Al Gore’s big issue in this campaign, the point he managed to squeeze
in seven times during the first presidential debate, is that George W.
Bush’s tax cut plan is crafted to disproportionately benefit the rich.
Let’s start with two facts. First, we’re talking about tax cuts, not
welfare — i.e., we’re talking about our own money and how much of it
the government should subtract from our paychecks. And second, the
Congressional Budget Office is projecting that the federal surplus over
the next 10 years will total $4.6 trillion.
What Gov. Bush is proposing is that a quarter of that multi-trillion
dollar surplus be returned to the taxpayers, to the people who earned
it. Along with a proposed doubling of the child tax credit from $500 to
$1,000, the Bush plan calls for an across-the-board cut in federal
income tax rates, with the largest percentage cuts going to those with
the lowest incomes. The bottom income tax rate is cut by a third, from
15 to 10 percent. For middle range incomes, the current three tax rates
of 28, 31 and 36 percent are replaced by two lower rates, 15 and 25
percent. And at the top, the 39.6 percent rate is dropped to 33 percent.
The problem with all that, if you’re a redistributionist like Al
Gore, is that “the rich” get the most dollars, even with the largest
percentage cuts going to the bottom. Under Bush’s plan, for instance, a
family of four making $35,000 would get a 100 percent cut in their
income tax, saving about $1,500. A family of four making more money,
earning $50,000, would get a 50 percent cut in their income tax and save
an estimated $2,000. And higher up, a family of four earning $75,000
would get a 25 percent cut in their income tax and see their taxes fall
by a projected $2,500.
The Bush tax cut plan, in other words, produces two immediate
results: higher take-home pay for everyone and more after-tax income
inequality. It’s that second result, of course, that is most displeasing
to Al Gore. The very notion that we could simultaneously have smaller
government, be more free, have less central controls, be more unequal
and yet all be better off is an absolute heresy to someone like Al Gore.
And so, in direct opposition, what he’s asking us to buy is the idea
that we’d be better off with bigger government, more centralization,
less individual liberty, smaller paychecks and more equality — sort of
the Havana model of fairness and economic development. Don’t vote to get
back $1,500 of your own money, in short, if you think someone else might
get back $2,500, or $100,000.
This whole argument reminds me of a conversation I had with one of my
students a few semesters ago. He and one of his best friends, he
explained, were both working in a pizza shop, making close to the
minimum wage, when he decided to launch a new business venture. After
months of planning, marketing, paperwork, buying insurance, etc., he
single-handedly got the business off the ground. In no time, he was
making nine and ten times more per hour than he had made at the old job.
With business growing, he asked his friend to come on board as his first
employee. That lasted, he explained, only until his friend started to
resent their wage gap. Heading back to the pizza shop, he had decided
that a place that delivered equal and low pay was better than a place
that delivered more money and more inequality.
Purposefully and directly, what Al Gore is doing is playing on that
envy and resentment, setting himself up as the born-again populist who
will save us from the “well-connected” and the “wealthiest 1 percent,”
those mean and nasty folks who would have our school kids standing
during class, chairless, and have our old people picking up cans from
America’s gutters in order to pay for their overpriced pills. It reminds
me of those days when the Soviet TV producers would send their film
crews to Manhattan to make movies of homeless people eating out of
dumpsters. Trust statism, they said, or this could happen to you.
It’s an ugly picture that Gore is trying to paint, looking each day
for another victim. It’s the picture of his mother-in-law, paying more
for pills than his dog, a picture of America the Awful, in need of a
statist savior with all the answers.
Michael Novak, a winner of the Templeton Prize for Religion, got it
exactly right recently in the National Review: “If Al Gore ever gets a
campaign bus, he should name it The Resentment Special. He is trying to
erect his presidency on the shameful act of teaching resentment of ‘the
rich and powerful’ to ‘working families.’ This resentment is the
terrible fuel behind the one vice that has destroyed all previous
republics — not hatred, not violence, not luxury, not even moral
decline, but envy.”
Ralph R. Reiland, co-author of “Mom & Pop vs. the Dreambusters:
Business Revolt Against Big Government,” is an associate professor of
economics at Robert Morris College in Pittsburgh.