In the aftermath of the phrase “the aftermath of Tuesday’s elections” almost passing out of use, the United States must now turn to its most pressing problem: our hideously unfair treatment of the rich. If TAoTE has taught us anything, it’s that the American people will not stand for socialized medicine, handouts for the poor or even many public schools. No—the common man has spoken, and he demands lower taxes for the rich and deregulation of their various petro-boilers and chicken confinements. As usual, the common man is distinguished by his generosity. For although the rich have suffered terribly since FDR, weathering gales of progressive income taxes and share-the-weatlh schemes, they now command a share of this country’s wealth normally seen only in third-world nations. According to Nicholas Kristof, who appears to be biting his lip in his new headshot, “the richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976.”
First of all, that’s too many numbers in your gotcha sentence, Nicholas Kristof. Second of all, he’s got more numbers, and they’re all equally terrifying. Most notably, 80% of American income growth from 1980 to 2005 went to the top 1%. During the boom years of the Bush administration, the “bottom 99 percent” of incomes, as James Surowiecki pleasingly describes the vast majority of Americans, saw our incomes increase by 1.3% a year. Meanwhile, the one-percenters saw 10% annual income growth. And over the last fifty years, inflation has lowered the threshold of the maximum income tax bracket from $3 million in today’s dollars to $373,360. As Surowiecki puts it, “LeBron James and LeBron James’s dentist: same difference.”
So now the United States enjoys a distribution of income similar to that of Nicaragua. In terms of getting a job, buying a house and supporting a family on what we make, our lives are objectively more difficult now than they were for our parents 30 years ago. The rich are now richer in comparison with everyone else than at any time in American history except for 1929.* Yet Republicans returned to relevance by warning us of creeping socialism, and among the Baby Boomers, lowering top-bracket taxation is the biggest fad since Woodstock. It’s almost as if controlling an inordinate share of the nation’s wealth has given the rich inordinate power.
Normally, we would rely on human decency to curb such a trend. Here, though, I will pose the standard argument against human decency: Michelle Malkin. In a column called “Voters speak: no to soak-the-rich schemes,” she rejoices in the defeat of a Washington-state initiative to impose an income tax on the top 1% of earners. Washington is one of a few states* that have no personal income tax, and the proposed levy was intended to raise “$2 billion for bankrupt public schools.” I’m no policy analyst, but that sounds like a plan that would benefit 99% of the taxpaying population, along with children and a fair portion of the theoretical future, at the expense of the state’s 60,000 richest people. That kind of sucks from their perspective, but maybe they could comfort themselves with, you know, living in a state that has public schools.
Yet Malkin trumpets a coalition of “business owners large and small, representing companies from Bartell Drugs to Amazon.com, [who] successfully fought back against the job-killing measure in Washington State.” In the question of whether to bankrupt the schools or impose any sort of income tax on the wealthiest hundredth of the population, Malkin has sided with Amazon.com.
Let us put aside the use of “job-killing” to describe a tax on personal income; surely, the wealthy of Washington state will use the money they would have paid in taxes to hire auto workers and not to purchase a third Roomba. My concern is with the dynamic of heroism in Malkin’s narrative, in which brave multimillion-dollar corporations band together against the National Education Association and schoolchildren. Some of that is attributable to the worldview of Malkin, who lives in an ice palace where she consumes the last frosty exhalations of dying orphans. But a lot of it is Republican cant.
Here’s how you know we live in a banana republic: large portions of the electorate—far more than the 1% who aren’t seeing their slice annually thinned by Republican policies—have come to identify with “business owners large and small” more than with kids in public school. The nation’s wealthiest 1% haven’t just captured an inordinate share of the country’s income; they have also accumulated an outsized share of our national mind. By a two-thirds margin, voters in Washington state decided to spare the rich and spoil the schools. How many of those voters did themselves any good?