- - Friday, May 4, 2012

“Every time a bank fails, an angel gets its wings.” So goes a graffito in Manhattan’s East Village. One block away, as marchers occupied Broadway on May Day, their picket signs pleaded, “Millionaires must pay their fair share” and “No free ride for Wall Street.”

These words echo Occupy Wall Street and its spiritual leader, President Obama. Class warriors scream about imposing “fairness” on the rich, but their shouts become mumbles when they’re asked what precise tax rate would achieve fairness.

Liberals grow mum amid these facts: In 2009, the latest IRS figures demonstrate, the much-maligned top 1 percent of taxpayers earned 17 percent of national income and paid 37 percent of federal income taxes. The top 10 percent made 43 percent of income and surrendered 70.5 percent of income-tax revenues. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent scored 13.5 percent of income and paid just 2.3 percent of income taxes.

Unfair? If so, the left should specify what heavier tax burden on the wealthy or lighter tax load on the lower half of taxpayers would trigger fairness.

Fairness hardly involves augmenting tax revenues, whether for debt relief or even the social spending that makes liberals salivate.

As the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Peter Wehner recalled April 12 in a superb CommentaryMagazine.com essay, then-Sen. Barack Obama advocated a higher capital-gains tax rate. Instead, it was lowered from 28 percent to 20 percent in 1997, and net revenues expanded by 124 percent - from $54 billion in fiscal 1996 to $121 billion in fiscal 2000. That levy was chopped by Tea Party pinup William Jefferson Clinton.

“Well, Charlie,” Mr. Obama told ABC’s Charlie Gibson in 2008, “what I’ve said is that I would look at raising the capital-gains tax for purposes of fairness.”

For too many liberals like Mr. Obama, fairness is not about enriching the modest; it’s about impoverishing the moneyed.

Financier Warren Buffett has energized liberals with his still-unverified claim that his tax rate lags behind his secretary’s. If true, fairness could mean slashing his secretary’s taxes to match Mr. Buffett’s 11 percent effective tax rate. Somehow, reducing the secretary’s taxes never came up. Instead, liberals and Democrats demand passage of the Buffet rule, an instrument for bludgeoning the successful rather than boosting the downtrodden.

In her final appearance before the British House of Commons, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher skewered this liberal mindset. Feisty as ever, she answered her colleagues’ questions on the gap between the needy and the affluent.

“The honorable gentleman is saying that he would rather that the poor were poorer, provided that the rich were less rich,” Mrs. Thatcher explained on Nov. 22, 1990. “So long as the gap is smaller, they would rather have the poor poorer. One does not create wealth and opportunity that way.”

Like Mrs. Thatcher, American conservatives should reject the income gap. Who cares about the gap, provided that those on the bottom advance in absolute terms?

Consider two job offers: (1) You earn $50,000, while your boss makes $55,000, just 10 percent more; (2) you earn $500,000, while your employer gets $1 million - twice your salary. “Unfairness” suddenly looks spectacular.

Here’s how the right should challenge the left:

“If you dislike income inequality, lift those with the least. Let’s adopt universal school choice, allow personal Social Security retirement accounts (to democratize long-term capital accumulation), radically reduce or eliminate America’s anti-competitive 35 percent corporate tax to supercharge businesses, and pass right-to-work laws so the jobless won’t fester outside closed shops. Let’s build the Keystone XL pipeline to create 20,000 blue-collar positions right now and lower everyone’s energy prices; frack for natural gas; and tame the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission and other power-mad bureaucracies so U.S. companies stay here and foreign firms move in.”

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