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 Attacking the Rich 

June 19, 2003

Whenever someone, usually a Republican, proposes a tax cut, someone else, usually a Democrat, will rise to accuse him of “favoring the rich.” We’re hearing a lot of this demagogy lately. I wish it would stop; or rather — since it won’t stop — I wish people would think about what it implies.

Republicans often point out, quite rightly, that people who pay more taxes are bound to get higher refunds. By the Democrats’ logic, tax rates should never be reduced unless people with lower incomes — who already pay very little in taxes — benefit as much as people with higher incomes, enviously described as “the rich.” Socialism must be ratcheted into the tax system.

Only socialism — a full leveling of incomes — would meet the Democrats’ implied (but never quite acknowledged) standard of fairness. Anything else “favors the rich.”

But why is socialism “fair”? Why is it “unfair” that some people are richer than others? Is it also “unfair” that America is so much richer than Ethiopia? In Ethiopia the poor starve; in America the poor are apt to be overweight. Wouldn’t it be “fairer” to have a global state to make sure incomes are equal all over the world? Why do the Democrats artificially confine their principles to one country?

The governments that have adopted socialism have only impoverished their populations, which suggests there may be something unfair about socialism itself. It certainly never achieves its proclaimed goals. Even the Democrats realize this by now, which is why they stop short of calling for all-out socialism, preferring piecemeal socialist measures under other names. Yet they never specify a limit beyond which taxation ceases to be fair.

Put it this way: At what point would Bill Gates be unfairly taxed? Would it be unfair to take 50, 75, 90 per cent of his earnings? How do you decide?

[Breaker quote: The real target]You can’t. Once you agree that the state has a right to force people to pay it, there is no limit. The real question is this: Where does the state get the right to force Bill Gates to pay it a single dime?

You’d think someone might raise this question in a country as heavily taxed as this one. But almost nobody does. Even the Republicans agree in principle that the state has an inherent right to tax. President Bush thinks it should never take more than a third of anyone’s income, but that’s an arbitrary figure.

Taxation is wrong in principle. Taxes are moneys forcibly taken from some people for the benefit of other people. The pretense that the benefits are equally shared by everyone — “public goods” — won’t bear analysis. It’s merely a ruse to make it sound as if the state is impartially benevolent. Does this describe any politician you know of? Doesn’t real-world politics mean promising special treatment to specific interests in return for political support? Favoritism is inseparable from politics.

To complain that a free economy favors the rich is like complaining that free speech favors the eloquent. The Republican argument that lower taxes will “stimulate the economy” is true but irrelevant. The real case for lowering taxes — or better yet, abolishing taxes altogether — is that it will free the individual. “The economy” should be the aggregate of free exchanges, not something governed or manipulated by the power of the state.

But how could we even have a state without taxes? The answer is that we couldn’t — at least not the all-powerful kind of state we have now, which totally depends on taking enormous quantities of private wealth. That in itself is an excellent reason for getting rid of the taxing power.

As long as the state has unlimited taxing power, we are in danger of totalitarian rule. It’s amazing that the American people ever surrendered such power to the Federal Government, and its repeal is long overdue.

Always unpopular and politically vulnerable, the rich are an easy target for the expanding state. They can be used as an excuse for the state to claim powers which can later be used against everyone else too. The income tax was originally aimed at high incomes only; today it takes a huge part of middle incomes as well.

The lesson is simple. Whenever you hear a politician attack “the rich,” you may safely assume that his real target is someone else. Namely, you.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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