(See also: “Obama’s Shared Prosperity: A Euphemism Wrapped in a Lie“)
Eighty-one wealthy individuals, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, Carl Icahn, Ted Turner, Michael Bloomberg, and George Lucas, have joined “the giving pledge,” committed to distributing half or more of their wealth to society. Likewise, Mr. Timothy Cook, Apple’s CEO, pledged a corporate charity program matching donations up to $10,000 per employee.
There is nothing wrong with charity when the recipient deserves the help and the benefactor can afford it. The issue is whether one has a moral right to exist without giving away his wealth to others. The giving pledges imply that the answer is no.
The media and participants refer to these pledges as “return” and “giving back.” Thus, Forbes magazine titled its article “Warren Buffet Gets the Wealthy To Give Back,” and the pledges include phrases such as “we have long planned to return a substantial majority of our wealth to society … giving back is a practice and joy … people wait until late in their career to give back … The goal is to help create an expectation in society that the rich should give away their wealth … with great wealth comes great responsibility, a responsibility to give back to society … we are all really inspired by the generosity of our co-workers who give back to the community.”
“Giving back” is a matter of justice and property rights, not of charity. It is a moral and possibly a legal obligation, not a choice. Acceptance of the “giving back” premise is a declaration that the productive members of our society, these who gave us the steel, oil, and power industries as well as the automobile, the railroad, the airplane, the television, the cell phone, the computer, advanced banking, and modern agriculture, are looters who extracted their wealth from the public and can mitigate their crimes against humanity only by giving up their plunder. If giving back is a moral obligation, then taking back is a moral right. By accepting the first tenet, you have sanctioned the second.
An acknowledgement that what one owns is the beggar’s dime constitutes an obligation to accommodate anyone who demands his dime back. Since true “giving back” is a matter of justice, there is no moral barrier to enforcing it. Indeed, Mr. Buffett followed up his pledge with a call to raise income, estate, and gift taxes on the wealthy as a necessary “sacrifice” to help “families who struggle to make ends meet.” Similar demands to retain high estate tax in the name of the common good were made by other signers of the giving pledge and 120 wealthy individuals, who argue that “[r]epealing the estate tax would enrich the heirs of America’s millionaires and billionaires while hurting families who struggle to make ends meet.”
President Obama was quick to seize the moral affirmation of his claim that “[i]f you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that” — society did, and thus society has the right to take it back. The “Buffett Rule” of raising taxes on the rich and a steep tax increase on dividends and estates, in the name of justice and fairness, became cornerstones of Obama’s policy. More Americans now expect the rich to give away their wealth voluntarily or through taxation.
Consequently, there is an increase in psychological and physical dependency on handouts. Some 47% of the population now relies on government assistance — over 58 million receiving Social Security income, 46.4 million receiving food stamps, 7 million receiving unemployment benefits, 8.7 million receiving disability benefits, 48 million receiving Medicare, and 56 million receiving Medicaid. By 2014, most citizens will be dependent on government-run health care. Currently, 88% of school-age students are being “educated” in public facilities, and 53% of the nation’s $10.7 trillion in residential mortgages is owned or guaranteed by the government. Over 18.5 million people receive their wages from the federal, state, or local government. As a result, federal spending is now over 40% of the GDP, and the national debt exceeds 100% of the GDP.
The increase in “giving back” by the government required more “taking back” in tax revenue. In 1916 the tax rate was 1% and 6% on personal income above $3,000 and $500,000 ($13M in today’s dollars) respectively, and 1% on corporate income. By year’s end, the maximal personal and corporate tax rates are expected to correspondingly be 39.6% and 35%. The government also collects 15.3% in Social Security and Medicare taxes, excise taxes (e.g., 7.5% on airfares), tariffs (e.g., 35% on imported tires), and inheritance taxes (up to 50% by year-end). Most state and local governments collect additional taxes. For example, California currently enforces corporate (8.84%) and personal (up to 10.55%) income tax, sales tax (9.25%), property tax (1.25%), excise tax (6% gasoline tax) and sin taxes (over 50% on spirits). The top 5% of earners pay over 58% of the federal income tax. Our federal government now grosses over $1.1 trillion in annual revenues, using a 71,000-page-long tax code and over 115,000 IRS employs to enforce it. Between 1917 and 2010, the U.S. population grew threefold while the numbers of IRS tax collectors grow by almost twenty-three times. The top 5% of earners pay over 58% of the federal income tax. Yet the participants in these pledges create expectations for more donations and additional taxes, with no moral limit on how much can be confiscated for the nebulous public benefit.
The idea that the public has moral and legal rights to private property and that the end of the public good justifies the means of taking from the wealthy endangers our prosperity, freedom, and eventually livelihood. It is a slippery slope toward totalitarianism. The history of socialism had taught us that without genuine property rights, there is no prosperity, no individual rights, and eventually no life. Even the most basic necessities cannot be produced if the public has the moral authority to confiscate private and corporate wealth. Unless we defend the moral right of the rich to own and enjoy all of their property without fear or guilt, we will not have the moral right to keep and enjoy ours, and the U.S. will cease to exist as a free country.