Why Middle-Class People Fear Tax Increases on the Rich

tax the richYesterday, I was idling behind a seven-year-old Saturn sedan with an anti-Obama bumper sticker reading: “Because everyone deserves some of what you’ve worked hard for.”

There’s a knee-jerk response to dismiss the driver as being some dupe naively parroting slogans not meaningful in his tax bracket. (You’d never see that sticker on a Rolls-Royce.) It’s not just the success of Republican “messaging,” there’s more to it than that:

According to the CafePress page selling these bumper stickers, the five-dollar decal was created on December 4, 2008. For all you history geeks, that was before the Obama presidency. This sentiment even existed before the bank bailout. It was also weeks before reputed capitalist, George W. Bush, approved the $17.4 billion American auto industry bailout. Specifically, for GM, the parent company of Saturn.

“If we were to allow the free market to take its course now, it would almost certainly lead to disorderly bankruptcy and liquidation for the automakers,” said Bush in the Roosevelt Room on December 19, 2008.

After GM took government money – taxpayer money – as an emergency loan to save their company suffering from a disturbing combo of willful blindness and ignorance of the market – the first thing the automaker had to do was downsize. They shut down factories and dealerships, shedding jobs; and even eradicated some brands. One of those was Saturn.

Now this driver can look forward to higher prices for parts and repairs for a vehicle that’s essentially worthless since it was discontinued. The Bush bailout of GM was paid for by this driver at least twice. So the trade-in value losses for putting a sticker on that car? No longer an issue.

Why does this anti-wealth distribution sentiment resonate with him? Why doesn’t he want banksters and CEOs to pay up?

“Because everyone deserves some of what you’ve worked hard for.”

This message was written and uploaded before the tea party, when the economy was still in free fall. And even though “thinkers” like Samuel R. Staley, a fellow at the Reason Institute, wrote the unintentionally hilarious talking point now being repeated by GOP lawmakers: “It appears we are two years into a ‘lost decade,’” the fact of the matter is the middle-class has already had a lost decade – the ‘00s.

In the middle-class wages are flat. The three million jobs Bush created in his eight years in office were moot since the population grew by 22 million. Prices have gone up, salaries have not. Home values have fallen, retirement plans are gone, savings are drained. Not since the 1930s has a generation been less prosperous than the one before.  In 2008, the economy for the middle-class went from long-term stagnation to suddenly much worse.

And this reasonably caused a fear reaction in this Saturn driver. What is he concerned about? Wealth distribution. Why?

It’s usually assumed that the reason Americans specifically don’t want to see taxes raised on the rich is because, in spite of driving a defunct GM brand four-door, they think of themselves as the “soon-to-be rich.” But a paper published in the National Journal of Economic Research in July suggests otherwise. They offer that it’s not hoping to be on top that makes us not want the wealthier to be taxed more – it’s the fear of being at the bottom. It’s referred to as “last-place aversion.”

The Economist wrote, “In keeping with the notion of ‘last-place aversion,’ the people who were a spot away from the bottom were the most likely to give the money to the person above them: rewarding the ‘rich’ but ensuring that someone remained poorer than themselves.”

tina dupuySo taxing the rich isn’t about the fantasy that we’re going to someday be rich – it’s about the very real visceral fear of being, well, the poorest. If the government helps those below you, then they’ll be at your level – that’s the unfairness they’re afraid of.

Named one of the worst CEOs of 2008, GM head, Rick Wagoner received a $20 million dollar retirement package and an owner of one of his beaters has a bumper sticker decrying higher taxes for him.

The driver isn’t fantasizing about being Wagoner – he’s terrified of being driven even lower in the middle-class. And the GOP has successfully exploited that fear.

Because when people are afraid, they do all kinds of irrational things…like vote Republican.

Tina Dupuy
Taking Eternal Vigilance Too Far


  1. says

    MyLeft, Ever asked yourself why listening to Limbaugh/O’Reilly/Savage/etc. makes U so feel good? U know their rants are fact-free, corporate-welfare bullsh*t that only serves their masters at Heritage.

