Beaton: Going Galt
May 18, 2013
President Obama a few months ago signed a bill to increase taxes by $600 billion. The title of the bill is the American Taxpayer Relief Act. As for the fourth word of that title, if you're Obama, apparently you spell "relief" as follows: T-A-X-I-N-C-R-E-A-S-E.
The president thereby achieved his goal of transferring more money away from the people who earned it with their labor over a lifetime and into the hands of people who earned it with their votes in November. As he relieved the former of the burden of their money, he thanked them: "I just want to thank the businessmen of this country for stepping up and paying even more than they already do. I will work with Congress to reduce spending because I realize that even if we take 100 percent of your earnings, it won't cover our trillion-dollar deficit and wouldn't be fair, either, but in the meantime you've helped save our bacon."
Just kidding. He did take their money. But he didn't thank them, and he didn't even pretend that he wants to reduce spending. As for their businesses that generated their wealth, he famously declared, "You didn't build that."
For years, the top 5 percent of earners have paid almost 60 percent of the country's federal income taxes — roughly 12 times their proportionate share. The technical term for such people is "givers."
In contrast, the bottom 40 percent pay nothing at all in federal income taxes. The ratio of the federal benefits they receive (pick any number) to what they pay for those benefits (zero) is literally infinity. The technical term for such people is "takers."
As you might expect, the wealthy also donate a much greater percentage of their income to charity. (Something you might not expect is that conservatives donate a much greater percentage of their income to charity than liberals in the same income bracket, but we'll save that for another column.)
The president nonetheless complains that the givers have not been giving enough — that they have not been paying their "fair share." So what exactly is their fair share? Well, the president doesn't specify a number. Let's just say he spells "fair share" as follows: M-O-R-E.
The president could learn a thing or two about business and fairness from John Galt. That brilliant inventor in "Atlas Shrugged" quit when the factory producing his inventions decided to run on Karl Marx's creed "From each according to his ability, and to each according to his need." (Yes, it's a precursor to the Aspen affordable-housing scam.) Others join Galt. In the end, the talented titans who shouldered the world — much like Atlas in Greek mythology — shrugged. The resulting talentless world of takers tumbled.
Life might imitate literature. Recently, top golfer Phil Mickelson lamented that he didn't like paying 60 percent of his income in federal taxes and California state taxes and was considering moving to Florida, where there is no state income tax. He was lambasted by the media, not for daring to withhold those taxes — he did pay those taxes — but for daring to pay them grudgingly.
Tiger Woods chimed in that he left California for Florida years ago for the same reason. And then, even liberal TV comedian/commentator Bill Maher said he, too, has had enough of confiscatory taxes. And this is from a guy who gave a million dollars to the Obama re-election campaign.
It's not just California. The former president of France recently moved to high-tax London from even-higher-tax France. A leading French actor fled France for Russia for the same reason. Russia (former Marxists!) promptly granted him full citizenship.
But these lessons seem lost on the president. The businessmen who fund his redistributionist policies don't earn his gratitude but his vilification. He name-calls them. To the president, "giver" is spelled as follows: G-R-E-E-D-Y-F-A-T-C-A-T.
I have a modest suggestion.
I realize that the givers will never be pitied. Thank goodness for that. For them, being pitied would be the worst possible insult.
And I realize that they won't get thanked properly, at least not in their lifetimes. But that's OK. They don't do what they do for thanks.
No, the givers do what they do because even in 21st-century America, where our lives are regulated, where our liberty is lost and where we give trophies to Little Leaguers just for showing up and diplomas to students even if they don't, we still have an inalienable right to pursue happiness. Achievements are what make the givers happy.
So my suggestion is merely this: Take their money if you must, and be envious if it makes you feel good, but let's not vilify the achievers with ugly name-calling like "greedy fat cat" and endless demands for "more." Don't try to take their happiness, too. Else one of these days, they might just "go Galt."
Glenn K. Beaton lives in Aspen.