The Occupy Wall Street movement should be commended for bringing to the forefront the inequities of contemporary life. That thousands can be downsized to cut costs while corporate leaders are rewarded with platinum parachutes, regardless of performance, is absurd. That corporation’s have received massive government bailouts, subsidizing the mistakes of the economic elite, while the rest of the nation continues to responsibly pay its own bills is outrageous. But the OWS movement, like everything in life, is not perfect. In fact, its main clarion call that it is “the 99%” is troublesome because it presents a false choice of either being “with us or against us”. The truth, as it often is, is much more complex.
Yes, the top 1% account for 24% of all income and 34.6% of the nation’s total wealth. That is a bad sign for the nation, no one can doubt, but it does not mean we are a oligarchy ruled by a wealthy cabal who refuse to pay their “fair share”. In fact, the tax rates for high-income earners – 35% is more reflective of their total wealth than income, something that can’t be said for other income brackets. When looking at total tax revenue, 40% of which comes from the top 1%, the picture of a government controlled by an under-taxed rich evaporates. That this is more than the entire bottom 95% of income tax payers combined contribute proves that the progressive income tax system we currently have does in fact require the wealthy to pay more than their fair share.
More importantly, the 99% claim ignores that fact that only 53% of all Americans are even paying federal income tax. This is not another attempt to unnecessarily divide the nation for our nation is beset by enough partisan differences, but it is an issue that needs to be addressed. The vast majority of the 47% who do not pay income tax are not dodging their taxes but rather may be too poor to do so. Other than fighting the 1% the OWS movement has no solutions or even proposals to grow the percentage of people who pay into the system, no solution to create jobs, and no solution to raise wages. There answer is limited to a faux economic silver bullet – punitive taxes on the 1%.
While OWS does correctly point out that the income tax rate for the wealthiest 1% has gone down since the 1960’s they fail to mention that so have all income tax levels. The rates of economic mobility have certainly retracted, meaning that while Americans are still more likely to rise in economic terms than most people in the world, today’s Americans are less likely to do so than previous generations. Clearly there are serious questions to be asked about what sort of nation the US wants to be but most Americans realize the answers won’t be found through punitive taxation. Moreover, if one is in favor of the America of yesteryear – middle class blue collar jobs, upwardly mobile, civically educated, and patriotic than we must return to the pro-growth economic policies which got us there. Yet the OWS movements admonishes us to emulate socialist nations like Cuba, the former USSR, China, and Venezuela – nations which have had the least social mobility and some of the greatest socio-economic stratification in the history.