The super wealthy apparently believe that they deserve constant deference.
Greg Sargent is rightfully stunned by the entitled petulance of Wall Street bankers who are shocked—shocked—that President Obama would do anything other than praise their indispensable brilliance:
Wall Streeters are so upset about Obama’s harsh populist rhetoric that they privately called on him to make amends with a big speech — like his oration on race — designed to heal the wounds of class warfare in this country. […]
Of course, their exaggerated weariness notwithstanding, the “wounds of class warfare” haven’t been borne by Wall Streeters, who remain fabulously wealthy even after causing the worst downturn since the Great Depression. If there’s anyone waging class warfare, it’s the radicalized representatives of the rich, who have successfully engineered government to enhance their wealth at the cost of our shared responsibilities. As such, the actual victims of class warfare are the ordinary Americans who face stagnant wages, rising costs, and a tattered safety net.
After going through the insanity of Wall Street complaints, Sargent ends his post on this note:
One wonders if there is anything Obama could say to make these people happy, short of declaring that rampant inequality is a good thing, in that it affirms the talent and industriousness of the deserving super rich. It certainly seems clear that they won’t be satisfied until he stops mentioning it at all. [Emphasis mine]
If you think the bolded section is an exaggeration, you should take some time to read Adam Davidson’s New York Times profile of Edward Conard, a former partner at Bain Capital—Mitt Romney’s investment fund—who now works as an apologist for the ultrawealthy. Conard believes three things. First, that millionaires and billionaires earned every penny of their wealth through merit and hard work:
God didn’t create the universe so that talented people would be happy,” he said. “It’s not beautiful. It’s hard work. It’s responsibility and deadlines, working till 11 o’clock at night when you want to watch your baby and be with your wife. It’s not serenity and beauty.”
Second, that immense wealth is the just reward for any and all risk taking:
“It’s not like the current payoff is motivating everybody to take risks,” he said. “We need twice as many people. When I look around, I see a world of unrealized opportunities for improvements, an abundance of talented people able to take the risks necessary to make improvements but a shortage of people and investors willing to take those risks. That doesn’t indicate to me that risk takers, as a whole, are overpaid. Quite the opposite.” The wealth concentrated at the top should be twice as large, he said.
And finally, that extraordinary income inequality is a net plus for society. Those who use their wealth for charity, Conard argues, are depriving the world of investment and gain:
During one conversation, he expressed anger over the praise that Warren Buffett has received for pledging billions of his fortune to charity. It was no sacrifice, Conard argued; Buffett still has plenty left over to lead his normal quality of life. By taking billions out of productive investment, he was depriving the middle class of the potential of its 20-to–1 benefits. If anyone was sacrificing, it was those people. “Quit taking a victory lap,” he said, referring to Buffett. “That money was for the middle class.”
For those of us who don’t see wealth as the ultimate end, who see value in other, non-monetary pursuits, and who understand the power of chance and fortune, this is a horrifying worldview. Conard seems oblivious to the fact that there are people who work hard—punishing their bodies with physical labor—in order to scrap by with the basics of life. It’s not that these people are lazy, it’s that they didn’t win the cosmic dice game that put them in a position to reach the heights of American society.
There is a disturbing corollary to Conard’s worldview, that he expresses in his conversation with Davidson—if the wealthy are supremely virtuous for their pursuit of wealth, then those who reject that choice—regardless of what they do—are unworthy of our respect or admiration:
Conard, who occasionally flashed a mean streak during our talks, started calling the group “art-history majors,” his derisive term for pretty much anyone who was lucky enough to be born with the talent and opportunity to join the risk-taking, innovation-hunting mechanism but who chose instead a less competitive life.
Given their friendship and close connections, one thing to consider is whether Mitt Romney holds views close to Conard’s. Judging from his domestic policy plans—huge income tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, combined with tax cuts on investment income, and a dramatic reduction in social services—the obvious answer is yes, of course he does. And indeed, at the end of his profile, Adam Davidson offers the strong suggestion that Romney’s thinking has more in common with his friend than it does with any of us.
BY: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, May 2, 2012
The revelation that Mitt Romney received an income of $21 million in 2010 and paid just 13.9 percent of that in federal income taxes has highlighted an enormous problem in our tax code. Income from investments (or income that is manipulated to appear to come from investments) is taxed at lower rates than income from work. And this is a huge benefit for the rich.
Technically, the breaks that Romney enjoys are available to anyone with investment income, but the vast majority of this type of income goes to the rich. We recently calculated that about a third of taxpayers with incomes exceeding $10 million get the majority of their income from investments and consequently pay an average effective tax rate of 15.3 percent.
