Saturday, February 04, 2012

I haven't written yet about the Wall Street occupation...

...and I hope to make just a few comments and let it drop, since the movement seems to be in low gear for the winter, at least, or having gone into semipermanent or worse hibernation after devolving into another Zombietime photoessay opportunity.

If you take nothing else away, if I make no other comprehensible or worthwhile point, I want you to remember one thing that may have been the bane and doom of the Occupy movement since its conception:

Envy is not the answer to greed.

They talk about the 1% and the 99%, about the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer--cliches that have not been true since before modern times.

It may be true that the gap between the rich and the poor continues to increase, but what isn't talked about much is the fact that on average the rich and the poor are both getting more wealthy, but the rich merely at a higher rate.  This is a sign that the problem is not what people say it is.

Certainly, the abjectly destitute continue to have next to nothing, as they always have--or only so much as nearby charitable organizations have been able to supply--but they are also not the ones turning out in droves to heckle the white collar desk slaves in major cities all across the country.

The tycoons who really make up the 1% do not waste their time working mundane jobs like the middle class does.  I'm not saying they do or don't work hard, but let's not get distracted and harass the guys who also need to show up every day to support their families, okay?

From the National Taxpayer Union, and the Tax Foundation, some tax statistics:

  • The top 1% of earners by adjusted gross income, about $343k or higher, paid almost 37% of all taxes in 2009, but made 17% of all income.
  • The top 5% made 32% of all income and paid 59% of all federal taxes.
  • The top 50% (AGI about $32k) paid almost 98% of income taxes in 2009.
  • the bottom 50% paid a little over 2% in 2009, and that rate has been dropping steadily since at least 1999.
You can look these stats up or go digging through the data at if you need to disprove the usual cliches for yourself.

The tax proportions do change with income level, because dividends and capital gains are taxed at different rates from regular income, but richer people tend to have investments and other income sources that are taxable as dividends and capital gains more than the less wealthy, so they're still shouldering the burden.

If you're getting irate now, allow me to remind you that I have said nothing about sticking it to the poor, who have very little left to glean, anyway.  My point is that the people who still have decent jobs these days are not the real enemy, and for the most part the richest didn't get that way by substantial theft of the poorest.

The forgotten crux of the economic argument is the middle class.  As a rough gauge, we can put the ceiling on upper middle class at the $250k/year mark (also, I was able to find numbers for this income level).  About 3% of Americans make more than that.  A tenth of a percent make over a million dollars. The poorer half of all American income earners, who pay 2%, are made up of 70 million people.

In case anyone's getting lost in the numbers, it's a median-mean thing; don't worry about it.

3% of Americans, assuming we've got 350 million people, comes to 10.5 million people.  350 million total, minus 10.5 million upper class, minus 70 million lower class, yields a middle class of approximately 269,500,000 people who pay about 40% of all income tax (neglecting the difference between this 3% and the 5% listed above--I'm not trying to teach a math lesson here).

Tax debates usually hit the middle class the hardest because there are just so damn many of us that small changes in tax rates yield large variations in the budgets.  Under a progressive tax schedule like we have in this country, maybe the rates in the top brackets are also important variable.

Look:  maybe Warren Buffet's right and he needs to pay higher taxes, on top of the charitable giving he does, in quantities surpassing what most of us will ever see in our lives, to organizations benificent and shady alike; and certainly we need to take care of the poor, even if there is some truth behind the presumption that we need the government's help to do it and not just our own personal and willing contributions of time and material resources to places like St. Vincent de Paul or Goodwill or the efforts of religious orders.  But a worker is worth his wages.  He is not a villain for achieving some success in providing for his own family--and it does us all well to remember that we do not know how much the average Wall Street drone is socking away for his kids, nor how many kids he is trying to support, nor what other expenses he may have like a home in disrepair or massive student loan debt or medical costs, nor how much he already gives to charity.

If you're poor, you have the right to demand help.  If you're not, you can provide help and try to attract the help of others.  If you need a job and you want a new car and your student loans forgiven too, well, that's silly but I applaud your honesty.  If you have made money on the backs of de facto slave labor, shame on you.  But if you need help, it is not just to paint a worker who is guilty of nothing but having received his just wages with the same brush as the shameful exploiter.

In your rush to fight poverty, whether your own or a stranger's, do not be eager to embrace jealousy, for it too is a vice.

Well, so much for "just a few comments," but I think I'm done with the situation for now.

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