It’s no secret Obama is going to bang the “It’s not fair” drum this election. Hell, he’s been bangin’ it since LAST election. He’s continually calling for the rich to “pay their fair share.” He can’t rub two speeches together without mentioning that everyone should play by the same rules. Even more, he continues to claim that the richest among us have been doing exceptionally well in the economy while the rest of us are seeing wages stagnate for the last 30 years.
Don’t forget that it isn’t true:
The claim that the standard of living of middle Americans has stagnated over the past generation is common. An accompanying assertion is that virtually all income growth over the past three decades bypassed middle America and accrued almost entirely to the rich.
The findings reported here—and summarized in Chart 8—refute those claims. Careful analysis shows that the incomes of most types of middle American households have increased substantially over the past three decades.
So if it isn’t true, why does Obama continue to bang this drum?
Because he thinks that we think it’s true.
Obama continues to call out the struggle of the middle class. He continues to point to the fact that wages have stagnated for most Americans, he points out that the wealthy pay less in taxes than the middle class – none of it true – and he does this so that he can obtain broad support for policies that would seek to take from one group of people and give it to another.
But is he missing the boat? Is he missing what America, what PEOPLE, really feel? Deep down, I think he is:
JONATHAN HAIDT, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, and one of our most original and stimulating thinkers about the psychology of politics, discusses some recent research on deep-seated human intuitions about distributional fairness. The gist of the experiments with three-year-olds and ropes and cups of marbles which Mr Haidt discusses is that the impulse to equalise unequal shares is activated only when the kids sense that marble production is the consequence of joint effort. “[T]he ‘share-the-spoils’ button is not pressed by the mere existence of inequality”, Mr Haidt notes. “It is pressed when two or more people collaborated to produce a gain. Once the button is pressed in both brains, both parties willingly and effortlessly share.”
Even a child, a child of three years old, knows that inequality, by itself, is not sufficient reason to redistribute. Only when the population actually collaborated is this seen to be necessary.
What does this mean to Obama? It means that while people may resonate with the idea of “sharing” or “redistribution”, they want it done from folks who contribute to the society and TO folks who contribute to society:
Rich countries that succeed in achieving low levels of inequality do so by taxing the whole population rather more heavily than in America, usually through relatively regressive consumption taxes, and then transferring a relatively generous portion of tax revenues to those near the bottom of the income distribution. American inequality is so high not because its taxes aren’t progressive enough. It’s so high because middle-class Americans are taxed too lightly to finance really serious progressive transfers.
“American inequality is so high not because its taxes aren’t progressive enough. It’s so high because middle-class Americans are taxed too lightly to finance really serious progressive transfers.”
And so why doesn’t the American middle-class vote to support more taxes on the middle-class?
I think part of the answer is that huge numbers of middle-class Americans think downward redistribution from the middle to lower class is unfair precisely because the relatively poor are not perceived to be pulling their weight in the collaborative endeavour of American society.
Because the middle-class feels that the class of people who would benefit from the tax DON’T DESERVE IT.