Taxing The Rich Is Leftist Virtue (2019 Mar)

by Barry A. Liebling

Leftists agree that wealthy people should be punished. Increasing taxes on “the rich” is always their preferred policy. Conversely, providing “the rich” with a tax cut is irresponsible and immoral. Leftists agree that reducing taxes is acceptable if it directly benefits those who belong to “oppressed” groups – which includes people with low incomes. But care must be taken to assure that any tax reduction is not beneficial to “the rich” – at least at a superficial glance.

There are two underlying themes that animate this attitude – envy and class warfare.

Some people are bitterly resentful of others that have more than they do. And their toxic jealousy leads them to wish harm on others. Beautiful people should become ugly; athletes should lose their strength and skill; affluent people should have their money taken away. These malcontents are eager to see successful citizens cut down a notch. When leftist political operatives promise to grab more from “the rich” in taxes they are pandering to their envious constituents. And, even worse, leftist pundits endlessly carp on what they view as the “problem of wealth inequality.” Their objective is to trick the naive and morally-backward into believing that the existence of wealthier people signifies a flaw in society. It is a small step to accept the fallacy that robbing from “the rich” is justified.

Be aware that the proper measure for recognizing who has a right to his or her wealth is to examine how it was obtained. A person has a natural right to keep whatever is acquired honestly and is the result of productivity and dealing by mutual consent. However, anyone who uses force or fraud to obtain money is a looter and deserves nothing. Notice that this applies equally to people at all income levels. The same standards are used for the rich and and for the less affluent. Political action based on envy is not acceptable.

Class warfare is the second theme that motivates rancor against “the rich.” There have always been groups of people that clash against one another. But in the modern era Marxism – developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – has had a powerful influence on American culture. Essentially it assigns people to oppressed classes (those with less money – and also those who are “officially oppressed” due to ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation) and oppressing classes (“the rich” – as well as other classes that merit no sympathy – for example, straight white males). The oppressed are the good people and are destined (according to Marxist Dialectical Materialism) to prevail, while the oppressors are bad and will inevitably be overturned or eliminated. A leftist “progressive” endorses that Marxist vision and attempts to hasten the victory of the oppressed. Opponents of the war against the oppressors are “reactionaries” and are “on the wrong side of history.”

Understand that many affluent people (most where I live in New York City) are leftist progressives. They say they support harsh penalties on “the rich” and take pride in signaling their “woke virtue” by calling for higher taxes. Some are willing to pay more because they feel guilty about their status. And some believe that by claiming solidarity with the oppressed they will be exempt from the final reckoning.

Apologists for the tax-the-rich-more doctrine often argue that the policy is not intended to be punitive. Instead, it is only right for “the rich” to pay their “fair share.” This suggests that affluent people are not contributing as much as they should to the government purse. And this notion is ridiculous on its face. According to the latest reliable statistics, “In 2016, the top 50 percent of all taxpayers paid 97 percent of all individual income taxes, while the bottom 50 percent paid the remaining 3 percent.” Furthermore, “the top 1 percent paid a greater share of individual income taxes (37.3 percent) than the bottom 90 percent combined (30.5 percent).” And, “the top 1 percent of taxpayers paid a rate which is more than seven times higher than taxpayers in the bottom 50 percent.”

When advocates of higher taxes say “fair share” they mean more than the present rate – with no upper limit. Usually they are careful to avoid mentioning that nearly all of the federal taxes are already being paid by “the rich.” There is no escaping the interpretation that the policy is intended to punish – either materially or symbolically.

Tax-the-rich fans have another retort that they claim shows they are not being spiteful. The high tax enthusiasts point out that their sacred welfare state needs more money to operate and endlessly expand (they have that right). Increasing taxes on the wealthy, they claim, is not meant to be a penalty as much as a method of putting more wealth in government hands. But this does not hold up to scrutiny. The economist Arthur Laffer has successfully argued and demonstrated that increasing tax rates past a certain point yields lower government revenues. Leftists are not persuaded by the Laffer Curve because they are really more interested in confiscation than in growing state revenue.

What is the remedy to the politics of envy and class warfare? The essential problem is philosophical. Those who understand morality based on individualism have to explain that all citizens have the same natural rights. A proper government treats everyone equally (as opposed to showering special favors on protected groups and levying harsh penalties on those who are not officially oppressed). If income taxes are going to exist at all (There are arguments for abolishing taxes, but that is another topic.), everyone should pay exactly the same rate. Explaining this to people who have been indoctrinated with leftist culture is a challenging task.

*** See other entries at in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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