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David Sirota
David Sirota
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The Me-First, Screw-Everyone-Else Crowd

Comment

I know I should be mortified by the lobbyist-organized mobs of angry Brooks Brothers mannequins who are now making headlines by shutting down congressional town hall meetings. I know I should be despondent during this, the Khaki Pants Offensive in the Great American Health Care and Tax War. And yet, I'm euphorically repeating one word over and over again with a big grin on my face.

Finally.

Finally, there's no pretense. Finally, the Me-First, Screw-Everyone-Else Crowd's ugliest traits are there for all to behold.

The group's core gripe is summarized in a letter I received that denounces a proposed surtax on the wealthy and corporations to pay for universal health care:

"Until recently, my family was in the top 3 percent of wage earners," the affluent businessperson fumed in response to my July column on taxes. "We are in the group that pays close to 60 percent of this nation's taxes ... Think for a second how you would feel if you built a business and contributed more than your share to this country only to be treated like a pariah."

This sob story about the persecuted rich fuels today's "Tea Parties" — and I'm sure you've heard some version of it in your community.

I'm also fairly certain that when many of you run into the Me-First, Screw-Everyone-Else Crowd, you don't feel like confronting the faux outrage. But on the off chance you do muster the masochistic impulse to engage, here's a guide to navigating the conversation:

What They Will Scream: We can't raise business taxes, because American businesses already pay excessively high taxes!

What You Should Say: Here's the smallest violin in the world playing for the businesses. The Government Accountability Office reports that most U.S. corporations pay zero federal income tax. Additionally, as even the Bush Treasury Department admitted, America's effective corporate tax rate is the third lowest in the industrialized world.

What They Will Scream: But the rich still "pay close to 60 percent of this nation's taxes!"

What You Should Say: Such statistics refer only to the federal income tax.

When considering all of "this nation's taxes" including payroll, state and local levies, the top 5 percent pay just 38.5 percent of the taxes.

What They Will Scream: But 38.5 percent is disproportionately high! See? You've proved that the rich "contribute more than their share" of taxes!

What You Should Then Say: Actually, they are paying almost exactly "their share." According to the data, the wealthiest 5 percent of America pays 38.5 percent of the total taxes precisely because they make just about that share — a whopping 36.5 percent! — of total national income. Asking these folks to pay slightly more in taxes — and still less than they did during the go-go 1990s — is hardly extreme.

Stripped of facts, your conversation partner will soon turn to unscientific terrain, claiming it is immoral to "steal" and "redistribute" income via taxes. Of course, he will be specifically railing on "stealing" for stuff like health care, which he insists gets "redistributed" only to the undeserving and the "lazy" (a classic codeword for "minorities"). But he will also say it’s OK that government sent trillions of dollars to Wall Streeters.

And that's when you should stop wasting your breath.

What you've discovered is that the Me-First, Screw-Everyone-Else Crowd isn't interested in fairness, empiricism or morality.

With 22,000 of their fellow countrymen dying annually for lack of health insurance and with Warren Buffett paying a lower effective tax rate than his secretary, the Me-First, Screw-Everyone-Else Crowd is merely using the argot of fairness, empiricism and morality to hide its real motive: selfish greed.

No argument, however rational, is going to cure these narcissists of that grotesque disease.

David Sirota is the bestselling author of the books "Hostile Takeover" (2006) and "The Uprising" (2008). Find his blog at OpenLeft.com or e-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com

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Comments

4 Comments | Post Comment
There's another thing being overlooked. Corporations pay income taxes only on their net income after expenses. Wage earners pay on their gross income, with a few exemptions and deductions that don't even cover their health care costs, if they have health care. To see what would happen if individuals paid on their net taxes see:

http://eaanders.blogspot.com/2004/11/suggestion-for-bush-tax-reform-plan.html
Comment: #1
Posted by: Elwood Anderson
Fri Aug 7, 2009 10:55 AM
You should be ashamed of yourself. You are either uninformed, or you're intentionally misleading people.

Referencing the GAO study about "most" corporations not paying income tax was a smooth move. What you failed to mention, was that "most corporations" are nothing more than a burgundy binder on a shelf somewhere, that never make any money. Corporate income tax accounted for 304 billion dollars of federal taxes collected, while the bottom 90% of income earners in the US only accounted for 330 billion dollars. How can you imply businesses aren't paying their fair share, when their current share is nearly equal to what 90% of the population combined pays? Easy, you either had no idea, or you're intentionally misleading people. Either way you should be embarrassed, and your tripe should be removed.



Comment: #2
Posted by: Joe
Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:37 PM
Don't consumers end up paying corporate taxes via prices? Corporations are a red herring in this debate. A true apples-to-apples comparison would ignore corporations and just look at how the tax burden affects individuals and families, including how corporate taxes are passed on to consumers and shareholders.
Comment: #3
Posted by: MikeBC
Tue Apr 13, 2010 11:11 AM
I am in the top 3-5% of the earning population. I pay 36% of my annual earning in federal tax, state income tax, medicare and social security. I have a BSN, working on an MSN, and work 60+ hours weekly. My husband and father run a family owned business of 9 employees. It is a multi-million dollar a year company. We provide health insurance to our employees and their families for $26,000 MONTHLY. We work hard in our family, and therefore, we enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle. It is appauling to me that I would work 60+ hours per week as a registered nurse and work on a Master's degree to become a Nurse Practitioner to serve "deserving" low income patients, and my husband works 70-80 hours a week to ensure that he can provide for our family and his employees, and now, the government says that is not enough. I am being told that I am not doing enough for our country. I have NEVER asked for a hand out, never been on government assistance (even when I made less than $500 monthly as a young adult). No I chose to work hard, get an education, and make something of myself. How am I, my husband, my family, rewarded? We are told to work harder, pay more, and smile because some poor person cant provide for themself so I should. I say that is wrong. Why would any of our future generations work to better themselves if they are brought up in a society that says its ok to amount to nothing and claim unfairness in this world becasue someone else who has the luck to be self sufficient will pay my way?? Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand should replace the Great Gadsby as required reading for our teens. If you have not read this book, it will change your life and what you hold as moral and sound, so beware if you are comfortable in your current America...
Comment: #4
Posted by: cfisher
Wed Apr 14, 2010 6:33 PM
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