"Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains." - Sir Winston Leonard Spenser Churchill
Updated March 2015
When I was young, I was much more conservative than I am now. I believed strongly in capitalism and would have reacted angry to any suggestion of "socialized" medicine. While not totally against welfare programs, I felt that only the hopelessly stupid or desperately ill ever needed such help - anyone else was just lazy. I was against high taxes and didn't think graduated income tax was fair to the wealthy. I would have made a good Republican on the fiscal side, though even then I didn't like their positions on individual rights.
Contrary to Sir Winston's opinions, I've become less conservative as I aged. Today I think we need more social safety nets, far higher taxes on the rich and I absolutely believe we need "socialized" medical care.
My wife commented on this transformation of my ideals and asked why I have changed so much. I thought about it for a minute and answered that actually I haven't changed that much - what has changed is this country.
In 1970, I was 22 years old. The top tax bracket in the U.S. was 71.5% for net income over $200,000. That had been 77% in the previous year. Unions were still strong, and there were still many single wage earner households. Almost no one had medical insurance, but medical care wasn't horribly expensive. I had health insurance through my work - it was an insignificant expense.
We were able to buy a house in 1973. It cost us $24,500 but our income for that year was more than 50% of that amount - and my wife only worked part time, earning $1,400. We put $5,000 down on the house and had a mortgage and tax bill of $200 a month. We had a six year old child and another on the way. We bought a new car, a 1973 Gran Torino Sport. I can't recall what we paid for it, but the sticker price was around $3,700.00. Our income rose by 25% the next year - life was good and most of the people we knew were doing just as well or better.
Contrast all that with today. We know far too many people who are drowning in debt, living pay check to pay check. Many would be driven to bankruptcy by an illness. My wife is ill and disabled; our insurance and medical expenses easily consume a fifth of our income. We take no vacations, we keep our heat at 64 during the day and 53 (yes, 53) at night. We plan our shopping to avoid unnecessary trips and drive slowly and carefully to keep the gas mileage up. Still, we are going to have to pull from retirement funds this year to help pay our taxes.
The wealthy are paying just 39% today. In fairness, the 71.5% vs. 39% doesn't tell the whole story because deductions have changed and the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) comes into play now. But overall, with everything factored in, the middle class has been losing ground steadily for many years now. The wealthy have been living higher and higher on the hog.
I'm sick of it. It's not envy: I don't want a lot of money. All I want is to feel secure and safe. Before the stock market plummeted, I felt pretty good - we didn't have a lot of retirement savings, but we had enough to coast by. Now we do not, and because we are forced to pull some out while the value is low, those funds will have even less chance to recover. But compared to many people, we're actually in fairly good shape: we have a home, we have income, we have retirement funds that we can draw from.
Republicans insist that increasing taxes on the wealthy is harmful to the economy. They are fond of quoting things like "The Top 5% of Wage Earners Pay over 50% of Income Taxes" and that the "wealthiest 1% pay 37% of total taxes". Let me ask the obvious question: why shouldn't they pay more?
Obviously the middle class can't afford the taxes we pay now. All around us it seems like nobody has enough money: our roads are crumbling, bridges are rotting away, schools are begging for money, social programs are being slashed - we need more taxes and the middle class can't pony up. The wealthy CAN pay more, and they should. Not just because children and families are suffering, not just because their conscience ought to make them WANT to pay more, but their own selfishness should make them realize that they have created an ugly society that is only going to get uglier. Crime is up and our world is crumbling. It's way past time for the rich to step up and change this.
We need real tax cuts for the middle class. The most burdensome tax for small business, lower income people and most self-employed people is the payroll tax - the tax that is nominally for Social Security but in reality has nothing to do with it. It takes 7.65% from employers and 7.65% from employees. Self employed people pay the full boat - 15.3% flat. There are no exemptions, no deductions - and even quite a few Republicans think it's a bad tax.
However, it provides about one third of overall tax revenues. Isn't that interesting: a tax that stops at $7,347.00 pays about 1/3 of our overall taxes. For somebody earning $118,500 a year (which is where it caps), that's 6.2% of their income (plus the 1.45% Medicare tax which has no cap). An AIG executive with a $10 million bonus pays the same $7,347.00 and no more (though they do have to pay the 1.45% Medicare tax on all wages).
Are the rich paying their share of that tax? No, of course not. One third of our tax revenue comes from a tax that regressively targets the lowest wage earners. That 6.2% with a cap of $7,347.00 is meaningless to the AIG executive, but it means a lot to low income people. It's significant for the middle class too - $5,000 happens to be exactly what I need to pull from retirement funds this year.
We need "socialized" medicine. The reality is that we already have a lot of it: more and more retiring baby boomers are covered by Medicare every year and Medicaid covers many poor and disabled folks. The Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act extends coverage for children into middle class incomes. The only people who don't get any help are the same people overburdened by taxes: the working class adults. These are the people who can lose everything from a catastrophic illness.
We need to rebuild our roads, our bridges, our schools. We need social programs to lessen crime, to lessen drug abuse, to help the under class rise up to productive levels.
The middle class can't pay for all this. The rich HAVE to step up and recreate a decent world for all of us. Don't feel guilty about demanding that they do this: remember that many got this wealth by dampening middle and low class income, by exploiting third world labor, by manipulating sweetheart tax deals for themselves, by robbing our retirement funds.. most have no excuse to cry "unfair!". As for the rest, the movie stars, big name music stars and sports celebrities: they've been siphoning from the lower classes too. It's time for all of them to dig deep and pay back what they took.
It was YOUR work that made them rich. Don't ever forget that. You are the ones making those million dollar pay checks possible. Without the middle class, the country collapses instantly. It's your labor that built their wealth: it's time for them to pay back.
Socialism? Call it whatever the hell you want to call it, I don't care. We have a colossal mess and we need colossal sacrifice to fix it. The lower class wage earners can't do it. The rich have to face the music and pony up.
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