And Finally, a Mascot

The greatest trick the conservative movement ever pulled was convincing the population of America they were all the on the verge of massive wealth.  All of them.  This has been the thrust of every supply-side economic movement we’ve been forced to endure, and is at the core of modern conservative policy.

Sure, they say a lot of other things about why cutting taxes on the wealthy will be good for us.  It promotes job growth because “small businesses” have more to spend.  People who have lots of money who end up with even more money will spend or invest it in such a way that it will work its way down to the poor folk.  Taxes are an evil dreamed up by the Liberal anti-God at the dawn of time to combat balanced fiscal policy and punish the successful.

That’s not why people get on board.  You can tell, because people who are voting Republican have a tendency to say things like “They’re going to raise my taxes!”  My taxes.  Not, “They’re going to raise the taxes of my employer, kicking off a chain reaction that will result in my firing.”  No.  The taxes are going up on you.

How could this be?  Look at the current election, where Senator Obama says “Only people making over $250,000 a year will see an increase.”  That’s pretty clear language, and still I see people who aren’t even making $100k claiming that Obama will raise their taxes.  In fact, Senator McCain is saying that as well.  He’s not talking to the 5% of the population Senator Obama is proposing raising that taxes of; he’s saying your taxes.

So what gives?  How does this message manage to stick every time it comes up?

I think it’s pretty simple.  All of America is convinced they’re on the verge of making tons of money.  Just around the corner is that great investment or big job.  That $250,000 is about five times the median family income in the U.S. is irrelevant.  We’re all about to make 500% more, and as soon as that happens, Democrats want to punish you! The idea of you in the future with $250k+ becomes you now and you vote as if that’s the case, even if the only reason you had the shot at that money were the fruits of the taxes you pay, like your public education.  It’s absurd, but it works.  And now, finally, the Republican party has found their economic mascot.

Joe the Plumber.

Here’s the back story.  Joe Wurzelbacher showed up at an Obama rally in Ohio and said, basically, “I’d like to buy the plumbing business I work for, and then I might make more than $250,000, and I don’t understand why you want to tax me extra for that.”  Obama suggested it would be better for everyone, including him, if they “spread the wealth around” a bit.  Of course, the McCain campaign jumped all over that insinuation of class warfare and proceeded to bring it up in the debate last night some 20 times.

Now, keep in mind that Joe doesn’t make anywhere near $250k right now.  He’s talking about the theory of him making this money in the future, and how in theory this would be unfair to him.

Wurzelbacher this morning told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer that he was talking about, in Diane’s words, the prospect, the hope that someday he would make $250,000.

“Well, exactly,” he said. “Exactly. I mean not that I don’t want to be taxed. You have to be taxed. But to — just because you work a little harder to have a little bit more money taken from you, I mean, that’s scary. You know as opposed to other people. I worked hard for it. Why should I be taxed more than other people?”

Sorry to break it to you,  but you’re not likely to make $250k any time soon.  Chances are, you won’t ever make that much money, unless inflation changes what that number means.  You haven’t worked hard for it, yet, and even if you get that amount of money there’s no guarantee you’ll have worked harder than other people for it.  I make almost twice what one of my friends makes and I assure you he works way, way harder than I do.  He carries cabinets.  I type on a computer.  He wins.

Let’s put aside the fact that Joe is registered Republican who voted in the primary, so this whole insinuation of him being some independent voice for the blue collar crowd everywhere is bull.  Let’s also ignore that he’s not even licensed as a plumber, so calling him Joe the Plumber is especially moronic.  And, while we’re at it, we’ll try not to read too far into the fact that he hasn’t been paying his existing taxes.  Not that this isn’t all important to deflating the idiot-bubble the McCain campaign is trying to inflate for themselves out of this situation, it’s just not relevant for what I’m saying.

Joe the Plumber is the conservative myth made flesh.  “Don’t raise any taxes, ever, even on a tiny percentage of the population who can afford higher taxes because the day may come when I’m rich too and I won’t like it much!”  That’s how it goes, and that’s who Joe represents.  The person who votes against their own self interest because their greed is so ingrained in them that they can’t tolerate the idea of being less rich than they could be.  In all probability, they will never smell that tax bracket, yet their argument against it existing is that…well, maybe, someday, right?

In any case, the argument is fallacious.  Our tax code as it’s existed for some time is progressive, meaning that the more you make, the higher percentage of taxes you pay.  This is done for a simple reason: people who make less can part with a lower percentage of their income safely.  The more you make, though, the greater amount of your money is going into luxuries, and thus you can afford to lose some for the greater good.  If your reaction to this is “Socialism!!!!” maybe you should listen to everyone’s favorite capitalist, Adam Smith:

The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.

Get that?  Progressive taxation ain’t so bad.  And that’s why we do it.  Unless you make no money, someone who is making less than you is getting charged a smaller tax percentage.  Every raise you get endangers you, for you are bound to be punished by our socialist tax system.  What Senator Obama is proposing is restoring the percentage at the top of the tax bracket to where it was before Bush’s first term tax cuts, which will be expiring in 2011 anyway.  People making $250,000 are already paying a slightly higher percentage of tax.  The framework is in place.  Obama is suggesting adjusting the proportional differences, not creating them.

Joe the Plumber represents one of the sickest parts of the American dream.  The idea that if you achieve that dream it’s solely because of the superiority of your work ethic and intellect, and any progressive taxation is simply punishment for your success.  When arguing this, though, we forget that without publicly funded schools, police departments, road crews, transit systems and unemployment benefits, the likelihood of your success was far lower.  People like me and Joe the Plumber have a shot at success because the taxes we pay fund the programs that prepared us.  Paying higher taxes at a higher income isn’t punishment, it’s paying the system that got you there back.

Most people at the bottom of the tax bracket work way harder than those at the top.  You talk to a mother who can’t afford day care and works two jobs if she thinks my success in sitting at a desk typing was a result of me being a harder worker than her.  You live with the stress of wondering if you can feed your child and get it needed medical care without crushing your already strained budget then tell me how much you’re being punished by losing an extra 4% of your $250k income.

Say it ain’t so, Joe!

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One Response to And Finally, a Mascot

  1. Pingback: The Economics of Joe | Saalon Muyo

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