F, Scott Fitzgerald is famously said to have once remarked to his pal Ernest Hemingway, “The rich are different from you and me, Ernest,” to which Hemingway is said to have replied, “Yes, they have more money.”
Fitzgerald had it right. Particularly these days, when the wealthiest people in the U.S. are not millionaires, or even people worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but rather are billionaires, with some, like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett having total assets in excess of $100 billion, the rich are not just quantitatively but qualitatively different.
There are 664 Americans today who are billionaires (that’s 1000 times $1 million in assets). That number is 50 people, or families, higher than it was a year ago.
Remember that those 50 people joined the billionaires’ club during the current pandemic crisis when US unemployment was at record levels, 700,000 people were dying of COVID. countless small and mid-sized businesses were folding because of the pandemic, and the nation as a whole was suffering mightily. Over that same fraught period, the wealth of all US billionaires actually grew by $1.3 trillion (a trillion is a thousand billion).
Who are these people? They live separately from the rest of us in palatial mansions, fly around the globe at a whim in their own private jets, adding perhaps 1000 times the global warming carbon to the atmosphere of the average American — perhaps massively more than that. Worse yet, most of them treat their working-class employees (the people actually creating their weals) like shit. Look at Jeff Bezos, until a recent surge in the value of Tesla stock, and his wife’s divorce in which she got half his assets, stock the world’s richest man: He expects his stressed and overworked Amazon delivery drivers to relieve themselves in the backs of their trucks in bottles, so he doesn’t have to pay them to slow deliveries by driving to a public restroom and take the time to park the van, lock it, and go inside a building before getting back on the job again. For that matter, look at Musk, who’s company just lost a racial harassment suit by to a black elevator operator at his Fremont Tesla Plant who was awarded $137 million in damages because of how for years he had to endure racial taunts from other employees and from supervisors without the company’s doing anything to stop it.
This is not unusual. The nation’s corporate elite consider their employees to be “labor costs” or “labor inputs” in their economic planning, not human beings to whom they, the owners and bosses, owe a huge debt of gratitude for diligently producing the surplus value that has so enriched them and company shareholders to such obscene levels.
Now, as the current Biden Administration considers a trivial increase in the income tax rate on the wealthy — raising it from a current 37% on marginal income over $454, 000 for a single person or over $509,000 (more than half a million a year!) for a married couple, to 39.6%, we see how incomprehensibly greedy these heartless and egocentric scum are.
Oh, the horror! One tax advisor to the rich says that $400,000 is not a lot of money to many of his clients, who have high expenses (like big mortgages for oversized mansions on large acreage in toney neighborhoods), but the truth is that for the truly rich, every extra dollar they can hang on to is important.
An article in the Wall Street Journal reports on Oct. 3, under the remarkable headline “Democrats’ Tax Plans Worry High-Income Business Owners,” explains, high-income business owners are concerned that they’ll be hurt by the proposed increase in their taxes, as well as the businesses that have made them stinking rich.
Just by way of example, the raising of the top rate by 2.6 percentage points means that a family that was making $800,000 a year, would have $297,000 of that princely sum taxed at 39.6% instead of last year’s 37%, and would end up socked with an additional $5200 in income tax.
Does anyone, poor, middle income or rich really think that amount of extra tax for a family making $800,000 in a year is something to whine about or even think about?
The same thing applies to the Biden plan’s raising of the capital gains tax. Biden is proposing eliminating the biggest tax giveaway to the rich — the ability to take their income as “capital gains” which are taxes at 20%, close to the lowest income tax rate, even if they are making so much money they would be paying 37% on their earnings if it was in wages like the rest of us (or 39.6% under the new proposal. Instead, no matter how rich they are, they have been getting away with paying 20%. The argument for this outrageous and longstanding loophole is that it is supposed to encourage business owners and shareholders to make productive capital investments in their companies or to support such investments in the companies in which they hold voting shares. In fact, sleight-of-hands accounting tricks are used to simply raise stock values, which are then worth significantly more and that, when sold, enrich the seller who is then taxed at just 20%, the same rate paid on extra income by someone earning $40,000 who gets a raise or overtime, and ends up having the extra income taxed at 22%!
Yes, the rich are different from you and me. They simply don’t think they should be taxed.
Grumbling about taxes is as American as the Boston Tea Party, which was actually a tax revolt by colonists who didn’t want to pay taxes on imported goods. But what the rich are doing isn’t just grumbling about paying the taxes. They’re pouring money into the campaigns of Republican and right-wing Democrats who promise to kill tax raises on them, or even yo lower their taxes further.
What’s mind-boggling is that so many millions of ordinary struggling Americans for whom just putting food on the table, making the rent payment, or trying to save up the down payment on a modest home, is an almost unmeetable challenge, continue to support candidates who are backing low taxes for the wealthy and the obscenely wealthy, including even greedy pigs like Bezos, Musk and their billionaire ilk, while making average Jane’s and Joe’s pay the country’s bills.
All you need to do to realize what is happening is look at how the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has not been raised since 2009, while the dollar has lost 24% of its value over that span of time. All you need to do is see that Congress has used stealth in the form of a deliberately inaccurate consumer price index to reduce the value of Social Security benefits by 30% over the past 20 years without never actually cutting them. The impact has been even worse because Congress has never adjusted up the income level at which Social Security first gets taxed. This means that over the decades more and more poor elders have ended up seeing a portion of their Social Security benefit checks subjected to the income tax. Few people are left who remember that until 1983, Social Security benefits were tax-free, as the whole purpose of that money was to help the elderly to survive.
Such crimes against ordinary Americans only happen because the public is kept in ignorance or is led astray by extraneous issues of much less importance.
It’s time for the American public to wake up! There is a class war raging, one that’s being fought by the ruling class of billionaires and millionaires against the rest of us. And the rich are winning! They’re winning because they know where their interest lies: in getting richer and hanging onto their ill-gotten gains. And they’re winning too because our side is sleep-walking, lulled by the diversions of entertainment media, the fundamentalist religion of the free market, and non-economic dog-whistle issues like abortion, immigration, crime, COVID vaccines and terrorism.