in which I respond to Steven Taylor at OTB
Asks Taylor, referring to revelations that Obama paid a lower tax rate than his secretary:
Keith Koffler asks: Did Obama Pay a Lower Rate Than His Secretary?
He (as do his commenters and Protein Wisdom’s Jeff G.) treats this as some sort of Gotcha! Moment (or an example of hypocrisy or irony). However, wouldn’t such a revelation actually underscore Obama’s argument regarding the so-called “Buffet Rule” i.e., that the tax code is so screwed up that there are incidences of persons making substantially more than their underlings and yet the underling pays a higher tax rate?
How is this a gotcha?
First, let me say that of course Taylor isn’t alone in his curiosity. In fact, the Obama Administration is using this story as evidence that the President (and wealthy people like him) pay too little in taxes — because his secretary pays a higher rate:
“The president’s secretary pays a slightly higher rate … than the president on her substantially lower income, which is exactly why we need to reform our tax code and ask the wealthiest to pay their fair share,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage told Fox News.
So are they correct? Is this, in fact, the precise opposite of a gotcha moment — and not a concentrated bit of irony like I portrayed it?
Well, it depends. Because it is Obama whose message for “fairness” involves increasing tax burdens on “the rich,” the burden is on him to make sure that he walks the walk — that is, resists taking every deduction that he qualifies for in order to “take” money away from the government; after all, if he wants us to give more, he could start by trying to at least lead by example. This again smacks of “do as I say, not as a I do” — a favorite refrain among jet-setting liberals. And of course, the problem here from a conservative point of view is not necessarily that he paid too little, but rather that his secretary is paying too much.
Too, there’s the difference in what’s being taxed, exactly, from salary to capital gains, making the superficial comparison largely silly on its face — and exposing Obama’s argument for the ruse it is.
So yes, by all means, let’s reform the tax code in pursuit of “fairness.” Let’s make sure that the wealthiest “pay their fair share,” as Ms Brundage insists. But first, let’s agree on what constitutes “fairness.” When the top 10% are already paying 70% of the tax burden, we most certainly do have a fairness problem.
To Obama, what’s “fair” is not just that the more you make the more you pay; “fair” is using the tax code to punish you for making more by increasing the rates under which you are taxed. Whereas what would could as an actual instance of institutionalized fairness would be creating a stable rate for all those being taxed on income.
And we can accomplish this by enacting a simple flat tax — a single, “fair” rate paid by all citizens (to make sure they have “skin in the game”), one that, by virtue of how math actually works would require that those who make more money pay more in taxes than those who make less.
The problem is not that the wealthy don’t pay enough; the problem, such as it is, is that the tax code is so complicated that only those with resources will be able to best take advantage of it.
What Obama’s tax returns suggest is just this.
The irony of Obama’s returns is that they do argue for fairness in the tax code. Only, not in the way Obama defines “fair.” Obama is arguing for an increase in revenue for the government over and against the private sector. This at a time when his spending is already at a world-historic high — and with it, the national debt at a world-historic high.
It’s a shell game. And we see through it. Whereas Obama’s class-warrior schtick just gets increasingly more surreal with every last bit of optics, from all the deductions he claims on his taxes to all the vacations he takes to all the golf he plays to all the sporting events he wanders into.