I admit that I do not grasp all of the implications of our emerging economic system. But I am also skeptical of the axiomatic allergies that appear when some rough justice is put into its structure. Like the limitations on salaries and bonuses of executives who are largely responsible for the corporate calamities of the market run amuck. And especially of those companies which are now feeding at the public trough--some with second and third helpings--that still seems to sustain the culture of sloth and excess. It's no surprise that the Wall Street Journal and the FT have both published several articles wailing about how you have to pay (they don't say "pay through the nose") for good business talent. I've been citing here, there and everywhere Matthew Arnold's appeal to England to "choose equality and flee greed" as a suggested creed for America. But, no, I don't mean socialism. I mean instead some more modest mathematical relationship of the top corporate echelon to the average earnings of the broad base of employees in what would still be a capitalist enterprise. Say, 50 to 1.
OK, so I am on the side of the angels.
A news report by Laura Meckler in Thursday's WSJ (the reportage of which, by the way, is almost always excellent) tell us that "$318 Billion Tax Hit Proposed: Upper-Income Americans Would see Deductions Cut on Charity and Mortgage Interest." I suppose I am among these Americans. Well, I'm perfectly prepared to let Larry Summers decide what percent of my income it is fair and logical to pay in this drastic predicament that we find ourselves. The tax at my bracket will go up. As my mother used to tell me, "A Jew's money is like snow in April." April 15, in fact.
But there are two aspects of the proposal about which I am not sure.
The aim of both is to get the rich to shoulder more of the national tax burden than they do now. (There's an editorial in the same day's Journal (("The 2% Illusion")) that objects to the entire tax proposal. I don't know what its editorial board suggests instead.) Anyway to my objections.
I am doubtful that the decrease in the mortgage interest deduction for families earning over $250,000 a year won't actually punish those folk for not being truly rich. You see, the truly rich don't have mortgages. So they don't take this deduction. And let's tell the truth: people earning $250,000 a year and living with two children in many areas of the country are really middle class.
The other proposal would lower the deductions for charitable contributions, again for folk earning more than $250,000. The philanthropic sector has already been devastated by the decline in their own endowments and investments and, worse yet, by the drop in earnings and wealth of their contributors. Many charities are going belly-up this year. The United States has made an historic bargain with the citizenry: there are many charities and charitable needs which the government will not fund or, more to the point, will fund only marginally. The American people pay for these, and the feds assist them in doing so by granting tax deductions. Presumably, there will be precise numbers for the charitable disaster soon. But cutting the incentive to give will not help.