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October 27, 2011 12:35 PM Can the rich wage class warfare against themselves?

By Steve Benen

As part of his pitch to the public in support of his jobs agenda, President Obama has a pretty standard argument when it comes to asking the very wealthy to pay a little more in taxes.

“Whenever I talk about revenue, people start complaining about, ‘Well, is he engaging in class warfare,’ or ‘Why is he going after the wealthiest?’ Look, because I’ve been fortunate and people bought a bunch of my books, I’m in that category now. And in a perfect world with unlimited resources, nobody would have to pay any taxes. That’s not the world we live in. We live in a world where we’ve got to make choices. […]

“This is a matter of priorities. And it’s a matter of shared sacrifice. And, by the way, if you ask most wealthy Americans, they’ll tell you they’re willing to do more. They’re willing to do their fair share to help this country that they love.” [emphasis added]

As it turns out, Obama’s assessment is accurate. Warren Buffett isn’t the only rich guy willing to pay more in taxes.

A new survey from Spectrem Group found that 68% of millionaires (those with investments of $1 million or more) support raising taxes on those with $1 million or more in income. Fully 61% of those with net worths of $5 million or more support the tax on million-plus earners. […]

Explains George Walper of Spectrem: “What this tells us is that there are a number of wealthy folks who said: ‘Gee, we need to increase taxes to stimulate the economy. No one likes to be taxed more, but the reality is maybe it has to be done.’”

Ordinarily, this is about the time that Republicans start arguing that if some wealthy Americans want to pay more, they should just pick up their checkbooks and voluntarily contribute more to the treasury. No need to change tax rates, the right argues, when the government will just accept donations.

And in case that is the conservative response to the latest survey data, let’s also note just how weak the argument really is. We’re a massive, modern nation with a vast economy. We face real challenges, and they’re not the kind of challenges individuals can hope to resolve on their own through arbitrary contributions — we need cooperative solutions built around shared action.

Let’s also note the larger context about public attitudes. The vast majority of Americans believes millionaires and billionaires should pay a little more in taxes; the clear majority of self-identified Republicans believe millionaires and billionaires should pay a little more in taxes; and now the clear majority of millionaires and billionaires believe millionaires and billionaires should pay a little more in taxes.

The only people on the other side are congressional Republicans.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • SteveT on October 27, 2011 12:44 PM:

    Ordinarily, this is about the time that Republicans start arguing that if some wealthy Americans want to pay more, they should just pick up their checkbooks and voluntarily contribute more to the treasury.

    And the proper response from Democrats should be, "And if you want to keep American troops in Iraq, then fly your chickenhawk ass over there and pick up a f*cking gun, yourself!"

  • just bill on October 27, 2011 12:45 PM:

    the other flaw with their voluntary payment scheme, is that those who are honorable will pay extra, and the greedy little bastards who aren't will keep theirs. now, how fair would that be?

  • ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© on October 27, 2011 12:47 PM:

    The vast majority of Americans believes millionaires and billionaires should pay a little more in taxes...

    Sure, but there's a lot more to our problems than just the diminishing percentage the plutocrats pay in income tax.

    And 'Third Way' Democrats like Obama and company are on the same page as the Republicans when it comes to catering to the too-big-to-fail crowd on Wall St.

    Until Obama shows some kind of "Come to Jesus" moment like firing Tim Geithner, he's part of the problem.

    We voted for change. Obama and his fellow corporatists in Congress prevented it.
    ~

  • Tony D. on October 27, 2011 12:54 PM:

    Maybe senior citizens should also be allowed to volunteer to have their Medicare benefits cut? A government worker volunteer to have his/her job eliminated. Then, and only then, should the filthy rich be allowed to voluntarily donate money to the treasury. Are these @#$%& a$$holes serious!?

  • c u n d gulag on October 27, 2011 12:56 PM:

    "The only people on the other side are congressional Republicans."

    And their Uber-rich puppeteers, like the Koch's, Coors, Scaife, and the rest of the egregiously greedy ones that if the poo-poo hits the ventilator, better hope they don't get voted off the planet with pitchforks and guillotines.

  • Old School on October 27, 2011 12:58 PM:

    Explains George Walper of Spectrem: “What this tells us is that there are a number of wealthy folks who said: ‘Gee, we need to increase taxes to stimulate the economy. No one likes to be taxed more, but the reality is maybe it has to be done.’”

    ---

    Of course, increasing taxes doesn't stimulate the economy anymore than cutting spending does.

    Why can't the media seem to grasp that the deficit and stimulating the economy are two separate issues?

  • dr2chase on October 27, 2011 1:17 PM:

    @Old School - increasing taxes on the rich and then spending that revenue on Other Stuff (education, health clinics, bridges) is a sort of forced consumption, that generates demand, that stimulates the economy. We could also fund that consumption by borrowing money now against future tax revenues, or we could just print money and suffer a little inflation.

    There are merits to each, even inflationary money-printing (that can get underwater home "owners" into positive territory, which is also good for the economy).

  • June on October 27, 2011 1:21 PM:

    I think Benen makes an important point that even when it comes to their core constituency - the very wealthy - Republicans do not have the numbers on their side. It brings into sharp relief that the Kochs and those who love them are a small bunch of crazies with a lot of money, but that they don't speak for the majority of people in this country. The tarnish is finally starting to come off the GOP's anti-government, anti-revenue screeds.

  • TSTS on October 27, 2011 1:22 PM:

    "A new survey from Spectrem Group found that 68% of millionaires (those with investments of $1 million or more) support raising taxes on those with $1 million or more in income."

    And I would guess that more than 68% of people with investments above $1 million do not have $1 million in yearly income. So this number does not show at all that people are willing to raise their own taxes. Even for the $5 million plus, many of them may not make a million per year. Not that it really matters, since we shouldn't need their permission to raise taxes.

