Let's tax people like Obama

One of the clubs frequently drawn from President Obama’s rhetorical golf bag is a plea to raise taxes on “people like me.”  He’s delivered some version of this line virtually every time he called for tax increases over the years.  He did it again on Wednesday at his offensive “gun violence and hurricanes mean we need tax increases” press conference:

[House Speaker John Boehner] now is proposing what he calls Plan B. So he says, well, this would raise taxes only on folks making a million dollars or more. What that means is an average of a $50,000 tax break for every millionaire out there at the same time as we’re not providing unemployment insurance for 2 million people who are still out there looking for work.

It actually means a tax increase for millions of working families across the country at the same time as folks like me would be getting a tax break. That violates the core principles that were debated during the course of this election and that the American people determined was the wrong way to go.

This is sort of the “backhanded” version of the typical Obama “Rich People Like Me” rhetoric.  Normally he lumps himself in with everyone he considers “rich” (i.e. single filers who earn $200,000 per year or more) and claims moral credit for arguing against his own interest.  He’d suffer from the tax hikes he’s pleading for – it would take money out of his own pocket.  Can’t you just swoon over his noble selflessness?

In this case, the President is inserting himself into the gold, but not platinum, framed photo of rich scalawags who make between $200,000 and $999,999 per year, and would therefore enjoy a Republican-provided pass from “paying their fair share.”

Both versions of the Obama “tax people like me” canard are absurd.  I’m actually all in favor of taxing people like Barack Obama: career politicians who make a fortune from the public payroll.  His fortune bears very little functional resemblance to the private-sector incomes he’s hungry to tax.  Even the royalties earned from his book sales are a direct result of his political power – he wouldn’t be selling so many books if he was an obscure academic.

According to the website Celebrity Net Worth, “President Barack Obama???s base salary is $400,000 a year.  He also has access to a $150,000 expense account as well as a $100,000 tax free travel account and $20,000 entertainment budget.”  But that hardly begins to capture the enormous “fringe benefits” of his office, or the unparalleled perks of his lavish presidential lifestyle.  Obviously, none of those perks would be jeopardized by any tax increases on his base salary.  On the contrary, Obama has made a point of living like royalty, even as the government he presides over sails into utter financial ruin.

And once the President leaves office, he’ll cash in big time, just like most other high-level politicians do.  As Celebrity Net Worth puts it, “the real money will be made years from now.  Obama could certainly earn tens of millions of dollars a year giving speeches full time.”  None of those earnings will be the result of robust job creation or building up the capital of the private sector.  It’s closer in nature to a parasitic relationship, as Barack Obama tends to portray it when discussing “lobbyists” and “special interests” he doesn’t like.

So if the President wants to discuss raising taxes on public officials who make, let us say, more than double the median American income, or those who enjoy huge surges in their income after leaving public service, that would be an interesting discussion.  Such people have enriched themselves directly from the U.S. Treasury, so why not ask them to give some of it back?

There has been some very disturbing talk of raiding the 401(k) accounts of private sector employees for government revenue.  Why not talk about raiding big-figure public pensions instead?  Those pensions are collectively fused into a fiscal time bomb that will wipe out first state governments, and then Washington, when it detonates.

Or when the President calls for tax increases on people like himself, does he mean… lawyers?  We could talk about that, too.  It might seem unfair, but it would hardly be the first time that a particular group of Americans has been arbitrarily singled out for increased taxation.  And lawyers generally profit from the maze of laws the government creates – a far more pertinent example of “you didn’t build that… someone else made that happen” than anything Barack Obama had in mind during his infamous speech in Roanoke, Virginia.

The notion of grouping people together based primarily on the annual income is commonplace in our public discourse, but as Obama’s “tax people like me” rhetoric demonstrates, it’s ridiculous.  The income profile of a $400,000/year politician has little in common with that of a $400,000/year doctor, or a small business filing individual taxes on $400,000/year in income.  For that matter, treating people who make between $25k and $199k as some sort of common “middle class” is silly, too.  And no analysis which lumps people together based on income takes proper account of net worth, which is a very different subject.  It’s an application of dusty old analog Marxist class theory to a digital world of income mobility and diverse occupations, as foolish as trying to beat the Internet into shape using hundred-year-old telephone regulations.

There aren’t any other “people like you” to tax, Mr. President.  Sitting and former Presidents of the United States are in no way comparable to private sector professionals, entrepreneurs, and investors.  Few in the public sector truly are, because they live in a world that has been deliberately isolated from the private sector experience, and the distance between them approaches interstellar scale.