IN AN ordinary American presidential election, a candidate who had earned a fortune in business and then paid an absurdly low tax rate would barely raise eyebrows. Americans have long considered wealth something to admire and pursue, not vilify and redistribute. Alexis de Tocqueville said he knew �of no country�where a profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of property.�
But this is no ordinary election. That so much scrutiny has fallen both on how Mitt Romney earned his fortune (in the ruthless world of private equity) and his tax rate (15%, less than what some middle-class families pay) is a sign something has changed. For that, credit a decade in which the median family in America saw its real income fall by 7%, even as the top 1% grabbed a share of national income unseen since the 1920s (see article), and a level of unemployment that, though falling, remains troublingly high. Not many Americans like the tactics or fashion choices of Occupy Wall Street, but quite a few share the movement�s opinion that the economy is tilted in favour of the wealthy.
And so the rich are now a campaign issue. Barack Obama calls for �millionaires and billionaires� to �pay their fair share�: introduce a minimum tax rate on millionaires and return the top income-tax rate to 39.6% from 35%, and the other 98% of Americans would not have to pay more, he claims. Republicans shoot back that raising any taxes would destroy jobs and business confidence. They think you can fill the budget hole by spending cuts alone; many want to cut taxes further.
Neither side is talking sense. America�s rich should indeed pay more tax; but marginal rates should not go up.