“There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back.”—President Barack Obama, July 13, 2012.
The wealthy Americans our president refers to are agreeing that they should be taxed more. The the line I quote is no new revelation. It repeats one of the Democrats’ arguments for taxing the rich. A band of high-minded billionaires, Warren Buffet, conspicuous among them, march behind the president under the proud banner: “Please, please tax us more.”
Conservatives, unimpressed, scoff at this as hypocritical self-glorification and invite these gilded liberals to go ahead, pay more taxes if they wish. No one’s stopping them and it’s easy to do. The benevolent billionaires reply that it’s the principle of the thing, not the money. I expect this point-counterpoint to go back and forth until everyone gets bored with it and moves on.
There’s a paradox here that’s being overlooked. Some of these billionaires and multi-millionaires do give back. For all I know they all do, but it’s a fact that among them S. Donald Sussman, Steven King, and George Soros make large voluntary contributions to non-political causes. Warren Buffet plans to leave most of his vast fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports initiatives in education, world health and population, and community giving in the Pacific Northwest.
The paradox is that none of them show any inclination to make voluntary donations to the United States Treasury. They are not arguing that our deficits will be covered and national debt paid down by raising their taxes. No economist believes that and no mathematical calculations support it. They say they want to be legally forced to pay more taxes in the name of fairness, but they are unwilling to do it voluntarily.
This seems a little strange until you think it through. When these people contribute to candidates, set up a foundation or spend their money to support specific causes they retain a degree of control over how that money will be spent. If they contribute money to government their power of its use disappears and the decisions about expenditure passes into the hands of politicians and bureaucrats with lots of help from thousands of lobbyists. Like the rest of us they don’t love politicians as a class. How could they? Many of those politicians will inevitably be conservative Republicans. They also understand the French writer Balzac that “a bureaucracy is a giant machine operated by pygmies.” They don’t see themselves as pygmies.
When they advocate higher taxes they become important “players” and get a lot of attention from the press and a president. They are helping to steer the course of a great nation. They can claim credit for a noble self-sacrifice. In short they feel they have power. If they just quietly turn millions over to the U.S. Treasury they are mere passive bit players in the national drama. There’s no satisfaction in that.
This is not to argue that their devotion to a big and healthy government is insincere. They want it to grow, not shrink. They didn’t become and stay rich without a knowledge of basic arithmetic, so they know it can’t grow or even be sustained at its present level with tax increases on the really, really rich. Their real objective is to prepare the way for tax increases on the pygmy strivers who manage to earn as little as $250,000 a year. I suspect, although I cannot prove, that they realize that a really healthy government will require tax increases on the whole middle class.
I believe they see giving back in the form of voluntary contributions is a virtue and prerogative reserved to themselves, while the pygmy rich and the middle class lacks the wisdom to do the same in a righteous and effective way. They already have all they can possible use in the way of yachts, private jets, mansions, vacation palaces, etc. while having plenty left over to donate to causes they favor and pay some more to the government.
As long as charitable donations remain tax free they will retain control over most of their wealth, but think that lesser beings should be denied the same advantage. They may not admire politicians and bureaucrats but figure that they are better managers of the wealth of their social inferiors.
About the AuthorProfessor John Frary of Farmington, Maine, is a former US Congress candidate and retired history professor, a Board Member of Maine Taypayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia, and can be reached at email@example.com.
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