Everybody hates the rich. Certainly the writers of the scriptures had plenty of warnings to the rich.
First truth: it is undeniable that the scriptures make it clear that the rich should voluntarily give of their substance to the poor. The number of passages, especially from the Book of Mormon, emphasizing this is simply overwhelming.
Second truth: you who are reading this are most likely rich. Yes, you, the one who loves to bash the rich thinking it is anybody but you. Compared to most of the world’s inhabitants, you are rich. If you don’t believe me, travel to India or China or Africa or Latin America, where the vast majority of people get by on a few hundred dollars a month or less. So, go look at yourself in the mirror, buddy. When the scriptures are talking about the rich, they are probably talking about you. Take that beam out of your eye.
Now, on to some myths.
Myth number one: in the evil capitalist United States, the rich are getting richer. Actually, not true. It turns out there is a lot of mobility among the rich. One year, you’re up, the next year, less so, and a few years go by and you have lost it all. And sometimes middle class people like Mark Zuckerberg hit it big and become unexpectedly rich. The Treasury department actually publishes data on income mobility. When you study the data, it turns out that when you compare the rich from 1996 — the super-rich who made the top 0.01 percent of income — 75 percent were in a lower income group by 2005. The median real income of super-rich households went down, not up. The rich got poorer. For that period, people who were poorer actually did better than the super-rich when you compare growth of income.
Now it is true that the top 1 percent of people in 2005 made more money than the top 1 percent in 1996. But you would expect this: incomes as a whole should go up. But the point is, it wasn’t the same people. Some people made more money, some people made less. In fact, as I say, the majority of the super-rich (75 percent) made a lot less.
So, if what you want is a society where the rich are making less money and where the poor have an opportunity to make more money, it is already happening.
Myth number two: we can balance the budget by taxing the rich. The budget deficit for this year is going to be about $1.6 trillion. If you reinstate the Clinton-era tax rates for the “rich” (families making more than $250k per year), you get $70 billion a year. Not even close to balancing the budget.
How about getting even more money from those evil rich people? Megan McArdle from the Atlantic printed some data showing that best-case you might get $133 billion or so per year if you really socked it to those rich people. Sorry, if you want to deal with the deficit, there simply aren’t enough millionaires around. But even these numbers are incredibly optimistic. Rich people don’t like being taxed. They will change their behavior, hide their money, move their corporations overseas, etc, if you raise the taxes on them too much. Consider this: that super-evil rich guy Rush Limbaugh moved his entire business from New York, where he paid high state and city income taxes, to Florida, where there is no income tax. And when the city tried to get him to pay partial income taxes because he still travels there occasionally to visit his business, he closed down the entire business in New York and sold his apartment. What are you going to do? The rich (meaning you, you rich computer-owning guy or lady) are just mean-spirited.
Myth 3: the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes. This is one of those subjective ones, because “fair” is subjective. But the rich certainly pay more taxes than the poor, even as a percentage of income.
The chart shows that the rich pay a much higher percentage of the taxes than they “should” compared to the percentage of income they receive. This is because we have a progressive tax structure, meaning rates go up as you make more money. So, even with all the tax shelters and deductions and high-priced lawyers and accountants, the rich still pay most of the taxes. Is that fair? Well, many think it is. But when you start hearing rhetoric that the rich should pay even more in taxes, well, you have to start to wonder what is fair and what isn’t. And you start to realize why many rich people won’t do it: they will stop working or they will move or they will change their behavior. You can only squeeze so much out of the rich.
Bottom line: the gospel is about changing the hearts of everybody, including rich people like you. Stop worrying about that mote in the other guy’s eye. Go work at a homeless shelter, pay some more money in fast offerings. Do some missionary work. Maybe you’ll even convert a really rich guy and he’ll give more to the poor.