“I’m rooting for everybody to get rich,” President Barack Obama said last week, speaking at a town hall meeting in Reno, Nevada. “But I believe that we can’t ask everybody to sacrifice and then tell the wealthiest among us, well, you can just relax and go count your money, and don’t worry about it. We’re not going to ask anything of you.”
The president urged “shared responsibility” and depicted the Republican approach to deficit reduction as unfairly benefiting the wealthy at the expense of ordinary taxpayers.
In order to justify tax hikes that would be necessary under the president’s plan because he refuses to reduce entitlement spending, Obama is exploiting a popular resentment of the rich by pretending that they’re not shouldering their fair share of everyone’s “social responsibility.” The very opposite is true.
While half of all Americans do not even pay income tax, the wealthy bear the brunt of the tax burden. In 2008, the top 1 percent of American income earners paid 38 percent of all federal income taxes. The top 5 percent that year paid 58 percent.
Republicans want to bring down corporate and top income tax rates to stir investment and job creation but the president believes that those “who have benefited most from our way of life can afford to give back a little bit more.” How exactly “the rich” have benefited from the American way of life except by recognizing and acting on the opportunities that a (relatively) free market economy provides, the president never explained. He won’t, because he is trying to convince people that they’re only suffering because the rich exploit them.
Economist Ludwig von Mises explained the rationale of this suspicion in The Anti-Capitalist Mentality (1956), noting that it is difficult for a man to accept that others may be more able and successful than himself. When he considers the maldistribution of wealth in his society, that man looks for a scapegoat.
He tries to persuade himself that he failed through no fault of his own. He is at least as brilliant, efficient and industrious as those who outshine him. Unfortunately this nefarious social order of ours does not accord the prizes to the most meritorious men; it crowns the dishonest unscrupulous scoundrel, the swindler, the exploiter, the “rugged individualist.”
Such a man never wonders how the unprecedented technological and scientific improvements of the last two hundreds years came about.
It does not occur to him that the “rugged individualist” of big business may have played some role in the emergence of what he calls the “American way of life.”
After praising the power of free enterprise, President Obama always follows up with the achievements of government—starting with highways and ending up with multitrillion dollar social safety nets that the country can no longer afford. If he honestly believes that markets empower people, he should not undermine its crucial dynamic—the profit motive—by distorting the natural outcome of fair and free competition.