    Yet U still listen. Why? Three things:


    Coin-of-the-realm of the preacher-man. First you lie-’em-up, define ‘The Other’. The “Not us” (neighbors and relatives who you actually KNOW are taking public handouts). Next he gets U feelin’ all “victimized” by them colored folks and their librul overlords (liberals have created programs that encourage cheaters). And finally, U get to feel-the-hate and it’s SOOOO good (social support systems that encourage a poverty lifestyle). You sound to me so much like the folks who yelled “Yeah!” when Ron Paul was asked about the young man w/o health insurance and a terminal disease. Yeah, let them AND their babies DIE – serve ’em right! Two-fisted-tuff-girl-capitalist.

    You need help MyLeft and the first step of the twelve that you need to take is – TURN OFF THE TALK RADIO. That victimization crap that U think makes U feel so good is killing U from the inside.

    A few facts: Actual welfare payouts are a teeny-tiny-teeniest-tiny part of guv’mint spending. Welfare payouts to bankers – by & for country-club-RePubs – are a HUGE part. Oh, and here’s another one: Tort reward payouts are LESS THAN ONE PERCENT of healthcare costs in this country. So next time Limbaugh tells you them poor colored folks’re gettin’ rich and YOU’re payin’ for it with YOUR insurance premiums – yeah, it’s LESS than ONE percent, chump. Exec salaries have QUADRUPLED since 2000.

    Start here:


    Yeah, they likes seein’ that pain & discipline. Bertrand Russell said it best: “The infliction of cruelty is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented hell.”

  2. MyLeftMind says

    “Because everyone deserves some of what you’ve worked hard for.”

    Tina, you’re missing the point. It’s not that people don’t want to tax the rich. It’s that working Americans have realized that both the Democrats and Republicans steal from us to give to both the rich and the deliberately impoverished. Both parties fund corporate welfare, but the Democrats also create public policy that encourages people to NOT take financial responsibility for themselves and their kids.

    When you have neighbors and relatives who you actually KNOW are taking public handouts when they could support themselves if they chose to, and when you KNOW people who work under the table while living on welfare, Section 8 housing, free heat and utilities, and who get free medical care, free college, etc., you realize that liberals have created programs that encourage cheaters, and that scamming the system is RAMPANT today. Do you know why so few people get married nowadays? Because it’s more profitable to have babies paid for by the public than by their fathers.

    Granted, there’s nothing wrong with a wealthy nation ensuring that everyone is fed and housed, but the way liberals have set up welfare programs, we’re encouraging people to have a bunch of babies and sit on their butts instead of getting a job. Intergenerational welfare exists because for the past three generations, poor kids have grown up getting handouts and freebies and deliberately choose that life for themselves. Sure, there are numerous challenges for those kids raised in poverty, but given that reality, why are we encouraging even more people to have babies they can’t afford? Our so called “safety net” programs have turned into social support systems that encourage a poverty lifestyle. In many cases, they just encourage people to have babies so they can receive more public benefits. Please don’t deny that’s what’s going on. I know you’re smarter than that.

    If you can’t see why working Americans are p!ssed off about liberal policies that force them to pay for an ever increasing group of freeloaders, then your lack of honesty and about the abuse and failures of welfare programs will be the downfall of this country’s middle class. Sure we should tax the rich more. But until we develop safety net programs that discourage the poverty lifestyle, working Americans will continue to vote for Republicans to block the theft our Democrats set up. Right now, both Dems and Repubs facilitate wealth redistribution from the middle class to the super rich, but it’s only the Dems who keep pushing for failed welfare policies. Set up public welfare programs that actually WORK (which means we need to stop handing people money and resources and start demanding they change and actively make their lives better), and working Americans will stop seeing us as naïve liberals and begin to support our safety net programs.

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