In a recent New York Times article, billionaire Warren Buffett said, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
Buffett is right. With the help of an economically-conservative agenda of tax-cuts and deregulation actively promoted by the rich, today’s society is one of stark income inequality.
To show that this is the case, we need only look at recent income distribution data of the United States from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Income distribution is generally measured in quintiles, which means that the population is divided into five groups and the percentage of total income each group receives is recorded seperately.
The statistics are shocking. To be clear, I am not advocating perfect income equality. But to have one-fifth of the population take home half of the aggregate income is unjust—particularly since many households are struggling to provide food and shelter for themselves.
Simply put, economic conservatism leads to egregious income inequality and, I would argue, economic instability.
There is also a very strong argument that economic conservatism and lax regulation played a large part in the reckless financial behavior and the housing bubble that caused the “Great Recession” of yesteryear.
Yet the rich still get away with this, using their vast financial resources to hire public officials (thanks to minimal campaign-financing laws and a conservative Supreme Court that recently ruled against a corporate spending limit), media outlets (think Fox News) and economists to espouse anti-government sentiments, all in the name of liberty and civil society.
This propaganda has been largely successful in garnering support for undemocratic economic policies.
One main argument against levying substantial taxes on the rich is this: Yes, the rich should contribute more to society, but private charity is better. Better for whom? The giver, naturally. It is better for someone to offer something voluntarily, but it comes with the great risk of not meeting the needs of the poor.
I’d rather be assured that the poor have their needs met than be assured that we let the rich (rather than the whole society) decide how they will use the money.
Another argument is that of meritocracy–that the poor are poor because they are lazy, so they have no one to blame but themselves. Indeed, some people are poor because they are lazy. But there are lazy rich people too. We should not stop helping the poor just because some of them deserve to be poor. Everyone deserves a chance.
So how can we work towards socially just and responsible public policy? If the needs of the poor and the sick are among the highest priorities in society, which they should be, then tax increases are a must, with a heavier burden falling on the rich.