Op-Ed

Tax the rich? Who else has any money left?

By Chris Bliss

Remember the good old days, when the poor were blessed, the rich were filthy and America was the Land of Opportunity?

It's time to raise taxes on the rich.

I know, it sounds un-American to go after the very people who've benefited most from the system they've almost destroyed. Nonetheless, here are four good reasons:

1. I'm not rich. You're probably not either. In fact, a shocking 80 percent of Americans are not in the top 20 percent of income. Is it fair to raise taxes on that 20 percent when they are already carrying 65 percent of total federal tax liability? Absolutely. Considering that they currently control 85 percent of the wealth, they should pay 85 percent.

2. The rich caused this mess. You've got to be running a country in order to run it into the ground. You think it's the government's fault? Who do you think runs the government? Total campaign expenditures in last three election cycles have gone from $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion to $5.3 billion, and will probably top $8 billion in 2012. Blaming the government is like blaming the puppet while the puppeteer picks your pocket.

3. Only the rich have any money left. They made sure of that over the last 30 years, when the top 10 percent doubled their share of the country's total income (the top 1 percent tripled theirs), basically taking every dime of the increase in GDP.

Yes, the rest of us got a brief taste of conspicuous over-consumption during the easy-credit-and-cheap-debt-fueled housing bubble. But those days are about as likely to return as hydrogen-filled dirigibles. And while the net worth of the wealthiest Americans has taken a hit in this recession (down around 11 percent), the middle class lost 36.1 percent, while half of all Americans — the bottom 50 percent — collectively owe more than they own.

America is fast becoming one giant payday-lending operation.

4. The rich have more to lose. We haven't had this kind of top-heavy wealth distribution since the Great Depression, and we all know what a great recipe for prosperity that turned out to be. The irony is that the rich get richer when wealth is more evenly spread, because the stronger the middle class, the faster the overall economy grows. They don't get to eat as much of the pie, which may not feel as satisfying, but they have more pie to eat because it keeps getting bigger.

Not to mention that there weren't 300 million firearms in private hands during the Great Depression. (It's not just government that's subject to "Second Amendment remedies.")

Some argue raising taxes on the rich will be counterproductive, because they are the country's job creators, pointing to the country's record low unemployment and high growth after 10 years of the Bush tax cuts as proof. Oops.

These same people are fond of spouting that such taxes "punish the success of the country's most productive" people. After all, the rich work hard and play by the rules just like the rest of us. Except when they're writing checks so they can re-write those rules.

When all the money is at the top it walls off opportunity for the vast majority of Americans, a fact borne out by the steady decline in every measure of social mobility (also known as "the American Dream") over the last 30 years.

Think of the economy as a game of no- limit poker, where success is a combination of skill, luck and common sense. If you have enough of all three, you've got a shot to do OK, with one notable exception: if one player starts the game with 90 percent of the chips.

All the skill and luck in the world can't win against that stack. At that point, the game is essentially rigged, with everyone else stuck playing for the remaining 10 percent.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for obscene wealth, just not this obscene. It's time for the wealthy to quit acting like they own America, even if they do, and pony up.

Chris Bliss, of Austin, Tx., is a stand-up comedian, writer and world-renowned juggler.

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