A University of Chicago law professor created a firestorm of
controversy last month when he blogged that he and his wife are
barely making ends meet with their $250,000-plus combined
Professor Todd Henderson was protesting President Obama’s plan
to let the George W. Bush tax cuts on income above $250,000 per
couple expire at the end of the year while extending the cuts for
everyone below that threshold.
Needless to say, the good professor didn’t get much sympathy. As
well he shouldn’t.
The couple live in a nice house, send their kids to private
schools, employ a nanny and a lawn caretaker plus have compiled a
sizable retirement account. Lots of folks -- 97 percent of American
taxpayers, in fact -- would love to be in that position and most
probably wouldn’t mind paying the tax rate they were paying back in
2000 before the Supreme Court made George W. Bush the
Yet, thanks mainly to a united Republican minority in the U.S.
Senate and a handful of nervous Democrats, Congress cannot bring
itself to vote on Obama’s plan that would lock in the tax cuts for
a huge percentage of the people and begin tackling the budget
deficit by raising taxes on the rich. Republicans claim it is
important to reduce the deficit yet hypocritically oppose the
Democrats’ effort to do so by letting the Bush tax cuts expire for
individual incomes above $200,000 a year and couples’ earnings over
Everyone should get their tax cuts extended, insist Republicans
like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, yet they offer no plan
for how they would make up the $700 billion the treasury would lose
over the next 10 years if the cuts for the upper echelon are
allowed to continue.
Some insist that increasing taxes on the wealthy would hurt job
creation in this economy, but that ignores the simple reality that
the Bush cuts didn’t do a thing to help the economy the past
several years. George Bush left office in 2009 with the number of
working Americans essentially the same as it was when he took over
in 2001 -- roughly 137 million -- and the economy in a shambles.
During Bill Clinton’s eight years the tax rate on the top income
bracket was increased, but millions more people went to work. By
the end of his second term, the budget deficit had been essentially
Perhaps it’s all coincidental, as many Republicans argue, but
there is not any more proof that the GOP’s formula of lower taxes
on the wealthy creates more jobs and spurs the economy than there
is for the Democratic formula seeking to have the wealthy pay
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Besides, the rich should pay more because they get more from the
government. All those Wall Street and S&L bailouts, the funding
of regulatory agencies, and the public school training of workers
aren’t services used by the middle and lower classes. There are
some studies that have estimated that the tax breaks and services
that benefit the wealthy add up to $400 billion a year, compared to
the $116 billion spent on programs for the poor.
One of the richest Americans, Warren Buffett, replies to that
“There’s class warfare, but it’s my class, the rich class,
that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
As Richard Thaler, a professor of economics at the University of
Chicago, wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed: “The question
comes down to whether we want a society in which the rich take an
ever-increasing share of the pie, or prefer to return to conditions
that allow all classes to anticipate an increasing standard of
“Demanding that the rich get a tax cut as a condition for tax
relief to others is simply elitist.”
But, hey, as his colleague professor Henderson pointed out, it’s
tough getting by on $250,000 a year.