Monday, August 18, 2008

Rich and Poor

Back in the 19th century, Marx defined society as a struggle between the classes. To him, the working-class and the unemployed were the legitimate classes while the upper classes were guilty of exploiting them.

America never had a rigid class system like Europe so this had to be interpreted differently when Marxist sentiments influenced the American Progressive movement. The Progressives used wealth as a surrogate for class. If you were rich then it must be because you exploited those below you. It was up to the government to confiscate the funds that the rich had no claim to and give it back to the poor through social programs. This is the basis of the progressive income tax and the welfare state.

The Progressive movement subsided for decades. The progressives became liberals and the term Progressive was forgotten except for those on the far left.

Over the last few years the progressives have returned. Part of this is a re-branding. Liberals have taken so much blame for society's ills over the last few decades that no one wants to be a Liberal any longer so they have reverted to being Progressives. At the same time, the Democratic Party has moved to the left and is reviving some of their old Progressive ideals. One of these is that wealth is bad.

You can see this as the centerpiece of Barack Obama's economic program. He insists that the Bush administration favored the rich. He proposes multiple taxes on the wealthy including a repeal of Bush's tax cuts (but only on the rich), additional capitol gains taxes, and new social security taxes on those earning more than $250,000. At the same time he proposes additional tax cuts for the middle class and new government programs.

Obama has made one important change to the traditional Progressive platform. Instead of worrying about the poor and ignoring the middle-class, he now ignores the poor and treats the middle class as the New Poor.

All of this sounds like a great bargain for the middle class - elect Obama and get more money and benefits courtesy of the rich. The question is, who is rich.

Over the weekend, Barack Obama was asked who was rich. He defined families making $150,000 as middle-class. I would agree with that but I would also argue that someone making $160,000 is not rich. Even someone making $250,000 is not living the lifestyle of Paris Hilton. Then there is the implication that couples with no children living at home who make less than $150,000 are rich.

Obama's problem is that there aren't all that many people who are truly rich. This is a trait he shares with most Democrats. Often they pick an arbitrary percentage and define the truly wealthy as anyone above that percentage. This varies but is usually defined as the top 10%-20% of wage earners. (Anyone who earns more than 80% of Americans must be rich.) Often their definition of rich is so inclusive that a pair of married teachers qualifies.

This is a strange definition of rich. Wealth is usually defined in terms of assets instead of earnings. A family that makes $250,001 a year probably has a nice house and nice cars but also has a big mortgage. These people still worry about the cost of health case and gas.

(Personal note - my father was a doctor. The girl I dated in high school was puzzled the first time she saw our house. She assumed that a doctor living in a nice neighborhood must be living in a mansion. Instead our house was slightly smaller than hers. It was newer and a bit fancier but nothing like she expected. I suspect that this attitude is predominate among Progressives.)

Think about your earnings and your assets. Chances are pretty good that your assets are less than your annual earnings.

There are people who are really rich by anyone's standard. The top 1% by assets is going to be rich by anyone's standards. In a country of 300,000,000 there are going to be a lot of people in that top 1%. But, and this is a capital letter BUT, they don't have enough money to finance Obama's plans. That's why the Democrats have always included the upper middle class in their definition.

Obama is trying to fine-tune his definition of rich. He is trying to include enough people to pay for his expensive proposals. At the same time, his biggest support comes from the low-end of the "rich". He is counting on raising huge sums of money from people who earn between $100,000 and $250,000 but they may desert him if he plans on taxing them.

All of this is a throw-back to earlier times. Confiscatory taxes have been tried and they fail. They discourage wealth creation r they drive wealth to other countries. Most of Europe which has always been more progressive than the US has given up on such high taxes.

Obama is not willing to learn from history. Back when he only hung out with feminists and Marxists in college he decided that wealth is wrong and he never reevaluated this. If he is elected and carries out his agenda then he will hurt American productivity. This affects all Americans, not just the ones at the top.

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