Occupy is Right, Stop the Skepticism and Apathy

I've been unexpectedly alone among my friends in my support for the OWS movement and it's bothering me quite a bit. I'm convinced that most people are completely unaware of just how one sided our society is. Further, all the critiques I've heard of OWS is the same utter crap that the news media (see: owned by rich white conservative men) spouts. Here are the three main gripes I hear about the Occupy Movement:

1- "They don't have a clear message."

Yes they do. OWS is fighting against economic and political inequality. They want everyone to pay their fair share. And they're right. The system is broken and unfair.

2- "There's a bunch of weirdos at their protests."

There always is. In the 1960's there were a lot of LSD dropping and free-sex having protestors, but out of it came the civil rights movement, women's rights, and anti-war protests. Does that invalidate them?

3- "They're just bitching. They/we don't have it that bad. Plus, nothing is going to change."

That's utter apathy and it misses the point. Sure, a lot of us live quite well in the bottom 99%, but even as our country has grown richer in the last 30 plus years our share has not increased. Study after study shows that wealth inequality is bad for just about everything in a society from crime rates to levels of happiness. Even the richest are better off in a more fair society.


First, here's the past 100 years or so of income distribution in the US as given by the New York Times:

Currently the top tax rate is 35% for any income made over $379,150 and that doesn't include capital gains (money made on stocks, interest, etc.) which is currently taxed at 15% (really low). It is common to hear people saying that high taxes are bad for an economy. Yet, during America's greatest economic growth, post WWII to somewhere in the 1980's, the top marginal income tax rate was between 70-94% and included capital gains. So no, high taxes are not bad for an economy (see: Northern Europe).

It has come to my attention that the chart that was once here contained some incorrect information. I will repost this when they release the new data (hat tip: Joe). The chart showed varying effective tax rates among similar income earning groups compared with various levels of income earners. The point was that a percentage of the very wealthy pay a very small effective tax rate.

Income Inequality is bad for EVERYONE.

The more a country taxes the rich the happier its people. It's really just a small part of that video from above.

Also, the top 1% is misleading. It's more like top 0.1% (both of these graphs are taken from Krugman's analysis of CBO data):

The top 20% of income earners haven't gained any income share since the late 1970's while the top 1%'s share has grown from about 8% to about 17% - or more than doubled.

The top 1% minus the top 0.1% share of income has grown from about 5% to 8% - a 60% increase - not bad, but the top 0.1% of earners went from 2.6% to about 8% - about a 300% increase. It truly is the super wealthy who are making all the income gains.


There was a study done a little over a year ago that I wrote about before where people of all ages and political affiliations were asked who had the wealth in America.

Of course, everyone was totally wrong. Reality was far more unfair than they had realized. In fact, when asked what the division of wealth should be, people overwhelmingly responded that it should be more fair than what they thought it was - which was to generous to begin with.

So how do we fix our system?

Simple, see that bottom line in the graph? That's what people want. That's the society Americans say they want to live in. To accomplish this first we have to elect people who will represent our interests - fairness. Now the fun part, Congress will set goals as to what percentage of the total national income any group is allowed to keep as income. Say the top 0.1% gets 5% of earnings, top 1% gets 5%, etc. Whatever we choose. Next, the IRS and CBO changes the marginal rates (which now include capital gains taxes) of those income tax brackets every year to bring the targeted goals to within range. It'll take a few years to settle out, but eventually the tax brackets will stabilize. If you think that's too socialist or whatever then simple... just lower your targets and let the rich get richer. This is already what we do, we just don't set goals. We just set arbitrary numbers that mean nothing.

My guess is that the vast majority of people would pay less in taxes, more income brackets would be created near the top end, and those really high end brackets rates would be close to 70 plus percent.

Parting Thoughts:

The top 400 wealthiest people in America have more than the bottom 50% (about 155 million people). That means one person has as much as 390,000 people. That's like getting rid of Chicago and replacing it with 7 people.

"No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources.  Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order." -FDR

Sunday Reading

From the NYTimes: The Supreme Court is getting more conservative.

The Bush tax cuts of '01 and '03 are expiring and Republicans are vowing to extend them while Democrats plan to extend only the cuts to the middle class (under $200,000 a year per individual or $250,000 a year for a family, yea... middle class) and below - which only accounts for 95% of the country, but the Republicans are drawing the line in the sand. Surely a party that talks about balancing the budget AND keeping taxes low for the rich can be taken seriously.

An old article from Slate by Krugman on cornering commodities markets, in this case copper. This is in response to a British man doing the same now to cocoa - that is, chocolate.

Completely random: Clownfish change sex and stay small to form social hierarchies. Very short and utterly fascinating.

BP does some terrible photoshopping on "official images" of the oil spill clean up effort.

The DOT (Department of Transportation) is looking at creating water highways for barges to alleviate road traffic. Which is interesting because ships are the most efficient way of transporting large quantities of anything... but yet require so much resistance from water to move. I wonder if anyone has ever conceived of a barge sized train?

Machete, the spoof trailer from Grindhouse, is actually getting made. I'm excited. Here's the new trailer.

Death Tax Part II

A while ago I wrote about the fact that this year the death/estate tax for 2010 would be repealed, and for a while it looked like Congress would fix it. Somewhat shockingly the law, part of the Bush tax cuts, is still in place. Just to make sure we're all on the same page - this only affects the very wealthy which I consider anyone who stands to inherit a million dollars or more. There are 3.1 million millionaires in the US or about 0.6% of the population, so that's who the Bush tax cuts were helping in this instance (trickle down theory still doesn't work).

Just as a refresher:
In 2000 anything over 1 million was taxed at 55% and in 2011 same rules, without adjusting for inflation, come back into play, and between those periods the law changed to 3.5 million and 45% and this year just nothing.

Freakonomics wrote about it, then Krugman picked it up and pointed to an article he wrote in 2001. They're both calling for wrongful death suites and the like when people pull the plug on granny in late December this year. Government tax policies will literally give incentive to people to commit homicide. Should be interesting.

A Natural Experiment for the Death Tax

In 2010 the death/estate tax is repealed for one year. In my mind this will create a natural experiment. The name is fairly self explanatory.

Anyways here's what the death tax rates are for various years for an individual estate:

2005, 1.5 million, 47%
2006, 2 million, 46%
2007, 2 million, 45%
2008, 2 million, 45%
2009, 3.5 million, 45%
2010, exempt
2011, 1 million, 55%

So for example if someone dies today (2009) with a net worth of 5 million their heirs will pay 45% of 1.5 million - $675,000.

There are many reasons for and against the death tax, not that it matters, but I tend to be in favor of it. The fact that currently you can inherit 3.5 million dollars tax free is pretty insane. Regardless of the political consequences of all this the fact remains that in 2010 there is no death tax.

There may be no effect at all but you have to imagine that at least a few 80 year olds in bad health will be dropping dead at their own hands in late 2010. Maybe? It's possible at least.