Monday, September 20, 2010

Are the Rich Actually Rich? :Wait, What?

Update 9/21/10 I'm in good company in taking this guy on...

Sometimes things just come together in a perfect way.  Paul Krugman posted about how 30 years ago the superrich were shamed into not griping about taxes and how poor they feel.  These days, they gripe away.
Have You Left No Sense of Decency?

I wonder if he controlled for technology-that is, 30 years ago perhaps they griped at their vacation homes where the rest of us couldn't hear them, while today they gripe in blogs.

To wit,
We are the Super Rich
In which the esteemed law professor submits that he can't afford Obama's tax hikes.  Let's examine the claim, shall we? 

The tax hikes are actually the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.  Yes, the end result would be an increase in the taxes paid as opposed to last year, but it would be a return to what would have been paid (some would say should have been paid) had the cuts not gone into effect 8+years ago.  Psychologists have shown that people get more upset over a loss of something than a realization that they never would have gotten that thing in the first place.  So although the cuts were written to be temporary, and the Republican majority before the Obama administration could have made them permanent, they didn't.  But now that the cuts are set to expire, suddenly it's a sea change.

Next, let's see what his expenses are.

The biggest expense for us is financing government. Last year, my wife and I paid nearly $100,000 in federal and state taxes, not even including sales and other taxes...Our next biggest expense, like most people, is our mortgage...Like most working Americans, insurance, doctors’ bills, utilities, two cars, daycare, groceries, gasoline, cell phones, and cable TV (no movie channels) round out our monthly expenses. We also have someone who cuts our grass, cleans our house, and watches our new baby so we can both work outside the home. At the end of all this, we have less than a few hundred dollars per month of discretionary income. We occasionally eat out but with a baby sitter, these nights take a toll on our budget.

Sounds reasonable.  But let's parse this out a bit.  He ignores the unemployment numbers.  He and his wife both have jobs.  Most of us have seen the devastating effect of unemployment and underemployment on our family and friends, so don't gloss over this.  Same thing with mortgage.  So many have lost their homes or are underwater on their mortgages so they can't move to find better jobs.  Insurance? Again, they have it.  Millions don't.  Two cars? Bully for you.  Bet any reader can think of families who do the transportation shuffle..."I have to have the car to get downtown," "But I need it to get to this appointment."

So while the author gripes about the Stinking Rich who have tax hedges in the Cayman Islands (his words) and he pays his taxes, I think about those who don't have anything to pay taxes on, but rather, are paying interest on the debt they incur to get by.

Government exists to provide things for people who can't get them for themselves, like interstate highways, education, and Social Security.  Make over $250,000?  Pay your taxes. (Median income in 2007 was $61,355 for all types of families.  US Census. $250,000 is 4 times that.)

(Education is slightly touchier, but look at this quote too.
We pay about $15,000 in property taxes, about half of which goes to fund public education in Chicago. Since we care the education of our three children, this means we also have to pay to send them to private school.
Because those who send their kids to public school don't care about them. "Have to?" If you want to pay twice for education, that's on you, bub.)

For some really good long-form journalism on income inequality in the US, see "The Great Divergence" at Slate.

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