Since the election, I've read and heard many, including President Obama, cite exit polls that showed approximately 50 percent of those polled supported his efforts to raise taxes on only the “wealthy” — defined by Obama as those households earning over $250,000 annually for joint filers. Democrats and Obama claim this to be a mandate and it's being trumpeted as a sort of philosophical change in voting behavior. Really?
According to the Department of Treasury, those joint filers who have annual adjusted gross incomes of $250,000 and above make up approximately 2 percent of U.S. households. Since there is a 98 percent chance that those polled aren't in the “wealthy” category, essentially they were asked, “Do you agree with President Obama's proposal to raise income taxes as long as yours aren't raised?”
At first, I was upset that so many could be so self-serving or so uninformed. They could be considered self-serving because the policy places the burden of paying down our debt on others. In light of the staggering debt our country has accumulated over the past four years, it seems unreasonable and selfish to believe there is any way out of this debt spiral without all of us pulling on the same rope, from the same side.
Possibly they are uninformed and don't realize that taxing anyone more heavily — even the wealthy — when our economy is only crawling back from the depths of recession, seems to be shortsighted and quite possibly counterproductive to the task of creating jobs for the 26 million Americans who are unemployed.
Then I began to look at the polling question, and results, from a different perspective. Since 50 percent of those asked thought it was good policy to increase the tax burden on the upper 2 percent of households, conversely 50 percent did not think it was good policy. Assuming that out of those 50 percent who didn't agree with the policy, 2 percent were actually the dreaded “wealthy,” then one could conclude that fully 48 percent of those polled didn't believe it's good policy to raise taxes even if it wouldn't affect them. That's refreshing, encouraging and more newsworthy than what's being reported. And it completely rebuffs the “mandate” crowd.
One could paraphrase the question that was asked, and the corresponding answers, from two differing perspectives. On one hand, when asked, “Do you think raising taxes on everyone but you is good policy?” 50 percent responded yes. On the other hand, 48 percent of respondents, despite the fact that the increased taxes wouldn't apply to them, realized the inequality and the harm to the economy that would result.
From that perspective, the 48 percent have spoken more loudly than the 50 percent. Therein lies the true mandate. I've yet to meet one “wealthy” person who isn't willing to pay more — when everyone pays some. That's the American way.
Pribyl is senior portfolio manager at Leonard Investment Advisors Inc., in Oklahoma City.