April 08, 2010
No, you don’t have to be clever or intelligent to either get or be rich. Some achieve great wealth via the Lucky Sperm Club, others through just being in the right place at the right time. Michael Jordan, for example, would not have made a great fortune in the 1920s when basketball players were paid nothing and in the 1820s he’d have been a slave. But today’s proof that dimness is entirely compatible with riches that would have made Croesus blush comes to us from United for a Fair Economy’s “Responsible Wealth“ network.
They were the subject of Dana Milbank’s column in which these fools stuffed with the riches of capitalism demanded that Congress tax them more.
“I’m in favor of higher taxes on people like me,” declared Eric Schoenberg, who is sitting on an investment banking fortune. He complained about “my absurdly low tax rates.” …..“I would with pleasure sacrifice the income,” agreed millionaire entrepreneur Jeffrey Hollender.
As Milbank points out, there is indeed a way in which such people can pay higher taxes. Simply write a check and send it to the government. Here in fact.
Gifts to the United States
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Credit Accounting Branch
3700 East-West Highway, Room 622D
Hyattsville, MD 20782
Now OK, this might seem trivial, that there are those who would prefer to posture in public about how saintly they are (“Look, I’d love to pay higher taxes!”) without having to go through the pain of actually being saintly (by, you know, actually paying higher taxes); hypocrisy in public is hardly an unusual feature of our society.
But economists would go further than this. There’s this sneaky little idea they’ve got called “revealed preferences”. We shouldn’t take what people say at face value. We should look at what they actually do and then work out what they really believe from their actions. Yes, this is trivial and obvious, like so much of the dismal science. We don’t take the married man’s loud announcements of undying sexual fidelity seriously: we look to see whether he’s cruising the truck stops for a $30 blow job or whether he’s boffing his secretary. So it is with tax, we don’t and shouldn’t take seriously loud protestations about how much more tax people are willing to pay. We should go and look at how much extra they do pay.
This is something I did do a few years back. I asked the people who run that “Gifts to the United States” account how much they got in a year. For 2005 it was $2,671,628.40. Two and a half million bucks spread over some 8 million millionaire households in the country. Maybe 20 cents per household. I also did the same thing with the British Treasury and they gave me the actual number of donors to the similar account: 5 people of whom four were dead leaving bequests. Yes, this does mean that the sum total of live people who thought that taxes were too low in the UK in 2005 was one solitary person out of 65 million.
Which means that we can subject statements like this to a little test:
But Miller also pointed to a surprising finding in the poll: Among families earning more than $250,000, fully 64 percent favor raising taxes on themselves.
They’re lying: if they really supported paying higher taxes themselves then they would already be paying higher taxes themselves. They’re not so doing so they don’t so support higher taxes upon themselves. As I’ve already said, public posturing about moral virtue isn’t unusual in our society. It’s just that’s there’s no reason we should take it seriously.