In New Republic, Jonathan Chait, uses the purported review space for two new biographies of Ayn Rand –Jennifer Burns’s Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right and Anne C. Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made (to be released October 27) — to deliver instead an attack on Rand and her philosophy of which Ellsworth Toohey would be proud.
Admirers of Rand will enjoy reading this relatively sophisticated analysis of her influence, and will probably also perversely enjoy (in the mode of intellectual pathologist) the ingenious and sophistical rhetorical ploys Chait uses to defend his own leftism.
We’re really squabbling over nothing, Chait explains in a particularly artful pair of paragraphs. Accept Chait’s numbers (if you do, come see me about a bridge I’m selling), and it all becomes clear: the difference between conservative and liberal tax policies amounts to a tiny, scarcely significant, percentage.
Most of the right-wing commentary purporting to prove that the rich bear the overwhelming burden of government relies upon the simple trick of citing only the income tax, which is progressive, while ignoring more regressive levies. A brief overview of the facts lends some perspective to the fears of a new Red Terror. Our government divides its functions between the federal, state, and local levels. State and local governments tend to raise revenue in ways that tax the poor at higher rates than the rich. (It is difficult for a state or a locality to maintain higher rates on the rich, who can easily move to another town or state that offers lower rates.) The federal government raises some of its revenue from progressive sources, such as the income tax, but also healthy chunks from regressive levies, such as the payroll tax.
The sum total of these taxes levies a slightly higher rate on the rich. The bottom 99 percent of taxpayers pay 29.4 percent of their income in local, state, and federal taxes. The top 1 percent pay an average total tax rate of 30.9 percent–slightly higher, but hardly the sort of punishment that ought to prompt thoughts of withdrawing from society to create a secret realm of capitalistic Ã¼bermenschen. These numbers tend to bounce back and forth, depending upon which party controls the government at any given time. If Obama succeeds in enacting his tax policies, the tax burden on the rich will bump up slightly, just as it bumped down under George W. Bush.
Excellent reading for train rides through Rocky Mountain tunnels.