JOEL KOTKIN: Stop favoring investors, speculators over middle class.
I, like most members of the middle class, particularly in California, just paid a tax bill that seemed less like my fair share than a shakedown by the Mafia. Increasingly, for people who run small businesses or earn a decent income, the tax bite is becoming ever more like in Europe, with total bills in high-tax states like ours reaching upward of 40 percent. It’s like paying the bill for a big dinner without eating the food – we get hammered like Swedes but without the free education, health care and other benefits of a more conventional welfare state.
Most galling is that, while the middle class has endured ever-higher taxes, those who have benefited most from the Bernanke-Obama “recovery” continue to get the biggest tax breaks. This is largely the investor class, who have been able to reap the benefits of the stock-market boom and, in some areas, including coastal California, the steep rise in real estate prices.
Of course, the rich and corporations have all sorts of ways to avoid taxation – like offshore accounts – but the real class divider is capital gains. Today, long-term capital gains are taxed at the federal level at a maximum 20 percent, while the small-business owner, writer, consultant or professional, if they do relatively well, are stuck with income tax rates up to 39.6 percent, approaching twice that level.
Overall, you don’t have to be super-rich to be hit. The portion of the tax burden absorbed by the top 20 percent of earners has grown – a California family with an income of $150,000 would qualify – from 65 percent to 90 percent. Even worse off are younger families, which generally have less to invest and have been stuck with a tepid job market; from 2007-10, households of people under age 40 have seen their net worth drop, while older Americans have now recovered most of their losses from the economic downturn.
You know what else helps investors and speculators but not the middle class? Open borders. Plus:
[I]ronically, one wonders where the class warriors of the Left are on this. They have become increasingly bold (or honest) in stating that we should continue raising taxes on the middle and upper-middle classes, as a recent New Republic piece suggests, but seem less than vehement about equalizing taxes on capital gains and other income.
This may have something to do with the shift in backing for “progressive” causes coming from the very people – Wall Street traders, venture capitalists and tech executives – who benefit most from the capital gains scam. The confluence of big money and populist rhetoric is epitomized by New York’s powerful senior senator, Charles Schumer, who has made a career of both raising money from Wall Street financiers and defending preferential treatment for their outsized profits. Their growing power over the party of ever-expanding government leaves only one place to finance Democrats’ ambitious plans – the middle and upper-middle classes.
I don’t hold all that much hope that reform will be pushed by most Republicans either, since they for far longer have been the party of accumulated wealth. But, as far as I can see, it is mainly conservatives, such as retiring Congressman Dave Camp, who seem ready to embrace the notion that taxes should be equalized between income and investment within the context of a flatter revenue system.
While we’re at it, can we repeal the Hollywood Tax Cuts?