Rich Must Pay More To Defend Their Assets

Letter to the Editors

To the editors:

In the principle of full disclosure, I must admit upfront how sickened I was by Duncan M. Currie’s selection (Comment, “A More Progressive Tax Code”, Jan. 31). Was it the use of quotation marks around the words “poor” and “wealthy”? Are these indeed such malleable concepts when we contrast, as Mr. Currie does in his first paragraph, those earning under $30,000 a year with those earning over $200,000?

Another rhetorical device that gets under my skin—“whopping.” I always know some outrage against the more affluent among us will follow. As in “the top 50% [of all wage earners] pay a whopping 96.09% of all income taxes.” (Later on we learn that this top 50% also happens to earn [a whopping?] 87.01% of all income, so we aren’t quite as ready to hit the barricades.)

But why don’t the above figures shock Currie for another reason, that is, that a whopping 50% of all American wage earners pay no income tax because they couldn’t possible pay it? That half of all American workers earn so little that the government has figured out it’s pointless trying to shake them down for their “fair share” of all the benefits the government supplies us with: the cost of negotiating and administrating NAFTA, of the CIA toppling foreign governments on behalf of their vital business interests, of a military whose budget is greater than the sum of the next six largest military budgets. Whose interests are at stake here?

Some, such as Andrew Carnegie, argue that the rich owe a debt to the society that enabled them to create their wealth. I argue the society always continues to benefit them—higher taxes should be seen more like the monthly phone bill than a debt payoff. If you are a low-wage earner with minimal possessions who rents, what do you lose with an invasion? But, if you own the worker’s apartment building, you lose proportionately more, and so on. Therefore, the richer you are, the more you have to lose, the more you always have invested in your police, your law courts, your government’s military and political alliances. Maintaining embassies and troops has little importance for the average low-wage worker, but is of perceived necessity to certain capitalists among us and their stockholders.

Yes, government costs money. But most of our money isn’t going to things that help the poor, but to pay for the costs of our huge capitalist empire—and it’s only “fair” that those who benefit more pay more.

Andree Pages ’77

New York, N.Y.

Feb. 1, 2003