The Agenda

Another Critique of the Buffett Rule

Interestingly, the centrists at the Bloomberg View editorial board also published a critique of the Buffett Rule, albeit from a different angle:


Politically, making a big hoo-ha about millionaires actually supports the Republican accusation, advanced by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and others, that the whole thing is just “class warfare”: that making sure the money is collected is more important than how it is spent.

The Buffett Rule plays right into Obama’s unfortunate tendency to vilify people and institutions (medical-insurance companies, banks and so on). The criticism may be appropriate, but the vilification isn’t. In accusing his critics on Monday of wanting to put “all the burden for closing our deficit on ordinary Americans,” the president casually expelled the wealthy from “ordinary” society.

There is nothing inherently evil or even objectionable about making $1 million a year. People in that bracket are probably no worse, on average, than people who only make $900,000 or $800,000 or $37,298. The truth is that to straighten out our fiscal mess we are going to need more revenue from people making less than Obama’s sacred $250,000.

Taxes are not a punishment, nor are they class warfare. They are, as Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously put it, the price we pay for a civilized society. And that price needs to go up for everybody, not just for millionaires. [Emphasis added]

In effect, the Buffett Rule raises the exemption of the alternative minimum tax, sparing large numbers of upper-middle-class households living in high-tax jurisdictions, a large number of whom vote for, and donate to, Democratic candidates. Bloomberg View doesn’t draw attention to this fact, but I suspect that it has at least something to do with the pattern of vilification. What appears at first glance to be a populist proposal may in fact be a gift to the upper-middle-class, the group that, as Noam Scheiber of The New Republic observed in 2004, has tended to be most receptive to populist language in the Democratic primary electorate. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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