and around the country.
First he asks:
What happened to the rich and powerful’s power? While the federal government debates Barack Obama’s proposals to milk the well-to-do, New York is poised to approve a substantial personal-income-tax hike for people making more than $500,000. New York’s business elites are now wondering how they lost out. They helped get Governor Pataki elected through a disciplined anti-tax campaign, which coincided with a national consensus that raising them was political suicide.
Then he gives some answers. He starts by reminding us that the wealthy elected a guy who promised to increase the taxes on them:
Obama was never shy about his plan to raise taxes on households and businesses earning more than $250,000 a year—which John McCain called a socialist “redistribution of the wealth.” Yet Obama fared better among the most affluent voters—52 percent of those making more than $200,000 voted for him—than he did among those making between $50,000 and $200,000.
Maybe more important might be the idea that rich people don’t really have an exit option, so politicians might as well abuse them:
Since December, the supporters of the rich tax—an alliance of organized labor and community-activist groups—waged a campaign that further weakened Governor Paterson. They spent millions on ads attacking him and staged feisty protests. (At one near City Hall last month, 1199 SEIU president George Gresham mocked his adversaries: “Where are the wealthy going to go? Iowa?”)
Finally, wealthy people are too busy working and producing wealth rather than fighting for themselves. The author writes:
Tocqueville, a contemporary of President Jackson’s, saw wealth as a “cause of disfavor and an obstacle to gaining power” in America. The rich, he wrote, “never form a body which has manners and regulations of its own,” and prefer to retreat into private life than to “engage in an often unequal struggle against the poorest of their fellow citizens.”
In other words, while lower-income people don’t have much to lose financially when they organize anti-rich campaigns and spend hours banging “on 72,000 doors, collecting over 12,000 ‘handwritten’ notes calling on Albany to raise taxes,” the wealthy are working. That may be their biggest mistake.
Read the full story here.