I’m tired of hearing people on the right talk about class warfare and people envying success and hating capitalism and all that nonsense. I’ve run a progressive website for seven years and I’ve read a ton of progressive comments and opinions. There are always a couple of people who want to cap income or radically redistribute wealth, but they make up about two percent of the American left. The other 98% don’t have any problem with Bill Gates or Steve Jobs making a cajiillion dollars. If you made a ton of money, that’s great. Good for you. You want to buy a fancy car and seven or eight homes? Fantastic.
What people overwhelmingly object to is the idea that we need to balance our budget by cutting our Social Security benefits or our Medicare benefits or entirely by cutting programs that help people in need or that help people get ahead. Federal, state, and local income taxes haven’t been this low since Harry Truman was president. I’m not kidding about that. They went up because of the Korean War.
Now, maybe you think the government is doing too much and you’d like to see some programs eliminated. I can understand that. But back in 1950, we didn’t have an interstate highway system yet. NASA lay eight years in the future. The National Security Agency (NSA) did not yet exist. Medicare hadn’t been created. Almost no government offices had computers. The Food and Drug Administration was too pitiful to prevent things like the thalidomide tragedy. We had no Environment Protection Agency. I could go on listing many more ways in which we all are benefiting from the federal government doing more than it was doing in 1950, but my point is that we really should expect to be paying more in income taxes today than Americans were paying in 1950, but we are not.
If you want to argue that we don’t need some program or that some benefit is too generous or that some perverse incentive is created by a poorly constructed law, then more power to you. But don’t tell me that we need to raise the retirement age because we can’t afford to pay for Social Security.
Just two days ago, Business Insider reported that corporate profits are at an all-time high while wages are at an all-time low. Do you think maybe people ought to get paid a little more money or should we cut taxes on corporations some more and let the wage-starved middle class pick up the difference?
Here’s a little factoid about the results of the Reagan Revolution:
The ratio of CEO-to-worker pay between CEOs of the S&P 500 Index companies and U.S. workers widened to 380 times in 2011 from 343 times in 2010. Back in 1980, the average large company CEO only received 42 times the average worker’s pay.
Did you get rich because you sold a billion personal computers or did you get rich because you paid yourself 380 times what the average America worker earns? Why are CEO’s making nine times more money than they did, relative to average workers, in 1980?
And, hey, maybe people on the left wouldn’t be too concerned about all that extra pay if average workers were doing great, too. But people on the right are coming after our earned benefits with a meat cleaver. They’re telling us that our government can’t afford to keep its promises. And they’re telling the poor to drop dead. We try in make sure people have access to health care, and the right tries to take that away.
So, this isn’t about class envy or caring that someone has nice things that we can’t afford. It’s about a sustained period of U.S. history during which rich people changed the game so that they could keep more of their money and we would all lose out on the things our parents enjoyed.
You can talk all you want about the effects of globalization or the expense of an aging population, but if rich people paid taxes at the rate they paid them before 1980, we wouldn’t have any budget problems at all. So, rich people have three choices. They can pay more in taxes; they can stop trying to gut programs and benefits for the poor and middle class; or they can continue to have people say nasty things about them.
And, you know, if you made your money by inflating the housing bubble or by doing leveraged buy-outs, people are going keep hating you no matter what you do.