President Obama must be a religious man. Else how to explain his economic policy drawn straight out of Isaiah 40:4?
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.
Let me introduce [Obama's] third, a book that will touch everyone’s life: “A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing America’s Promise. The President’s Budget and Fiscal Preview” (Government Printing Office, 141 pages, $26; free on the Web). This is the U.S. budget for laymen, and it’s a must read.
Turn immediately to page 11. There sits a chart called Figure 9. This is the Rosetta Stone to the presidential mind of Barack Obama. Memorize Figure 9, and you will never be confused. Not happy, perhaps, but not confused.
One finds many charts in a federal budget, most attributed to such deep mines of data as the Census Bureau or the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The one on page 11 is attributed to “Piketty and Saez.”
Either you know instantly what “Piketty and Saez” means, or you don’t. If you do, you spent the past two years working to get Barack Obama into the White House. If you don’t, their posse has a six-week head start on you.
Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, French economists, are rock stars of the intellectual left. Their specialty is “earnings inequality” and “wealth concentration.”
Messrs. Piketty and Saez have produced the most politically potent squiggle along an axis since Arthur Laffer drew his famous curve on a napkin in the mid-1970s. Laffer’s was an economic argument for lowering tax rates for everyone. Piketty-Saez is a moral argument for raising taxes on the rich.
Good, I hear you saying! Soak the rapacious bastards. Buncha Madoff wannabes—take all their money, then line ‘em up and shoot ‘em.
Well, you elected the right man for the job.
Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute criticized the Piketty-Saez study on these pages in October 2007. Whatever its merits, their “Top 1%” chart has become a totemic obsession in progressive policy circles.
Turn to page five of Mr. Obama’s federal budget, and one may read these commentaries on the top 1% datum:
“While middle-class families have been playing by the rules, living up to their responsibilities as neighbors and citizens, those at the commanding heights of our economy have not.”
“Prudent investments in education, clean energy, health care and infrastructure were sacrificed for huge tax cuts for the wealthy and well-connected.”
“There’s nothing wrong with making money, but there is something wrong when we allow the playing field to be tilted so far in the favor of so few. . . . It’s a legacy of irresponsibility, and it is our duty to change it.”
Mr. Obama made clear in the campaign his intention to raise taxes on this income class by letting the Bush tax cuts expire. What is becoming clearer as his presidency unfolds is that something deeper is underway here than merely using higher taxes to fund his policy goals in health, education and energy.
The “top 1%” isn’t just going to pay for these policies. Many of them would assent to that. The rancorous language used to describe these taxpayers makes it clear that as a matter of public policy they will be made to “pay for” the fact of their wealth — no matter how many of them worked honestly and honorably to produce it. No Democratic president in 60 years has been this explicit.
Of course, what nobody seems to have mentioned is that that top 1% is already overpaying taxes—they make 22% of the income, but pay almost 40% of the taxes!!!
Look at the relative tax burden over the last five years:
I don’t know about the exalted and the low and the rough—but I’d like to see him make the crooked straight. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.