With power comes money. With money comes greed.
— Ice Cube
There’s a classic Peanuts comic strip in which Linus is going over the horrible stats of the gang’s recent winless baseball season. With each statistic, one more awful than the last, you see Charlie Brown’s demeanor grow increasingly forlorn.
Finally, as he reaches the end of his rope, Charlie Brown erupts: “Tell your statistics to shut up!”
I wanted to pull a Charlie Brown recently as I listened to an enlightened defender of all that’s right in America talk about statistics that show how the super rich pay an overwhelming percentage of taxes in this country. His lesson (ahhh, Reaganomics) was offered as evidence that rich people are already paying too much in taxes and they deserve to keep the tax breaks implemented as a gift from former President George Bush that President Obama and others have targeted as an area from which the country could start chopping away at its staggering deficit.
It was that tired old “5 percent of Americans pay 70 percent of all taxes and 10 percent pay 80 percent” stuff that all Republicans, a few wealthy Democrats and the lower- and middle-class sheep who fall in line with whatever their shepherds say trot out any time someone even hints that rich people do not need more tax breaks. Those people make it sound like the folks who aren’t a part of that 5 or 10 percent are low-life scum who are living off the sweat of these poor, mistreated rich folks.
Decorum prevents me from expressing my true emotions here, but suffice it to say the word “BULL” would figure prominently in my response.
I’ve never seen facts to back up the claim that the super rich are paying X percent of taxes in this country — only heard the same old spin by the same old people — but let’s, for the sake of argument, say that the 5 percent who make boatloads of money actually do pay 70 percent of the taxes. Does that really mean they’re being unfairly targeted?
A person who does not happen to be part of that 5 percent — and, yes, I definitely fall into that category ... fall very hard, in fact — might argue that if the mega-rich are paying such an ungodly proportion of the country’s taxes, it stands to reason that it’s because they make such an ungodly amount of money?
And, yes, I know there are multi-, multi-, multi- millionaires and billionaires who worked hard and earned their fortunes. I don’t begrudge them that. But a couple of things to consider before we have Lionel Richie write a “We Are the World”-type benefit song for the yacht club demographic: 1) A large number of the wealthy in this country did nothing more than be born to “earn” their wealth. And 2), many among the super-rich pay hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars to sleazy tax lawyers and CPAs to come up with loopholes that keep them from paying their taxes.
So if they’re paying 70 percent of the country’s taxes and still using their do-nothing son’s college tuition as a “charitable” tax write-off, they’re actually taking in w-a-a-a-a-a-y too big a percentage of the available money.
And, lest we forget, most among the super rich would not have their money if not for the labor of the people working under them.
Full disclosure time: My “portfolio” (the largest portion of which is around 78 bucks worth of change in a plastic Coke-bottle container) clearly indicates I’m not someone you should listen to about money matters. Still, I think I have a point that is of some relevance here.
Let’s say some poor shlub is squeezing out a living making $30,000 a year, and he has to pay 20 percent of that total in taxes. (Please don’t write or call to tell me how uninformed or stupid I am; I know these numbers aren’t accurate. I’m trying to make a point.) And let’s say his boss makes $300,000 a year and pays the same 20 percent.
Let’s also assume neither of the two has a sleazy accountant and each will pay his fair tax share without trying to find loopholes. Guy No. 1 will pay $6,000 in taxes (if my math is right, and don’t hold me to that either). His boss will pay $60,000, a whole heck of a lot more. In fact, if you take that total, the bossman is paying 91 percent of the taxes between the two.
And even though the second guy is paying 10 times more than the first, which one do you think is going to hurt most? Is the boss going to have a tougher time living off $240,000 than the working stiff will trying to live off $24,000?
OK, I know you’re going to argue that if the first guy pays 20 percent, the second will have to pay something like 40. So? The money he’d be left with ($180,000, pending a math check) would still afford him a very comfortable lifestyle while the guy who works for him would still struggle to afford the bare necessities.
So, please, let’s agree to stop with the sob stories for the rich and the super rich. The anger over such ludicrous spin is what has people protesting wealth distribution on Wall Street and other parts of the country right now. And if you’re not one of the rich or super rich but you buy into the spin, well, please, by all means, work hard to get someone elected who will take more of your money and give it to his rich friends.
I’d suggest looking toward Texas ... they tend to think that way over there.
Email Carlton Fletcher at email@example.com