Progressives and Taxes

Some of our friendly wealthy have been saying that they want to pay more taxes, and that because they’re willing to do so, everyone else who’s “rich” (i.e., individuals with $200k and couples with $250k of annual income) should be required to pony up, too—even though these other  folks aren’t rich: most in this income range are the small businesses that are the job engines that would run on all cylinders if government would only get out of the way.

Progressives are awfully willing to spend other people’s money; let’s see what would happen if they (voluntarily) spent their own, instead.  But before we get to that, let’s look at who actually gives what to, oh, say, charity.

According to the GivingUSA Foundation, Americans donated over $300 billion to charity in 2008, of which individual Americans gave nearly $230 billion.  This total breaks out rather interestingly.  According to Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, as reported by him in a The Wall Street Journal column in January 2009, folks who considered themselves conservative or very conservative, donated between 3.5% and 4.5% of their income, while those who considered themselves liberal or very liberal donated between 1.2% and 1.5% of their income.  And these rates were pretty constant over all income levels—including the poor.  No wonder these skinflints want to spend everyone else’s money—they don’t want to have to spend any of their own.

Since Warren Buffet made his plea in the New York Times article at the link in the first paragraph above, he’s been invited to just write a big check to the US Treasury, if he thinks the government needs his money so badly.  Of course, he demurred (and, also of course, as The Wall Street Journal noted a few days after Buffet’s column in the NYT, he omitted mention that most of his income is in forms only the Buffet super-rich can access).  Other Progressives also have been invited to make donations to the US Treasury, but they deflect the suggestion, insisting it’s ridiculous to ask them just to write their own checks; individuals can’t do this alone; it has to be a collective thing.

Okay, let’s look at the Progressive collective and do some back-of-the-envelope calculations.  According to a Gallup poll in 2010, about 31% of all American registered voters were members of the Democratic Party.  According to a Pew poll in the same year, about 47% of registered voters were members of the Democratic Party, or leaning that way (one supposes something like a registered Independent with Democratic Party tendencies).  For this calculation, I’ll use 40% Democrats to sort of cut a middle ground between the two polls and pick up some of those leaners.  And because the round number makes the arithmetic a bit easier.

For 2010, the Federal government collected some $1.1 trillion in personal income taxes from all individual taxpayers.  Actually, this estimate bounces around a bit, depending on whether we use Census Bureau aggregations, revenue collections as a per cent of GDP, and so on, but we’ll use this figure; it’s pretty much in the middle of the range, which isn’t all that broad.

If we naively assume that all Americans, registered voter, leaner, or otherwise, sort out roughly along the lines of those two polls, we can use 40% of all Americans as Democrat in some way, and these 40% of Americans paid around $440 billion of those $1.1 trillion of taxes.

Progressives are all quite dedicated to our country’s welfare, and they want our Federal government to have more money so our country can be even better off.  So, what if they all chipped in a bit more for Uncle Sam’s Treasury department, in the form of a donation to Treasury?  If they donated, over and above their ordinary tax bill, just an amount equal to 10% of that tax bill, they’d donate in their aggregate an additional $44 billion to the Feds.  That’s a drop in the ocean of the Obama Debt, but that ain’t walkin’ around money, either.  That’s still serious change.  And 40% of Americans aren’t the onesies and twosies that Progressives insist would defeat the purpose of these individual donations.  Except in the eyes of these Progressives: since 40% isn’t everybody, it is just trivial individual effort.

On the other hand, they aren’t far wrong, either, about the triviality of their donations.  If these Progressives gave to Treasury as generously as they do to charity, they’d only be donating about $6.6 billion.  And given the spread between current revenue and current Federal spending, that would be an empty gesture.

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