Pity the Poor Plutocrats

Pity the Poor Plutocrats

It can't be an easy time to be rich, super rich or filthy rich in America, the three prime readings on the International Richer Scale.

There is so much pressure on these "job creators" ever since income tax rates for the wealthy dropped a decade ago under President George W. Bush. You remember him, unless of course you're a Republican office-seeker, in which case the name doesn't ring a bell.

Bush and his fellow travelers vehemently insist that lowering taxes on people who don't need another penny for as long as they live creates jobs for folks who need cash now or they'll lose their car, their house, pets, etc. Thanks to Bush et al., taxes on the all-set set are as low as they have been in two decades, and, with the exception of a handful of years, as low as they have been since 1931.

The top rate now is 35 percent for earned income, but that's retail. For example, thanks to deductions, the lower rate on capital gains and sidewinding lawyers, mogul Warren Buffet paid 17.4 percent of his income in federal income taxes in 2010 (his secretary's rate was twice his, he famously noted). Mitt Romney kicked Buffet's butt, paying just 13.9 percent in 2010, presumably creating a slew of jobs as a result. I understand Swiss banking and tax law are booming fields.

Overall, however, jobs are not exactly proliferating, and haven't been for years, as you may have noticed. The only explanation I can think of for this — because "less taxes, more jobs" is such a crackerjack theory — is that Daddy and Mommy Warbucks are suffering from acute performance anxiety. And doesn't your heart just go out to these poor plutocrats who are trying so hard to find jobs for us so their largesse can dribble down through a fiscal intravenous tube: drip, drip, drip.

If this state of affairs isn't oppressive enough on America's moneyed minority, another torment is looming: Their rock bottom taxes may go up, and soon, as in next year [2013]. More than a few tycoons, I imagine, are lying awake nights trying to figure out how they are going to create jobs with only a phenomenal amount of cash on hand, as opposed to an obscene surplus.

To ease these troubled, affluent minds a smidgen, rates for the top bracket in 2013 won't go up to levels that have been common under past presidents: 91 percent under Dwight D. Eisenhower, 77 percent under Lyndon Johnson and 50 percent for much of Ronald Reagan's tenure. How we, and the economy, survived those Dark Ages are a mystery to this day. Looking past such unenlightened times to the early and mid-20th century, the record shows that presidents often raised taxes during wartime — as opposed to lowering them a la Bush after 9/11. How we won wars without tax cuts is yet another historical mind-bender.

Still want to grow up and be rich? Not I. There's too much pressure, not just to create jobs but to keep track of all the things you own, such as residences. Remember in 2008 when John McCain couldn't recall how many houses he owned? Awkward! And people are always taking potshots at the rich simply for being rich, which often isn't their fault: the loot having been passed down from one generation to the next, like blue eyes and curly hair.

No, I don't want to be a rich man, thank you very much all the same. I prefer not to spend so much time worrying about, of all things, money — never mind how I'm going to squeeze through that proverbial "eye of a needle" after I depart this vale of tears.

The late country singer Porter Wagoner summed it up nicely in his 1955 lament, "Satisfied Mind":

How many times have

You heard someone say

If I had his money

I could do things my way

But little they know

That it's so hard to find

One rich man in ten

With a satisfied mind

Of course, after this record hit No. 1, Wagoner was probably in the 91 percent tax bracket.