Patterico's Pontifications


Is the United States a Rich Country?

Filed under: General — JVW @ 9:03 am

[guest post by JVW]

Apparently in defense of the Democrat Party’s rising young star and everyone’s cute but clueless niece, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who came under fire for her inability to square her socialist policies with finance realities, MSNBC host Chris Hayes let loose with this curious tweet:

The idea that we are a “rich country” and thus can afford a lavish and extravagant level of socialism has been around at least since the days of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. It’s a favorite trope of the obnoxious Michael Moore, who has also used the claim as justification for government-paid freebies. It’s also a variant of the old talking point “if we can put a man on the moon then why can’t we [insert progressive social policy priority here]” which is nearing a half-century of consistent usage.

But are we a rich country, or are we instead a country blessed by an amazing number of rich citizens? It’s a distinct difference. Warren Buffett as of today has a net worth of $83.3 billion, yet in 2015 he reported an adjusted gross income of $11.5 million and paid Uncle Sam just under $1.85 million. When running for governor in the 2003 recall race, righty-turned-lefty Arianna Huffington was embarrassed by the revelation that she had paid a mere $771 in federal tax the previous year, despite living in a home that was then worth $7 million. This sort of tax arrangement underscores the problems with relying upon the wealthy, whose incomes can greatly fluctuate on a year-to-year basis, to fill tax coffers. Sadly, it’s a conundrum well known to California Governor Jerry Brown, but cynically ignored by him in the interests of maintaining favor with the progressive zeitgeist which dominates the Golden State.

So is the answer then to tax wealth rather than income, a distinction that the Ocasio-Cortezes and Hayeses of the world seek to blur with their demagoguery? One kooky guy proposed such a thing nearly two decades ago, but he then faded into obscurity and was never heard from again. Even if the idea were to catch fire, it’s hard to see how it could pass Constitutional muster unless ratified by the states via an amendment.

If there ever was any reason to take the deep thoughts of Chris Hayes seriously, this tweet should be a powerfully preventative propholactic. Progressives are going to have to do the hard work of convincing us that our “out-of-control” health care costs can be addressed by activist government, providing that we massively raise our taxes to pay for their plans.


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