This quote by Democratic strategist Howard Wolfson during an interview with The Atlantic confirms for me why electing a Liberal like Bill De Blasio to be Mayor of New York City will not mean the magical disappearance of income inequality, and also serves as a reminder of why I don’t have a party affiliation (via Digby):
MT: De Blasio wants to raise taxes on those making more than half a million dollars to pay for pre-K and after-school. Tell me exactly what’s wrong with that.
HW: We’re already the highest-taxed jurisdiction at the high end in the country.2 People who live here are already making a decision that says, “It’s more expensive for me to live here then anywhere else, and I’m willing to pay that price.” What changes that? You can raise the price, and people could decide it’s not worth it anymore. Or it could be because crime goes up or it becomes dirtier. Or both of those things could happen. A combination of things could really have an impact.
MT: You say people might leave. And you imply that you would rather have those less-affluent people leave than have the people making more than $500,000 leave. Why?
HW: In a pure economic sense, one person who pays an enormous amount of money in taxes is worth more to the city than someone who doesn’t. A very small number of people in the city pay a very large portion of our taxes. That’s all redistributionist. And that’s fine! God bless. That’s America. But you only need a very small number of those people to leave before you have a revenue problem.
(Laughing) That’s cold. Emphasis mine. Why doesn’t Wolfson pack the po’ folks a chicken dinner and put them on the next set of buses outta here?
(Laughing) I always say that everyone has at least a little bit of Conservatism in their blood – you just need the right issue to bring it out. For example, I have a friend most people would call a Liberal, but he sounded worse than Sheriff Arpaio when he earned enough cheese to buy a ranch near the Mexican border. He suddenly began to talk about owning guns and picking off suspected foreign bandits from a long range in order to protect his property.
Or, you could say that ideological divergences diminish as you travel further up the income ladder.
In any case, Wolfson’s resume is about as East Coast Liberal as you can get, but he sounded like a Fox News contributor during that interview.
I don’t believe in income redistribution since I think increasing the overall national income should be one of the goals of an economy. You can’t do that when you’re simply moving money from one set of hands to another.
Wolfson discussed how eliminating poverty should be a higher priority than reducing inequality. I’m sure he and I can agree that we don’t want to limit anyone’s ability to earn lots of loot, but I have a huge issue with holding back the rest of society while the rich become richer.
Since the recession, the richest 1% in America earned 95% percent of the income gains, according to an updated study (PDF) by UC Berkeley economist, Emmanuel Saez.
95% means plenty of people lost while a handful of people won.
And when everyone else loses, we all see higher costs in the form of health care expensditures, an expanding welfare base, and crime waves.
I know it’s hard to envision this, but the rich should view some taxes as a form of investment for cost-avoidance—you pay now to keep the poor out of your pocket in a much larger way later.
After-school programs keep kids off the street and perhaps give them another shot at finding a productive hobby or future vocation, while pre-Kindergarten programs help to build social skills and increase the likelihood that a child will succeed in grade school. A child’s failure to finish high school can mean another adult entry to the welfare rolls or a new resident in the prison system – costs that we all will have to pay. I don’t mind investing in a kid who can grow up to be a tax-paying citizen.
Poverty and inequality do not completely disappear because of after-school and pre-K programs, but the programs are a great start. There are plenty of other initiatives left to launch.
But I think De Blasio and politicians like him are going to have major problems selling this idea to their wealthy Liberal kinfolk…
song currently stuck in my head: “find a way” – one track minds