April 13, 2004

(Class) War Won’t Work

John Samples on Kerry's strategy:

Take Kerry's tax proposal. He plans to raise taxes for those who make over $200,000 a year while retaining Bush's tax cuts for everyone else and adding tax credits for middle-class families. Kerry has apparently learned the 1984 lesson of Walter Mondale who promised to raise taxes for everyone if elected president. Kerry too promises to raise taxes but only on the top one percent of American households.

That's not much of a test of political courage. The truly rich are a small minority in a democracy that decides most issues by majority vote. The affluent, even broadly defined, make up only one third of the nation. Kerry is not the first candidate for office to endorse taxing the rich to buy the votes of a majority on Election Day. As far back as 1787, James Madison warned that such redistributions of wealth - he called them "wicked and improper projects" - might destroy the new American republic.


More puzzling still, making war on the wealthy will not win many elections. The liberal concern about inequality is not widely shared in the United States. Three scholars from Harvard and the London School of Economics recently analyzed attitudes toward inequality in Europe and here. In Europe, surveys have found that inequality of wealth makes two groups unhappy: rich leftists and the poor. By contrast, only rich leftists are troubled by inequality in the United States. The three professors argue that the poor in the U.S. are not concerned about inequality of wealth because they expect to rise up the income ladder whereas Europeans feel stuck in their assigned status in society. Americans do not resent the rich; Americans want and expect to be like them thanks to social mobility. The American Dream lives on except for wealthy progressives.