  • meme on October 27, 2011 1:25 PM:

    it's not just philosophy or media on taxes. it's a systematic problem.

    30% opposing the tax increase can stop legislation against the will of 60+% in the current government system through filibusters and redistricting and radical activism. i wonder how we can fix that.

    one obvious thing to do is ban or limit legalized brides by corporation and lobbyists though tax subsidies and campaign money.

    another popular thing is to get rid of the states electoral collages and switch to popular votes not bounded by states so every vote anywhere counts the same weight for presidential election.

    they were afraid of "tyranny of majority" against small states, but what happened is that it is that the swing states get disproportionally large earmarks and that size of states do not matter.
    meanwhile, It is unfair for texan democrats or new york republicans because they are larger than wyoming or alaska populations but they don't even count.

    maybe we can set up a independent, impartial organization to set up redistricting.

  • Bruce on October 27, 2011 1:31 PM:

    There is a substantive difference between a lifetime's accumulation of assets topping a million versus year in and year out income greater than a million. Your headline implies they are equivalent. There are people that accumulate a million without ever having their income reach six figures.

    I support the more progressive tax rates of the past and a higher rate on investment income.

  • gone_west on October 27, 2011 1:37 PM:

    If Congressional Republicans agree to tax increases,the new revenue can be applied to helping the economy. Aiding the economy helps Obama. So Congressional Republicans aren't going to go along with any kind of tax increase. Similarly, if tax increases were to be used to lower the deficit - not the right thing to do at this time, but it's as clearly an option now as it was when both parties walked away from eliminating the Bush era tax breaks last December and simply added to the nation's debt - Obama and the dems get a win since it is hard to argue that the dems are taxing and spending when they aren't targeting the new taxes for new spending. And to the republican mindset, a win for Obama increases his Obama's re-election chances. So any sort of deficit reduction scheme that includes new or additional taxes is a non starter as long as Obama is in the White House. Their policy goal is to reclaim the White House in spite of the will of the people, not because of it. The details in surveys about public support for new tax increases simply don't matter.

    In simpler times, we had specific words for elected officials who put party before country. They need to be revived and applied again and again.


  • Diane Rodriguez on October 27, 2011 1:44 PM:

    You cannot analyze the Republican plan-policy-party line with historical facts, rationality or appeals to decency. What is left? Self interest and/or a completely blind adherence to ideology. Ron Paul comes to mind as a pure ideologue and his son is both an ideologue and blindingly ignorant. The majority of the rest are trying to grab a place in history (Ryan) while ensuring cash payoffs for years to come. The tone is a breathtaking display of ignorance and disregard for fellow citizens who can't contribute to an easy street lifestyle for these parasites. The current political climate allows politicians to wrap themselves in both pseudo Christian religions while intoning profoundly about 9/11.

    Polls that indicate majority support of Obama's policies that seek to restore balance are frightening, in that more than 5% (which could be outliers)still support Republicans.

  • Old School on October 27, 2011 1:52 PM:

    @dr2chase My point is that it is the spending that will stimulate the economy. Increasing taxes doesn't do it by itself, but the excepted article seems to imply otherwise to me.

  • cmdicely on October 27, 2011 2:32 PM:

    My point is that it is the spending that will stimulate the economy. Increasing taxes doesn't do it by itself, but the excepted article seems to imply otherwise to me.

    Selective tax increases might be stimulative, in that they shift the reward payoff such that the bang for the buck from, say, hiring more workers vs. paying already-rich executives more shifts more favorably toward the former, and the greater propensity of the former to spend marginal income would produce more economic activity.

    That's not to say government spending isn't important.

  • martin on October 27, 2011 3:10 PM:

    68% of millionaires (those with investments of $1 million or more) support raising taxes on those with $1 million or more in income.

    Following up on TSTS, $1mill in investments generates Capital Gains, which is not taxed as income. And since some if not all of the Republican proposals advocate abolishing Capital Gains Tax (but not converting that money to income) one would imagine the investment class would have no problem with saying lets tax the income class, while still supporting the Republicans who will protect their Capital Gains.

    Maybe its just funny construction, but it seems like a weird poll classification.

  • Neil B on October 27, 2011 3:27 PM:

    To as large extent, it is the odious influence of Ayn Rand, hero to Clarence Thomas, Paul Ryan, etc. But how many of Republicans know or care: Ayn Rand wasn't just an atheist, she despised Christianity and Christians, and said so. She wrote that she admired psychopathic serial killer, William Edward Hickman, because he had no "concern for the other":
    alternet.org/books/145819/ayn_rand,_hugely_popular_author_and_inspiration_to_right-wing_leaders,_was_a_big_admirer_of_serial_killers

  • kiddanger on October 27, 2011 3:29 PM:

    I wonder how many of the "61%" take exercise tax deductions offered to them. My guess is 0.

  • Dredd on October 27, 2011 3:35 PM:

    The super rich could chip in by stopping the wars that make them exotically wealthy at taxpayer expense.

  • TRNC on October 27, 2011 3:37 PM:

    "Ordinarily, this is about the time that Republicans start arguing that if some wealthy Americans want to pay more, they should just pick up their checkbooks and voluntarily contribute more to the treasury. No need to change tax rates, the right argues, when the government will just accept donations."

    If so, the immediate response should be, "That leads to uncertainty because we don't know from year to year who might donate. A consistent tax policy removes uncertainty, something you guys seem especially concerned with at this time."

  • Swift Loris on October 28, 2011 12:58 AM:

    TSTS and others are right, that's a pretty funky poll to cite as evidence that a majority of those making $1 million in income want their taxes raised. Steve needs to make a correction.

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