Americans want to Soak the Rich MMCCLXXVII

Robert Waldmann

Jeff Sachs proposed higher taxes on the rich.
Felix Salmon wrote

I don’t think this is possible, politically, in either the US or the UK. In the US, the middle classes are implacably opposed to tax hikes on people making more money than they themselves will ever make.

Kevin Drum agrees with Salmon about US public opinion and asks.

“Why are Americans so unsympathetic to higher taxes on zillionaires?”

The answer is that Americans are sympathetic to higher taxes on the rich, as has been demonstrated by every poll on the question in the past two decades.

Matt Yglesias noted one recent poll which shows majority support for higher taxes on the rich. I just add that I know of no poll in US history which doesn’t show majority support for higher taxes on the rich.

Somehow this absolutely striking, dramatic, undeniable feature of US public opinion has been overlooked. I think the reason is that policy makers and pundits agree that soaking the rich is un-American, and the fact that most citizens disagree must therefore not be conceded.

In the elite debate it is definitely agreed that Americans hate class warfare and are not willing to soak the rich. I firmly believe that this is agreed, because it serves the group interest of the elite. I don’t think Drum, Salmon or many others are influenced by their personal self interest (Drum and Salmon clearly wish things were as they really are). I think the fact that the US public want to raise taxes on the rich isn’t transmitted from pundit to pundit the way the alleged fact that Americans want Obama to show more anger at BP is transmitted, because critical links are broken by people who just hate the fact and won’t accept it.

I add that admitting that Marx had a point makes me feel ill.

Kevin Drum and Felix Salmon ignore not only massive evidence but also my many posts pointing to that massive evidence. My feelings are hurt. Not to boast, but just to boast, I have actually corresponded by e-mail with Drum and by some kind of instant messenger with Salmon.

As I mentioned before the jump, Matthew Yglesias pointed out that their perception of public opinion is totally inconsistent with public opinion. Here’s the link again. The very best fact is that 64 % of polled American adults with annual household income over $250,000 think that “raising income taxes on households making more than $250,000 should … be a main part of any government approach to the deficit”*.

Drum and Salmon’s amazing disconnect from reality is not based on the inflation of the concept of “middle class” which now seems to mean “upper class but not super rich” and goes from the 50th percentile up to the 99th or something. By that definition, most middle class respondents agree with rich respondents that taxes on the rich should be increased (perhaps conditional on there being spending cuts and other tax increases).

*In plain numbers this would seem to be 16 out of 25 rich respondents favor increasing their own taxes. That gives a standard error of the estimate of 9.6% so the two standard deviations interval would be from 44.8 % to 83.2%. This calculation makes no sense with such a tiny sample. The null that 50% or less of the rich support higher taxes on the rich is not rejected at the 5% level, p = 8%. The null that 40% or fewer of the rich support higher taxes on the rich is rejected at the 5% level the p level for the null of 45% is almost exactly 5%.

The rich want to soak the rich.

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