Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Soak, loot -- or, why not just eat the rich?

I mean, first of all they're rich and who gives a damn about the rich, right? And second of all because there aren't very many of them. Right? Who's with me? Let's get 'em!

That's kind of the moral level that we get from James Surowiecki's "Soak the Very, Very Rich" item in The New Yorker recently, with the proviso that now we're only talking about the very greediest of the greed-heads, and so there really aren't very many of them. It's not often you get to see the Id of the leftoids exposed in all its creepy crawly splendor quite so plainly as this. Here's why he's given up trying to get us to go after just "the rich":

You might think this isn’t really much of a debate. An annual income of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars puts you in the top three per cent of American households, and is more than four times the national median. You’re rich, and a small tax increase isn’t going to rock your world.
Good luck convincing people of this, though.
Hence, the focus on the "very, very" rich -- not because taking their money is any more rational or ethical, but simply because we might have a chance of actually getting away with it, politically. He does make one stab at morality -- "This would make the system fairer, since it would reflect the real stratification among high-income earners" -- but doesn't bother to explain why or how it's "fair" to to seize ever higher amounts from those with more, and quickly reverts to type: "There would be political advantages, too: the reform could actually make tax hikes on top earners more popular." Why would that be? Well, because of that old Deadly Sin, envy: "... people who earn a few hundred thousand dollars a year have done much worse [!] than people at the very top of the ladder", and so the anger of what he calls the "lower upper class" toward the "upper upper" is there to be exploited -- though here, of course, we may be seeing some projection on Surowiecki's part. (Interestingly, he allows that this angry "lower upper" includes "even some journalists", which is pretty obvious. As Megan McArdle notes, "the definition of "very rich" seems increasingly to be set at "just above the level a top-notch journalist in a two-earner couple could be expected to pull down".)

So there are some problems. First, of course, there's that faint stab at moral cover noted above, nicely mocked in the very title of Tim Cavanaugh's post at Hit & Run: "It's Fair to have a Fair System for Fairness" -- i.e., just saying "it's not fair" that someone has more money than you doesn't actually make it not fair. Then there's the assumption that the money grab would actually, you know, grab some money -- the Laffer Curve has been often derided, effectively, as a generalization, but when it's applied to the top 1% of earners Laffer has some numbers to show that an increase in tax rates actually can lower tax revenue. And finally, there's his political calculations, rooted in simple greed and envy -- if we can't make the old class warfare thing work against the rich (which might, awkwardly, include himself), surely we could make it work at least against the very very rich. Couldn't we?

Well, maybe not. As I noted a while back regarding another proposal to make the rich pay, it does seem as though more and more people, even in that lower upper class, are starting to look upon taking other people's money simply because they have it as not far enough removed from the moral level of a common thief.

1 comment:

  1. The "liberals" (such as Crooked Timber regs) who start foaming at the mouth at the mere mention of libertarianism know little or nothing about the economic history of the US over the last 20 years. Bill Clinton was a libertarian, arguably, as were his econo-men (Summers, Rubin, etc)--or at least, they were not opposed to Reagan-style supply side policies when necessary. What's the difference between libertarianism, or pro-de-reg supply siders? Not sure. Think it has to do with where you live.

    Larry Summers for instance demanded an end to the quaint New Deal controls on speculation--. pro-economist Im not, but that looks a lot like....libertarianism (or perhaps its a sophisticated cousin, Austrian gold-standardism). Larry Summers style policies were The tea-party of 1998. A Quiggen however would never dare criticize a Larry Summers on CT. Better to like insult some pro-NRA, pro-gambling hicks. Or something.


You can use some HTML tags, such as <b>, <i>, <a>