POLITICS
04/06/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Phony "War On Wealth"

Been hearing that the administration has "declared war on the rich," lately? Well, Newsweek's Daniel Gross puts our latest would-be culture warriors on blast:

On Tuesday, Washington Post columnist (and former Bush speechwriter) Michael Gerson argued in an op-ed that "Obama chose a time of recession to propose a massive increase in progressivity--a 10-year, trillion-dollar haul from the rich, already being punished by the stock market collapse and the housing market decline." The plans are so radical, "there will not be enough wealthy people left to bleed." CNBC's Larry Kudlow wrote that "Obama is declaring war on investors, entrepreneurs, small businesses, large corporations, and private-equity and venture-capital funds." Other segments on the financial news network warn of a tax on the rich, a war on the wealthy. My personal favorite was a piece from ABCNews.com, which had to be rewritten and reposted because the original was so poorly done. (The revised version isn't much better.) It quotes a dentist who is contemplating reducing "her income from her current $320,000 to under $250,000 by having her dental hygienist work fewer days and by treating fewer patients. [That way, she] would avoid paying higher taxes on the $70,000 that would be subject to increased taxation if Obama's proposal is signed into law."

Read that ABC News piece, by the way? To call it "poorly done" is to be kind. More like: handed in and published by a coven of functional illiterates. My head basically exploded when I read it. So did The New Republic's Jonathan Chait:

I've seen a lot of dumb news reports in my life, but I'm not sure anything can quite match this one from ABC News. The premise of the report is this: Barack Obama plans to raise taxes on people who make more than $250,000, so the reporter has gone and found people who earn a little more than that sum who plan to decrease their income so that they come in underneath the magic line.

Now, the obvious objection here is that the tax code doesn't work that way. A tax increase affects the marginal dollar that a person gains. That means only every dollar over $250,000 is taxed at a higher rate. Obama is not proposing a tax system whereby somebody who goes from $249,999 to $250,000 suddenly becomes poorer. Nobody has ever enacted a tax hike like that in the history of the United States.

[...]

The article then quotes a financial advisor who explains the way that tax brackets rates work, but then quotes a right-wing business professor and the subjects of her article fulminating about class warfare. Pretty clearly the reporter started off on her mistaken premise, found some subjects who shared her ignorance, and then came across a financial advisor who gently corrected her. But, instead of nixing the collosally uninformed article, or writing a different kind of article ("Rich Morons Decreasing Own Income Due To Lack of Tax Code Knowledge") she instead plowed ahead with her initial premise.

Gross goes even further. Much further. Oh, you simply must read the whole thing to watch a master wield the scalpel. But here's his bottom line:

Say you're a CNBC anchor, or a Washington Post columnist with a seat at the Council on Foreign Relations, or a dentist, and you managed to cobble together $350,000 a year in income. You're doing quite well. If you subtract deductions for state and property taxes, mortgage interest and charitable deductions, and other deductions, the amount on which tax rates are calculated might total $300,000. What would happen if the marginal rate on the portion of your income above $250,000 were to rise from 33 percent to 36 percent? Under the old regime, you'd pay $16,500 in federal taxes on that amount. Under the new one, you'd pay $18,000. The difference is $1,500 per year, or $4.10 per day. Obviously, the numbers rise as you make more. But is $4.10 a day bleeding the rich, a war on the wealthy, a killer of innovation and enterprise? That dentist eager to slash her income from $320,000 to $250,000 would avoid the pain of paying an extra $2,100 in federal taxes. But she'd also deprive herself of an additional $70,000 in income!

"Can we really be that stupid?" Gross asks? Clearly, one side of the "war on wealth" is entirely dependent on this extremely low barrier to entry!