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Roger’s Rules

Everyone knows about Obama’s two bestselling memoirs, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. The tumult that has engulfed the President’s young administration–a 30 percent drop in the stock market since election day, for example, not to mention the cavalcade of embarrassments regarding senior appointments–has deflected public attention from the President’s new bestseller. Daniel Henninger, writing in The Wall Street Journal today, gives us a precis of its spine-tingling plot. It’s called A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing America’s Promise. The President’s Budget and Fiscal Preview (Government Printing Office, 141 pages, $26, free to download). The Presidents first two books were a species of Romance or Fantasy. In A New Era of Responsibility Obama has branched out and given readers something closer to a revenge tragedy.

As Mr. Henninger points out, this is no ordinary budget: it is a morality play in which “fairness” (note the scare quotes)is pitted against “wealth.” Like any federal budget, A New Era of Responsibility is full of charts and graphs. But “Figure 9,” a chart that appears on page 11 of the budget, is something special. It is, says Mr. Henninger, “the Rosetta Stone” of the entire potboiler.

Figure 9

“Top One Percent Have Been Increasing Their Share, the Greedy Bastards” (some copies omit the final clause). Mr. Henninger calls our attention to the source of Figure 9: “Piketty and Saez,” i.e., the French economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, who are “rock stars of the intellectual left.” This little chart, Mr. Henninger observes, is “the most politically potent squiggle along an axis since Arthur Laffer drew his famous curve on a napkin in the mid-1970s. Laffer’s was an economic argument for lowering tax rates for everyone. Piketty-Saez is a moral argument for raising taxes on the rich.”

The “findings,” or rather the tendentious inventions, Piketty-Saez have been exposed by the Cato Institute’s Alan Reynolds. But facts do not matter in a morality play. Emotions do. And a villain called “Mr. Greedy Richman” is far too satisfying to sacrifice for the sake of such a fungible thing as accuracy or truth. No, what we have here is less a budget than a rationale for the redistribution of wealth. Mr. Henninger calls our attention to some of the commentary accompanying the Piketty-Saez tableau (page 5 in your text, class):

“While middle-class families have been playing by the rules, living up to their responsibilities as neighbors and citizens, those at the commanding heights of our economy have not.”

“Prudent investments in education, clean energy, health care and infrastructure were sacrificed for huge tax cuts for the wealthy and well-connected.”

“There’s nothing wrong with making money, but there is something wrong when we allow the playing field to be tilted so far in the favor of so few. . . . It’s a legacy of irresponsibility, and it is our duty to change it.”

There you have it. Wealth is “a legacy of irresponsibility, and it is our duty to change it.”

So far, the Obama administration has been doing a pretty good job of that. How many trillions of dollars has the U.S. economy lost since election day?

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