Monday, July 27, 2009

The oh-so oppressed American mega-rich

A while ago I summarized some of the numbers from David Cay Johnston pointing out that despite Republican mythology otherwise, the "rising tide" of mega-wealth in the United States did not raise all boats.

The Wall Street Journal recently had an item that really accentuates this point.

The nation's wealth gap is widening amid an uproar about lofty pay packages in the financial world.

Executives and other highly compensated employees now receive more than one-third of all pay in the U.S., according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Social Security Administration data -- without counting billions of dollars more in pay that remains off federal radar screens that measure wages and salaries.
Now he's the part that your mainstream "liberal" media likes to forget to tell the public

The growing portion of pay that exceeds the maximum amount subject to payroll taxes has contributed to the weakening of the Social Security trust fund. In May, the government said the Social Security fund would be exhausted in 2037, four years earlier than was predicted in 2008.

The data suggest that the payroll tax ceiling hasn't kept up with the growth in executive pay. As executive pay has increased, the percentage of wages subject to payroll taxes has shrunk, to 83% from 90% in 1982. Compensation that isn't subject to the portion of payroll tax that funds old-age benefits now represents foregone revenue of $115 billion a year.
Let's recall that Reagan's tax cut for the rich was itself financed with a regressive tax increase on the middle class; done in the name of paying for Social Security. Great scam, really. Cut taxes for the rich, see them suck up the nation's wealth like Niagra Falls in reverse while concomitantly calling for the abolition of Social Security on the grounds that it's "bankrupt," forgetting to mention where that shortfall in Social Security taxes came from.

I previously noted how insane it is that Republicans try to sell their supply-side religion of the mega-rich as populist politics at a time when the tax payers are paying to subsidize the markets that the mega-rich profited from crashing.

David Sirota has written a fantastic piece saying the same thing.

According to government figures, 1-percenters' share of America's total income is the highest it's been since 1929, and their tax rates are the lowest they've faced in two decades. Through bonuses, many 1-percenters will profit from the $23 trillion in bailout largesse the Treasury Department now says could be headed to financial firms. And, most of them benefit from IRS decisions to reduce millionaire audits and collect zero taxes from the majority of major corporations.

But what really makes the ultra-wealthy so fortunate, what truly separates this moment from a run-of-the-mill Gilded Age, is the unprecedented protection the 1-percenters have bought for themselves on the most pressing issues.

To review: With 22,000 Americans dying each year because they lack health insurance, Congress is considering universal health care legislation financed by a surcharge on income above $280,000 -- that is, a levy almost exclusively on 1-percenters. This surtax would graze just 5 percent of small businesses and would recoup only part of the $700 billion the 1-percenters received from the Bush tax cuts. In fact, it is so miniscule, those making $1 million annually would pay just $9,000 more in taxes every year -- or nine-tenths of 1 percent of their 12-month haul.
Sirota goes on to point out that this mythology can only exist with the help of plutocrat Democrats and a millionaire media whose stars seem to think that this modest tax proposal on the rich constitutes punishing the mega-rich or saddling them with an unfair tax burden.*

It bears repeating: a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans has nothing to do with punitive or unfair taxation. What it has to do with is the people who have benefited the most from the society they live in paying back into that system so that the system can continue to function. (Try getting rich in Zimbabwe.)

*That such taxes are unfair is laughable in light of the middle class being asked to sacrifice the Social Security system they paid into so that the rich could see their wealth skyrocket. (Those numbers [in that link] appear to be somewhat different from Johnston's. Trying to figure out the discrepancy makes my head hurt, so take that for what it's worth.)

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