Soak the Rich, Soak Yourself

The Jewish religious tradition includes guidelines on how to pray. One rule is that one should never pray for the harm of another–it is not proper to ask God (or G-d, for my Jewish friends) to make you feel better at the expense of someone else.

It happens that a Jewish storekeeper kept the letter of the law, but had some trouble keeping it in spirit. Across the street was another storekeeper, whom the man resented deeply. All he could think about was how this man’s prosperity detracted from his own. Every time he saw a customer go in the other man’s store, he moaned, complained, and talked about how bad the other guy was to his own customers. Eventually, an angel was sent to straighten the man out.

The angel said, “I have been sent from On High to teach you a lesson. I am to grant you any wish.” The man was elated. Finally, justice would be served. He too would prosper. Then the angel said, “There is a condition, though. Whatever I give you will be given to your competitor double. If you wish for a long life, his will be extended by twice as many years. If you want more money, he will receive double the amount. If you ask for many children, he will have twice as many offspring.”

The man thought for a while, then said to the angel, “I am ready to make my wish.” The angel waited and the man said, “Strike me blind in one eye.”

Wishes are dangerous–they often come with a lesson in humility. The storekeeper was merely choosing consciously what many of us choose unconsciously when we wish ill upon another. Such is the case with Obama’s tax the rich campaign strategy, a plan that will, sure as the sunrise, come back to haunt the people who promoted it.

Liberals are bound and determined to see “millionaires” get hosed. As the linked article notes, though, taxes generally start out as a tax on the “other guy.” They end up being a tax on the people who wanted it most. The income tax was targeted at the extremely wealthy; now nearly half of all Americans pay it. The Alternative Minimum tax now hits scads of citizens, though it was aimed at a tiny sliver of the population. What is the phrase? Be careful what you wish for?

The taxes Obama is howling about will do little to stave off our imminent financial ruin. His budget adds $6.7 trillion dollars to the deficit over the next decade (reference the linked article). As the author notes, it is not hard to guess who will be asked to pony up for the gap. Look in the mirror.

Changing laws that benefit crony capitalists is laudable. Getting wealthy on one’s own without using governmental coercion is a noble endeavor; lining the pockets and pulling the strings of politicians for special favors is an abomination. Perhaps this is what people are thinking when they go on and on about the rich, but somehow I doubt it. Rather I suspect they are reflecting a flaw in human character as old as Cain and Abel. The success of another or even the perception that another is favored–by God, by fate, by the market–sometimes brings out the worst in us. Envy, the green-eyed monster, is alive and well.

Going after the rich as a whole is a moral failing. It smacks of envy, no matter how the pretentious left tries to dress it up. It does little, if anything, to address the real financial problems we face. Even proponents acknowledge that. But by Jove, it’s fair, and that is what matters. Results be damned.

I wonder how people will feel when they and/or their children get hit with the tax bill that was supposed to bring about fairness and equity. I wonder if it will dawn on them that the curse one calls upon always pays a return visit. Maybe not. It’s hard to see with one eye.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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