1% > 99%: Don’t Mess with the Rich, and Leave Inequality Alone

Why does it not surprise me that no comments were allowed on this op-ed piece from Sunday’s NY Times, which has been rankling at me for the past couple of days?

The authors, one a prof of law at Yale, the other UC Berkeley professor of law and economics, pose as compassionate conservatives who are concerned about the growing gap between the fabulously wealthy 1% and the rest of us 99%.

Their solution?  Impose a new, automatic tax on 1-percenters whose income exceeds $330,000—currently 36 times the median American household income.

“This new tax…would apply only to income in excess of the poorest 1-percenter — currently about $330,000 per year,” the authors (who admit to being part of this bracket) say. Their aim is not to “reverse the gains of the wealthy in the last 30 years,” but just to “assure that things don’t get worse.”

Ahem.  How about making things better???

A stark picture of the lives of those in the median (full disclosure: you’ll find me in this social landscape) was painted in today’s NYT editorial on the middle class: 

“Recent government data show that 100 million Americans, or about one in three, are living in poverty or very close to it. Of 13.3 million unemployed Americans now searching for work, 5.7 million have been looking for more than six months, while millions more have given up altogether. Even a job is no guarantee of middle-class security. The real median income of working-age households has declined, from $61,600 in 2000 to $55,300 in 2010 — the result of abysmally slow job growth even before the onset of the recession.”

You would think that our elected representatives in Congress would be concerned about this dismal state of affairs, and would be doing everything in their power to make things better for those hundreds of millions of troubled Americans, wouldn’t you?

Hah!  No, our reps in the House couldn’t be bothered to pass a bill giving us a very modest payroll tax cut, amounting to about $1,000 per year per median paycheck…because they’re holding out for strings attached that will, for example, fast-track the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Let’s connect more dots here.  According to a recent report by the non-partisan group Public Campaign, “30 multi-million dollar American corporations expended more money lobbying Congress than they paid in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010, ultimately spending approximately $400,000 every day — including weekends — during that three-year period to lobby lawmakers and influence political elections.”

You know, there would be nothing so wrong with corporations lobbying Congress IF they had the best interests of society as a whole at heart.  But we all know that’s not true. While 2010 was a “record year for executive compensation,” it was also a record year for lay-offs. And don’t even get me started about corporate sins against the environment.

It all comes back to the greed of the 1%.

In an unusual personal aside, the Yale and Berkeley profs confess that their “grandparents would be shocked to learn that the average income of the 1-percent club has skyrocketed to more than 30 times the median income — just as we will be shocked if 20 years from now 1-percenters make 80 times the median, which is where we will be if inequality continues to grow at the current rate unabated.”

So they want to hold inequality to its current levels.  That’s like saying let’s hold global warming to where it is now.  Hello-o?  Both inequality and global warming are at deadly levels right now.  Maintaining the status quo is like setting the throttle in full gear and leaving the wheel to have a drink, while the bus rolls off the cliff.

Professors, you should be ashamed of not having had the courage to enable the comments on your brilliant proposal.

Let me just put a little spin on your title, may I?  Instead of “Don’t Tax the Rich, Tax Inequality Itself,” how about: “Don’t Mess with the Rich, and Leave Inequality Alone.”  Let’s call a spade a spade–and let the debate begin!

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