We then looked at taxpayers with incomes between $60,000 and $65,000 and found that just over 2 percent get the majority of their incomes from investments. In fact, over 90 percent of the $60,000-$65,000 group get less than a tenth of their income from investments, and consequently pay an average effective tax rate of 21.3 percent. That’s a higher effective tax rate than those multimillionaires who get most of their income from investments.
How do multimillionaires justify their low effective tax rates? Many, like Warren Buffett, admit that there is no justification at all, and have asked the president and Congress to reform the tax code. Buffett finds it offensive that he pays federal taxes at a lower effective rate than his secretary does.
Others argue that special breaks for investment income are necessary to encourage investment. This is absurd, given that people with money invest in order to profit and that is motivation enough. But this argument is even more absurd in the case of wealthy fund managers like Romney, who use a loophole to characterize even their income from work as investment income to enjoy the lower tax rates. (This is the loophole for “carried interest.”)
Still others, including Romney himself, argue that much of their income represents corporate profits that have already been subject to the corporate income tax of 35 percent before they were paid out as stock dividends. This is nonsense. At least a third of Romney’s income took the form of “carried interest,” which is actually compensation for his work in managing other people’s money, and this is certainly not corporate profits.
Even in the unlikely event that all of the rest of Romney’s income did come from corporate stock dividends or gains on the sales of those stocks, there’s no reason to think that the corporations involved paid 35 percent of their profits in corporate income taxes. We recently studied most of the Fortune 500 corporations that have been profitable for each of the last three years and found that their average effective tax rate over the three-year period was just 18.5 percent. Thirty of these companies paid nothing at all.
Warren Buffett is right. People like him, and Mitt Romney, should pay more to support the society that made their fabulous fortunes possible.
By: Scott Wamhoff, Legislative Director of Citizens for Tax Justice, Published in U. S. News and World Report, January 31, 2012
The GOP primary keeps getting funnier. Just as Newt Gingrich was telling a South Carolina Romney supporter “I agree with you” that attacking Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital career could help Democrats on Wednesday, his friendly Super PAC “Winning the Future” released the long version of its hit piece “When Mitt Romney Came to Town.” I thought MoveOn did a bang-up job last week with an ad profiling a pair of older Kansas City steelworkers left jobless thanks to Bain; this ad is so slashing MoveOn might have thought twice about releasing it. If you haven’t seen it, it’s here. Clearly, Gingrich is trying to have it both ways: Mollifying wealthy GOP donors horrified by his attacks on capitalism while continuing to bloody Romney. We’ll see how well it works.
Romney continues to insist Democrats, as well as some of his GOP rivals, are practicing “the politics of envy,” and on NBC Wednesday made what might be his dumbest remark yet. Asked whether there was ever a fair way to discuss income inequality, the GOP front-runner replied:
I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.
Maybe Mitt wants to confine talk of inequality to “quiet rooms” because he’s seen the Pew Research Center data showing that Americans think conflict is growing between rich and poor. Two-thirds of Americans see that conflict, up 50 percent since 2009. While African-Americans are still more likely than whites to see that conflict, the percentage of whites who agree tripled. Credit Occupy Wall Street for hiking consciousness about the gap between rich and poor, but credit the GOP for creating the conditions that allowed income inequality to soar, and the top 1 percent to gobble up 40 percent of the nation’s wealth.
A sly Sarah Palin called for Romney to release his tax returns on Sean Hannity’s show last night, to Hannity’s seeming distress. Palin defended Rick Perry’s “vulture capitalism” attack even as Hannity kept trying to get her to declare it unfair. She’s gone rogue again! We can only dream that Romney releases his tax returns. I think he’s less scared about showing his staggering wealth than revealing the scandalously low tax rate he pays, given how much of his income comes from investment and is thus subject to lower capital gain taxes. (I’m sure we’d also learn a lot from the tricks Romney’s accountants use to keep his effective tax rate even lower.)
Palin also demanded that Romney substantiate his claims to have created 100,000 jobs while at Bain, calling it a “come to Jesus” moment. What is she up to? Her snow-machine-driving husband Todd endorsed Newt Gingrich last week, to great derision, but it did raise questions about what the nominally neutral ex-V.P. nominee is thinking. She’s not thinking good thoughts about Mitt Romney, that’s for sure.
Meanwhile, the man who foisted Palin on the world, John McCain, today accused Romney’s anti-Bain attackers as supporting “communism.” But BuzzFeed recalls that in 2008, McCain himself attacked Romney’s Bain days. “He presided over the acquisition of companies that laid off thousands of workers,” McCain complained back then, and campaign manager Rick Davis told the National Journal:
“He learned politics and economics from being a venture capitalist, where you go and buy companies, you strip away the jobs, and you resell them. And if that’s what his experience has been to be able to lead our economy, I’d really raise questions.”
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, January, 12, 2012