Forget Warren Buffett. The coddle-the-rich crowd has now discovered "The Jimmy Buffett Rule."
You know how that works, right? For the folks who own really big sailboats and shelter their wealth on islands with swaying palm trees, it’s always margarita time! Go ahead and squeeze the middle class some more!
Speaking from the Rose Garden on Monday, President Obama offered a more populist approach to cutting $3 trillion from the federal debt. His plan includes whacks in war funding and various programs Democrats are usually loathe to trim. It also advances what at any other time would be considered in a perfectly modest suggestion: That people at the very top should kick in too. The president would do this by letting the Bush tax cuts expire for upper-earners and by adding a special new tax on people who earn $1 million-plus a year.
My gosh, with all the shouts of “class warfare,” you’d have thought he’d asked hedge-fund executives to pay the same tax rates as receptionists and security guards. The uproar from some of the president’s critics was just that loud.
Here’s an important addendum to the Jimmy Buffett Rule: If you ask the bottom 98 to sacrifice, that’s a prudent fiscal policy. If you ask the top 2 percent to sacrifice, that’s class warfare.
And one other thing to remember: The rich-mustn’t-pay argument goes down a whole lot easier if you have the right phrases for the small, privileged group you are trying to protect. Don’t call them “fat cats.” Never use terms like “the super-rich” or “millionaires and billionaires.” Avoid all of that. They are “job creators,” “small business owners” and “people with the entrepreneurial spirit to get us out of this mess.”
Who’d want to raise taxes on someone like that?
The truth is that lately, things have been very sweet for those at the very top. The middle class keeps shrinking. More working families are tumbling into poverty, the second-highest poverty rate in 45 years. A greater and greater percentage of the wealth in America is held in fewer and fewer hands.
Yet over the past few years, those who could most afford to help have been largely insulated from any pain. You’ve seen the statistics: These days, the top 1 percent of Americans earn a higher percent of the nation’s income than at any time since 1928. Lately, the income of the top 1 percent of household has been growing 10 times faster than the bottom 90 percent.
The middle class was always the strength of America. That’s what gave the country its energy, its creative, its drive. But for middle-class Americans, a solid career with benefits is becoming more the exception than the rule. Kids are coming out of college today with huge student loans and shrunken opportunities. Fifty million Americans can’t afford health insurance. For young people especially, home ownership is an increasingly distant dream.
There’s lots of head-shaking right now over the economic mess in Europe -- and rightfully so. But there’s another specter worth considering and it doesn’t come from across the ocean. It comes from the South.
I don’t mean to get all class-warfare on you...But unless we find a way to spread the burden upward and cut the middle class some slack, it isn’t Greece or Portugal we will soon be resembling. It’s those old Caribbean islands Jimmy likes to sing about. Where a few super-rich families own just about everything. Where the vast majority of others have hardly anything at all.