op-ed

Why raising taxes on the rich wouldn’t be ‘fair’

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I know this will surprise many people, but just because President Obama says that he and his fellow rich haven’t been paying their “fair” share of taxes doesn’t make it so. People agreeing with him because he uses the word “fair” might reconsider if they realized that his notion of what’s “fair” is rooted in a view of success that denies the American Dream.

President Obama is not using “fair” as that word is defined by the dictionary — treating people equally, not favoring or discriminating against anyone. He doesn’t want to treat the rich the same as other taxpayers. He wants those he defines as “rich” to pay an ever increasing share of their income as taxes.

First he said it’s only “fair” to end the Bush tax cuts for unmarried individuals making more than $200,000 a year and couples making more than $250,000 a year. Then he increased taxes on those taxpayers (as well as those not so fortunate) to help pay for Obamacare. As long as “fair share” can be used to pit Americans against each other and garner votes, the rich will never know what their “fair share” is (which hardly seems fair).

You’d think that President Obama would thank the rich for all the government services paid for with their tax dollars. According to the most recent IRS statistics (for the 2009 tax year), the top 1% of households (by income) received about 13% of all income and paid almost 39% of all federal personal income taxes, and the top 5% of households received about 26% of all income and paid almost 64% of all federal personal income taxes. By contrast, 51% of all tax units (generally meaning households) paid no federal personal income taxes.

You’d also think that President Obama wouldn’t want to make any changes to the tax laws that would hurt employment and wages. But that’s what his changes will do (according to a report by Ernst & Young). His proposed changes hardly seem fair to the individuals who will be unemployed because President Obama’s tax increases on the rich cause a loss of more than 700,000 jobs or to the employed whose wages will be almost 2% lower than they otherwise would have been.

But President Obama made it clear in his “You didn’t build that” speech and his answer to Joe the Plumber that he believes the tax system should be used to redistribute income. However, he’s not too eager to redistribute his own income. He and his BFF Warren Buffett keep complaining that they haven’t been paying their fair share of taxes, but nothing prevents them from paying what they feel they’ve underpaid. They can use a credit card online at www.pay.gov or send a check to the Bureau of the Public Debt.

Since our country’s founding, people have been inspired by what has been called the “American Dream,” the belief that this country gives everyone the opportunity to succeed, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. Individuals can succeed by working harder than others, taking risks that others won’t take, and being more resourceful and inventive than others. Traditionally, individuals who succeed have been considered worthy of emulation and not begrudged the money they earn.

This is not a belief shared by President Obama and fellow liberals like Elizabeth Warren. President Obama tells business owners they aren’t responsible for their success because he believes that success is the result of luck (such as having the right parents and good genes), bad virtue (e.g., willingness to exploit hard-working Americans), and government beneficence (e.g., roads, public education, and public protection). President Obama’s animosity toward business is longstanding. In “Dreams of My Father,” he wrote that he felt “[l]ike a spy behind enemy lines” during his brief stint in a private sector job.

To President Obama and his fellow liberals, successful people don’t deserve their success, and unsuccessful people don’t deserve their lack of success. He and his fellow liberals would answer a question posed by Governor Romney at a speech last month in Irwin, Pennsylvania by saying that America is great because of government, not because Americans are allowed to pursue their dreams and build their futures. To President Obama and his fellow liberals, it’s government, not individual initiative, that makes success possible, and government, not the individual, deserves whatever money is earned from business endeavors.

President Obama and his fellow liberals use this view of success to claim that redistributing income through the tax laws is “fair.” Not only is their view of success contrary to reality, but it fails to give the successful credit for the great amount of taxes that they pay to build roads and provide education and public protection. Also ignored is the great contributions that the successful make to our nation. We make individuals successful because their product or service improves our lives. Just think how much those individuals getting rich by selling computers and computer software have improved our standard of living.

Liberals have had great success over the years in controlling the political language. They’ve succeeded in convincing too many people that you’re a good person if you’re liberal and a bad person not worth listening to if you’re a conservative. Instead of trying to distinguish themselves from other conservatives (as President George W. Bush did by labeling his conservatism as “compassionate”), conservatives need to reclaim not only the word “fair,” but also other words used in political discourse.

David Gibberman, a lawyer, writes about legal and financial matters for professionals, college students, and the general public.